Caring for a child can be a rewarding — yet sometimes exhausting — experience. One Cabot woman has had a motherly role in the lives of more than 300 children, and her husband said the phone rings off the hook every Mother’s Day with calls of thanks and appreciation.
Lana Manry has been a foster parent for 15 years, and in that time, she and her husband, Steven, have given a home to more than 300 children for various lengths of time ranging from one night to two years, all in addition to their five biological children and six adopted children.
Manry had wanted to be a foster parent since she read the book Runaway Alice when she was 9 years old. The book is about an orphan who runs away from her foster homes until she comes to stay with an older couple who live on a farm and showed that they cared about her.
“I wanted to be someone like that person,” she said. “I wanted to be one of those people who really cared about a child.”
When the Manrys were discussing expanding their family 15 years ago, they decided to go into foster care. Their first foster son was an 18-year-old who had already been in 51 placements through the foster system.
“We were the first place he called home,” Manry said. “He’s still in and out of trouble, even 15 years later, but I spent 45 minutes on the phone with him last night, and his last words were, ‘I love you, Momma.’”
When children enter the Manry home, they are part of the family. It does not matter how long they stay. They will be shown respect and expected to put forth their best effort in the things they do.
“They are not foster children,” Manry said. “You are brothers; you are sisters. This is what’s expected of you. They get in trouble for the same things and get hugs for the same things.”
Not many foster homes can easily deal with behavior issues, Manry said, but their home seems to work well with those children. The more behavior issues a child has, the longer he or she stays with the family, and Manry’s only explanation as to why the kids respond to them is, “It’s just the way we are.”
“Some people say I’m patient, but I don’t think I’m patient,” she said. “I think I tolerate more than other people because every child is different. I think it’s tolerance and understanding more than patience.”
Manry said it is important for her to remember that the children coming into her home were not born into a perfect environment with a perfect family, and each has his or her own problems and personalities. What one child is punished for could be tolerated in another, depending on the child’s history.
“You can’t bring a child into your home and expect them to fit into a mold,” she said. “They’re all individuals. You take their history, you take their health genetics, you take their mental-health genetics, and you take their environment. How can you treat children the same?”
That does not mean that Manry does not expect a lot out of her children, but she said she does not expect more than they are able to do.
When the Manrys started fostering 15 years ago, they were clear that they did not intend to adopt. Things changed when 2-month-old Jeffrey came into their home. They adopted the boy, which opened their minds to adopting more children. Jeffrey is now 13 years old, and since he was adopted, the Manrys have adopted four more children, the most recent coming into the fold April 29.
“From a book (Runaway Alice) to him (Jeffrey), that’s how it happened,” Manry said.
Manry said she tries to provide a safe and loving environment for anyone who walks in the door.
“A lot of times I tell people that if you have them one night, you have to make an impact,” she said.
Once in court, Manry met the mother of one of her foster children and found out that a simple act of kindness can make an impact and stay with a person for many years.
“She looked at me and said, ‘Are you Lana?’” Manry said. “She said, ‘I lived with you one night.’ My heart kind of sunk, and then she looked at me and said, ‘You make a mean grilled cheese sandwich.’ A grilled cheese sandwich made her remember me eight years later.”
Manry’s oldest son is 38, and with 10 grandchildren and several adopted and foster children at home, the family stays busy. Despite juggling tutoring and school activities with calls from day care and a part-time job at Sonic, Manry does not seem to mind the bustle.
“We used to be really busy, but now we just have seven kids,” she said with a smile.
Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.