Defining Family: I Love My Mom, But I Can’t Live with Her

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Tamara, 16
Represent, New York

(Names have been changed.)

My hands began to tremble as I reached for the telephone. For each number I dialed, my heart skipped 10 beats. Then the phone began to ring.

All the thoughts in my head were tangled like a rope. “Should I say ‘hello mother,’ or ‘hello mommy’? Should I just get straight to the point? Maybe I should just hang up now.”

After a few rings, she finally picked up.


My words were caught in my throat and it didn’t seem like they’d be coming out anytime soon.

“Ummm, Mommy?”

“Yes?” she said.

“It’s Tamara, and I have something to tell you.” My voice had already begun to wither away.

“What’s the matter? What is it?” she asked with concern in her voice.

“I don’t want to come back home, and neither does Tanya. It’s not that we don’t love you; it’s just that we’d feel better if we stayed with Tasha. Please don’t be mad.”

There was a brief silence. Then my mother spoke.

“No, it’s OK. I understand. I know that I can’t provide you guys with everything you need right now, and Tasha is just doing a better job than I can. Trust me, I’m not upset. It’s fine.”

“OK,” I said, feeling somewhat relieved. We exchanged I love you’s and hung up, but afterward I kept replaying the conversation in my head, thinking: If everything is fine, then why do I feel so bad?

Telling my mother I wasn’t returning home to her was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’d recently moved in with my 22-year-old sister Tasha, because my mother had started using drugs again.

When I was 2, my brothers and sisters and I were placed in foster care because of her drug use. She got clean and regained custody of us four years later. I remember being so excited about going home. All I wanted was to be with my mother.

After we moved back home, my mom stayed clean for 10 years. But that didn’t mean things were good. My mother was always yelling, making mountains out of molehills. She cursed at me every day, saying things so cruel that sometimes I hated ever having been born.

Our relationship was a roller coaster. But I’d been on the ride for so long that getting off wasn’t even an option.

Then, last summer, things escalated. I started seeing drastic changes in my mother, physically and emotionally. She was going from job to job, she was losing a lot of weight, there was never any food, and the arguments we had became more intense and violent.

All these things were major clues to my mother’s drug addiction, but I didn’t want to believe she was at it again. I kept hoping things would get better, until one huge incident put the icing on the cake. My mother stole $100 that Tasha had given me as a birthday present.

And that’s when I realized I’d been blind. For the past 10 years, I’d been trying not to think the worst about my mother, but I couldn’t ignore what I was seeing right in front of me.

My heart sank. Tanya and I decided to go stay with our oldest sister Tasha, who’d moved out of Mom’s house about six months earlier. I imagined going home, waiting for my mother to get herself together. But what if she couldn’t? What if staying with her began interfering with my own life plans? In three years, I was going to be 18, and probably already in college. If I went into foster care again, my world would go topsy-turvy. That would certainly affect my schoolwork, and maybe even my mental health.

For the next couple of days, all I could think was, “I don’t want to go home. I don’t want to go home.” I knew I had to tell my mother soon, but I just couldn’t do it face to face. That’s why I called her.

It’s been about two months now since I made that call to my mother. Sometimes we still laugh together, but there’s a lot of screaming and yelling, and sometimes we both say things we don’t mean.

I used to think that because someone is family, you need that person in your life, but now I see that isn’t always the case. At times, family can hurt you the most. Sometimes, when the negativity becomes so monotonous, you have to learn to walk away.

© 2009 Youth Communication/New York Center Inc.,