I was 19 when I was arrested for hitting my 2-year-old son with a belt.
What I did wasn’t right and it wasn’t how I usually treated my son. Usually I loved him to death and spoiled him rotten. I had never hit him before. But that night my son got out of his crib and ran out of the apartment while I was taking a shower.
I felt so shocked and scared that I hit him twice on the arm with a belt and left a big mark.
I did it because I was scared. I did it because I was run ragged with my all-over-the-place, running-around, never sitting-still type of kid. I did it because that’s how people in my family and on my block did it. The way I was raised, if you’re a kid and you act crazy, you get your ass kicked.
I always told myself that’s not how I would treat my child. But in that moment, I did.
As soon as I did it, I regretted it. But it was too late.
Cold in My Heart
After my son was taken, I didn’t want my family involved in any part of my case. They didn’t help me with my son before. When I would reach out to them to stay with my son for a day or a few hours so I could take a break, I would get the same response each time: “You had him, you take him with you. He is your responsibility.” So I did.
Now he was gone and my love for my family was cold in my heart. For the three years that my son was in care, I tried not to let my family know anything about what was happening in my life.
Was I a Monster?
I didn’t tell friends much about it either. Even before the case, I only had three close friends. At first I didn’t tell even them because I felt so ashamed. My heart was broken—taken—and I didn’t know how to explain why and how this happened.
Most of all, I was afraid to be seen as a monster. Was I an evil person? Or did I just make a mistake as a first-time mom doing what I knew, how I was raised? I felt angry at being judged, but I also felt scared of myself, confused and ashamed.
When I finally did tell a friend, she judged me. She used to hit her son, but when I told her about my case, she said, “Oh my God! You hit your son that hard that you bruised his arm?” Later she said, “Maybe your mom is right. Maybe you should have never been a mother.”
I heard it from caseworkers, too—that I was a monster for hitting a 2-year-old with a belt.
I thought maybe I just wasn’t capable of being a good mother. I asked myself, “Why did I even grab the belt? Did I need my son to be taken to avoid something worse from happening?”
I was raised with hitting. I thought maybe there was something genetically wrong with me and that I was destined to raise my son the same way.
The judgments came from every direction, including inside myself. All I could think was to seclude myself further. I didn’t want to talk to anyone (caseworkers, therapists, service providers). I felt like it was me against the world. I had to protect my heart to have the strength to get my son back. So I cut everyone off.
Only my fiancé was with me. He was my support, my means of survival. When I would go home and cry, he was there to hug me and tell me we were going to get through this. At times I wanted to die within my skin not having my son. At other times, I wanted to fight and refuse to cooperate with anything the system asked of me. Thank God my fiancé made me get up from my bed and go get things done.
The one person in the system who supported me was my son’s second foster mother, Gladys. Gladys thought my son and I belonged together. Though the agency didn’t give us more time together, Gladys made it happen.
What If I’d Had Support…
It’s been a lot of years since then. My fiancé and I have been together 16 years and we have a big, loving family with three more boys. My son who went into foster care at 2 is now 18. He is in culinary school and still lives at home. He says he never wants to leave. Our dream is to one day open a family restaurant together and he’ll be the chef.
Still, those were three long and lonely years that my son was in care. I still sometimes ask myself what if.
What if I’d had friends that fought for me or lent me a shoulder? What if my family had helped me before, when I asked them for the help?
What if the judge had seen that I already understood that I had gone wrong but was ready for change, ready to do better?
I didn’t have that support. So my case got lost, or should I say my son and my soul got lost within the system for three long years.