Meet one of the incredible Foster Parents who has been raising superheroes and building a super community at SOS Illinois for 25 years.
Michele “Mickey” Haldeman was the very first Foster Parent at SOS Children’s Villages Illinois. For 25 years she has served as a caregiver to over 20 children at our Lockport Village. Many of those children Mickey raised from infancy to adulthood. As trends in foster care have progressed towards a model of permanency, Mickey has continued her work as a nurturer of sibling groups and leader within the Village community.
Learn more about Mickey’s story, motivation, and advice to others who might feel called to this important vocation.
How did you initially hear about SOS Children’s Villages Illinois, and what compelled you to join the agency as the first Foster Parent?
It was an advertisement in the Milwaukee Journal in Wisconsin. At that time I was running a daycare center and I was just wasn’t happy with it because I was running it. I’m more of a hands-on person and I wanted to be with the kids. I always had high standards and thought, “Oh, why can’t you just do it like this?” So my mom was the one who found it and said this would be perfect because I’d always wanted to work with kids. Being a nanny wasn’t really the thing for me, so this was a perfect fit: community home, community, and family.
What does a typical day look like?
My day starts at about 5:30 AM, so that I can get a shower! Then my kids start waking up on their own between 6:30 AM and 7:00 AM, getting dressed, making their beds, and brushing their teeth. Then we all come downstairs and eat breakfast together before they go to school. After I drop my kids off [at school] I like to go for a walk and organize my day, my thoughts, go over things that may have happened in the morning: how could I have done this or that or what discussion could I have had with this child? Not everything has to be a consequence or negative. Some things can just be a discussion. This is what happened this morning; how can we make it better?
Then I clean, do laundry, prepare dinner, and do whatever shopping I need to do if I don’t want to take six kids with me. Then I pick them up from school, we come back and have a snack together and talk about how their day was. Depending on the child, some kids can do homework and some kids cannot do homework. I have some kids who need to go run outside and play while I do homework with other kids. Then usually we also have swimming lessons, soccer, karate, or they have youth group. Depending on the activity for the evening we go do that and then eat dinner. Finally they get to have what we call “electronic time” where they either watch TV for an hour or play on a tablet or computer or something.
Do you find that the work you’re doing is building their confidence?
Oh, yes, especially *Krystal. She would not look me in the eye; she would not walk with her head up. You should see her now: she has confidence. She knows she can do things that she’s good at it, and she gets praised for it. That’s why I think putting kids in the community activities with other kids, and not just SOS kids, they see that they’re the same. “I may be a foster kid but I can do what they can do.” So I love having my kids out in the community.
The job that you’re doing not everyone can do. It’s an amazing job that you do and you’ve done it for so long. What would you say are some important qualities for someone who chooses to do what you do?
I think a good one would be understanding—being able to see it from the child’s point of view. We didn’t grow up in their world. So being able to understand what they’re going through, having a good understanding, and being able to see somebody else’s point of view. They may be doing this or this but they’re doing it because of that, and helping them learn that’s not how they have to live it anymore. And of course patience is a good one.
What has helped you feel so committed to the work that you do for this long?
I think I’ve grown into my position. I’ve learned a lot over the years from different Foster Parents and [have] seen how they do things. A good thing I’ve learned is that whatever they’ve done yesterday doesn’t have to affect today or tomorrow. So you just sort of forget about the past, work on today, and then move towards tomorrow.
What is it about this model (the SOS Illinois model of care) for you that you feel works?
I think support. I have some very good friends [here] and we work very closely with our families. And I have the continuous support of my older kids, because this is my second group [of children]. I have a lot of support here.
How would you summarize how this job has changed you as a person?
I think it’s changed me as a person because I don’t have to be right. It’s not about being right. It’s about seeing it from the other person’s point of view. My opinion doesn’t have to be important anymore. My opinion isn’t important anymore. It really isn’t. Because it’s about them.