Q&A: Margaret Hanson - An Extraordinary Faculty Member
May was National Foster Care Month, a special time for Margaret Hanson, associate professor of physics, and her husband, Brian Kinkle, professor of biological sciences.
May was National Foster Care Month, a special time for Margaret Hanson, associate professor of physics, and her husband, Brian Kinkle, professor of biological sciences. They are among the many extraordinary people in McMicken College who recognize the importance of giving to others. Professor Hansonís responses to questions about becoming a foster parent to two toddlers, now four and five, demonstrate the ways in which a dedicated personal life can strengthen the skills required to do well professionally. Hansonís and Kindleís children have reinforced their abilities to handle several tasks at once, to remain lifelong learners, and to deal with multiple stresses. Most of all, foster parenting has given them greater compassion and a sense of connectedness to the community.
Why did you become a foster parent?
I wanted to have a family, and I wanted to be a mother. Yet at the same time, I have long been concerned with the over-population of the Earth and the plight of abused and neglected children. Because I was adopted myself, I donít have hang-ups about children looking like their parents. And, of course, there is a very great need for foster parents. For me, it was a rather obvious choice. I really canít think of anything more significant I could do at this stage in my life than this.
What is involved in becoming a foster parent?
Well, beyond the forty or so hours of classroom work and various background and home checks, itís mostly a matter of thinking hard about what you think you can effectively handle. If you have other children or immediate family living with you, you must consider the impact to them. Your marriage, your career and much of your personal life can and will be affected by it, so you need to be sure those aspects of your life are ready for a possible rough ride. A few weeks after our girls were placed with us, a close friend of my husband asked, ďHowís Margaret handling this new motherhood?Ē My husband responded, ďIím not sure, I havenít spoken with her since the placement.Ē Luckily, the placement occurred during the summer break when we didnít have teaching, advising, and other more stringent work commitments. We had the flexibility to do shifts at work, so one was always home to care for the girls, as it took a few weeks for day care arrangements to be made.
What kind of challenges have you faced?
Endless! And they are far from over! The girls have suffered various forms of abuse and, just before being placed with us, significant neglect. Theyíve bounced between foster homes, kinship placements and trial periods with their birth mother for over two years, before they came to live with us. Thatís more than half their young lives. There are bound to be a few behavior issues! We are working with child counselors, teachers, day care providers, and social workers to address their special needs. This requires tremendous patience, of course, and a lot of time commitment. Their birth mother may never be able to take the girls back permanently. Naturally, weíd adopt them if it came to that. However, we will remain committed to getting them on track, feeling good about themselves, doing well in school and learning to respect others, whether or not they are able to stay with us indefinitely. You just do what you can with the time you have them.
How do you integrate this with your work at UC?
Well, itís interesting. I remember mentioning to a friend that I was taking classes to become a certified foster parent. She said, ďI didnít think you could do that if you worked full time.Ē It never occurred to me that people might think that. Of course, most mothers are working mothers, and this is no different for foster moms! So I donít believe in this regard my being a foster mother is that much different from any other parent working at UC. Being an academic, where there is tremendous flexibility, I would say works in favor of being a parent, particularly for parenting children that have special needs. But we both do work pretty long hours. We stagger our time at work so the kids have more time at home with at least one of us.
What other pay offs have you discovered?
Well, beyond the weight Iíve lost chasing pre-schoolers around, Iíd say the connectedness I now feel within the community. I have met many new people. I have learned so much and taken a greater interest in community issues. Now I know where all the libraries and playgrounds are! But, of course, nothing compares to the happiness I feel for having made a difference in their lives. The girls have come so far and are doing so well now. I have confidence in them. They are both extremely bright and full of enthusiasm. We intend to always be there for them.
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