Breaking the cycle

Breaking the cycle

“Don’t underestimate what a young child can understand of their story.”

Foster care is always the result of someone else’s decision. Whether it’s selfish or not very well thought through, it brings a child into state care: away from familiarity and family; and to frustration and fear. I am a fourth generation foster kid. My emotions are so mixed to say it. I feel proud because I am strong willed to break the cycle, and yet I feel shame because of the stigma it gives my family ( you know, the hushed whispers of, “Oh my! What did they do that would cause their children to be taken away?”). It kind of makes you grow up with the cloak of the black sheep. Elementary school friends would ask who that lady was that would pick me up, and why I called her by her first name? Which inevitably would lead to asking why I didn’t live with my parents. 

I went into care at the ripe age of four. As a small child, even then I knew the big picture of why I wasn’t with mom. Quite emphatically I announced one day that if I was ever presented with the opportunity to submit myself to the devices that had a hold on my mom that landed me in foster care that I wouldn’t look at it or touch it with a ten-foot pole. Don’t underestimate what a young child can understand of their story. My sister was eight, and had been little momma to me my whole life. We had such a good relationship: she protected me, defended me, and I don’t doubt that once in a while she stood in my place. First we were taken to our grandparent’s house. It was strange because it was just them and their two daughters, my mother’s step-sisters. It was quiet. There was no foot traffic like I was used to. And at night, everyone went to their own bedroom and slept until morning. It was nothing like what I was used to. We didn’t stay there long, however. I’m told that grandpa didn’t want us there anymore. Maybe we were too rowdy, or the state wasn’t giving him what they had promised in return for giving us a place to live. He was willing to send us back to go to whosoever would take us. But we had just gotten settled. We had just learned how their family worked. We had just unpacked. 

“He was willing to send us back to go to whosoever would take us. But we had just gotten settled. We had just learned how their family worked. We had just unpacked.”

We unloaded our trash bags at the next home we went to which was grandpa’s sister’s house. She was my great-aunt. This was to be my home for the next fifteen years. But it was no honeymoon and sappy ending. We spent around one full year here, and my aunt decided my sister was too much. Too sassy. Too rebellious. Too hard to be won over. She had to go; and she did. I had no warning. She was just gone one day. Was my sister a little wild? Definitely- I’m not going to lie! But knowing where we came from, what can I say? That’s all she knew how to be. We didn’t have regularly scheduled visits. If my memory serves me right, I can count on one hand the times we got to meet up before I turned fifteen or so. I was the “favored child” because I was young and I was quiet. Trauma does that to some kids; I knew to be quiet and unnoticed because it kept me out of the line of fire. My aunt took it as a sign that I was submissive. Then she began to abuse me. As if I hadn’t endured enough already, right? She did it in such a subtle way, that I didn’t realize what she was doing was wrong. I didn’t realize it until much, much later. I was moved from one bad situation to a different bad situation. Of all the things I had seen and what had occurred when I was with my mom, sexual abuse was never one of them. Now I had that added to my traumatic history. 

Living with my aunt was no rose-bowl. I had two years of counseling, none of which I can remember. None of which helps me today. My aunt was not able to serve me emotionally, so I lived a very lonely life. Did I have things, and privileges, and great opportunities? Yes, but I never got  to talk with her about them or other aspects of life. I basically was expected to figure it all out on my own. I cherished the bi-weekly visits I got to have with my mom. She took such an interest in me. There were times during these visits that were disappointing, and I could see the damaging effects of her chosen path, but for the most part, they were very happy visits. At some point in my foster care journey, my great-aunt was given legal guardianship of me. My mom couldn’t financially afford to fight for me anymore. So she quit. 

When I became older, and more aware of the life I had, I decided to forgive my mom of the past. I understood what her poor choices were that put me into foster care, and I knew that despite everyone of them: she is still mom, and loves me more than anyone on this planet. I decided to begin a relationship with her. Is it everything I want it to be? No. I don’t think it’ll ever get there. Working toward realistic expectations in our relationship, we are closer now than it seems we have ever been. 

After marrying the man of my dreams, we tried to start a family and infertility got in the way. Only briefly: my body is not the only way our family is able to grow, thankfully. We became foster parents: it. was. hard. For two big reasons it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done: 1. When people say, “I can’t imagine letting my heart get so attached to a child and then have to give them back. I couldn’t do it.” My response to them a large percentage of the time is, “Same here. But we did it, because that’s exactly what they needed. Someone to love them fiercely even if it was only for 24 hours.” 2. Infertility is this weird beast of grief that pops in to say hello at the most awkward of times. It’s loss over and over again without explanation. Foster care, though it gave me opportunity to give back, was a recurring loss whenever we had to say goodbye. God graciously closed the door for us, and we (not so) patiently waited for our next move. 

“When people say, “I can’t imagine letting my heart get so attached to a child and then have to give them back. I couldn’t do it.” My response to them a large percentage of the time is, “Same here. But we did it, because that’s exactly what they needed. Someone to love them fiercely even if it was only for 24 hours.”

We still wanted to be parents. To give every ounce of a joyful life to a tiny human that we possibly could. Adoption was the best way we saw to do this, and after considering all of the avenues decided that foster care adoption was for us. A local agency places children who are legally free for adoption who are waiting on their forever “yes.” Orphans here in the USA, and we can do something about it. Our case worker was going through the checklist of questions: what do you think about this behavior, how do you feel about birth parents, do you feel prepared on what to expect from a child who has been in foster care? Honesty, I think I laughed at some of them. Why? Because I was that behavior, I see the big picture of the birth parents, and um, I think I have a pretty good idea of what to expect from kids in state care! I realize my store is not a carbon copy of someone else’s, but I also understand that people like me were good kids- we just needed someone who was willing to show us consistency and love.  

 

What is one small reform you think would most benefit the foster care community?

To this day, I’m not even sure of a large percentage of what my story entails; what transpired while I was in care. If there’s one thing I’d like to see change about the foster care system is an open file if the foster kid wants to see it later in life. I’m currently working with someone in the state where I was in care to obtain it. If a foster parent has availability to the resources that will prepare and equip a child or teen in foster care to overcome emotional challenges, behavioral challenges, and physical challenges: by all means, do it! We are living, after all, in the 21st century. I hope this will help someone some day.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I am a 4th generation foster kid, I have been a foster parent, and now I'm adopting a child out of the foster care system.

Instagram: @itsybetsie

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