Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A guest commentary from “unstrung”

A newspaper in Texas ran a depressingly typical series of stories over the weekend: Almost all birth parents are at best sick at worst evil; children suffer as the taxpayers are forced to lavish services on these dreadful people, etc. etc. In the entire series, the reporter never so much as speaks to an actual birth parent – or if he did, none of the comments appears in any of the stories.

Occasionally, a family who lost their children because of poverty turns up, only to disappear again after a throwaway sentence, leaving lots of questions unanswered and any real insight into the real failings of the system unexplored.

For instance: There's mention of a homeless couple living in a tent. Why doesn't the "service plan" call for the Texas child protective services agency to help them find housing? Or the mother who couldn't afford the bus fare to visit her child. Why not provide the bus fare? Why should a child be deprived of the chance to live with his father because a judge fears that finding a job a car and a place to live will take time away from the almighty cookie-cutter parenting classes that somehow turn up in every "service plan"? Why are requirements related solely to poverty imposed on the father at all? If the reporter were laid off by his newspaper (hardly unthinkable nowadays) and someone repossessed his car, would that be cause to repossess his children? At a minimum, why not help the father find the job, the car and the place to live? And why in God's name should children have to be deprived of their mother because she doesn't have child care so she can raise them while she works?

But none of these questions is raised in the series. To do so would be to distract from the series' "master narrative:" In this series full of stereotypes, the only good birth parent is a groveling birth parent, one who realizes the error of her or his ways, jumps through every hoop and begs for forgiveness – or, better yet, does the only "unselfish" thing an impoverished birth parent can do – give up the child to the obviously superior middle-class foster parents – the people like us.

While the series was filled with horrors about where the children had been, there was barely a word about the harm likely to befall many of them in foster care. In cases where the issue almost always is balancing harms, the reporter gave readers no clue that there were any harms to balance. As far as this reporter is concerned, home is hell and foster care is heaven, simple as that.

So it was left to a reader to set him straight in the comments section on the newspaper's website.

I don't know the reader's name; like most she used a pseudonym, calling herself "unstrung." But instead of spewing venom, as is the norm in newspaper website comment sections, she filled in some of the gaps the reporter missed. I don't agree with everything she wrote, but she came a lot closer to the mark than the journalist. This is her comment [all emphasis in original]:



As I look back on my own childhood, I know that if the times had been different, I would have become a ward of the state. My mother had an anger problem - a bad one. Truthfully, I believe she was mentally ill. But you know what? I loved (and continue to love) my mother dearly. She is a good person, grieved by her own shortcomings.

She was an overly stressed, hard-working single mother (my father was in prison) and I truly believe that she loved me beyond measure; however, when she "punished" she really over did it. Weather it was chopping my hair off, screaming vile insults at me, or whipping me with a switch until I...well, it was difficult.

But, at the same time, she read me bedtime stories, she would rub my back gently with her fingernails, she always kissed me goodbye or goodnight, she was my protector against anyone else who intended me harm, she taught me about a forgiving and merciful God, she taught me so many things. I cannot imagine my life without her. Had the state "intervened on my behalf" and removed me from my dear mother, they would have killed my spirit.

I am now going on 50 years old. I'm a tough cookie, and you can't put much past me. I know there is a lot wrong with this world, and people fall way short of the goal, but there is nothing, nothing like the love of a child for their parent...I don't care how screwed up that parent is. Psychologists call it "protecting the abuser". I choose to call it LOVE IN ACTION.

The truth is, we can't foresee which parent is going to cause irreparable harm or death to a child. Child services has no clue. The courts have no clue. We simply do not know. Sometimes a difficult childhood may kill us...sometimes it makes us better adults. I thank God I had the mother I did. Yes, she could be downright mean at times. And she could also be the most tender, loving individual in the world. Perhaps what should be addressed here is the TOTAL LACK OF DECENT MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES FOR THE POOR IN TEXAS.

Ironically, I am married to a man with (guess what) severe mental illness. He is not abusive to me; however, he cannot hold a job hostage, which causes us a great deal of financial distress. His own mind abuses him worse than anything I've ever endured. We don't have insurance, nor enough money for him to get the help that he so desperately needs. MH/MR is A JOKE AND A SHAM!!!

Our own children are grown - happy, productive, prosperous citizens. But I know many parents are having their children taken from them simply because they are mentally ill and may not even be educated enough to know it.

A typical symptom of mental illness is drug addiction - our bodies will invariably seek out what it needs for survival. In and of themselves, being drug addicted or mentally ill are not sufficient reasons to remove a child from their parents. And VIOLENTLY DANGEROUS parents are not "safe" simply because they passed a drug test.

Urinalysis should not even be an issue in the courtroom. A "dirty" UA does not prove a parent is unfit any more than a "clean" UA proves that a parent is loving. But what urinalysis DOES DO is discriminate against the mentally ill.

How many of us were raised by alcoholic parents? Yes, it sucks at times. But would we have preferred to be wards of the state? NOT ME. Drug addiction is the modern day alcoholism (not that alcoholism has become obsolete by any means). The mentally ill, the drug addicted, and the alcoholic can all be very loving people.

LOVE conquers every evil. Let's fight for LOVE. If our society would get off of this money-driven "war on drugs" thing and actually TREAT THE DISEASE then perhaps we could actually enhance the lives of our citizens - adults and children alike.