Better Apart 

Entering foster care allowed me to have a better relationship with my mom.

by J.R.

Svetlanais, iStock

My mom and I fought all my life. Sometimes, she insulted me and used foul language, saying things like, “You’re never going to be sh-t,” or “I should’ve never had you.” On occasion, she hit me. Nothing I did seemed good enough for her, even when I got A’s in school. She was angry at my siblings, too, but it seemed she was angriest at me.  

Her abuse and emotional distance made me feel empty. There were nights I cried in the shower wondering what I could do better, or trying to understand why my mom didn’t seem to love me. 

But another part of me was angry. I gave plenty of attitude. I refused to help my siblings with chores and slammed the door if I was told to. I wanted to retaliate against my mom for the pain she caused me. I also wanted to have some peace and quiet which was impossible at home. As a result, I started to stay out late.  

One day, when I was 14, my friends and I wanted to hang out at the park after school. Although my mom made it clear that I should head home right after school, I didn’t care. I stayed out all night, going from one friend’s house to another, because I didn’t want to deal with her yelling at home.  

Our Fighting Escalates  

The next morning when I walked into the house, everyone was asleep. I tried to go quietly into my room to begin getting ready for school, but my mother heard me.  

“For the first time I felt like someone saw me and heard me even when I was silent.”  

She stomped her way into my room, slammed the door, and began to yell at the top of her lungs. “Did I not call you and tell you to come home? And you’re arriving at my house at this time? Explain to me what you were doing! Who do you think you are?” She asked questions but did not allow me to respond. I got angry and attempted to leave the room but she blocked the doorway.  

Things quickly escalated from us arguing to her striking me. At that moment I was physically there but my mind wandered off. I had what felt like an out-of-body experience, watching us go at it. While my sister tried to calm us down, my mom reached over her and swung at me, hitting my shoulder. I could hear my niece crying in the background.  

I was so shocked and scared I ran out of our apartment, barefoot. My shirt was ripped in the back from my mom trying to pull me back in the apartment. As I ran toward my school, strangers asked if I was OK or if I needed any help. I kept running. I just wanted to be left alone.   

Hospitalized and Handcuffed 

After hearing all the commotion, the cleaning staff at our building called the police. They found me a block away from my school. I was immediately brought to the hospital, where I learned that I didn’t have any serious injuries, mostly bruises.  

I was questioned by a worker from the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). She asked how the fight started, if my mother had ever been this violent before, if I felt safe at home. I wanted to lie, run, or even walk away, but I wasn’t sure what the right thing to do was. So I refused to answer the social worker’s questions. Although I was angry with my mother, I didn’t want her getting in trouble.  

“It’s OK to be scared. I get it; this is not what you imagined waking up to today. But if you speak to me, I’ll have a better understanding of what happened and how I can help,” the social worker said. 

I replied, “I don’t want anyone’s help nor do I need it. You can just leave me alone and let me go home.”  

I stood up to put my sweater on. Truthfully, I did need help and I wasn’t as strong as I made myself seem. I was devastated that my world had fallen to pieces right before my eyes. But I continued to insist that I was better off going home because I was worried that I would be sent away to a locked-down facility, and that I wouldn’t get to see my family again.  

She stood up, saying, “I can’t let you do that, so I’ll have to go get security.” 

I got so frustrated, I pushed over a chair and walked out of the room. But by the time I reached the hospital lobby, two officers stopped me.  

One said, “You’re not in trouble but we need you in the room whether you want to be there or not.” 

When I repeated that I wouldn’t go back, one of the officers grabbed me by the arm while the other handcuffed me and walked me back to the room. I was frightened. Eventually, four other police officers surrounded me while I was handcuffed to the hospital bed. I wondered to myself, What is next

The social worker asked me more questions, and after I lay on the hospital bed for a few hours, my sisters picked me up and took me home. They told me my mom was arrested and released a couple hours later. However, the police placed a temporary restraining order against her, so she couldn’t come home that night. It meant that she could not have any contact with me until the court date, the next morning. 

My Mother Gives Me Up 

The next morning, my oldest sister took me to the courthouse. This day is a blur. All I remember is walking into the courtroom and listening to my mom say to the judge that she couldn’t deal with my behavior any longer.  

I looked at her, tears dripping down my face. Our eyes met for a second but I looked away quickly as the court was dismissed. I couldn’t tell if my mother felt hurt or relieved.  

My mom and I had had a long history of fighting, but I never thought she would give me up. I wondered, “If my own mother could abandon me, then how can I trust anyone to stay by my side?” I felt stuck, alone, sad and empty.  

My mother continued to stay at her apartment in Harlem along with my other siblings. After the restraining order was dismissed, I didn’t want to speak to her. Even though both of us participated in these arguments, I felt like she should be the one to apologize. The longer we went without talking to each other, the more my anger grew. I asked myself: Did she ever love me? Why was it so easy for her to walk away than find a solution or have a conversation? Was I not worth fighting for?  

Starting to Heal in Foster Care  

I stayed in the ACS Children’s Building for about three and a half weeks. Then I was brought to an all-girls group home in the Bronx. Two weeks later, I was introduced to my social worker, Kaitlyn, who convinced me that I should try out a foster home and begin therapy. I was devastated to be away from my family, but I agreed, and I’m beyond grateful for her advice.   

I went into foster care afraid and unaware of what to expect, but I was blessed to be placed with a kind foster mom who made my well-being and mental health a priority. She made sure I was comfortable. She was so nurturing. She consistently asked me if I was OK or had anything on my mind.  

For the first time I felt like someone saw me and heard me even when I was silent. She allowed me to be vulnerable and open up without any judgment.   

I knew I had to learn how to deal with my emotions so I began therapy. It wasn’t easy to open up, but these sessions taught me useful techniques. I learned to meditate and journal to control my anger.  

Through therapy and time away from home, I have been able to reflect on what happened between me and my mom. I don’t think she intended to hurt me. I think she didn’t know how to deal with her negative emotions. As a single mother taking care of four kids, I’m pretty sure things were difficult for her.  

I learned to become honest with myself about how my mother’s abuse affected me throughout the years. I was angry, and I held a grudge against my mom. I realized it wasn’t just one fight that led us here, but a lifetime of tension that had built up between us.  

Rebuilding Our Relationship 

I thought I would never have a relationship with my mother again after she gave up on me. But we started checking in periodically while I was in foster care, and today, six years after our separation, my mom and I talk a few times a week. Recently, she called me on the phone, saying “Dios te bendiga, mi hija!” or “God bless you, my daughter!” When I told her I wasn’t sure if I was enjoying my job anymore, she invited me home for dinner. She said we could cook together, if I liked, and talk about it.   

Although we haven’t spoken about the cause of the separation yet, I hope one day we can.  I have a lot of questions for her: Did she, or will she, ever understand my perspective? How does she feel about everything that happened? Does she have any resentment or anger towards me? I hope someday I can get answers, but I worry that this is an expectation my mom might not be able to meet.  

Still, our relationship is growing day by day. Although it isn’t where I want it to be, I can see that my mom is trying to improve things between us, and it feels good to know she cares about me. Now I believe separating was the best thing for our relationship.  

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