I am an old mom. I started having my kids later in life. I think all the time about what age I’ll be when they hit certain milestones in their lives, wondering if they wait to have children as long as I did, will I even know my grandchildren? I see younger parents doing things with their children, and think of how much more energy I had at their age, which would make this whole mommy deal a lot easier. And then I see the people who thought that they were done – their youngsters working their way out of the house, or maybe they’ve been empty nesters for years. Suddenly, they’re starting all over again, or close to it. With their grandchildren. More and more grandparents, of all ages, are now raising their childrens’ children. So often, this is due to drug use. To add a huge amount of additional stress to the situation, the process of gaining custody can become nothing short of ridiculous. (I’ve had family go through the same, so I struggle to find a better word for it.) For my Living With series, I wanted to get the word out to all that I can reach that just about everybody is going through something behind closed doors. The more we see first-hand of different situations, the more understanding we can be. In some cases, the information can be helpful,too. Whether it leads to new resources for someone in the same boat, lets them know they’re not alone, or just helps the teller of the story find some therapy in letting it all out. So, I reached out to my friend Heather, who is my age – sorry, Heather, I realize I referred to myself as an old mom and just put you in that group with me! ;). Heather is raising her granddaughter. I asked her to share her story. Here is what she sent:
When Tina first asked me to consider contributing to the Living With stories, I was touched. One of the realities I’ve discovered during our two plus years raising our grand daughter, is that beyond family and friends, there aren’t sources of support, information or legal assistance for grandparent-parents. This needs to change. It was almost overwhelming to be asked about our story.
The brief back story. First of all, you should know that I am too young to be a Nonna. She is 6. I am 42. When she was born I was working more than full time as a personal trainer and Spinning instructor in addition to managing a fitness facility. I loved my job. In addition to Evelyn’s father, we had 4 other children still at home. We’re a blended family and love the chaos. My husband took the hard line at first. I believe the phrase “never set foot in my house” was tossed around more than once. However, as with many blessings, the purpose and the love intended revealed itself in good time. I believe there was a nap involved with baby breath and a couch, but I don’t want to get sappy here.
Within a year Evie was spending most of her weekends with us and everyone was happy. Well, happy-ish. It was impossible not to worry about Evelyn when she wasn’t with us. There were rashes, ear infections, pink eye, head lice, etc which mom did not address. There was a new boyfriend and a new baby on the way by the time Ev was 2. The boyfriend’s drug addict mother came to visit. Indefinitely. More worry.
Still, we continued to support the family and hope for the best. There were signs. Hind sight is not only 20/20, it convicts me still to this day. I am not stupid. If you had asked me to swear on the bible that I would recognize the evidence of drug abuse, I would have absolutely done it. It sickens me that I was such a Pollyanna.
Mom was pregnant with baby #3 when everything came to a head. I took Evelyn home one Sunday afternoon and saw with my own eyes the addiction that was destroying a family.
Now, here is where the actual story for Living With begins. I did not think ever in a million years that I would be able to rearrange my life to care for another child. Period. End of conversation. I had done it solo for so many years with my boys. Now I was able to pursue my dreams. I was happily married (finally!). I knew what having a child would mean to the career I loved. 5 am, 10 pm, weekends…not conducive to daycare or raising young children. Then, I brought Ev home with me. I had no idea what to do next. I didn’t even think that far ahead. You would think it would be a defining moment in my life. One that stands out as the moment that changed our futures. Dramatic. But, it’s not. I guess that’s what really happens during those “life changing” moments: you just live through them. Even when you realize their significance, they’re just moments. I used to tell clients, “Life is full of obstacles. Better learn how to hurdle.” Falling flat on your face or wallowing in the unfairness of it all is simply not an option.
So, I changed my schedule. Family helped until we found daycare. We took days off to retrieve paperwork, court orders, records, etc. We set up IEP testing, toured the school, bought more clothes (wink wink). My husband picked up all of the slack. The kids never batted an eye. Mom’s family has been loving and involved. But the real hero is Evelyn. She was four when her world turned upside down, but she has lived each and every day to the fullest from day one, with nothing but love in her sweet heart.
So, what’s involved in removing a child from an unsafe home? After the initial call, there seem to be no standard operating procedures. Don’t lose hope that the right thing will happen in your case if you are facing the same situation. I spent endless nights worrying and panicking and stressing for naught. What I can tell you is that the child welfare system is broken, so it will fall on you to be the constant in your little one’s life no matter what the circumstances.
We attended 21 hearings in 18 months. That was tricky in and of itself to get off work to attend. Then, the judge would not recall what he had said at the previous hearings. He did not remember the specifics of the case and had to be brought up to speed, minus his previous comments, each time. Granted, our case had a long list of characters, but seriously! Ready? 3 beautiful girls. 1 mom. 2 known fathers. 1 unknown father. Us (custodians of Evelyn), Foster care initially for baby #3, Paternal grandparents / custodians of baby # 2, Maternal Aunt who became custodian of baby #3 (after jumping through months of hoops and changing residency from Ohio to KY), the Cabinet Representatives (family services), guardians ad litem for the girls, defense attorneys for the known parents, Case managers for the recovery process, and our attorney. The only person in this scenario getting paid privately was our attorney. Yay, us!
Each month I had to take additional time off of work to take Evelyn down to the Cabinet so that they could confirm she was still breathing and well nourished. It was an insulting dog and pony show necessary because the Ohio River might as well be the Great Wall of China where Children’s Services is concerned.
I can say the system is genuinely intent on fixing the broken adults. They gave mom every possible opportunity to become a responsible adult. Rehab x3. Housing. Medical care. The list goes on. I’m sure it was very expensive from the state’s point of view. I know that it was very expensive from ours. However, what is constantly ignored is that the adults made their decisions as adults. The children are the victims and that is the atrocity overlooked by the system.
We had Evelyn in our home for 10 months before a representative of any protective agency came to visit. In fact, we initiated the visit as a step to obtaining permanent custody. We had emergency custody of a child for 10 months and no one cared to make sure her home was safe. Unacceptable. When the new baby was suddenly in need of a place to go due to a failed drug test, the Cabinet called me. I am not a relative. I am not a vetted foster parent. This was only 2 months into the process. They asked me to take custody of an at-risk infant who had just been weaned from methadone. There were no offers of assistance for daycare or medical care, etc. I was dumb founded. These entities are so over burdened. I believe they profile the players of each scenario. I felt like we were picked out of a line up – “Oh, there’s a married couple with jobs and cars. They can take her!”
So, the system is scary. See why I was stressed? I would leave court feeling like I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone. I lost my trust in the people who make the ultimate decisions regarding custody. What was obvious didn’t seem to register. The parents were not viable options. I realized that the departments trying to achieve reunification probably have bosses to answer to and numbers to produce in order to prove their relevancy. I get it. They went to college, they made good choices, they are professionals. I respect that 100%. I also appreciate their stats are never going to be great. How horrible to aim for success rates of “fair” in your life’s work. Talk about demoralizing! Yet, when they are deciding the fate of someone you love fiercely, it is inevitable that you start to see them as the antagonists. Again, the parents who failed in the first place (my son included!) seemed irrelevant from my perspective. They were not deciding anything anymore so they were off my radar. The Cabinet became my greatest worry, even though they never threatened me in any way. An example of misplaced responsibility and blame. Another sad side effect.
So, back to “defining and dramatic” moments…the day we finally received permanent custody was not the moment I would have thought it would be after 18 months. I did feel a huge sense of relief; but, the moment itself was unbearable heavy with the sadness of watching a woman consent to giving up her children. In that moment I only felt empathy for her. The choice she made defined their futures, even though she doesn’t even remember making that decision to use.Remember, not every defining moment is dramatic.
In reality, I would not have put myself in her position. I would not have let myself fail my children, but I don’t believe for a second she doesn’t love her children to the best of her ability. Sometimes, that’s just not enough.
Sweeping consequences under rugs and saving our kids from their mistakes is not going to give them the tools they need to be parents. I know I did and do that for my son. Parents have to understand that what they choose to do affects the little people they bring into this world. They must comprehend the enormity of that reality. Every decision, every day counts. I will teach Evelyn accountability. I hope she fails sometimes so that she can learn to overcome failure. I want her to know that parents are human. When a parent fails, it doesn’t mean that they didn’t love or try to the best of his / her abilities.Sometimes it’s just not enough.
That’s Heather’s “Living With” situation. She added on a note to me at the end, which I’ve included just below. I felt it was a wonderful finishing touch to her story.
Tina, the sisters spend most Friday nights together at the maternal grandparents’ house. They also get together for holidays, and fun stuff. Gracie, #3, has turned her aunt’s life upside down for the better. Tina was finishing her student teaching when I suggested to the Cabinet that they contact her since we couldn’t take the baby. She is the BEST mom. I feel guilty she is now a single parent and living a life she didn’t create for herself but I don’t think she has had a moment of regret since she got the call. It’s beautiful.
Mom has a no-contact order in effect for 2 years and is a month away from delivering baby #4 with her new boyfriend. She is 24. .
Unfortunately, I don’t think Heather’s story is all that unique. She is not the only one raising her grandchild, fighting the system, or struggling with her own child’s choices. But, it is unique to her – in her mind and in her heart. It’s not something she expected to be dealing with. I think we all need to remember that. Just because a living situation or a health issue is common in the world today, that doesn’t make it any less of a struggle for the people living it. Reach out to help. Ask what you can do to make it better, or at least feel not quite as bad. If you’re struggling with something yourself, try to find the silver lining if you can. I know Heather and her family saw theirs. And see it every day in that little girl’s adorable smile.
If you have a story that you’d like to contribute, please contact me by going to the Contact Me page or clicking here.
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