Defining Ourselves for Ourselves

An Alumni Sister asked, “how do we learn to define ourselves for ourselves and learn to not see ourselves as cases but as people?”

Learning to define yourself by your own standards is a process that many people find difficult but especially for individuals who have experienced a system such as foster care or juvenile services at a young age.  These are systems that are charged with dealing with a large number of children with inadequate resources to do so, as a result, children become cases and labeled by a society that does not understand them or their circumstance.  There is an unspoken stigma (but most times spoken loudly by different people within and outside of foster care) that youth in and adults from care are inadequate, undeserving and incompetent misfits.

When I was a youth in foster care I heard this stigma loud and clear and often.  I heard this from adults within the system that were supposed to believe in and encourage me.  Maybe they honestly thought that I had no chance against the barriers that stood in my way as a foster youth.  Maybe they didn’t want to get my hopes up too high.  But it was also the encouragement from those that were not or had not yet been tainted by the attitudes of the foster care system that helped me to see a little deeper into myself and my circumstance.

I began to see that my circumstance, was just that…a circumstance.  Through my rebellion of the negativity of others, I began to dream and believe that I could be anything and everything I wanted to be. I began to believe that there were no “rules” when it came to who or how I was to be. I decided I would determine what I could and could not do and that I would even challenge myself in what I thought I could not do.  I started this behavior to SPITE those who believed I would be nothing because of my circumstance – but this behavior now continues because it has served me well. It has broken down every barrier that I was told I would never overcome.

It is very difficult to break away from the expectations of others especially when they are people who make up the environment or society you live in.  We are bombarded everyday by standards of beauty and credibility that are unrealistic. Everyone has their own journey to self-definition.  I believe it is more about the journey than the destination. I believe we will always be faced with defining ourselves at different points in our lives because as long as we live we are (or should be) going through transformation.  The key is to transform on YOUR TERMS.

Even if it means believing in yourself in the beginning just to spite everyone who doesn’t- do it….and let it grow into an inherent love and understanding with yourself.  If I told you the sky was green and grass was blue, you would laugh at me and think I’m crazy. Why? Because you KNOW for yourself that the sky is BLUE and grass is GREEN.  Why would you treat the way you feel about yourself and who you know yourself to be any different? If someone tells you you are worthless and will never go anywhere or be anything because you are or were in foster care, laugh at them and keep it moving. Why? Because NO ONE KNOWS you like YOU do. And no one can tear you down, without your permission!

You are beautifully made, flaws and all. OWN IT🙂

Your thoughts?

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Foster Youth Allegiance to The Family That Scarred Them. Why?

This is a question that I get a lot.  The foster parents and the social workers that I’ve worked with over the years all want to know WHY is it that the youth they work with still want a relationship with their abusive mother/father; why they run away from their foster care placement to go back to the abusive home they were taken from.

We are inherently inclined as humans to depend on our family unit for survival.  This is where we are nurtured and protected from the dangers of the world. This is where we are taught the ins and outs of this world and how we are to maneuver the challenges that come with living.   In a country that appears to have become so individualistic (although we see the benefits of those who have a functioning and productive families), people forget just how important, no, VITAL the family unit is.  It is something that those with what they may consider functioning families take for granted to a certain extent because its just something they have that they don’t have to think about.

It’s only when you don’t have a family unit or when it is so damaged that it doesn’t function in a way that provides the benefits I talked about earlier – that you come to understand just how important family is. When I was in foster care, I desperately wanted a connection with my family.  I struggled to maintain relationships with those biological family members that meant so much to me.  For some reason, I felt there was a huge hole in who I was because I didn’t have a connection to my father, I couldn’t have a relationship with my mother, I didn’t have a good relationship with my sister and my brother was living in Oregon and I hadn’t seen him in years.  Sure I had cousins whom I’m still very close with to this day, but the absence of my NUCLEAR family was the most crippling.

Before going into foster care, I lived with my uncle for 8 years. I loved (and still do) my uncle because he was the only father figure I had known.  I was told I used to call him UncleDaddy.  Although I endured different abuses by his hand, I still wanted the best for him.  When I was taken away from him, my goal was to get myself together (whatever that meant) so that I could help him.  Even at a young age,  I could see that he was at war with something internally that affected his relationships with his family, with his friends, with people in general.  When I was 19 years old he and I reunited, so to speak, after 5 years.  I thought this was my opportunity to help him; I thought maybe we could start over. A month later I was told he was murdered.  I was DEVASTATED to say the least.  When I share what I experienced when I lived with him, people are astonished with WHY I still look at him in such a high regard. Sometimes people even say “well he got what he deserved” – which REALLY grinds my gears because for all intensive purposes, he was and always will be the only father I ever knew.

My answer to why foster youth have an allegiance to family that scarred them is…..waaiiit for it………humans are WIRED to biological family.  All people have an unspoken and sometimes subconscious allegiance to family, even family that may have scarred them.  Like, when a child that is adopted as an infant comes of age and begins to act out without knowing why and when they’re told (if they’re told) that they are adopted the void that they felt all their lives is  suddenly explained! And no matter how good their adoptive parents had been to them, they STILL have a NEED to KNOW where they came from and to whom they originally belonged.  Foster Youth are HUMAN, that is why they still have an allegiance to the family that may have scarred them.  The sooner our society begins to treat youth in and from foster care as humans that deserve love, family and all the good things that the next human deserves, we can begin to break down some of the debilitating stereotypes that have created a system where its almost impossible for them to flourish.

Your thoughts?

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Marriage After Foster Care

My grandmother used to fuss at me when I was young because I was “too friendly” to strangers.  When I was younger I was confined to the front porch because my grandmother didn’t really trust the world and wanted to ensure my safety.  Even as 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 used 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 at the person.  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 a relationship free of drama enducing.

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 realization because as I’ve stated above, it took some time for me to learn this.  It is normal to experience ups and downs in a relationship, but pay attention to what causes the ups and downs.  I mean reaalllyy pay attention , is it your baggage (internal) or is it your partner’s (external) and deal with the situation accordingly.

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.

Your thoughts?

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Motherhood After Foster Care

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 Care,right?”

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

  

 

 

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Motherhood After Foster Care

Motherhood After Foster Care

I think things are going well so far🙂

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Pitfalls of Adulthood (in mid to late twenties) when you are navigating adult life without family

This was a topic that one of my Alumni Brothers asked that I speak on.  I have to say that my mid-late twenties was such a growth spurt for me because I experienced so many different emotions that forced me to face my past and how I was going to move forward knowing that there was nothing I could to to change it.  I was fortunate that my internship at the Freddie Mac Foundation was extended past my 21st birthday (when I aged-out).  I was freaking out about how I was going to survive on my own (healthcare, employment).  I think another thing that really helped me to transition was that I was connected to networks like The Orphan Foundation of America, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute that were more than just scholarship money for school or an internship on Capitol Hill (although both of those opportunities helped me TREMENDOUSLY). They were my informal mentors and introduced me to people that later proved to be a viable resource to me as I struggled to build a life for myself.

My mid to late twenties was especially hard for me because many of the milestones I reached, I could not share with my mother.  When I graduated from College, when I was married, when we purchased our first home and we had our first (and still only) child – these were bitter- sweet times for me because I didn’t have my mother to help guide me through these processes.  I kept going because I didn’t want her absence from my life to hinder the happiness I knew she would have wanted for me.  All in all, I understood that there was a REASON my life was playing out the way it was.  I had no clue what that reason was, but I FELT it.   Although I didn’t necessary KNOW  what happiness was from my childhood and my time in care, I knew how I wanted it to FEEL.

Another Pitfall I experience was how people treated me when they knew I had no family (landlords, regular folks, college school mates).  People can be cruel and they feel that just because I didn’t have any family they could treat me any kind of way. What helped were those networks of individuals that stuck with me after care (Attorneys, Mentors) that I could call to get advice and who would help when I needed them to.

Financial Advice and being strategic about building wealth for myself and my family was also something that I had no clue about and didn’t have family to help with, but there are a lot of people with families that don’t have that.  It’s something I’m learning more about now – pray for me y’all! LOL!

In essence, my way around the Pitfalls of Adulthood without Family was to create a family of my own.  Blood is NOT thicker than water- in my case.  Many of the people that have been there for me – are not related to me by blood but are just as important.  The great thing about being a former/foster youth is that you have the opportunity to BUILD the family you always wanted. We just have to step a little past our discomfort and learn how to let the Right Ones In🙂

What were/are some of your pitfalls and how did you get around them?

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Life After Foster Care

I was always told I had something special.  I never really understood what that meant.  All I knew is that I wanted a chance to make a life for myself that I never had. I wanted to be somebody and I was so infuriated with the hand the life dealt me, I was going to do it. I’ll show that Life!  Well here I am almost 10 years after aging out of the foster care system and life has taught me a thing or two, but I’m doing exactly what I said I was going to do.  I’ve finished college, pursuing a Master’s Degree, am a Married homeowner with a 2 year old, running a non-profit organization I started 5 years ago and developing a consulting firm I started this year.  Many will say that I’ve more than overcome I’ve surpassed what most expect of former foster youth. But I will tell you, I have a long way to go and it wasn’t easy getting here.  This Blog is all about Life, Love and Family AFTER Foster Care because so many of us don’t believe it exists or that we can thrive in it and I’m here to tell you – that it does and you can.

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