The worry that the child you love won’t stay with you forever is something Anja Menzer-Tews knows well. She is a foster mother. It is a task that she fulfills with dedication – despite all the difficulties. Here she tells what gives her strength and hope.
There are traces of love everywhere in the Tutow house: a self-made Advent calendar in the shape of an angel on the hall closet. On the wall numerous photos, next to the living room door a portrait of the family, drawn by the eldest daughter Clara. In between pottery and handicrafts by Naschi (nickname, editor’s note), the youngest child of the Menzer-Tews family. Unlike her two siblings, who are now adults, she only joined the family when she was 14 months old.
Desire for a big family
At this point, Anja Menzer-Tews was in her mid-30s. She already had a 19 year old son and a 13 year old daughter and after a still birth she found out that she could no longer have children of her own. "From the mind I thought, you have two children, now let it be. But this little devil in her head kept hammering away, and at one point I sat at a Pampers commercial in the evening and just had to cry. My husband said, "We have to do something about this."
This is how they applied to the Youth Welfare Office as a foster family in February 2014. As early as April, her cell phone rang, and an employee of the Youth Welfare Office was on the line: "She said to me: We now have a child, but we can’t tell you whether it’s a boy or a girl. You have to say yes or no now", tells Anja Menzer-Tews. She was not even allowed to call her husband Ronald before making the decision.
Past remains unclear
They left the very next day, with a borrowed child seat in the back seat. "And then she sat there, and then she was our child!", Anja Menzer-Tews sums up the moment, which she describes as "quite unreal" experienced. She flips through the photo album that her youngest daughter loves and whose pages are already a bit tattered from being used so often. "I could cry again and again when I think about it, because I feel so sorry for the little girl. Two complete strangers come, put you in the car and drive off with you. What a shock!"
Her foster child was fourteen months old at the time and weighed just seven kilograms. Her birth mother is mentally ill and her father homeless. What exactly their daughter experienced in her first months of life, however, the Menzer-Tews will never know, for privacy reasons – like so many foster parents who want to help their children’s wounds heal without knowing their exact fate.
Mental wounds become visible
"She didn’t speak, she sweated through her bedding every night and bit herself bloody, and she was completely trapped in her world", Anja Menzer-Tews tells about the first time. "She was also sick a lot. It was as if all her strength was enough for the first year of life, and then she realized, I’m safe, now I can let go." On the photos in the album you can see a baby, who looks serious and questioning into the world with big, blue eyes in the narrow face.
For us it was a lucky day that she could come to us
Naschi’s arrival in the family was on the 10th of February. April. They celebrate this day every year as "Homecoming Day". They have made a candle for it, there are small gifts and cake. "This is always a very special day. Because it was such a lucky day for us that she was allowed to come to us and we hope that it will be the same for our little one."
Children are a gift from God
She has her own explanation for having two sets of parents, says Anja Menzer-Tews: "At some point, she said to me when she already knew that I had lost a child: Mama, you know, I think the good Lord didn’t know how I should come down, because your belly is broken. And then he made me go to Mama Nina (Names of birth parents changed, editor’s note) and that’s how I came down."
Anja and Ronald also believe in a loving God. Both of them found their way to the church as teenagers through the Christian teachings and offers of the Protestant youth. Her older daughter is currently training to be a curative teacher at a Protestant school. And so Anja can see the all-embracing love she feels for her daughter, who was not carried in her womb, as a gift from God: "I believe these children were given this by God. Naschi sat there and I just felt sorry for her. I thought, you poor creature. She could walk a bit, and when she put her hands in mine, my heart opened."
Love is the basis
She enthusiastically describes every little developmental step that was more challenging for Naschi than for other children: learning to speak, riding a bicycle. "Naschi makes it easy for us because she is such a great person, she is such a sunshine. The occupational therapist just said to me that she always has people in her life that like her because she has such a kind nature. And that they then also gladly endure their also sometimes exhausting nature."
Love for children as a source of strength is what she hears again and again from other foster parents: "An acquaintance just told me that her five-year-old foster daughter just tore up her room out of anger. The other foster son wets everywhere. She has applied for several mattresses at the youth welfare office, but hasn’t received a cent yet, because there is always something wrong with the application", she describes the arduous everyday life of many foster parents. "Then I asked her what gave her hope. The answer was: This is the love for the children. I look at them and know in my heart that they don’t mean to be like that, and I just love them."
Fixed rituals give support
A reliable daily routine and fixed rituals are especially important for foster children, says Anja Menzer-Tews: "For almost seven years, I’ve been singing her the same three songs to go to sleep – ‘Lalelu’, ‘Weibt du, wie viel Sternlein stehen’ and ‘Der Mond ist aufgegangen’. And every evening my husband has to give her a blessing. No matter where he is in the world, there’s always a video call." Naschi can only sleep when daddy Ronald’s old cuddly sweater and her beloved lion are with her.
Just let her have a nice childhood
Loving a foster child is a tightrope walk – after all, the child can be taken out of the family at any time and sent back to the biological parents if the Youth Welfare Office has the impression that they are stable enough and the conditions for the child are okay. "I was told before, protect yourself. I answered that I would not take a child. Every child deserves to be loved 100 percent, regardless of whether it was in my belly or not. This is important for our family. She should have simply beautiful childhood."
Nevertheless, the fear that their beloved daughter would have to leave them again from one day to the next came in waves. Once again, Anja Menzer-Tews lay awake at night with her heart pounding: "I thought to myself: Anja, you wanted a child, and now you have one. Be happy about it and go the way as long as it is granted to you and just have joy with her. Or you break it. That was also such a dialogue with God, which finally gave me peace."
As a foster mother, she must not show such thoughts or lapses: "All foster children worry about what’s going on with their parents, why did they give me away, why is Mom like this one time and like that the next?. They already have their backpacks, and if we were to start bitching and moaning, that would be catastrophic for the child." Naschi sees her biological parents regularly every 14 days. For the foster mother, this is a double-edged sword: On the one hand, she wants her child to have good contact with Mama Nina and Papa Timo. But she must take herself back, if she is confronted once again with their unkindness. So the father has not contacted his daughter since August.
Support of the youth welfare department does not expect Anja Menzer Tews thereby. She feels the same as many foster parents with whom she has contact. "Many families with foster children feel left alone. Now in corona time it’s especially bad. There are families who have four foster children, and each has a huge backpack to carry. In normal life they go to school, to the sports club and are exhausted. Suddenly they’re all sitting on top of each other, and then it just goes bang on every corner. No one from the youth welfare office has ever asked. A letter arrived telling them what they could do with the children."
We are not the enemies of the youth welfare office
The only support they get is from Caritas in the district, which offers accompanying, helpful courses and talks What foster parents do every day is rarely seen by society or the authorities, regrets Anja Menzer-Tews. "We had to fight so hard to get a learning companion for our daughter. For many foster parents, this feels like tilting at windmills: We always have to prove and explain ourselves. Being foster parents is like such a stigma. But we are not enemies of the Youth Welfare Office, we work together with them, we also take over their work."
This "work Anja Menzer-Tews sums it up as follows: "We simply want to break this miserable cycle that has been going on in some families for generations. Our hope is to raise people who have both feet on the ground and are happy."