The ‘Lesser Moms’
She shuffled into the visitation room at the Department of Children and Family Services and slumped in a chair. With her eyes focused on the tile floor, she didn’t notice me in the corner of the room holding her baby. When the baby made a noise, her eyes quickly found him and her entire face was transformed from dejected to joyful.
I handed the baby to her with a bottle and shared a couple of his accomplishments from the past week. She half-listened, her eyes never leaving his face. I left them with a case worker for their weekly one-hour visit.
As a foster parent, I frequently meet and interact with the birth mothers of the children I care for. These are the “lesser moms.” They have had their children removed by a government agency for various reasons: neglect, drug abuse, poverty, crime, abuse. Society thinks less of them and they think less of themselves.
Spending time with these moms has opened my eyes to their realities. Most of them were raised in homes similar to the situation they are currently in. Birth moms have shared the undiscovered horrors of their own childhoods: parents in prostitution, drug dealers stopping by all hours of the day, or homes that appeared normal to the outside world but bruises were hidden beneath long sleeves and pants. Alcoholic boyfriends, sleeping in cars and wishing summer break would be over so they could get one or two meals a day at school. History repeats itself.
When these women, still children themselves, become mothers they vow to raise their children better. But their environment and support system do not support their vows. When parenting and providing becomes tough they fall back on what they know and what is comfortable. When children have to be removed from the home for safety reasons, they quickly turn to their unhealthy habits to deaden the pain and loss.
How do we break the cycle? What if I could meet a mother at a playground instead of a visitation room at the Department of Children and Family Services? What would change if she had someone to show her a different way to parent or a different way to deal with pain and disappointment?
I’m still exploring the answers to these questions and looking for ways to find befriend these mothers before I meet them through foster care. But what I can do now as a foster mom is to love her and her child as family. I can treat her with respect as a human being and as a mother. I can ask her what values she wants me to share with her son. I can address her as Ms. _______, look her in the eye, shake her hand.
A little compassion and understanding and less judgment can give a “lesser” mom hope and the realization that she is more. She is worth more as a human being, capable of more as a mother.
*Name and identifying details changed to protect privacy.