Vol. 13, No. 2 • May 2009

Breaking a Painful Pattern
My children won’t grow up silenced and afraid

by Milagros Sanchez

On August 4, 1997, I got my sons back after they’d been in foster care and I’d been out on the streets for many years. I felt that God had given me a second chance to be a best mom.

I was determined to be different toward my sons than my mother had been toward me. My mother resorted to violence whenever she was upset with me, and she didn’t believe me when I told her I was being sexually abused. When I was a teenager, she put me in a group home, where I was sexually abused again. She never once came to visit.

I felt very alone, angry, and abandoned. I grew up, but the depression I’d felt since my childhood did not leave me.

Opening Up to Mom
In my early 20s, I began using crack. Crack gave me a sense of security, a sense of time freezing so I didn’t have to think, cry, and feel all alone. Slowly but surely I lost everything: first my children (who went to stay with my mom), then my job and my apartment. After that I lost my self-respect and self-esteem.

Finally, I went to rehab, and there started talking about my feelings, even to my mother.

My mom was very closed at the beginning. There was a lot of shouting and screaming, but one day she said to me, “I know I have not been the best person or mother to you. But I’m sorry for not being there for you. I love you.” I know that was very difficult for her.

As we talked more, our relationship improved. I found out that this pattern of not speaking and physical abuse was passed down from my great-grandmother to my grandmother to my mother and to my sisters and me.

I told myself, “I will make it my business to change that pattern when I get my life together.” It wasn’t easy, but I did.

Honest Answers
In the months before they returned home I built a bond with my boys. We spent every other weekend together. We went to the movies, the beach, the pool, and to museums and the library.

Every Friday we had a family conference. That was a chance for them to let out their feelings and ask me any questions about my addiction and the time I was not with them.

My son JonPaul asked why I left him with grandma for so long. He said, “Didn’t you love us? Was it something we did?”

Answering their questions, I would get very emotional, but it helped us get closer. It was a step toward breaking the silence and anger that had dominated my family’s relationships for too long.

A Terrifying Moment
It wasn’t always easy to be a good mom. One afternoon I came home from work feeling very tired and found a message on my answering machine from JonPaul’s teacher. She said JonPaul, who was 12, was not showing up to school. Plus, he had never turned in the $75 I gave him for his cap and gown.

I asked JonPaul, “What was that all about?” He was giving me all kinds of excuses, but when he said, “I don’t care and I can do what I want,” I totally lost it and started hitting him. Almost without realizing what I was doing, I even grabbed him by his throat and started choking him.

He said, with tears in his eyes, “Mami, you’re choking me.” At that moment I saw myself in JonPaul and my mother in me. That scared the hell out of me. I panicked, let go and ran to the hallway where I sat on the steps and called my sister, sobbing.

When I calmed down, I hugged him, apologized and promised it would never happen again. After that, I recommitted myself to talking to my boys no matter what they do that upsets me.

Today I’m Blessed
Today I have a good relationship with my boys. We share our thoughts and feelings, good and bad. We go out together and, every other weekend, we have family game night. We all sit around the table and play Parcheesi, Sorry, Charades, and Operation.

As with every teen and mom, at times things get hectic, but together we pull through.

When I look back on what I’ve been through and what I put my kids through, I often start crying. Then I look at where I am today and realize I’m blessed. Not everyone gets a second chance.

Reprinted with permission from Rise magazine. Copyright Rise 2008. www.risemagazine.org.

Reunification in North Carolina

Of the children in North Carolina who left foster care in 2005, 55.6% were reunified with their parents.

Source: USDHHS, 2008