Translated from Spanish.
When my daughter, Lydia, 5, came home after two and a half years in foster care, it was so different from having her home only on the weekends. The best part was that we didn’t have to rush spending time together, or deal with having to say goodbye on Sundays. She always used to say, “Mom, I don’t want to go the other house. When am I going to come home forever?” It felt good not to have to tell her, “When the judge says it’s time.”
But for the first couple weeks she was giving me a really hard time. She didn’t want to brush her teeth or wash her hair. She totally refused to pick up her toys. I had to yell at her to do these little things, or tell her, “Go to your room.” This little angel had a bad side I’d never seen.
‘Does She Hate Me?’
One day she got mad at me because I was yelling at her to do her chores. She started throwing toys at me. I didn’t want to spank her, so I told my husband, Hector, to come and get her. His voice is so harsh and deep that he scared her into her room.
Then she started slamming her bedroom door. I was so pissed off that this little girl would challenge me that way. All I wanted to do was grab her by the arm and start spanking her. But I fear that if I discipline Little Mama by spanking her I will truly hurt her, and I really don’t want to hurt her and make her scared of me. Even when I yell at her angrily she starts crying.
To keep myself from hurting her, I sat on the couch in my living room and just cried. I really cried hard, thinking, “All I wanted her to do was pick up her toys,” and, “Does she really hate me so much to throw her toys at me? I worked so hard for her.”
My husband went to her room and told her, “You see, Lydia. You made your mom cry. You have to respect your mom.”
I took a deep breath and waited for her response. Our house was silent for that moment. Then I heard her little feet coming into the living room. She came in silently, like she was scared of me, and I felt afraid of myself, that I had frightened her so much just with my words.
Little Mama has long black hair and big, dark eyes. She looked up at me and said, in her tiny, squeaky little voice, “Mommy? Mommy?”
Her shoulders were down and her tummy was sunk as she approached, disguised as a little angel. I asked her, “Lydia, do you not understand why I’m upset?”
Then she started crying and hugging me. “Mommy, I need help picking up my toys,” she said. At that moment, I stopped feeling so angry and just wanted to understand her and find out why she got out of control like that.
I told her, “You need to stop slamming the door, and never, ever throw things at me again.”
The Chore Chart
She’s never thrown anything since then. But our arguments scared me. I love her so much. I don’t want these little things to turn into a fight.
We’ve been going to family therapy every week since she came home. So I discussed it with the therapist. He told us to make it little steps with her, and that all of us—me, Hector and Little Mama—are going through changes. He said it will take time for Lydia to adjust to our home and our different rules and schedules.
After that, I remembered something I learned in parenting class. The teacher said to make a chart of household chores. I decided to make one together with Lydia, and to give her a small allowance for each chore.
Counting to 10
We got some papers and markers to start. I put on one paper how much she could earn for each thing, like she gets 5 cents for feeding our pets, 10 cents to brush her teeth, 7 cents to wash her hair, and 10 cents to go to bed at 8:30 p.m. She put on the chart to dress herself for school and in her pajamas.
The chart is actually working. Getting her to do her chores is a lot easier now and she puts the money in her piggy bank.
But at times, her attitude with me still really makes me angry. If I tell her, for example, “Stop sitting on the arm of the couch!” she looks at me and rolls her eyes and says, “Mom, I’m just sitting.”
It gets tiring repeating myself. So now I’ve learned to take a deep breath and start counting to 10. I only end up at number 5 or 6. I honestly don’t know how I would handle it if I got to 10.
Enjoying the Little Things
The nicest part of our day is when I get Little Mama ready for school every day, especially doing her hair: putting the gel in, pulling it into ponytails and then braiding them.
It feels good to do her hair, because when I was on crack, I honestly didn’t care about her hygiene or how she looked. I wasn’t loving her like a real mother should. I never took her out—not to the park, or shopping. I spent my time worrying about who was going to watch her while I went outside to get money for crack.
Being a sober mom is 100 percent better. I make sure she eats well and that I have food in the house, and that she takes baths and washes her hair. I take her to the park. We play together—hide and seek and follow the leader, and then we get an icee and sit in the grass watching soccer or baseball games.
I waited four years to be able to be a full-time mom, to love her and take care of her every day. Spending time with her, I feel proud of myself for going through drug treatment, therapy and parenting classes so I could bring her back home..
Not an Angel, But a Good Kid
My parenting has gotten a lot better in the months since Lydia first came home. We eat dinner every night now, sitting together at the table to discuss our plans for the next day. We bake cakes together, make arts and crafts projects and talk about little things she’s thinking about.
I love her personality. She’s very giving and caring. When she acted up, I had to realize that she’s not a perfect angel, but she is a good kid.
We still have difficult moments, but I’m getting better at staying calm. I’m grateful to have my husband. Even though I take care of Lydia most of the time, he and I discuss how to handle situations with her.
Lydia’s bedtime is the best time of the day for me. At about 8:30 p.m., she and I go to her room and read three fairy tales: Little Red Riding Hood, The Ugly Duckling and Cinderella. We hug and kiss and she says her prayers.
After she lies down, she always calls to her daddy for a cold cup of water. We are all together as a family when we put her to bed. When she sleeps she looks like an angel, protected by God.
Use this story in a parenting class or support group! Click here for the discussion guide and journal reflection worksheet for this story.