I vividly remember the day that I went to live with my foster parents, and the shame and guilt I felt as we stood in their garage and went through my clothes. My foster mother held them up in the light, and her jaw dropped at the rips and holes. She clicked her tongue and said, “These obviously have to go in the trash. We’ll get you some new ones.”
I know she didn’t mean anything by it, but apart from bad memories of my childhood, the stained shirts, ripped sports bras and dirty pants were all I had. I was 15.
I had experienced years of social service calls, name calling, drunken fist fights and chronic episodes of homelessness, but it wasn’t until I got hung up on some misdemeanor marijuana charges that the state opened a child protection case. As many teens in chaotic households do, I acted out the only behaviors I knew. Drinking, using, fighting, giving up in school. Every drink I took, every fist I threw, was because I didn’t know what else to do.
There are no words to describe the feelings I carried around as a traumatized child. I heard a lot of, “You do this, you did that, go to school …” Nobody ever told me, “You’re beautiful, you are strong, you can do whatever you set your mind to.” I had to find that out for myself.
I spent quite a few months in a home for adolescents with substance abuse problems, with a family that was nothing short of amazing. They gave me my first glimpse of what a healthy family looked like, from 6 o’clock supper to hockey games on the weekends.
Then I moved into a therapeutic foster home, designed for children needing higher level care than a traditional foster home. My foster parents were kind, consistent and caring, and for a while I thrived. But I had no experience with that kind of stability. I started feeling like a caged bird. Going from having no rules or expectations to being in a healthy, stable home was too much for me. I started to get into trouble again, and eventually decided to run away and live on my own. When I found out I was pregnant at 19, I had to draw on my brief experiences in a safe and nurturing environment.
From the day that I learned I was to be a mother, I thought of nothing else but giving my child more than I had. By the time my son was born, I had my GED, and I started college shortly after. I majored in Social Work because I wanted to change the world. But it was the world that changed me. As I progressed through college and devoted myself to my son, I started to find joy in helping others. I became employed at a homeless shelter, volunteered for various organizations and helped my friends and family any chance I got.
At 24, I became licensed to provide therapeutic foster care, and within a few months, the state placed two children with me. At 26, I became a mother for the second time when I adopted a 5-year-old girl who came from a family much like my own. Over the past few years, I have cared for children ages 5 to 16, and I recently started providing adolescent substance abuse care through the same program I was in as a youth.
Yes, I grew up in a neglectful and abusive home. Yes, I was in foster care. I have been to jail. I have done drugs. I have hurt people. That doesn’t define me. I am beautiful, I am strong, and I can do anything I put my mind to, and I have. I came out of the chaos and I’m stronger for it. I found that, for me, the way to work through the trauma that I was raised in was to stand on my own two feet and share my experiences with the world.
I encourage you, the foster parents to be patient with your kids. They didn’t ask for this. You have the power to make a lasting difference in their lives. And, I encourage you, the foster children, not to let your past define you. You are all beautiful, and you have the power to change the world.
Published on May 10, 2015 as part of Children’s Rights’ “Fostering the Future” campaign. The opinions expressed herein are those of the blog author and do not necessarily represent the views of Children’s Rights or its employees. Children’s Rights has not verified the author’s account.