Special families give love, time, stability

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 30, 2010

NATCHEZ — With three children of her own in 1981, Daisy Gaines decided she had more love, time and patience to share.

So she started the journey of taking care of her second family as a foster parent.

“I have always felt like my calling in life was to make a difference in the lives of children,” she said. “The most important thing for children is that they have love and security, and I felt like I could provide that for more children than just my own.”

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Gaines said the calling to serve as a foster parent isn’t one she took lightly, but the blessings of accepting the call haven’t been light either.

“Sometimes with the children, there is a struggle to have them trust you and accept your love,” she said. “But you have to remember the circumstances that they are coming from. They haven’t had the childhood that other children their age have had.

“You have to love them no matter what, and eventually that makes a difference.”

For Mike and Diane Rice, the journey to becoming foster parents, and eventual adoptive parents, started with a phone call and a push from God.

“A friend called and asked if Mike and I would be interested in sponsoring a little 5-year-old boy at the (Natchez Children’s Home),” Diane Rice said. “Mike and I had always talked about doing that so we went to watch Owen play T-ball a couple of times, and by then the bonds were already forming.”

The Rices took the next step to becoming foster parents to have the chance to provide a stable home for Owen and his teenaged sister Rachel.

“It started where we would keep them on weekends and then he would ask ‘when can I stay again’ and that became ‘when can I stay a week,’” Diane said. “Then he started asking ‘when can I just stay?’

“We took the step to becoming foster parents with the hope of eventually adopting them.”

Rice said she never entered foster parenting or adoption thinking it was going to be “peaches and cream” but knew the chance to give two children she and her family loved dearly stability and support was God’s plan for the family.

“We did not have any overwhelming struggles that you sometimes hear about with foster care, but there were times that we struggled,” Rice said. “We just felt like this is where we were supposed to be. They are our children.”

Owen, now approaching his 10th birthday, is happy reading or hitting golf balls.

Rachel has moved out and is attending college. Rice said in Rachel’s case, she wishes she was still home, but prays the situation works out for the best for Rachel.

“It’s not how we planned it, but we raise all of our children to be independent and to make their own lives eventually,” she said. “Yes, we wish she was still at home with us, but what we do now is pray for her.”

In the Rice house, one of the biggest obstacles was assimilating the adopted children with the older, biological children.

“My older children would say ‘You’d never let me get away with that,’ and then the others would say ‘Why can’t I do what they are doing,’” Rice said. “With foster children and adoptive children you have to be aware of their background and make changes to your parenting style because of those, but that doesn’t mean we sacrificed our values.

“I’ve always said I’d lay down my life for all my children, but I’ll never lay down my principles.”

In the 29 years she has fostered children in her home, Gaines has loved and cared for all ages — beginning with teenagers and now choosing to be the mother figure to infants and toddlers.

When fostering teenagers, Gaines said the emotional issues some were dealing with were difficult for her to understand because she had never experienced them first hand.

But thanks to the training provided before she became a foster parent, the on-going training opportunities and good old fashion on-the-job training Gaines said she was able to adapt her parenting style to reach even the toughest cases.

“I had one girl I was fostering who had a really hard time understanding why she had been placed in foster care and accepting me,” Gaines said. “I’ve had others who came in and told me I couldn’t tell them what to do because I wasn’t their mother.

“I just sit with them and listen to them, and I try to explain that I am there to take care of them, to love them and provide for them.”

She said often her patience prevails.

“I’ve received letters after children have left my home telling me what they are doing in their lives now and thanking me for what I did for them,” she said. “That is the pay off for me, knowing I’ve made a difference.”

Currently Gaines is fostering an active and curious 17-month-old she has cared for since she was 3 days old. Gaines is the only family the little girl has ever known, and Gaines said she is happy to provide the toddler with a good start in life.

“She’s just a happy baby that loves to eat and explore,” she said.

Since Gaines has been the only family the toddler has known, the idea of losing her to permanent placement with biological family is scary, but Gaines said it is a reality all foster parents have to face.

Gaines has also adopted a 3-year-old son that she began fostering when he was just 3 days old, but she knows that not all fostering situations turn into adoption cases.

“You always know it is a possibility that the children will return to their families, but you have to do your best with the time you have with them,” she said. “I grieve for myself when children have to leave my house and hope that I’ve made a difference in their lives.”