Blood doesn’t make a family, but true love does. Family is more than having a mom and a dad. It is having people who care for you, show you love, think about you, and want to see you blossom. The one thing I have come to realize through the system is that family is not being afraid to be your true self, or having to alter yourself because someone has an issue with the very thing that completes your character.
Growing up, I was never enough for my biological parents, my teachers or peers. I was bullied at home and in school from pre-k to 6th grade. After that I was homeschooled for two years. This is when I vowed to myself I would never be bullied in school again. In 9th grade I started at an early college program. I became the trend setter and the “mean girl” of my group of friends. Then my family moved and I started at another early college, this time I was just the “transfer student,” constantly trying to find myself and my group, and struggling to fit in.
My junior year is when my whole world crashed. My mom passed away and I was left with an abusive and neglectful biological father, who at the time was very suicidal. At that point in life I was so afraid to lose another parent, I was afraid I would come home from school one day and find my biological father dead. He may have been abusive and told me before that he didn’t love me, but I couldn’t lose both of my parents, not at once. About three months later is when the Department of Social Services took custody.
My therapist at the time had told me about TFC (therapeutic foster care.) She told me I would only be there about three to six months and would then go back to my biological father, but that never happened. I was never reunified with my father, which turned out to be a good thing. I remember wanting to ask my first foster parents if I could call them Mom and Dad. I believed that is what it took to be a family at the time. I believed a title was what was needed to make a family.
While in the system I realized just how much I wanted a real family, but I went about it the wrong way. I changed who I was in order to feel like I had permanency, but that is something I lived to regret. I was in three different homes within a year and a half. I got so caught up in wanting to mean something to someone that I was so unhappy and didn’t even realize it.
In my second home they threw around the word “adoption” as if it was disposable, yet they never made me feel like I was a part of the family. I was threatened, treated unfairly, called fat, and never given a choice. My foster mom would tell me to lie to my social worker and then turn it on me if it came up. After meetings, she would tell me that I couldn’t say those things, or they would take me away, knowing that was my biggest fear. Once I left that home, I was so broken. I built a wall up against my new foster parents. I always planned for the worst case in these homes. I tried to make myself content with what I had because I believed it could always be worse.
My third foster home was nothing but love. I quickly found a job and bought my first car when I lived with them. I did everything in my power to not be at home so that I wouldn’t form a connection with them. It wasn’t until I moved out that I realized just how much they loved and cared about me. I figured once I moved out, they would forget about me, but they totally proved me wrong. Once I moved, they continuously invited me to their church, to barbecues, over to watch movies, over for the holidays, and just about anything to keep in touch.
What really changed the way I communicated with them was when I talked to my foster dad and he was telling me about a phone call he had with his father. On the call he referred to me as his father’s granddaughter. It was at that moment I truly realized that they saw me as their daughter. I try to tell myself the only thing that makes them different from the other foster homes is that they didn’t have biological kids, only adopted, but I quickly realized it is all based on the person. I still to this day refer to them by their first name, because I am afraid to call them mom and dad; however, I do refer to them as my parents. Yet again let me say that blood doesn’t make a family, neither does having a mom and a dad.
I was blessed to have had two amazing social workers throughout my time in care. They really have picked up a parent role. They communicate with each other when making decisions on my behalf, they truly co-parent. I ask them for advice and they never steer me wrong. They support me but don’t always agree with me. I’ve become very hard-headed since I turned 18 and believe I am completely grown and can conquer the world on my own, but they are always there when I get hit with reality. I have been left multiple times by people who said they cared about me and I still have my issues with trusting them, but they have truly shown that they will stick around. They accept every part of who I am and what I’ve been through. I’m not always the easiest person to get along with, but they continue to accept me even on the bad days.
My most recent social worker once told me to make my own family. I didn’t quite understand what she meant at first. I thought she was talking about when I get older and have a partner and kids. Then I realized what she meant was that biological family doesn’t mean family, it’s the people you love and who truly love you that you consider family. So next time before you say I don’t have any family, think of who has always stuck by you, loved you unconditionally, and never judged you. This is what family means to me.