Jackie is a mother of five herself, so knows the joys and challenges of raising children. But she was keen to find out from Christine what being an SOS mother is like.
Giving children a normal life
Although many of us think of SOS Children’s Villages as extraordinary, Christine revealed it is their ordinariness which children cherish. In her SOS family, Christine says, “We cook together, we do the housework together, we go on holidays together, and the children go to local schools — like the normal life of every child. It’s very important for children to be able to say at school, ‘I have a family. I have a house and I live with my mother there’”.
Knowing the background of these children explains their craving for a normal life. “Most of them have come from violent homes. Sometimes the parents had problems with alcohol or drugs. Sometimes there were no rules at home. Or sometimes no one gave them anything to eat,” says Christine.
“There is a good core in every child”
One challenge all SOS mothers face is to help children overcome past difficulty. For children who have had chaotic or traumatic early experiences, Christine is often the first adult to give them any rules at home – which is sometimes met with resistance.
“The first children I cared for were two boys aged 4 and 6 years old, and two girls aged 12 and 14 years. The younger the children are, the easier it is. But when Jackie Long and Christine. But when you are 14, you want to be independent, you don’t want a new relationship — and there we had a lot of fighting and anger. But I was there for her, and she could trust me. The longer you know the child, the better the relationship.”
Her first children moved in on 1st September 1998. Christine remembers that the first week was “really wonderful. They were on their best behaviour.” This soon changed however. The children would often push boundaries and disobey family rules. Adding to her challenges as a new mum, she discovered that one of her girls had a mental disability with a low IQ of 62.
“We handle it together”
Christine admits that the first year of being an SOS mother was the hardest – as for many mothers. It was also the year in which she learnt and grew the most, always believing that “there is a good core in every child. If their behaviour is really bad it is a cry out of them to say ‘please help me’”.
“Talking, talking, talking” is how Christine resolves problems. She regularly has one-on-one time with each child so they can receive 100% of her attention. “We handle it together, you can talk to me,” she tells them. With loving support from Christine and the nurturing environment of the SOS Village, the children gradually become more settled and confident.
“I have a picture from every first contact with a child, and at the beginning, they don’t look happy... But after some weeks or months, when you look at new pictures, you see the faces are relaxed, and when they laugh it comes from the heart. They know ‘okay, here I can stay’. After half a year they feel at home.”
The importance of love
During the interview, Jackie asks, “What do SOS Villages give to children that is so important?”
“We give them love!” exclaims Christine, “Love and stability, and friends – they have a lot of friends in the Village”.Both children and SOS mothers benefit from belonging to an SOS Village. For the children, they feel “they are not alone in the world” as they grow up alongside children with similar experiences to them. They can also get educational help and professional therapy in the Village.
For the SOS mothers, they know that next door is another SOS mother always willing to step in during an emergency. “If I need to go to the doctor with a child, I can ask my neighbour to look after the other children,” says Christine. Plus, the SOS community has many celebrations together, often inviting people from the surrounding area to join in.
Maintaining family ties
Respecting and remembering each child’s background is very important in Christine’s household. Currently she cares for two young sisters whose parents are from Turkey and of Muslim faith, and two teenage brothers whose parents are Austrian and of Christian faith. “These are their roots, and you must never cut the roots,” she says.Maintaining bonds with their biological parents and family outside can be difficult for some children. So she explains to them, “Every heart is big enough to love many people. You can love your father, you can love your mother, you can love your grandma. The heart is big enough to love many people – and so you will have one place for me!”
Christine advocates for more SOS Children’s Villages as they give children one home, with one primary caregiver for a long time. Importantly, SOS Villages give brothers and sisters the chance to stay together. “Even if not in one house, it could be in one Village. They have the same experience, and that helps them,” explains Christine.
Including the four children Christine currently cares for, she has been an SOS mother to nine children since 1998. Of those who have moved on from the Children’s Village, three are now living independently and working nearby. One has moved into a community for adults with special needs and is also working. Last Christmas, all nine gathered around the table with Christine for a family dinner!
For Christine, being an SOS mother is a “never-ending role” and continues even after her SOS children move out of the family home. Remember the two young boys whom Christine first cared for back in 1998? They phone Christine or see her regularly to talk about “everything you would tell your mother!” These two young men are brothers and lost contact with their biological parents, and so for them, Christine explains, “I am their mother”.
Christine is one of more than 6,000 SOS mothers caring for children in over 500 locations worldwide. Find out more about these incredible women...