Parenting tips from a father who has raised 36 children – single-handedly
Peter Mutabazi has fostered or adopted 36 children in the past seven years – alone.
Currently, he cares for children aged two, three, seven, eight, 10, 17 and 19 years old, three of whom are adopted children.
It is an amazing story. Raised in rural Uganda, Mutabazi ran away from home at the age of 10, becoming a street child in the capital Kampala, sleeping under parked vehicles, selling nuts at a bus station and surviving on fruit which was taken from a market stand.
“I grew up [the] poor of the poorest,” Mutabazi told CNBC by video call. “I became a street kid, and I was trying to change my life,” he said.
For five years, he lived in this way, carrying people’s shops in exchange for bananas or plants, and sharing what little food he had with other children.
He did not have much hope for the future until, as a teenager, a man named James befriended him after Mutabazi was in the habit of helping him with his shops. James paid for Mutabazi, then 15, to attend a small Christian school. There, he became successful, sometimes borrowing richer children’s books in exchange for doing his homework.
During a gap year between high school and university, Mutabazi became a relief worker, providing food and medicine to children living in refugee camps in Rwanda after the mid-century genocide. the 1990s.
Then, after completing degrees in Uganda, the UK and the US, he became a manager at the non-profit Compassion International, which raises money to support children in developing countries.
Being a solo carer
It wasn’t until he was 43 that Mutabazi became a nurse.
His own father was abusive, which is why he left home so young – and Mutabazi was afraid of becoming like his father, he wrote in his memoir “Now I Am Known: How a Street Kid Turned Foster Dad Found Acceptance and Real Worth.” He also believed that no black man should be allowed to foster children.
“I have never seen a black person who was adopted from Uganda or from Ethiopia or from China. They were always Caucasians and they married,” he told CNBC.
But when a conversation with a colleague – a white American man, who with his wife had a child, Brittany, who is black – foster (and later) reconsidered these assumptions.
Mutabazi also questioned how committed he was to helping children in his role at the non-profit, and realized he wanted to do more. “I knew I was making a difference in children’s lives, but everything I did kept those children at a safe distance. I made my trips and sent my checks, and at the end of the day, I came home and closed my mind”, he wrote in the book.
Mutabazi, now 49, has lived in the US for 18 years. “When I came to the United States, I was very surprised to see how rich and developed a country can be – but there was segregation. People didn’t know what was happening to the children ,” he told CNBC.
He approached a foster group in Oklahoma City, where he lived, suggesting that he could support at-risk children. But a social worker asked if he would consider fostering, and he explained that he was eligible to do so as a single man.
To get approved as a foster parent, Mutabazi went through several interviews and background checks and took months of classes called MAPP – or Model Approach to Partnership in Parenting – which trains foster parents in understanding children. who have experienced trauma.
He found that the classes helped him process his own trauma. “I didn’t want my past to drag into my future,” Mutabazi said of his troubled childhood. He realized: “I can be a really good dad … I can parent the best way I can,” he told CNBC. Now, in addition to being a foster dad , he runs the Now I Am Known Foundation, where he does room makeovers for teenagers.
Dealing with anger
The first child Mutabazi raised was a five-year-old boy who sometimes screamed. “One time, he cried for three hours non-stop, and at the end he said, ‘Hey, Dad can you hold me?'” Mutabazi told CNBC.
“Once he went into that [angry] mode, he didn’t know how to come back,” Mutabazi said.
“My approach was to say, how can I help this child manage, control his anger, but also know that I was there for him … know to have him as a parent,” he said.
The boy stayed with Mutabazi for six months before moving in with an aunt. “Even through the fits, this was a boy who just wanted to be held, and I thank God that I was there for him,” he wrote in his book.
Words of affirmation
When Mutabazi lived with James and his family as a teenager, he used to carry a notebook and write down the good things James said to him. “James told me that I was brave for making it through the things I suffered in my life. In fact, he told me that a lot. brave I went into my notebook,” he recalled.
Mutabazi kept writing down these “words of affirmation”, and this notebook became a guide for how he spoke to the children in his care. “I remembered the words: you are chosen, you matter, you are special, you are enough, you are a gift, you are not alone, and I will make sure [with] my children, I’m going to use those words always,” he told CNBC.
His quotes are also printed on his steering wheel, on his fridge, in his closet, and even on his dog tag.
The words have helped him to raise his son Anthony, who came to live with Mutabazi at 11 years old, and who he has adopted since then. Mutabazi said his son had problems with abandonment, and that his approach has been encouraging. “It’s helped a lot to know that, hey, my dad loves me no matter what, despite my challenges,” Mutabazi said.
Celebrating smaller achievements is one way Mutabazi shows love to the children in his care. “I come from the poorest place you could imagine [and] I’ve overcome trauma in so many different ways that I don’t expect my child to do the same overnight,” he said.
For example, when one of the teenagers in his care had trouble making his bed, Mutabazi encouraged him to do it. “[Now] I can say son, that was great. And I’m grateful,” he told CNBC.
That also helps reassure the children that he cares for them, so if they fail at something bigger they have more faith that he loves them regardless. “I’ve already shown that love and loyalty through the little things,” he said.
Dealing with teenagers
If other parents come to Mutabazi with questions about how to manage teenagers, he reassures them that most people struggle with children at that age. “When you have a 14 or 15-year-old child … if you put yourself as a mentor rather than a father or a mother, it helps,” he said.
Try to understand your child’s perspective, Mutabazi said. “There’s a teenager being a teenager, there’s hormones, there’s trauma, there’s disrespect… when you’re watching [at] your child, look through those lenses and [say to yourself] who am I dealing with?” he said.