This story is reprinted from Represent, a magazine by and for youth in foster care.
For nine years I was always in and out of the system because my mother was heavily addicted to drugs. She would follow the orders of the court to get my brothers and me back, but because she had so little support, she would relapse and lose us.
I wanted to go home and stay home. I loved my mother so much. I had a deep longing to be with her inside me for so long. But each time I went into the system again, I became more confused, hurt and angry. Why was it so hard for her to stay sober and clean? Didn’t my mom care? Didn’t she love us and want us?
Because no one explained why my mother kept making the same mistakes, I came up with my own explanation. I figured that my mother must not care about, love or want us. I got to the point where I hated her.
Convinced I Was Worthless
I wasn’t the only one who disliked and rejected my mom because of her addiction. I overheard some of my foster parents calling her a junkie and low life. My social worker and other people in my agency said that they didn’t really care about what my mother had to say. They didn’t want to hear any of her excuses, legitimate or not. All those people just couldn’t understand how she could get her children back only to trade them again for drugs.
The way people thought about my mom took a strong toll on me. It helped convince me that my mother didn’t love me, and it made me feel worthless, like I was a piece of trash. My feelings and emotions were just crumpled up, stepped on and thrown away.
No One Knew Her Story
But as I got older, little by little my feelings toward my mother began to change. I would watch my mother in court, able to do nothing but cry. No one wanted to hear her story. When she tried to explain and plead with the court they would just close their hearts and minds. I felt for my mother. I thought the system should be kinder to her. Though I was still angry at her, I wanted the system to give her the guidance, support and resources to help her get her life in order.
You see, most people in the system didn’t know my mother’s story. My mom went through a lot. Growing up, she was abused both sexually and physically. She didn’t have any support or encouragement and she felt worthless. That feeling was hard for her to endure, and so she started using drugs – a quick high to make the pain go away.
My mother grew up in Miami during the time when the drug culture was at its peak. I don’t think she imagined that drugs would affect the life of her future children the way they eventually did. But in time, the drugs consumed her, and she had a difficult time taking care of my brothers and me.
A Terrible Cycle
Then my father was killed. My mother was devastated. She was alone and depressed with four young children. Drugs were her escape from the harsh realities of her life.
Where we lived also contributed to her using again each time she got clean. She couldn’t afford to live in neighborhoods where drugs weren’t all around, so she was surrounded by temptation. Then my brothers and I would find ourselves in a too familiar situation: Police shining their flashlights into our eyes telling us, “Wake up! You’re coming with us.”
Help Her, Help Me
I still have my own pain from the past, which can come crashing back on me without warning. When it does, I hurt. I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand my mother’s actions. But gaining a better understanding about my mom and her struggles makes it easier for me to forgive her and move on with less pain.
It comforts me to know that my mom used drugs because she still carried around pain from her childhood, and she didn’t know another way to escape that feeling. Her addiction had little to do with how much she did or didn’t love my brothers and me.
But the social workers and judges couldn’t seem to understand that. I wonder if she was ever given her chance to explain her side. Maybe if they understood her better they could’ve helped her more.
Listen to Our Parents
I am not asking people to accept excuses from adults whose kids are in foster care. Sometimes it takes some dramatic intervention to keep children safe. But the foster care system should not only be obliged to keep children safe and to meet their needs. They should listen to biological parents and understand their needs. After all, foster children cannot be fully helped if their parents don’t get the right help and support.
Judging biological parents won’t help break the cycle of abuse, addiction, neglect and pain. I believe that understanding and support really can help.