Lessons I've Learned about Parenting
By Terrell Woods
Since aging out of care at 18, Terrell has earned a bachelor´s degree in psychology and plans to get an MSW. He also works for The Storefront Group as a youth and family counselor for high-risk and economically disadvantaged African Americans, and serves as an on-call guidance counselor for homeless teens. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was initially removed from my mother´s care (or lack thereof) at age 12. Her inability to be an ideal parent was evident to child protection through unhealthy relationships with men, physical and emotional abusiveness toward herself and her children, and continuous battles with drug and alcohol abuse. After being evicted from three apartments and being asked to leave two family shelter homes for anti-social behavior, things were ugly and got even uglier quite fast.
After three uncomfortable years of bouncing around in foster care, I was placed into a home with loving, caring, and nurturing foster parents who were employed by Family Alternatives. With these parents, I finally got the opportunity to live the life of a stable teenager, concentrate on academic achievement, and enjoy the many perks of living within a traditional family structure. It was about time!
My exposure to adverse conditions stemmed mostly from the immoral practices of unfit parents (both biological and foster). My opinions of how good parents might act were formulated through what I went through with my mother, and not having my father around. I saw my father only one time after my family left Chicago for Minnesota.
I began stating to myself that I would NEVER do to my children what was done to me. I would often ask myself why one might choose to have children only to harm them or not be around as a positive influence in their lives. I can remember making statements like these as early as seven and eight years old. This was obviously due to my absence of insight about why people actually choose to bring children into the world.
Once I had a conversation with my mother in which she stated that my oldest sister was conceived through rape. She also said she was not ready to have another child when I was conceived with a different man. My youngest sister, she suggested, was the result of loving our dad so very much. She thought maybe she and my dad would always be together, but made it clear that she didn´t necessarily want three children. It was at this time that I realized people could or WOULD have children without truly wanting them. I don´t recall feeling enlightened by this newfound knowledge.
At the tender age of 10, I proclaimed my intent to not have children unless I was fit to have them. I also vowed never to tell them they were mistakes. This was when some of my present parental practices initially saw the light of day. Darn, I was sure growing up fast!
I recently had a conversation with my younger sister about our obstacles growing up and she told me she felt that I had it easy because I was considered to be our mother´s best kid. After that talk, I started to remember how many times I heard this from my mother.
We all were called demeaning names when we did something stupid, but my mother often said that I was the better kid of the three of us and the smartest. My youngest sister had it somewhat easier too because she was the youngest. When we got whoopins, she didn´t get hit as hard. My younger sister and I even got hit fewer times per spanking and with less physically damaging objects than our older sister. You´re the oldest, you should know better, is what my mother often said when she chastised my older sister.
But as I think back, I can´t recall feeling special growing up. As a pre-teen, I would make statements to myself such as, I will NEVER hit my kids, and I will NEVER be nicer to one kid than another. I was off to a pretty good start parent-wise I would say!
Going into foster homes didn´t sweeten my life struggles any. The first home I was in gave me a taste of reverse-favoritism; there I suddenly became the least favorite sibling. I was once made to sit outside on the front step of my foster mother´s home on a 90+ degree day as my sisters were invited to accompany her grocery shopping. I was told that I was not trusted to be in her home alone.
When we had normal sibling rivalries, I was always marked as the antagonist and punished with no TV and no friends over for long periods. I was called a worthless n and other degrading epithets regularly and told I would amount to nothing when I rebuked her hateful actions publicly. In this environment, my views on equal treatment of children and determination to never shame my future children with name-calling were strengthened. I was getting good at this virtual parenting thing!
My early life was plagued with overwhelming negativity. Now, years later, I would have to say my life has undergone a metamorphosis. I am 28 years old, a graduate of Hamline University, a youth counselor, the father of a six-year-old daughter, a new home owner, and soon to be married. I still maintain a strong relationship with my foster parents and have opted to call them my real mom and dad.
I can also say I have committed NONE of the inhumanities that haunted me growing up. Freedom from drugs and alcohol and the desire to raise a physically, socially, and emotionally healthy child have become my paramount priorities. This is by no means peaches and cream, but Simone didn´t ask to be here, so I think I owe her nothing less. My past sufferings feel like warm embraces when my little princess says, You´re the best daddy; I love you multiple times a day. Her statement is just a tad bit of an exaggeration, but I believe she believes what she says. Ironically, my past suffering may be the very reason I now receive warm embraces.