Breaking Free of My Mom to Be My Real Self

A loving and consistent foster family helps, but it's still hard to separate from my abusive mother.

by Miles Dale

Jackson David, Unsplash

I first realized that my mom’s violence wasn’t normal one day when I was 7. My mom got drunk, which I’d seen before. I’d seen her physically attack people too, but this time was worse. She pulled me out from underneath the couch by my ponytails. She also dragged my aunt by her hair, hit her, and left her on the floor. She pushed my cousin and when he fell he hit his head on the fireplace. She choked her own girlfriend for a good minute.

The look of horror on my cousin’s face when my mom dragged his mom by the hair told me her actions weren’t right. After that, I started questioning ways she hurt me that I used to accept as normal. I was confused and miserable and bitter. I didn’t understand why my mom did what she did.

But other times, my mom made me feel safe and loved. When she wasn’t drunk and violent, she was protective. She wanted me to stay with her in bed. If I wanted toys or juice or anything else, she would get it for me. When we went outside, she kept my hand in a tight grip, making me feel safe. She pushed me on the swings and bought me ice cream.

When I look back on it now, it feels like her sweetness was meant to make me forget the times she was manipulative and abusive.

My Name, My Hair, and My Future Were for Her

It felt like my mom had expectations of me that had little to do with what I wanted, starting with my birth name: Miracle. It was religious and girly, and I never liked it. It felt more like a word than a name.

Then there was my hair, which she wanted to be neat, braided, and never free. She did my hair at least twice a week. I would argue that I wanted it to be loose and natural without all the hair products, but she replied with her list of expectations of me.

“I want you to trust in God, baby,” she would say while pulling the comb through my hair so roughly it made me cry. “I want you to grow up, become a great doctor. Get an amazing husband and give me some grandbabies.”

She wanted me to succeed where she thought she had failed. My mom is a lesbian, and she hates that about herself. She told me that being gay is a sin, and that God put woman and man on this planet for a reason. She was a home health aide who dreamed of being part of a hospital staff like my aunt.

Because she wanted me to fulfill her dreams, I didn’t tell her that I don’t like dresses and long hair. When a girl made my heart beat a bit too fast, I ignored it and tried to force myself to like the boys in my class. I didn’t tell her that I couldn’t latch on to Christianity no matter how badly I wanted to. I lied and told her I wanted to be a vet to make her happy.

I shut down and hid my real self from her, and my home life from everyone else. I focused on my studies and became a teacher’s pet. My teachers’ praise made me feel better.

Sabotaging My Foster Homes

Soon after that violent night, when I was 8, my mom and her girlfriend—my godmother—got in a fight. Neighbors heard me crying and called 911, and I went into foster care. 

Care was hard for me. I was used to either being pampered or being abused, so I was very emotional. If a foster parent yelled at me, I would cry or curse myself out for how worthless I was. Sometimes I even hurt myself. I sneaked around all my foster homes stealing food, afraid that it would be my last meal for a while.

My mom was in foster care growing up, and she told me that foster parents were wicked. My mom also made foster care worse for me by calling Child Protective Services (CPS) to report all kinds of imagined things my foster families were doing. Her reports led to my having to switch homes three times before I was 10, even though I told CPS her reports weren’t true.

Four years ago, when I was 10, I was placed in my current foster family: the Andrews. That is where I’ve been able to heal and realize important things about myself.

Ms. Andrew welcomed me into her home, which included one other foster child, her husband, and her two biological children. I was hesitant to trust them for a year or two, but I eventually settled in. The Andrews supported my passions by buying me books and drawing supplies. They also took me on trips, and gave me space and privacy when they saw I needed it.

I no longer have to be straight to make up for my mom’s homosexuality, and I don’t have to keep the first name I’ve never liked.

After I’d lived there two years, they asked me if I wanted them to adopt me, and I said yes.

But my mom tried to mess that up too; she made terrible false accusations against the Andrews. When I was 12, she told CPS they tied me up and raped me.

These accusations made Ms. Andrew furious, which she’d sometimes express to me, and later apologize for, acknowledging my mom’s lies were not my fault. After the rape accusation, though, Ms. Andrew pushed me to talk to my mother.

“She only listens to you, Miracle!” she said, “You do realize that what she’s accusing us of could get this family into serious trouble, right?”

The next time I spoke with my mom, I assured her nobody was hurting me and added, “Now please stop calling CPS.” She finally accepted that I wanted to stay with the Andrews and that her accusations wouldn’t get me back.

Accepting the Idea of a New Family

Once my mom stopped calling CPS, the Andrews talked more about adopting me. At first, I didn’t want to be adopted because on a basic level, I wanted my mom, even though she did all those bad things. I still yearned to depend on her. It was like I was being deprived of oxygen.

I was finally able to drop the illusion that my mom had been a good parent after a lot of badgering from my foster sister. She reminded me that my mom took drugs and exposed me to them, and put me through such an up and down childhood. And she didn’t even know about the violence; only Ms. Andrew knew the full extent of the physical and emotional abuse.

I had always defended my mom, but then my case planner told me that most of her drug tests came back positive. That’s when I stopped wanting to be her child.

Even though I was living with a good family with more stability, giving up on my mom actually made my relationships with them worse for a while. I closed myself off from everyone until recently. The pandemic pushed me to expose my feelings: We all got frustrated being trapped inside together and ended up revealing things.

When I Feel Safe, I Can Grow

The Andrews’ steadiness also helped me open back up. They’ve never hit or threatened to hit me. They’ve never denied me food. They discipline me fairly by taking away my devices for a day or two, or just talking to me about what I did wrong. They take me to fun places like water parks and let me see friends and encourage me to do things that help me grow, like writing for Represent.

Living with people I trusted also gave me the space to figure out that I am genderfluid and pansexual. I no longer have to be straight to make up for my mom’s homosexuality, and I don’t have to keep the first name I’ve never liked. I’m now asking people to call me “Miles.”

Ms. Andrew is a strict and churchgoing woman from Trinidad. “Genderfluid” and “pansexual” are new concepts for her. She doesn’t always call me “Miles” or use he/they pronouns, but she is trying. Unlike my mom, she lets me be my own person instead of an extension of her who needs to fulfill her dreams. The Andrew family provided me with room to think things out and they got me therapy. Yes, they also want my hair to be “ladylike” and they take me to church sometimes, but they show flexibility and listen to what I want.

Partly because of that freedom to be myself and feel my own feelings, I have been able to admit that I’m depressed, partly because, for all her faults, I still love my birth mom. Just recently, she lost parental rights, and the Andrews are ready to adopt me. I know that’s good, but it’s also painful to close the door on my mom. I’m flooded with different emotions, and I don’t know what they mean yet.

Discussion Questions

1.How has Miles’ mother’s expectations affected how he views himself?

2. What did it take for Miles to realize his “normal” experiences with his mom was not a healthy relationship? How did Miles later define the qualities of a healthy and unhealthy family relationship? 

 3.How did Ms. Andrew show support that Miles did not receive from his mother? What are the ways that Miles is allowed freedom to express himself?

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