I have a haunting memory seared into the deepest parts of my brain. My older brother and I are teetering on the ledge of my bedroom window trying to find the courage to jump out into the cold dark night. I am 6 years old and my mother has prepped us that when my stepfather gets home from the bar, if he starts to beat her, we need to run to a neighbor’s house and call the police. I’m not sure why she would use the word “if” because stepfather plus late night at the bar always equaled domestic violence in our house. The last words we would hear from my mother that night were, “if you’re not asleep when ________ gets home pretend that you are.” Her hope was that he would come home and pass out and not wreck his havoc on us.
We existed in our own little war zone and this night was not any different. I don’t know how long we sat at that window as we listened to the horrific sounds coming from the other room, trying to summon up the courage to jump and go find help. We were struck with the reminder that we lived on a farm and the nearest neighbor was a good distance away. There were no street lights and the world seemed so much scarier with the pitch black outside. Slowly and reluctantly we came to the realization that we could not go out that window. We eventually found our way to our beds and wished for the light of day.
For years I have lived with the guilt that I could not do what my mother had asked me to do. I had let her down and could not help her. I’ve chosen to only share this one experience but sadly there were many more. My biological parents divorced when I was 2 years old. There were 6 children and my father took the 2 oldest boys and moved to California never to be heard from again. At that time my older sister was 11, my older brother was 4, I was 2 and my younger brother was 9 months old. I don’t think it was ever in my mother’s plans to take care of her children. She was an alcoholic and spent most of her time partying with her friends.
One day the police and Child Protective Services showed up at our door to follow up on a neighbor’s complaint of children left home alone again. We were found living in filth with no food. There were also 5 dogs living in the house. This time we had been left alone for 4 days. It wasn’t until 5 years ago when I found a copy of The Tribune that I understood the heartbreaking reality of why we were removed and placed in foster care. I am still saddened by the picture of my baby brother in his crib holding a bottle of curdled milk and a tattered blanket. My sweet 11 year old sister was doing her best to care of us.
We were separated and placed in 3 different foster homes. My older brother and I were placed with an older couple that I don’t remember but he would often tell me how wonderful and kind they were to us. I am convinced that my foster parents saved my life through the love and nurturing they provided me. When I get to heaven they are among the first people I hope to meet and share my gratitude with. They were my angels.
Unfortunately after 2 years we were sent back to live with my mother and her new husband. I’m sure on paper it looked all shiny and bright to the judge; single mother is now remarried and ready to have her children returned to her. Reality was a whole lot bleaker. My older sister was given a choice of where she wanted to live and she chose to go live with our father in California. That meant my mother was getting back 3 young children that she had no idea how to take care of. To say we lived in hell would be an understatement. Her new husband was also an alcoholic and we were not part of his plan.
Hard days turned into painful years. A new baby sister joined the chaos and the domestic violence and abuse and neglect remained a constant in our lives. When my little sister was 5 my mother finally divorced my stepfather. I remember feeling so relieved that he wouldn’t be around to rock our little world anymore. Sadly the hope for a reprieve was short lived as within months my mother remarried again and brought another alcoholic man into our world. I clearly remember in my tiny brain wondering why my mother kept going to bars to meet her new husbands. I was convinced she’d have better luck if she hung out at the park or a store.
The new stepfather was just as horrible as the first one. He was an alcoholic and would stay out until the bars closed and then come home and wreck his havoc on us. It was like Groundhog Day. I tried very hard to do well in school and keep to myself. I always felt like I somehow ended up in the wrong family. Somewhere along the way a huge mistake had been made and this was not the family I was supposed to be with.
After many years of trauma, neglect, abuse, and violence my soul could not handle another day in that home. We were not a family. We were people that merely existed together with each of us relying on our own survival skills to make it through another day. I was now 13 years old and I knew I had to get out. I planned my escape and within days I ran away.
One of the women I knew from church had always been especially kind to me. I went to her home and she said I needed to turn myself in. It would look better that way she promised. She took me to social services and after interviewing me they called my mother and told her I was there. Someone decided I would be going to a foster home until we met for court in a few days. I remember being terrified as I walked into my foster home. I was going to stay with people I had never met before. I still tense up as I remember that experience.
At court a few days later I sat frozen and said nothing. I wasn’t asked any questions. I remember sitting there in shock as my mother lied to the judge and told him she had already divorced my stepfather and he would be moving out. She failed to mention that she herself was just as abusive and a huge part of the problem. The judge gave my mother a week to do what she said she had already planned on doing and make my stepfather move out. I learned that I would be going back home in a week. I was devastated. I feared what would happen to me once I returned home.
I was given permission to stay the week with a family in my neighborhood. I was their babysitter and they would turn out to be another set of angels placed in my path.
A week later I was sent back to my mother. I was not surprised when I got home that not only had my stepfather not moved out but he was across the street at the local bar. I knew at that moment that I could not stay there and that my mother would always choose her men and alcohol over me. I couldn’t do it anymore. My caseworker had previously told me that when I got home, if my stepfather had not moved out that I should run away again. So with all the strength I could find I walked to a truck stop and made another phone call. I once again turned myself in to social services and told them I couldn’t go back. I didn’t think I would survive. To my surprise they placed me with the family that I had been with the week before (they had decided to start the licensing process to become my foster parents.)
Two months later we went to court and once again my mother started in with all of her lies and manipulation. I was heartbroken when I realized she had brought my brother and sister to testify against me. The judge refused to let that happen and finally made his decision. He noted that I had previously been in foster care as a young child and that she had done nothing to provide me with safety and stability over the past 9 years. He ruled that I did not have to ever go back to live with my biological mother and that I would be placed in foster care with the family I was currently living with! For the first time in years that night I was able to sleep in peace.
I never did return home to my biological mother. My foster parents were able to legally adopt me and I went on to graduate from high school and college. I’m not going to say from that day forward it was all perfect because it was very hard. I hadn’t lived in a regular family. I had no clue that families ate dinner together and played together. I didn’t understand that problems were solved through communication. I had suffered from trauma and neglect for so many years that I was not a typical teenager. I had to learn how to live in a normal family. I’m happy to say that through all of the struggles we made it. I’m blessed to have wonderful people in my life that I get to call my family.
I’m not sure why my biological mother made the choices she did. I know I always felt like she put everything and everybody else before her children. I knew I wasn’t a priority to her. I will always grieve for the mother that I needed as a young child and never had. For some reason she was not able to provide me with the love, protection, and nurturing that I deserved. As a child I often made note of things that I knew I would NOT do to my children. I promised myself that if my children knew nothing else in their life they would know that I loved them fiercely and I would do anything to protect them.
I always knew I wanted to give back and to help hurting children. I have been blessed with a remarkably kind and giving husband. He has always been supportive of me so when I told him I had always dreamed of being a foster parent he was 100% on board. He is a very involved and loving father and an amazing advocate for children who need a safe place to fall. He was honored as the Utah Foster Dad of the year in 2018 and I was so proud of him. We have been blessed with 2 biological children and 6 adopted children. Our last 4 children joined our family through foster care. They each have their own unique stories with scars from the battles they have had to endure. We have fostered several other children and I pray we have touched their heart in a small way and assured them that they are safe and loving adults in this sometimes cruel world.
Foster care can be a roller coaster. It is not for the weak of heart. Our kids came to us with a history of trauma and neglect. We work hard every single day to help them gain the skills they need to be successful in life. We work even harder to provide them with all of the love and nurturing they didn’t get through no fault of their own. My children will always know they are my number one priority. They know nothing will ever come before them. Neither will anything ever come between us. Each of them is my hero and I consider myself extremely blessed to be their mother.
About 5 years ago I found myself teetering on another terrifying ledge. It was scary. It would be life changing. I was faced with a difficult decision. I had to decide if I was willing to face my years of trauma head on. Although my first instinct was to run I knew I had to take the opportunity to heal. I think at first I convinced myself that I had to do it for my children. They deserved a mom who loved herself and knew she had worth. Then one day amid the long and difficult process it hit me that I was doing all of the gut wrenching work for me. As much as my children deserved a happy and healed mama I deserved it just a little bit more
️I’ve been blessed to walk my trauma recovery journey with an amazing therapist. Sometimes she has had to push me and truthfully sometimes she has carried me. She has encouraged me to keep trudging along when I didn’t think I could take another step. I’ve done many difficult things in my life but nothing as demanding and exhausting as working through years of trauma and neglect.
Sometimes it seems strange that this has been my life; that I’ve come out on top. I’ve always considered myself blessed and protected. I could not have survived this journey without a loving Heavenly Father. He gave me strength and hope as a child and continues to guide my life today.
Foster care and adoption will always be close to my heart. I will never stop advocating for innocent children who need a safe and loving family. There’s a quote I’ve seen that states “that every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.” I was one of those kids who was lucky and blessed to have several caring adults that stepped up to the plate and showed kindness and concern for me.
If you’ve ever thought about foster care and/or adoption don’t hesitate. Don’t be scared. Don’t think it would be too difficult because you may get too attached and the child might leave. There’s children out there who need someone to get attached to. They need to feel like someone’s eyes light up when they enter the room. We are wired for connection. We need each other. I’ll always be grateful for those that were willing to risk their heart and connect with a little girl who felt like she didn’t belong to anyone. A little girl that has finally ended up right where she is supposed to be.