Tag Archives: child neglect

Rewritten History: Motherless Motherhood

“I think you forget that we are super girls, you and me, but mainly you,” my 13-year-old daughter whispered to me recently. Her blossoming into a young woman is like watching clipped movie reels, revealing uncut scenes of the childhood I wanted for myself. As she walks down the block to school, her ponytail swaying, her hips gleefully hopping almost, her mind safe; she is all the things I was not at her age. To me this is the epitome of success of motherless motherhood.

For former foster children, becoming a parent is filled with a mine field of emotion, far different from the landscape of others who had good or bad parents, natural or not. Children are taken from their biological family and put in state care due to abuse, neglect, or parental addiction. I was taken from my mother before I was 5, after I was found burnt, abused, and suffering from malnutrition in a dark basement. I spent my first year “out” learning to walk, talk, and acclimate.

As a society, we are horrified at abuse from a father or other family member, but from a mother it seems unholy, even to atheists. When the umbilical cord is murderously snapped, when children are cast aside, abused, neglected by the very person whose body nurtured them, something changes in the child. Synapses are broken; trust and safety are coveted but often never really found.

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Me and my growing mini.

When foster children are ripped from their mothers and fathers, several griefs occur. The loss of mother seems like a different loss for foster children. Even if the mother was violently abusive, as many are, or had an addiction, or was extremely neglectful, not feeding or clothing the child, there is a loss and grief cycle that child still enters. This is still the person who brought them into the world, it is different than abuse from another trusted person.

Foster children are taken from biological relatives and placed in stranger’s homes or group homes until “reunification with a safe biological relative” is possible. If not, at some point, that child may become eligible for adoption, or sits in the system from home to home until he/she is out on the street for good. It is a system with flaws, it is a system meant to protect; but often children are abused in these new homes, and lose more than their biological family.

I spent a few decades doing was trying to come to terms with this unnatural loss. It was a loss of my former self in many ways, as the person in the mirror looked strangely familiar to the figure who was wandering the earth without me, and who let other people hurt me. With this loss also came the startling discard of my connection to any other family, grandparent, or cousin. Most caseworkers and even advocates neglect to see the other losses in this child’s life. It is a loss often of an entire lineage, and for foster children, they often have other familial relationships that are gone, often forever.

When I was found, I had an older brother who was found with me. Often, I would ask for him. That person was long gone; coping with that and with supervised visits with my mother was very complicated. As years went on and my mother completely vanished, to live her life elsewhere, I shuddered at my physical similarities to the woman I feared and loved. I even have her first name and so I prefer to go by the Italian translation of it.

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The year I was taken from my mother.

I spent birthdays wondering if she ever thought of my birth, did she remember me kicking inside of her, remember pushing me out of her body, does she remember there was a cord? I wondered if she had any regrets. I wondered if she was crazy or just such a sad, desperate person who did not know how to love and protect, even her own. I wandered if I was worth anything.

The umbilical cord breaks and so does the ability to trust or feel safe in the world. I spent years before my motherhood creating my own corner of safety. I found it in books. I kindled an internal warmth and  was often a peace keeper in the calamity of my foster home. I was mother-like to friends, boyfriends, and to foster siblings. As I got older my caretaking spilled into other relationships where my needs, wants, wishes, or even dreams were not really discussed. I was never looking for a rescuer, I never believed in fairy tales like other young women at that time; it was my job to put myself last. This was the lesson from my mother, though she hurt me and left me, I felt responsible. Maybe I said or did something bad? Maybe I did not deserve light or sun or safety. These lessons give abused foster children a PhD in devaluation to hang on the wall for life.

Learning that we are valuable as a foster child is a daunting carnival, with long lines and expensive tokens. It is lifelong.

The idea of motherhood baffled me. I often studied the mothers I would see on the train, in my friends’ lives, on television. I would watch carefully at the good and not so great mothers around me, my friends’ mothers, my foster sisters who were parents, neighbors, and friends; I always felt like I was watching a television show, outside of something I could not study enough.

I wrote stories about mothers in my notebook. I studied writers whose mothers were either idolized or furiously hated. It intrigued me. Sometimes, I would sit in a café in NYC and just listen to the stories, the complaints of someone’s mother; oh the irony and jealousies I felt! This mysterious connection was difficult to grasp but as a woman it was my focus. I did have anger and fear toward men in many ways. I did wonder about my father, whose name I shared, but I did not seem so intrigued by fatherhood. As a woman, motherhood was something I felt I HAD to know, or else maybe I really could never grow up and be a real woman.

Despite this obsession with understanding the nature of motherhood, it did not occur to me that I would have my own children. To be honest, I did not think anyone would love me enough to start a life with me. But I adored children and thought that I would share this concern I had for them in a classroom or in volunteering or advocacy. I had an empathetic soul, but did not think I would be granted any chance to conceive.

By some granted miracle, I had my daughter in 2003. In the past 13 years, I watched her grow into a better version of me. A freer version of me. As a baby, I was astounded by her every move sound and gesture; often I would sit up all night just to watch her sleep. I would check the doors and the oven and the windows incessantly.  My eyes were always on her. I studied her features. I wondered if I looked like her at that age (I never saw a photo of myself before 4). She was all the lineage I knew. Her blood, genes, skin, and eyelashes were something that probably were similar to people in my mysterious past. She was and always is a revelation to me.

Often these re-awakenings are not understood by anyone other than other former foster children and some adoptees. My daughter’s natural beauty and talents obviously come from both sides of the gene pool, but my side is very dominant. Maybe it is also environmental; we spent most of her life alone together. But still, sometimes I see the curve around her lips and I remember my mother. It is very startling for me, it is almost like someone flashed back a memory to her, to grandparents I didn’t know, maybe aunts, family who never looked for me or found me.

When former foster children become mothers or fathers; their child can uncover startling memories. Memories of people we never met, or people who hurt us and vanished before we could find closure. I do not live through my daughter, that is a different parental connection. The motherless mother synapse is one through a carefully crafted lens. My girl has so many skills and interests that have nothing to do with me. I give her the tools to nurture these new curiosities and I watch her parade like a movie star under a blanket of emotional security from me.

Success comes to former foster children when we redefine parenthood in our own terms. I put aside (okay maybe buried) my hurt and anger toward the past before I became a mother. I vowed that her movie reel of childhood would instead be safe, full of little mystery, adventurous, exciting, and emotionally secure. And it has been. Do I have regrets and would haves, should haves? Sure I do, like any other mother.

But when in doubt of myself, I watch her movie reel. Her arms outstretched, she takes on new opportunities with hope. My movie reel was confusion, fear, loss and at her age; with my mother’s and her “friend’s” abuse as the director. My own production reminded me I was not good enough. My daughter’s reel has never known that pain.

Her reel is hope.

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This work by menaanne.wordpress.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

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The Other Side

At my daughter’s age, a counselor told me never to forget three important things I learned in foster care.  What happened to me was not my fault. My experiences made me mentally strong. At 12, I could take care of myself and protect myself. Don’t forget that at 42, she added.

Me, the year I was taken from my abusive mother and entered foster care.
Me, the year I was taken from my abusive mother and entered foster care.

I am not 42, but that marker is not too far off. I forget those facts when adulthood brings me the usual pains of life. Somehow her voice echoes through though, at even my lowest points. Every single child in foster care and every former foster child can muster up this power. It is a gift bestowed upon us by early brain changing, life altering events that endow us with the kind of strength others still seek.

Despite this superhero energy I dig into time and again, voids exist. Voids I try to fill, but in searching for my own identity, still lurk in the background. For more than the half a million children who were removed from abusive, negligent or drug addicted parents, and placed in care, their adulthood leaves these impenetrable gaps.

Often, my colleagues discuss what missing link displaced, abandoned, and neglected children crave most as they develop into adults. Their diligent research is aimed at stopping the negative cycles we all see in the child welfare system, generation after generation.

But, in order to stop the vicious cycle of abuse, depression, graduation failures, addiction, and mental illness that so many former foster children face, advocates must start understanding the importance of maleness.

Foster children need a balance of nurture and protection. Generally this comes from a mother and father figure ( of any gender). Without a true identity, or with a broken one, foster children clamour around their lives seeking to fill emotional buckets. They recreate themselves from nothing.

I never fell into that pile of advocates (many whom I respect and love dearly) who desperately searched for answers, for biological family, especially a father, to heal early wounds. Instead, I plowed on. Some called it denial, I called it survival. Survival sounds better.

Continue reading The Other Side

End of the Line ?

Former foster children live a patchwork life, with bits of  small recollections of the past, often blurred by emotional pain. Most of their own heritage and lineage remains a complete mystery. Identity is shuffled and recreated in different foster homes. In adulthood it can remain precarious. A lifetime of sorting through a past they will never find, leaves them in the cold.

In my collaboration with other foster child advocates, we talk a lot about abuse cycles, attachment issues, success, stability and strength. What is often overlooked, outside of the adoption arena, is identity and the lack of a concrete past.

Me and my end
Me and my end

Dissimilar from adoptees taken or given away at birth, most foster children are taken from their biological families after attachments, negative or positive, have formed. Children enter the foster care system due to neglect, abuse, addictions of the parents, or abandonment.

Continue reading End of the Line ?

Blue Pin of Courage

I wore a blue pin this week and had someone approach me, “Is that for Autism awareness?” I felt almost bad saying no, but my blue this month is for child abuse prevention month. Child abuse kills 5 children in the US a day. A DAY. Thousands of other victims a day go on living; their young lives physically, mentally, and socially altered.

Child abuse is rampant and knows no ethnic or economical boundary. More often than not, a trusted caregiver or parent is the child’s abuser. The truth is not everyone loves their children and not everyone protects and cares for their children. As a mother, this is hard to accept.

I live mostly for my daughter, every day I wake up thankful I have her. I spend my nights worrying about her, my decisions center around her needs. But, not everyone feels this sense toward even their own children.  As I type this, hundreds of children in America are being hit, starved, burned, molested, and left in the dark at the hands of those who brought them into this world. They have no out. And when they wake up tomorrow, their abuser will either continue to abuse, or further perpetuate the sick cycle of abuse by rewarding the child with praise and affection, regaining trust.. only to abuse again.

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Me and my girl

What is the key to preventing child abuse? Like winning any other battle, we must understand the enemy. How do they infiltrate? How do they succeed?

Abusers gain a powerful tool, trust; either by proxy or because the child knows no other way. TRUST is the open door for an abuser. A parent, caregiver or family member often already has this trust by biological or situational nature. Children are born innocent and their only security comes from what is under their roof.

In recent years, many programs aim to help parents, caregivers and teachers recognize these grooming tactics. But what about parents who abuse? As we delve more into the causes of abuse, or indicators, rather, there really is not a picture of a parent abuser. It happens in trailer parks, it happens in mansions.

City officials were investigating my mother and other adults in my house, when I was found at  5;  abused, beaten, burnt, and starved for a long period of time.  They came to my home half a dozen times looking into suspicion of severe abuse of my older brother. No one knew for over a year that my mother had another child. She kept me locked in a basement and lied to the police. A case worker literally turned on a light on the staircase, and my brother finally uttered he had a little sister.

Continue reading Blue Pin of Courage

The Ebb and Flow of Letting Go

My nerves and heart were both tested this week. The realization that the world can intrude on the safe, secure space I have built for my mini me, came crashing. Former foster children who become loving parents are rocked hard deep in the soul even by minor intrusions on the children we have sometimes smothered for their own protection! 🙂

Me and my girl.
Me and my girl prepare for Santa’s visit!

Often our minds are flooded with the physical and emotional trials of our own past; innocence and trust ripped from us before we knew what either meant. The moments that flash like slide show images when insecurity, fear, doubt, and frustrations sit at our door as adults. It is startling. This is why many former foster children try not to love or attach to anything. For those like me, who ventured into loving motherhood, the slope is especially tricky. We are vulnerable, so is the object of our unconditional affection; it is a tough reality to face.

I have prided myself on being a good parent. Mini me trusts me, relies on me, she feels loved and wanted. Check. But what about what the rest of the world can do to this gentle creature I helped create? There are things I can protect her from and do; people I keep her far from, events and situations we avoid..but what about what is outside my grasp? This is something I had not considered.

Continue reading The Ebb and Flow of Letting Go

It’s My Party-Celebrations and Foster Children

2002, NY. Pregnant with my mini me and glowing!
2002, NY. Pregnant with my mini me and glowing!

Today is my Mini Me’s 12th birthday. Her big blue eyes have been rolling all week, because I dragged out baby pictures left and right all week. Mini me sighs heavily, simply because a  recollection of our connection, is already very real to her. For children in foster care, this day of birth comes with a painful clause in small writing. It is a reminder that their personal past has been erased or deleted. It is a reminder of  a history often long gone or wrought with pain.

Birthdays are a celebration of life, it is a mark of importance of the child to his or her family.  Foster children have been abused, neglected, or lived with a parent with addictions who is gone, and so this validation of importance is not fed.  The violent, or tragic separation or abandonment, of children by their parent or both parents rings loudly on this day. A connection to the happy event of their birth is often not ever born or shared with them. Generally, the day is wrought with mystery, confusion, or even memories of physical pain.

Continue reading It’s My Party-Celebrations and Foster Children

A Reason to Believe

I spent a lot of time in my own mind as a foster child, dreaming up my ideal holiday that would not ever come. For me, the lights of Rockefeller Center scripted fantastical stories that eased the pain of being forgotten.

While most of the world, no matter what tradition, awaits big family meals and the exchange of gifts; for children lost in the child welfare system the holidays can wreak havoc on their fragile souls.

Me. the year I was taken from my mother and entered foster care.
Me. the year I was taken from my mother and entered foster care.

After being found in a basement, beaten, burned and starved at age 5, I entered foster care. The ferocious court battles, the on and off again appearances of my illusive mother, plagued me well into my teen years. Often during holidays, I wondered where my mother lived and if she too saw the crystal star at the top of the grandest tree in the world. I wandered. I made excuses for her in my mind.

Certainly I was loveable or at least I hoped so, but alas dreams stayed dreams. I held my breath each year, thinking some knock would come to the door..a long lost sibling explaining the big mishap. My father maybe? I would’ve settled for a man with a familiar feature walking down my street, even. Maybe my mother would run to me, presents in hand, cloaked in her long dark hair at the door, looking for absolution! The stories spun in my young mind over and over again each Christmas.

Me and my girl prepare for Santa's visit!
Me and my girl prepare for Santa’s visit!

Many foster children feel discarded like yesterdays trash around the holidays; discarded by those who brought them into the world, by a child welfare system that doesn’t protect them, and by the fairy tales they hear other children recite. It is a childhood interrupted by an all too soon reality.

My childhood Christmas came decades after my childhood, when my daughter was born.  Because then..I did not need answers anymore. I had my own link, someone belonged to me.Every other sense of my own family seemed to fail, but not my blue-eyed girl depending almost solely on me.

A girl whose eyes lit up next to the big tree. A girl who still waits anxiously for Santa.  A girl whose heart is so big that she leaves an unmarked gift under the tree every year for a girl in foster care.

Becoming a mother saved my soul from a past that did not want to let go. All former foster children can be saved, with a sense of belonging to something unconditional, far from the discard pile.

Continue reading A Reason to Believe

Getting Back on the Horse

 

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My proud girl and her new friend.

Sometimes I stumble. Actually, I stumble often.  Sometimes the past whispers in my ear, tells me I am not good enough, tells me my attainable goals are out of reach. It whispers I am not beautiful enough, smart enough, rich enough, strong enough, or worthy enough. My inner voice is polluted at times.

I heard somewhere, that as mothers, our words and actions to our children become their inner voice as adults. Nothing about parenting is more true. Being a former foster child, who was taken from  an abusive mother, my own inner voice sometimes has a deep, harrowing echo–it sneaks up on me at vulnerable times. It is especially loud during intimate moments and in small daily perceived failures.

Children who were foster children, or who suffered abuse by a  trusted parent often have a life-long emotional barricade. Physical wounds heal and people do move on. We look whole on the outside, we can grow and succeed, but that inner voice taunts. It pushes us to fail, to stop while we are on the path to emotional freedom.

It makes us hold our breath, it keeps us expecting hurt. Sometimes it invites hurt. Failures, personal or professional, seem par for the course. In fact, there is a comfort in being cast aside, or losing a professional goal. That nagging whisper tells us our negative inner voice is correct. It is  the lifelong impact of early abuse.

But, being a mother now always gives my soul another chance to drown that inner voice. This week, I watched my beautiful girl get up on a big horse and proudly trot around an incredible horse farm. Her bravery and confidence astounds me. Her inner voice is strong. When she is scared, she hears me telling her she is the most beautiful girl in the world. She hears her family telling her she can do it, telling her to try one more time.  She is whole and not fractured. She later climbed a fort, pulling herself up on ropes, and laughing at my fears. She is strong, where I am not.

My proud rider.
My proud rider.

She stumbles (not often), and she gets herself back up. I asked her how she is so brave. After all, she is now an aspiring artist. She is my little chef who studies french baking. She still climbs trees and likes to rock climb higher than I ever would! She nurtures every living creature, even the scary ones. Most importantly she always wants to help someone else. Only yesterday she asked me if she could do more to help foster kids. She is so proud of herself when she gets involved. She is selfless beyond any child I have met.

I felt so emotional watching her climb that horse. My daughter is everything I was not as a child. She is fearless.

On the way home, I told her I am so proud of her willingness to try so many things. Her response was: “I am so proud to have you as my mom, in all the universe there is not a better mom. That is why I get back up when I fall off!”

Me-- Just entering foster care after I was taken from my mother.
Me– Just entering foster care after I was taken from my mother.

This is what foster children, discarded children, and abused children need. They need what secure and loved children like my girl have; one consistent voice and presence urging them to be their best selves. Advocates can bring this to all children. Former foster children can create a new generation of givers in our own children. We can create strong women and men. Our own inner voices can be quieted for yet another day.

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This work by menaanne.wordpress.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

 

 

Power in Permanency: Foster Children Need Family

Me, about a year after being taken from my mother, 1981.
Me, about a year after being taken from my mother, 1981.

Courts in New York State made a decision this week which has spurred some debate over foster children and the idea of family. A foster child, loved by two people who lived in two different homes was made adoptable by them both.Critics of this recent case argue that one parent in two homes was not an “ideal” FAMILY.

Foster children have no real concept of an ideal family, they simply need stability and safety. They create a family through a network of friends and temporary siblings who come and go. To them there is no Uncle or crazy cousins, loving grandparents, memories of watching siblings grow. They have lost that idea by being abused or neglected and placed with strangers, temporarily. They do not need what some people argue is ideal. They need to sleep under a warm roof, with no threat in the middle of night or their safety, they want to trust that they will not be abandoned, they need protection from the “family” who abused them, and they need to stay in one safe home as long as possible. One parent, a gay parent, a parent of a different race, is the best alternative to the street, or to pedophiles and abusers.

The negative feedback this case has received in certain circles astounds me. It came to me, at about 3 am this morning, that maybe the people fighting against “alternative” permanent placement, have no understanding of American foster children and their circumstances.
Continue reading Power in Permanency: Foster Children Need Family

Re-Writing History

My little girl graduated from 5th grade last week. As I watched her eyes look for me in the crowd over the dozens of families strewn together, it occurred to me that being her anchor has indeed saved me.

Sharing moments with her and for her, my only real familial connection, heals me. When I was a child in foster care, milestones such as graduations, birthdays  holidays, events were something I wanted to avoid. And here I was last week and hundreds of times over the past decade, slowly overcoming the feeling that I had nothing that really belonged to me by sharing milestones for her.

Me. the first year I entered foster care.
Me. the first year I entered foster care.

For children in foster care, all seems temporary, haphazard, confusing; they are sometimes forgotten in the shuffle of the system and courts. I was no different. I was put in foster care at age 5 after I was found locked and hidden in my mothers-basement abused, not fed, unable to walk or speak. But still, I looked in the crowd for many years, hoping for any sign that my mother or even father would need to see me or would need my forgiveness.

Sometimes the pain of feeling forgotten outweighs the pain of remembering past abuse for children in care during these milestones. To me, the milestones were a reminder that I was not important, that I was not impressing anyone, that I had no one to “make proud” or even let down.

 

Continue reading Re-Writing History