Alumni Perspectives with Shalita O'Neale

strangers passed by, I would speak.  My grandmother would scold me and say, “You don’t know those people! Don’t speak to
them!”  I always believed in giving people the benefit of the doubt until they proved they don’t deserve it.
I have had a couple of serious relationships before meeting my husband that ended badly.  I gave everything I could and it still
didn’t work. For some reason, when I decided to move on, I did not take that with me.  Again, I thought it fair to treat the next
person with a clean slate.  NOT saying that I didn’t carry scars from my previous relationships, but I went into the relationship
with a clean slate of trust for that person because I wanted the same in return.

When I met my husband, I was accustomed to drama. You know the drama of “Where is he? Where did this phone number come
from? Who is he talking to?”- that drama.  To my surprise, my now husband (then boyfriend) didn’t come with that type of
drama.  Things were calm, loving, relaxed, honest.  I wasn’t used to this. I found myself CREATING drama just to feel
comfortable!  I also didn’t know how to disagree without being angry with him.  I didn’t understand the concept of agree to
disagree.  At the first sign of disagreement, I wanted to leave because I thought that was what people did when they disagreed
(my scar from foster care).

My now-husband (then boyfriend), taught me what it meant to really love and what it felt like to really be loved.  I have grown
to be a person who can agree to disagree and still love/like a person. I have grown to be a person who appreciates drama-free
relationships (with my husband, family and friends).

I would also say that is important to love yourself FIRST and work through any internal issues related to your self-worth before
you go searching for a partner.  If you have unhealthy views of yourself, it has a way of manifesting and sending a message to
the universe that attracts the very opposite of what you’re looking for.  If you notice you’re attracting the same type of negative
partners, take a moment for introspection, recognize and take responsibility for your role then work to CHANGE how you feel
about yourself.  If you don’t think you’re worthy or deserving of love then you will attract partners that will treat you like you’re
unworthy and undeserving.

Alumni Family, regardless of what we have been through, regardless of who has hurt us, regardless of how we’ve been abused
or neglected, WE CONTROL how we respond to and accept others.  I do not mean to sound like it is easy coming to this
relationship, but pay attention to what causes the ups and downs.  I mean REALLY pay attention. Is it your baggage (internal) or
Everyone has their hang-ups in life and in relationships regardless of whether they were in foster care or not.  You will know
when the right person comes into your life because not only will they help you find your way and love you IN SPITE OF, but you
will be willing to help them find theirs, IN SPITE OF.

Now, for motherhood….
I was extremely nervous about becoming a mother especially from all the stuff I heard about abused and neglected kids growing
up to be parents!  People wanted me to believe that because of what I had been through that I was highly at risk of abusing my
own children.  Now there is something to parents, especially young ones, mimicking what they saw from their dysfunctional
parents when they themselves have children, but they (society) make us look like we don’t have the ability to discern between
what is right and wrong at a fundamental level- and that is an UNTRUTH (I’ve always wanted to say untruth, so there it is!)

Shortly before I became pregnant with my son, I was required by my MSW program to take a Human Development class and I
was irritated because I didn’t want to take it, but somehow I did not have this as a pre-requisite before applying to UMB.  So I
enrolled and dragged my hind-parts to this class that I thought was inconveniencing my life so.  Well, I will tell you that I am
ABSOLUTELY GLAD that I took this class.  It covered child development, their brain development and effective ways of
disciplining and such.  My idea of discipline was what I was raised by- spare the rod and spoil the child.  But even with that I
knew the difference between disciplining and abuse (there is a difference and we can talk about that in a different post).  This
class taught me that the world of parenting was so much more.  It taught me about patience; it made me look at parenting as a
strategy to raising a child.  With that being said, I believe EVERY PARENT (not just former or current foster youth) should take
a Child Development or Parenting Class.  

One of the things we as Alumni MUST do is to start to pick apart the MANY negative stereotypes that society and the foster care
system harbor for us because they are UNTRUTHS (there it is again).  The sad part is that the Foster Care System has a way of
reinforcing these stereotypes and then convincing us that they are true. We then end up internalizing and self-perpetuating the
stereotypes of others so then they can sit back and say “See I told you she/he couldn’t raise that child. You know she from Foster

Do foster youth need a little extra support when becoming a parent? YES! Do they hold some ideas of parenting that aren’t
healthy because of their upbringing AND time in foster care? YES! Does it mean they will be bad parents or abuse their

And by the way, HAPPY FOSTER CARE MONTH!!  If you aren’t from foster care, I challenge you to question the negative
stereotypes you have heard from mainstream media and reach out to an organization near you that works with foster youth to
get involved. If you are in/from foster care, I challenge you to think differently about yourself and question the negative
stereotypes you’ve heard. For every negative characteristic, I challenge you to acknowledge the positive characteristics you
have and strengthen them.  You’re not manipulative-you’re clever. You’re not stubborn – you’re resilient. You’re not a cast
away- you’re a blessing!