On Aug. 4, 1997, I got my sons back after they’d been in foster care and I’d been out on thestreets for many years. I felt that God had given me a second chance in life to be the best mom I could be.
I was determined to be different toward my sons than my mother had been toward me. My mother and I had a bad relationship when I was a child. She resorted to violence whenever she was upset with me, and she didn’t believe me when I came to her and told her I was being sexually abused. When I was a teenager, she put me in a group home, where I was sexually abused again.
For years she raised my sons when I turned to drugs to escape my pain. Then, after she died, they went into care. Finally, I went to rehab and they came home. Luckily, my mother and I were able to talk before she died, when I was in rehab. We shared more about our lives, and we made it a point to forgive one another.
When I learned about my mother’s upbringing, I realized that my family had a pattern of not speaking about our feelings and of physically abusing our children. I told myself, “I will make it my business to change that pattern when I get my life together.” It wasn’t easy, but I did.
In the months before they returned home I built a bond with my boys. We spent every other weekend together and I always had something planned for us to do as a family. We went out to the movies, the beach, or the pool, and to museums and the library. Sometimes we would just stay home and play family games. I would also make them their favorite foods.
Every Friday we had a family conference. That was a chance for them to let out their feelings about what they went through. They were allowed to ask me any questions they wanted about my addiction and the time when I was not with them. Answering their questions, I would get very emotional, but it helped us get closer. It was a step toward breaking the silence and anger that had dominated my family’s relationships for too long.
My son JonPaul asked me why I left him with grandma for such a long time. He said, “Didn’t you love us? Was it something we did?” It was very hard for me to answer those questions. I prayed that they would forgive me for my honest answers.
I told my sons, “I had a drug problem, which took over my life and my mind. Even though I thought about you and loved you, the drugs were more important to me at the time. That was what the drugs were telling me. I left you with Grandma because I didn’t want to drag you into my world of drugs and insanity, too. But you were always in my heart and in my thoughts.”
I continued, “I was dealing with my own demons from my childhood. You did not have anything to do with that. And in no way did you do anything wrong. I was the one that messed up. But what’s important is that I’m here now and I love you guys to infinity and beyond.”
A Terrifying Moment
It wasn’t always easy to be a good mom. One afternoon I came home from work feeling very tired and found a message on my answering machine from JonPaul’s teacher. She said JonPaul, who was 12, was not showing up to school. Plus, he had never turned in the $75 I gave him for his cap and gown.
I asked JonPaul, “What was that all about?” He was giving me all kinds of excuses, but when he said, “I don’t care and I can do what I want,” I just I totally lost it and started hitting on him. Almost without realizing what I was doing, I even grabbed him by his throat and started choking him.
He said, with tears in his eyes, “Mami, you’re choking me.” At that moment I saw myself in JonPaul and my mother in me. When I realized I was acting out the role of my mother, that scared the hell out of me. I panicked, let go and ran to the hallway where I sat on the steps and called my sister, sobbing.
When I calmed down, I hugged him and apologized and promised him that it would never happen again. After that, I recommitted myself to breaking my family’s pattern. I made a conscious decision that I would talk to my boys no matter what they do that upsets me, instead of treating them how my mother treated me.
Listening to My Son
Since then, I haven’t reacted so crazily to my children. I’ve realized that my son is still learning how to be a son and I am learning how to be a mother. Things have gotten better one day at a time.
Another time I was very upset with him was when the teacher informed me that JonPaul had not turned in any homework for a whole week and disrespected her in front of the other students.
I felt the heat rising in my head. But by the time JonPaul got home, I had calmed down and thought out a strategy of how to approach him in a positive way. We talked and I really listened to what he had to say.
Today I’m Blessed
Today I have a good relationship with my boys. I communicate with them, something my mother and father never did with me. We share our thoughts and feelings, whether good or bad. We go out together and, every other weekend, we have family game night. We all sit around the table and play games like Parcheesi, Sorry, Charades and Operation.
At times, things get hectic, but we pull through. Like every teen and mom, we struggle together to understand one another. Together, we made a choice to break our family’s pattern of violence and silence.
When I look back on what I’ve been through and what I put my kids through, I often start crying. Then I look at where I am today and realize I’m blessed. Not everyone gets a second chance.