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No Reason to Break Up My Family
Anonymous
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I spent the first nine years of my life in Haiti. When I was 9, my grandparents brought my mom, my little brother, and me to America.

We started off in Miami, then moved to New York. My mom had a few relatives there, but we couldn’t stay with them forever. She couldn’t find much work, and we had to live in a basement. Living there was uncomfortable, but I understood my mom’s situation. When she would come home from work I would help her unpack groceries and cook dinner while my brother watched TV. My mom asked me about school while we cooked.

I knew my mom loved me, and part of that was teaching me to be respectful. When I didn’t do my chores, or got into trouble, she would hit me with the belt. It was hard enough to leave bruises, but I was never scared of my mom. I didn’t think of myself as abused. She’d been hitting us since we were little kids in Haiti, and other kids I knew got hit too. The idea that hitting a kid was bad and could get a parent in trouble was something I first heard in school in the U.S.

Another thing I’d never heard back in Haiti was that children shouldn’t be left home unsupervised. My mom needed to feed us, and she didn’t have money for babysitters. So when she had to go to work, she would sometimes leave us by ourselves. I was in charge of my 3-year-old brother. Other times she left us with people she didn’t know well.

And that’s how my brother and I ended up in care.

Living With Strangers

We’d been in New York for about a year and were living in a studio. I was 13 and my brother was 5. My mom had to take care of something back in Florida, so she had a pregnant lady she barely knew come stay with us. I had a bad feeling about this lady. I told my mom, but she didn’t listen.

When my mom returned, the pregnant lady wanted to stay with us, but my mom made her leave. She told my mom she’d get revenge. She called the police and said my mother left her kids alone and didn’t take good care of us. The police came when my mom was at work and I was home with my brother. They saw bruises on my arms and my brother’s arms.

The police took us to the hospital and then to the foster care building. It was scary being separated from my mom and not knowing what was going to happen to us.

My mother went to jail for one night. I was told that she was charged with abuse, for hitting us with a belt, and neglect, for leaving me alone with my brother. They said she was not a good parent, and my brother and I went into care. I couldn’t believe something like this could happen to our family, and I wanted to be back with my mom. I didn’t think hitting me or leaving me alone with my brother were bad things, certainly not bad enough to tear a family apart.

‘She Doesn’t Love You’

I stayed in care for three years, was moved to five different strangers’ houses, and had to switch middle schools three times. Moving from school to school had a bad impact on me. I became more worried about my grades, and it was frustrating having to make new friends and to keep trying to fit into a new environment with unfamiliar faces.

image by YC-Art Dept

I stayed with my fourth set of foster parents for about a year, and they wanted to adopt me. I didn’t want to be adopted, so they tried to turn me against my mother, who they knew from church. They tried to get me to say bad things about her in my foster care planning meetings and even told me, “Your mom doesn’t love you.”

I started to worry that this was true. I said “no” to home visits with my mom while I lived with them. Not seeing her was my choice because I let my foster parents’ voices get in my head, and I started to believe what they said. I was angry at my mom for letting all this happen.

Living with strangers was awkward and uncomfortable. I called my foster mothers “Miss,” and some of them didn’t like that. My fifth and final foster mother, Sylvia, said “Don’t call me ‘Miss’! I’m not an old lady!” I shut down and talked much less than I used to.

Deep Damage

In February 2015, I finally returned to my mom. I told Sylvia I was mad at my mom, but she said, “She’s your mother; you need to talk to her.” She also said, “If she didn’t love you, she wouldn’t have gone through all that trouble just to get her kids back.” It was nice to hear that, but the previous foster parents and others had made me doubt my mom’s love.

So when we reunited, it was awkward. After three years in care, her home felt like another stranger’s. As months went by, we started talking more and I began to express how I felt. Once I lashed out and asked, “Why did you leave us with that pregnant lady? If you’d just listened to me, none of this would have happened!”

She said, “You’re right, I made a mistake.” We then had a conversation which was deep and hard: Hearing how much she was hurting made me cry. She told me that the agency made her take parenting classes on top of her long hours working with elderly people. And because she’d been charged with abuse, she can’t work with children.

She also told me people at her church advised her not to get my brother and me back because we’d already been “ruined” by being in care. So in care, my mom and I both had people telling us bad things about each other. We started family therapy, which helped bring us together.

My three years in foster care were a terrible experience. I became more negative and self-doubting. I felt very alone.

What happened to my mom was unfair. She was only trying to provide for us. I understand why kids in families who are truly abusive or neglectful are taken away. But kids seem to make worse choices after going into foster care. What one parent would allow, another parent wouldn’t, which confuses kids. I think children are better off with one family, their own family if possible.

Slow Recovery

When my mom beat my brother and me, she was disciplining us the way her mom disciplined her. If my mom didn’t care, she would have given up on my brother and me a long time ago. Throughout this three-year trial she stood by me, even when I stopped visiting her. People were telling me bad things about her, and others were telling her to give up on us and that she could always have other children.

Since we returned home, my mom hasn’t hit my brother or me. She’s started punishing us the American way—taking away our phones or not letting us watch TV. She’s showed in lots of ways that she really does care. We are beginning to recover as a family, but the awful experience of foster care dividing my family was still unnecessary.

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(FCYU-2016-07-08)

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