Being raised in foster care and my daughters ending up there used to seem like an unbreakable cycle. I had feelings of being stuck in the past. The abuse I encountered at home and in foster care left scars so deep. I suffer from them as I write this story.
Going into adulthood I prayed and promised myself that I wouldn’t continue the cycle. But the problems I wanted to run from consumed me. My first daughter went into foster care at 3 months and is now adopted.
With my second daughter, Julisa, I didn’t want to let her down too. I made it through an incredibly tough mother-child treatment program and I also separated from Julisa’s father, who was abusive. We had five good years together.
But when Julisa turned 5, our life together changed. I became unstable with worry. I know now from going to therapy that her turning 5 was a huge trigger for me that I was not aware of. My own life had fallen apart when I was 5—that’s when I was raped for the first time, and when I entered foster care.
Dropping Julisa off at school opened up doors of fear in my heart, thoughts of Julisa getting molested or hurt, and fears that I had no control anymore. As time passed I became overprotective to the max. I overdressed her because I didn’t want her body to show. I started calling her school or popping up there. I reacted with panic and passion because I thought if someone harmed her, I could never forgive myself.
A Destructive Path
In June 2014, Julisa was removed from my care. After Julisa was taken, I felt like I could not go on. I was terrified of what might happen to Julisa in foster care. At the same time, I didn’t want to visit her. I was too ashamed.
For two months, I totally shut down. I refused to cooperate with CPS or any caseworker. I became distant from family and friends. I didn’t go to therapy or take my meds. I was on a very destructive path.
A week with a friend and her children down South helped me see that I could not give up on Julisa. Since then, I’ve been learning new ways to cope, and I’ve seen Julisa twice every week.
In Parenting Journey, a 12-week group that focuses on helping parents heal from painful childhoods, I learned that how I was raised affected my parenting deeply. I saw that I might not have harmed my daughter physically but I was raising my child in fear. I learned, too, that I need to take care of myself. I had believed that pushing my own needs to the side couldn’t harm my daughter but it did.
My instructors were compassionate, and by the fifth week the parents in the group became each other’s support. We opened up, cried and laughed with each other. At the Parenting Journey graduation, I said: “I share this light with my seven peers, my Parenting Journey surrogate mothers, who are blessings. I thank all of you for standing by me and helping me finally see what was already there.”
An Asset, Not a Liability
Writing for Rise has also been a tremendous experience at a painful time. So often I’ve asked myself, “Why do I have so many setbacks and downfalls?” Writing a story about my childhood and reading it over, I truly realized how much pain I’ve been carrying. I’m proud that I’ve faced my bad memories and completed two stories. I’ve achieved something.
Through Rise I’ve also made presentations about parents’ experiences in the system. That made me feel more like an asset than a liability. That’s a major change for me.
A Place to Vent and Breathe
Lastly, I started going to therapy and taking my meds. My therapist listens to me and doesn’t judge me. My therapist allows me to vent, sometimes even to scream, and still looks at me as a person. She also taught me how to breathe when I feel like I’m under pressure.
Most important, my therapist has been teaching me that the past and present are separate—and that I have control over my future.
Here for My Daughter
Making all of these positive changes sober has not been easy. I’m proud that I’ve made these choices and taken these steps. I can tell that Julisa and I have a stronger relationship. On our visits I bring arts and crafts and mostly home-cooked meals. We talk about the day when she will come home and how she wants her room to be decorated. We are dreaming again. To me, that means we’re living and not just existing.
As I think about the day Julisa was taken away from me, I ask myself, “What is different now? Am I better or worse than before she left home?” I’m trying to believe that my family curse is losing. I’m trying to stay hopeful.
It will take a lot of self-finding and patience, and a lot of therapy and support groups. Already, though, things are slightly different because I am aware of my old habits and I’ve realized and learned that I’m not alone. It’s OK to seek help when you need it.