The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Too Much Pressure
When my mom accused my dad of cheating, I was their sounding board

I was lying on my bed doing homework when my mother came in crying.

I hugged her tightly. “What’s wrong, Mom?”

In between sobs she said, “Your father has been cheating on me.”

My heart sank. I pushed her out of my arms to look at her. “What?”

“He’s been texting someone else and I caught him the other day talking to her.”

“Are you sure?” But she started crying too much to talk so I held her tight until she cried herself empty. Exhausted, she fell asleep in my arms.

I didn’t know how to process what she said. I had always thought of my parents as the perfect pair; they were always so affectionate and caring with each other. The threat of their relationship collapsing was devastating.

When my dad came home, he knew from my expression that my mom had talked to me. I had nothing to say to him so I walked out of the room.

For the next several months, there was a silence between my parents. This was weird because they’re usually lively. They looked like zombies with their expressionless faces. Whenever I tried to make them laugh by telling them stories about my day or my friends, their expressions would change briefly before going dead again.

Caught in the Middle

My parents turned to me for emotional support. My older sister was away at college and my older brother was mostly at work. I didn’t want to take a side; I told each to try not to overreact and to see the other person’s point of view. These conversations were stressful for me.

I wished they’d get advice from someone else, but they were afraid of being judged. I never complained because I felt it had become my responsibility to make sure they patched things up. I tried to be patient, but I resented that a 15-year-old was expected to be the parent, like they were the children.

At the same time, my mom stopped taking care of the house and me. I didn’t want her to stress about whether the house was clean, if there was enough food, if the clothes were washed. So I took care of those duties.

My English teacher was the first to notice something wasn’t right with me. I was doing group work one day when she called me to her desk.

“You’ve been missing a lot of assignments. What’s wrong? You were doing so well in the beginning of the year.”

“Things at home haven’t exactly been easy on me. It’s been hard to focus on work, because there’s a lot of tension between my parents.”

I told her what I knew, which wasn’t much.

“Well, if you need someone to talk to, you can always talk to me,” she said.

“Thank you for caring. I definitely will. Right now I’m fine though; I can handle it.”

But I wasn’t handling it, although I tried to convince myself I was. Over the next few months, I started skipping school sometimes. I either stayed on the train and slept or I wandered off somewhere in the city to get my mind off the situation.

I felt neglected and resentful. I started to feel that my main focus at 15 shouldn’t be to keep my parents together. I felt that I deserved to be able to focus on my schoolwork and hang out with my friends rather than help my parents mend their relationship.

At home, I’d cry when no one was around. My anxiety continued to affect my ability to do schoolwork and have fun. I stopped skating and seeing my friends. When they asked me why I wasn’t hanging out, I’d say I was busy.

Reuniting, Then Spying

One day in December, during dinner, my father held my mother’s hands and said, “We’ve been trying very hard lately to be at peace.” My mother looked at my father and then at me before saying, “We’re doing this for you and your siblings. It’s going to take some time, but I promise we’ll try to make things like they were before.”

By February, there was still awkwardness between my parents, but they weren’t zombie-like and life seemed more normal. They started paying more attention to me again and being affectionate with me like they once were. I wasn’t the only one doing chores anymore.

But that didn’t make me feel better because I didn’t believe them.

image by YC-Art Dept

Their words were meaningless to me because I knew my mother didn’t trust my father yet. A couple of days after they held hands and said they’d try harder, my mother asked me to do a favor for her.

“Can you print out a sheet of who your dad called for me?”

My mom wanted me to go online and look through our phone records to see my dad’s recent calls. I did what she said because I didn’t want to disobey her and I figured it would clear my father. She asked me to do this for a few months and she seemed OK. However, I wasn’t and she finally noticed it.

“What’s wrong?” she asked. We were in my bedroom.

“I don’t want to keep checking up on Dad. It makes me uncomfortable. Look, there’s nothing wrong with these records. So please, I don’t want to do this anymore.”

My mom was shocked. “I didn’t know that’s how you felt. I won’t ever ask again.” Once again she was in tears and had to power through her words. “I’m so sorry” was all she could say.

Although my mother didn’t ask me to spy anymore, I knew she still wanted me to and it made me angry. I wished she would move on and trust my dad again.

Dad Cries, So I Can’t

At about the same time, my dad came to me and apologized for everything and begged me to try harder in school, not for my sake but to please my mother. I felt guilty for going behind his back about the phone records because I didn’t even know if he had done anything wrong. It seemed like I had taken my mother’s side.

“I’m sorry that you’ve had to watch us go through this. I didn’t mean for this to happen. Your mother, she misunderstood the situation and…” He began to tear up. I hugged him tightly as he choked on his last words. “I’m sorry,” he said.

I wanted to tell my father how angry I was, but I felt bad for him. He seemed broken. Seeing my father cry is one of the hardest sights I’ve witnessed. I started crying too. All I could say to him was, “It’s OK.”

I felt as if I should be allowed to let my parents know how I felt without worrying that I might upset them or make the situation worse. I wanted to let them know how stressed they made me by making me deal with their problems instead of asking other adults for help. They shouldn’t have abandoned me and they should have thought of me more instead of being solely focused on themselves.

After that event my anxiety continued to get worse. I wasn’t going to school a lot and I was crying all the time. One night my dad came into my room.

“Your school called,” he said.

“Oh no,” I thought. “This isn’t going to be good.”

“You’re not going to school and when you do go, you never hand in any work. Don’t you care? Say something!”

“I don’t know.”

My response angered him at first, but he calmed down. He doesn’t like, “yes,” “no,” “I don’t know” answers. But then he saw I was upset so he eased up.

“Alright. Look, I haven’t told your mother about this and I don’t plan on it. She’s been through enough so please make an effort. Do it for your mother.”

Finally Reaching Out

It bothered me that my father didn’t tell me to make more of an effort for my own good. Did he only care about my mother? But I took my father’s advice and thought about how much it would mean to my mother if she saw me doing well in school again. Even though I was upset with my parents, I still loved them and wanted to please them.

I realized the only way to feel better was to talk to other people who cared about me. I reached out to some close friends and a few teachers. Being able to talk to them helped since I had kept it to myself for so long.

What helped the most were daily talks with one close friend, which helped me start attending school regularly again. I told him the whole story. I looked forward to talking to him.

Gradually, I began to feel less upset. My conversations with him started being less about what happened and more about school or funny moments we shared. Ultimately, that was all the conversations became, and talks of my complications at home evaporated into the past.

I never found out what happened between my parents, which is part of what made me feel so anxious. Part of me didn’t want to know; the thought of my dad actually cheating was maddening. Still, I didn’t want to have to go through this again, so about a month after peace had resumed, I spoke to them. I was clear: “I’m not saying it will happen again, but if it does, please get help from an adult. You can’t put all your feelings and difficulties on me.”

My parents were surprised I brought it up. “It won’t ever happen again,” said my mom. “We promise,” said my dad. So far, they’ve kept their word.

Looking back, I wish I had been able to talk to them and others sooner about how I was feeling. It’s hard to deal with pressure like that by yourself.

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