Betty Duffy

Friday, June 10, 2011

Life After CPS


A mother's heart, like every force of nature, is full of contradiction. She feels an urge both to nurture and to neglect. She wants involvement. She wants reprieve. She draws her children close; she locks them out. No mother is perfect all of the time. And there is no ideal scenario in which to raise kids.

Am I a good parent or a bad one? Most likely, I am both. The case workers who visited my house were very polite. They assured me that they have many calls like this every week, and they are required by law to investigate every one, but that I would have nothing to worry about after they submitted their report. In days, they confirmed that our case was closed, and a couple weeks later, I received a very nice report in the mail detailing the results of their investigation. There it was in writing, if I needed it--I was a good enough parent.

And yet…and yet…the top of the paper says "Investigation into allegations of abuse or neglect." Every couple of years or so, usually after taxes, I'm going through my desk and I come across it again. I pull it out and read it, and those words, "abuse or neglect," rip me up inside all over again.

If you take a student who makes A-pluses in every subject and throw her suddenly and unexpectedly into detention, her perspective of herself changes completely. She was a success; now she is a failure. She knows, theoretically, that there are people who spend every day in detention, who eventually flunk out. But just being there, and being associated with them, is a branding.

For awhile I thought that being investigated by CPS was the worst thing that could happen to me. I held myself back from making friends in our new community because I believed that everyone knew that we were the new family in town that couldn't keep track of its kids. I felt like I was being watched all the time.

There is not a negative comment you could make about the way I parent that I have not already thought about myself. You spoke to your kids that way? Abuser! You'd rather read your own book than Hop on Pop? Neglector!

But I could also see that my little fall, was also somehow a blessing, because it shattered my pride and fear, which are the particular sins of the hover mother. She believes that she can be both mother and savior to her children. But I was not their savior; I was an obstacle between my kids and people who loved them. It would be ok for me to accept help when offered.

My father-in-law often says that parenthood is the most important job in the world, and yet it's entrusted to amateurs. True, just as all important relationships are the territory of amateurs: wifehood, daughterhood, daughter-in-law-hood. I pray that the people I alienated through the years of my helicopter parenting do not remember the sins of my youth.

I would also attest that having a CPS investigation is not worse than a child losing its life due to remaining in truly abusive situations. My sister-in-law is a Foster Parent who has kids in her home that have been removed from their parents not once, not twice, but six and seven times, which seems incredibly generous to me.

I love my children. I meet their needs. I do not beat them. I strive to keep them safe in all situations. I don't use drugs. And if those statements are false--someone probably should intervene.

Being a mother and being a Christian, both require a constant battle against fear. If I have to cultivate a little willful ignorance about the troubles of the world in order to be thankful for the goodness of God's creation, rather than fearful of it, I might just do it. That doesn't mean I'm going to be stupid about it.

The way a child approaches the outdoors is often a mother story before it becomes the story of a childhood. How badly does Mom need a break? Is she a working mother? Is she a depressed mother? Is she a mother who will walk around the yard, turning over rocks with a toddler naming things for him? Does she leave the green canvas of a mown backyard blank, or does she fill it with swing sets and trampolines and play-scapes?

I would say that any negative experiences I had with nature as a child were better than no experiences with nature, that even though I wasn't a naturally outdoorsy child, it didn't prohibit me from appreciating the outdoors as an adult.

My ultimate connection with nature occurred when I recognized how dearly my own parents held it. They took us camping on vacations. At some point after the loss of our vacant lot next door, my dad let a pretty large portion of our backyard go wild. He planted one or two trees, then quit mowing and allowed the area to return to its natural state. And eventually my parents bought land with a woods, and started hobby farming.

I'm lucky to have several places where my children can play and be very safe. Our own yard (once they are past the dangerous toddler years), nearby parks (with supervision), and the homes of our families and friends where they can roam pretty freely.

But free range childhood, as several commenters have noted, is often circumstantial. It probably can't happen the way Esolen and Louv describe it for most kids these days, because of their particular circumstances. And where kids do play freely and safely for many hours outdoors without supervision, I'll wager, it often goes unreported.

That day I sent my children outside, and they kept coming back in--I stood there for a minute behind the locked door realizing that their rebellion had become their chosen activity for the day, that I needed to make nature just a bit more attractive to them at that moment. So I opened the door, and told them they were welcome to come inside and do my chores, and I would go out and play.

I exited the house, and lo, they followed me.


Young Mom said...

It is so true that everything changes when mom goes outside. :) I can so relate to your self-accusations and doubt. When I realized that the child-beating cult I grew up in was wrong, and saw how those ideas (even though I had been wanting to avoid them) had already impacted my own children, I questioned everything I did. And when I started purging my life of abusive practices and building my parenting skills from scratch, I was so scared that I was doing everything wrong. After almost 2 years, I am to the place where I believe I am parenting the right way, but I still have those self-accusing days.

Kimberlie said...

As an adoptive mom, I have had a social worker in my home for the last 7 years (off and on) as we have added four children to our family and completed post-placement reports. Every time I worry about how I measure up as a mom, as an adoptive mom because am I doing all the right attachment stuff that other parents are doing, am I proactive enough on diagnoses and therapies, am I horrible because I worked so hard to bring these children home but there is a time each day where my giving-o-meter is just empty and I need to be alone? We have yet another post-placement visit scheduled in two weeks and I am already worrying about whether the house will be clean enough, safe enough, and what will this new son have to say about his mama - a mama that he frankly doesn't like yet.

Blechk, I will be glad when we are done with social workers and reports.

Melanie B said...

"So I opened the door, and told them they were welcome to come inside and do my chores, and I would go out and play."

I need to remember that one. Today I desperately needed to kick them all out and they stubbornly wouldn't go. Eventually I did make it attractive to them by putting out a blanket on the wet grass so they could have a tea party; but it took a long time before I figured out a good lure.
We won't mention the agony of getting them to bring in all the tea party things which they were perfectly happy to take a dozen trips to bring out but by the end of the day did not want at all to take the dozen necessary trips to bring back in.

liz said...

Just have to pipe up the supervisor for our county mental health unit, I spend a lot of time consulting with child protection social workers. Believe me, the fact that you even question your parenting skills or think about cleaning your house eliminates you from any resemblance to their caseload. Most of the public have no idea the horrors those social workers see several times a day, everyday.

BettyDuffy said...

As you say, I've been getting a much better picture of a social worker's case load through my sister-in-law's foster parenting experience. So true.

liz said...

Seriously. Seven times?

BettyDuffy said...

Yes, seven times, Seven different issues and different judges. One family.

liz said...

We are a small county which brings the advantage of one judge. Can be a negative at times but in a situation like that it would be a plus. Blessings to your sister-in-law. What a heart she must have.

Erin said...

O my goodness! You are brilliant! The ending of this story sounds exactly like something my mom would have done to us when we were younger. I am going to forward this link to my sister, who is pregnant with her first child.

And I completely agree that so much goodness goes unreported because it is not nearly as "exciting" as the bad news. (Trust me... I have a bachelors degree in journalism.) The media can be so cruel. I wish people were as interested in the good as they are in the bad.

Lady.Rosary said...

Parenting is a tough act. We always second-guess ourselves if we made the right decision on how we raised our kids. Did we say the right words? Did we explain enough? Did we punish for good reasons? And the reward at the end is seeing our kids grow up to become good human beings.