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How I’ll End the Foster Care Cycle
My mom and I both went into care, but my child won’t
Brittany Lett
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I’ve wanted kids for as long I can remember. I remember babysitting my dad’s ex-girlfriend’s child when I was a child myself. I loved that little boy. He would stare at me while I held him and fed him: He seemed so pure, an angel directly from heaven. Being a mother is appealing to me because I feel no matter what happens that child will always love you. You put everything you know into that soul.

But anything can happen to anyone. My mom was a great mom, doesn’t do drugs, and takes care of herself. I went into care anyway because my dad, to hurt my mother, told a family court judge that she was unfit and that I’d be better off in foster care than with her.

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The trouble between my parents started when I was 6 and my family decided to move to my dad’s hometown in Alabama. My dad and I went south before my mother. Mom said she would join us, but she never did. She found out that my dad, who owned a company, didn’t pay one of his workers, which added to a list of debts he’d run up. She thought he moved away to escape his money problems, and she decided she couldn’t trust him. I don’t blame her for staying in New York. My mom knew that I wanted to stay with my dad and she never in a million years expected him to hurt his own daughter.

At the time, I preferred my father to my mother because he spoiled me, so I accepted the separation. But my dad began drinking and abusing me the next year. He’d beat me and call me names. I still spent my summers with my mom, and the summer I was 8, she told me how she’d gone into care.

My Mom Tells Her Story

We were sitting on the couch in the living room, and the television was on low in the background. The lights were dimmed and the fish tank bubbles made the room calm. I loved my grandma, but she was always in and out of our lives. My mom had explained that she was on drugs.

I asked my mother why she never tried to convince her mom to be healthy and get away from her lifestyle. My mom’s voice sounded low and calm as she told me about her own early childhood.

“My mother was the best mother anyone could ask for. We never wanted or needed for anything. She was a strong, smart, and hard-working woman. She would be out the door before me to go to work and leave breakfast waiting on the stove. When I came home from school, dinner was always ready.”

My mom said her mom taught her things that she passed on to me. For instance, to always cover what she called my “pearl parts” (buttocks, breasts, vagina) as well as my stomach and thighs.

My mom taught me to be a young lady, repeating words her mother had said to her: “Always cross your legs while sitting, and eat with your mouth closed.”

My mom continued, “She taught me a lot of the things I teach you, like how to cook steak, pork chops, breakfast, pasta, and every way from frying to baking.”

“But one day when I was 11,” my mom continued, “things began to fall apart. She would sit at home all day and no longer went to work. Eventually the lights were out in the house and everything just seemed so dark in my mom’s life. I couldn’t understand. It was devastating: One day your mom is your hero and the next she’s half dead. But you can’t change a person unless they want to change,” she said sadly. She said her mom would leave her in the apartment for days with no food.

I hugged my mom and told her I was sorry. This story seemed so much worse than what I was going through with my dad. At that time, I blamed myself for the abuse, because that was better than thinking my dad wanted to hurt me. And I didn’t think of alcohol as a drug like cocaine. So I didn’t tell her what was happening to me.

Stuck in Alabama

But it got worse, and I didn’t want to live with him anymore. The summer when I was 10, I told my mom everything that was happening and that I didn’t want to go back. She cried and asked why I hadn’t told her sooner. She then enrolled me in a charter school in Harlem, where she lived, for 6th grade. But in less than a week I was taken from my mom and sent back to my dad.

In family court, I told the judge about all of the abuse. My dad told the judge that my mom was on drugs and she would brainwash me. The judge told my dad it was my mom’s house or foster care. He chose foster care. It was selfish of him; I would have been better off at my mom’s. She owned her own hair salon at the time and she lived with her new husband, (her high school sweetheart) and my dog Prince.

The eight months I spent in care was the worst time of my life. I was stuck with people I didn’t like, and I couldn’t see my mom. I barely even got to speak to her. My dad had gotten close to my foster dad and, I found out later, convinced him to not allow me to speak to my mom.

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I didn’t think “I’m in care, just like my mom was.” I didn’t make that connection between our lives until later because I was young and caught in my own confusion.

When we did speak, my mom broke down crying. She would tell me to be strong for her and that she’d be strong for me. Hearing this made me know I wasn’t alone. After eight months, the investigators had found nothing bad about my mom and they finally let me go live with her.

Learning to Mother From Her

When I returned to my mom, I’d been hit and insulted so much by my dad and my foster dad that my back was bent forward. I looked at the ground. My mom gave me the encouragement I needed to prosper and grow. She said, “Sit up, sit up straight. Your spine is still developing! You don’t want to be one of those old people walking across the street barely able to see where they’re walking, do you?” She pushed me hard and it worked—my back is straight now. My mom was tough but I felt her love. I would give my own child the same kind of straight talk.

My attitude was also in bad shape when I first got back to my mom’s. I was always angry. She would ask me to do things and I would suck my teeth and roll my eyes because I was reminded of my dad demanding things. It took a while for me to let my anger go; I was so used to being put down that I couldn’t be happy. When my mom got on me about my attitude, I told her I couldn’t help it. She understood and reminded me that she doesn’t abuse me.

My mom gave me the encouragement my dad didn’t, and I know now to give that to my own children. She yelled at me sometimes, but also made sure that I knew she understood and that she’d always help me. This made me feel loved. I knew that she wouldn’t give up on me.

Once I asked my mom if she’d ever tried any drugs. “No,” she said. “I mean marijuana as a teenager but I was afraid to try anything else. I didn’t want to just throw my life away like my mom.” That made me proud of my mom and determined to stay clear of drugs myself.

Though my mom’s parenting lessons are almost all good, I do want to avoid the family trait of impatience. My mom’s impatience didn’t make me learn anything; it just made me feel bad.

Picking the Right Man

I told my mom I wished I had a different dad and that I wanted to make sure that my kids never felt the way I did.

My mother warned me, “You don’t really know people the way you think.” She said that people you’re dating only show you what they want you to see.

I don’t blame my mom for what I went through because she didn’t think my dad would ever put me in danger. But I will make sure I know a man very well before we have children. You can only love people as much as you love yourself, and you can tell by the way people take care of themselves physically, emotionally, and mentally if they love themselves. I’ll hold out for a man who’s calm about things that are out of his comfort and control and is passionate about learning new things.

I’ll also listen to my family’s opinions. My mom said my grandmother and aunts warned her about my father, but she didn’t listen.

Long-Term Plan

I plan on having kids at 30. I want to be a gynecologist, which will keep me in school until age 28 or so, and then establish my practice for a few years before I have kids. I want to be mature enough to have as much patience as my kids deserve and enough money to support them.

I am excited about my career goals because they will also tie into my parenting. I will know all about reproductive health, and I will pass the knowledge on to my children. I will try to help them be comfortable with their bodies.

Your children look up to you, so I will make sure I set a great example for my children. I will be focused and determined; they will see me do anything I put my mind to. I will have open communication with everyone in my life. I will be positive and love myself so I can love them fully. I want my kids to be better than me just like my mom is better than her mom.

(FCYU-2015-07-28)