Understanding the Family You Were Given

Just by virtue of being in the foster care system, one has a family structure that was either disrupted by death, mental illness and/or family dysfunction that has led to abuse and/or neglect. 

There are a large number of children who were removed from households led by single mothers or unhealthy two parent homes.  I was born to a single woman with two children that were 12 and 13 years (respectively) older than I. She hadn’t been the best mother to my brother and sister but when I was born she vowed things would be different.  My father was not a part of my life; he knew of me but had no interest in being involved.  In fact, I’ve never met him or anyone from his side of the family. My mother was murdered just before I turned three years old, officially making me an orphan.  I bounced around between family members before entering the foster care system at the age of 13.

The void of not having parents seemed vast. There were times I was angry at my mother for leaving me, then I would be angry at my father for abandoning me and then I would be angry at them both for making me an outcast.  My classmates, even in Kindergarten, were insensitive about my situation. They would tease me because I didn’t have a mother or father to participate in school activities and because I didn’t live with my parents but lived from home to home with different family members. 

This continued into middle school and high school- even through college. It was in college that I was informed that my father had drank himself to death on a park bench when I was 16.  I had been searching for him for 5 years before I was told this information, secretly hoping that he would have a change of heart after so many years of being absent.

I didn’t start to think of how my lack of family structure would affect my children and my relationship with the person that I would choose as a spouse and father to those children until I was in my mid-twenties.  I didn’t start having the burning desire to have a child until I was about twenty-six years old. Until that point, I thought I could be someone that never conceived.  I thought I had too much to do in life and a child would just slow me down but the man that I was with and who was (and still is) my husband, awakened that desire to bare children.  In the six years that we were together prior to having our son, he eased the fears I had about repeating the cycle of an absent father for my child. 

I was very deliberate about doing the best I could to order my actions in such a way that the odds of my repeating the experience I had as a child were very low.  I’m not going to say that I was a perfect angel in my teenage years (who is?) but I was conscious about how my actions could either make or break my own future and the future of anyone I may want to bring into the world. I kept busy with work and school activities so as to avoid the idle time that gets a lot of young men and women in trouble and I wanted to prove everyone who ever said I was going to be just like my mother (all of whom happened to be “family members”) wrong. A lot of young mothers in and from foster care that I work with today want someone to love them so badly that they are willing to bring a child into their world of instability and neglect to get that love. 

They intentionally make a choice to follow in the footsteps of the parents/family members who failed to give them a fair shot at life as a child, hoping for a different outcome. Not only are they willing to do this once but multiple times over and over again with a man (or different men) that look eerily similar to the father that was never involved in their lives or the one that was but whose presence did more harm than good. Every day I work with young men who parent multiple children by multiple women displaying the same disregard for responsibility of raising these children as their father showed their mother. 

They become the absent father whose lack of involvement hurt them as a child – and continues to stunt their emotional development as young men.

It seems to be a very vicious cycle that can be broken but only by being deliberate about the choices we make.  I never claimed to know what a healthy relationship between a mother and father looked like; I didn’t see how a loving couple was supposed to interact, but I knew what it was supposed to FEEL like.  I knew what I didn’t want and I knew what would get me what I didn’t want.  Everything I saw the dysfunctional family members do, I did the opposite. 

When I saw certain family members getting arrested because they were prostituting or selling/using drugs, I knew to stay away from those things/behaviors because I didn’t want to go to jail or contract life threatening diseases. When I saw some people having so many children that they were giving them away to strangers, losing them to foster care or having a hard time keeping up with them all to even be involved in their lives, I knew that I needed to watch who I decided to share myself with and to use contraception when I did.

You don’t have to make a mistake to learn from it.  Learning from the mistakes of others will save you a lot of lost time, heartache and frustration.

I knew the pain of not having a mother and father to guide, protect and nurture me and I did not want to do that to another human being intentionally.  I say intentionally because, of course my mother did not mean to die and leave me alone but she could have chosen my father more wisely.  I say intentionally because, every decision you make is intentional.  If you decide to have sex without protection, you are intentionally making a decision that will result in your becoming pregnant/impregnating someone. 

If you do it more than once, you are intentionally making a decision that will result in your having multiple children.  If you’re not in a position to care for yourself properly, then you are not in a position to care for another human being properly.  If you do not know the person you’re sleeping with or if you know them and they are not interested in being with you, let alone having a child with you, you are intentionally making a decision that will result in your having a child with someone who will not be present or positive. Be INTENTIONAL about your future and the future you will create for another human being (if you choose to do so). 

A cycle can only be repeated, if you ALLOW it.  DISCLAIMER: There are young women who are violated and become pregnant against their will; I do not direct this towards them, as they were not given the opportunity to make a decision. 

Although the message can still be applied in their lives, in the instance of forced violence it is not appropriate.  I will say that if you are in an abusive relationship, you don’t have to remain there. 

You are stronger than you know.

Although you may have been raised being treated as though you are powerless and insignificant (whether in foster care or at home), that is not how you have to live your life as an adult.  From someone who it took a number of years to realize that I was not the worthless/useless individual some people would have me believe; know that it doesn’t have to take you that long.  If it FEELS wrong, then it is. 

You may not know what true love LOOKS like but I assure you, you know what it doesn’t look like. Surround yourself with people who encourage you. Encourage yourself! 

You will attract what you feel about yourself.  If you believe you are worthless and that no one wants you, you will attract people who believe you are worthless and who will try to convince you that no one wants you. 

There are some situations that will occur beyond your control. Even with all of my proper planning, there are still things from my history that will affect my son.  For example, not too long ago, my four-year-old son was having a conversation with my husband.  He witnessed one of our neighbors with his Grandfather and he asked my husband “Daddy, are you my Grandfather?” and my husband replied, “No son, I’m not your Grandfather. I’m just your father.” My son then said, “I wish I had a grandfather.”  No amount of planning; nothing short of a time machine that would allow me to travel back in time to change the circumstances under which I was born, could have prevented this exchange.  My husband was heartbroken and when he shared the story with me, so was I.  My close friends, family and colleagues had to remind me that although he does not have a Grandfather on either side and does not have his grandmother on my side, he is surrounded by love.

Don’t underestimate the family you are able to create and the relationships you are able to build with people who aren’t your blood relation but who would do just as much, if not more, for you than a blood relative would. My son is blessed to have a paternal grandmother and maternal God Grandmother who worships the little ground he walks on.

He has an amazing paternal aunt and uncle who love him to pieces. He has uncles who are his father’s best friends who are examples of what strong, positive men should look like.  He has aunties who are my best friends who love on him.   Our son has shown a level of confidence as a preschooler that I didn’t find until I was in college because I made it a point to choose those who are in my life wisely knowing that they will also be a large part of his.

Most importantly, my son has an amazing father who is thoroughly involved in his life.  He is setting the example of how a husband is to treat his wife, how a man is to treat a woman in general and how a human being is to treat other human beings.  I am not a perfect person and I don’t claim to know everything there is about being a mother; I make it up as I go but I can rest assured knowing that I gave my little one the best start at life that I possibly could.

I feel blessed that I have been able to break the cycle and create a loving two parent home for him because it really does matter. All the years that I was made fun of for making unpopular decisions or for not being a part of the “popular crew”, is paying off.

I am where I am today because of the decisions I have made along the way.  I am surrounded by an amazing support system made up of friends, colleagues, family (some blood and some not) because I was deliberate about whom I allowed in my life. 

The same is true for you. If you are and adult, you are where you are because of the decisions you have made and the people you have allowed to be a part of your life.  If you are an adolescent in foster care, you may not have much of a choice in who is in your life but when you do have that choice USE it. Be deliberate about the friends you choose.  Be deliberate about the choices you make because you must understand that the moment you act on anything, you begin to shape your future. YOU begin to shape your future. Not your mother. Not your father. Not your Aunts and Uncles. 

YOU.  MAKE your family and your future EVERYTHING you want it to be.

You are that POWERFUL.