I have a daughter. The day I met my daughter was my first day working at a charter high school for at-risk kids. Ti flitted into my classroom, rail thin, dressed provocatively; hair dyed some unnatural shade of pink and her need for love written across her face. In my mind’s eye it was as if there was a spotlight shining down on her. God spoke to my heart, “Watch out, this one is special.”
Of course they are all special. I wouldn’t have been in this particular school if I didn’t believe that. The place was filled to the brim with kids who were literally not wanted by any other school and often, it appeared they were not wanted by their own parents either. My daughter was no exception. From birth, Ti’s mom and dad “parented”(if you can call it that) as if they didn’t care what happened to their children. She was left prey for any perverted man who was on the prowl. Outside of my husband, there was a short list of men who had not violated her. She was taught early that her usefulness was mostly sexual. Her parents went so far in their neglect as to sign over parental rights to an ill-equipped sibling who only perpetuated the cycle of abuse and neglect. By the time she was a freshman in high school and walked into my class, she was using drugs regularly, promiscuous, completely detached from any kind of “home,” but to me and to God, she was a treasure.
I continued teaching at the same school while Ti hopscotched from friend’s house to the streets, to boyfriends’ homes, to her abusive dad, to her neglectful mom, to the streets and round and round she went. By the time she was 16 she was hooked on meth, and most people had given up on her. What hope was there if she dropped out of school? What hope was there if we couldn’t even find her?Through all of this she and I managed to keep in touch; a phone call here, a lunch there. Sometimes Ti would come by school, but most of the time not. Her brief stints of silence when she was on the streets interrupted our communication, but she always came back. “Miss. Kramer, can we go get lunch?” I got married and she got clean, but she still struggled. She still fought demons. One day, while trying to hide from the abusive meth-head drug dealer she’d been seeing for a year, Ti realized that she was either going to die, or she was going to stop. She asked Jesus to come into her heart and she quit meth. Yes, she quit meth. Only with Jesus can a girl shake a habit like that with no treatment.
I was able to extract some of her story over lunch one afternoon; details Ti had shrouded in shame and secrecy for many years. Accounts of the atrocious things that kept her from growing or healing came thundering down on my head like hot coals. WHAT KIND OF PARENT LETS THAT HAPPEN!?!? I was so angry. This precious baby girl was simply not cared for in any way. For whatever reason, her parents were completely remiss to love, protect and provide for this dear one. What I really saw sitting before me was not a 17 year-old, but a six year-old girl, neglected and broken from the inside out. Seeing this shattered girl before me I knew she needed a mommy. A REAL mommy. My husband and I started asking Ti to come spend the weekends with us. I’d take her to counseling, she’d spend the weekend and then I’d take her home on Monday. She’d work and detach once again, because detachment was the only way to cope in her mother’s home. Finally, realizing that we were making little progress with her still in the abusive situation I asked my husband, “What if she came to live with us full-time?” By this time, Ti was 18, technically and legally an adult. I knew in my heart that she would never heal if she had to stay in that home, in that neighborhood, in that city, with those people. We decided to float the idea to her and see what she thought. She literally almost jumped at the idea. We were clear that this was not a “you can live here and do what you want” situation. This was an opportunity to heal. This was a chance at 18 to finally know what it was like to have parents. There would be rules. There would be expectations, but there would be actual parents. Parents who love. Parents who discipline. Parents who protect.
A year at Bible school in Sweden and four years of college in the states later, she is now a thirty-year-old Summa Cum Laude graduate finishing up a dual master’s program in accounting and business. Ti has been “on her own” for a few years now, but still comes by for family time once a week and relishes her four younger siblings we’ve since added to our home. A life like hers is not easily overcome. She still fights depression and anxiety, but we never could have imagined 12 years ago the recovery she has experienced.
I still recall clearly the moment Ti decided to tell people that I was her mom. She said, “You do what moms are supposed to do. There’s no other way to describe what you are to me.” Many people think, “But, she’s an adult. How can you parent an adult?” A few things come into play. Foremost is the impedance of emotional development when the use of narcotics, abuse and neglect are present. Ti did not even know what size shoe or bra she wore when she came to us. Why? Because no one had ever taken her shoe or bra shopping. Her mother had never taken the time to show her how a bra is supposed to fit. ALL of her clothes and shoes came from friends’ hand-me-downs. She brought only one small backpack with her when she moved in. That was all she had. Her parents weren’t that poor; she was just that neglected. Ti didn’t even know to feed herself. With absolutely no clue how to eat a balanced diet, she would eat at weird times during the day and live on hot Cheetos, dry tuna and instant ramen. And while many a college freshman has thrived on this diet, the problem with Ti was that she didn’t know anything else. The high level and amount of abuse she had withstood left her with severe PTSD, flashbacks, awful nightmares and addictions that were harder to kick than meth. So, did she need a mom? Yes. She did.
Re-parenting Ti has been a sometimes frustrating, difficult, but all-times rewarding journey. We not only taught her how to dress, buy bras, and eat, but we also did a lot of repair work in the areas of sexuality, proper relationships with the opposite sex, trust, spiritual healing, etc. Honestly, when Ti came to our home, I never would have guessed where the last six years would have taken us. But, when you become a mom, you are a mom forever. Parenting never ends. I still get late night texts because a boy has hurt my daughter’s feelings. I still have to issue correction when she blows things slightly out of proportion (girls and hormones). And, just like other moms, I still get to celebrate her accomplishments. I rejoice every day in what a lady she has become. Modest, beautiful, polite, well-mannered, and still so precious. I celebrate her amazing mind, which has been enriched and blossomed. SUMMA CUM LAUDE!!! Who would have thought? I am blown away by her compassion for others. Her career of choice is to help children like her. The hands and feet of Jesus in action.
I celebrate her dedication and hard work. My husband I were simply vessels willing to do whatever God put before us and we have been blessed to walk through this journey with Ti. But, she did the hard work. She did trauma counseling. She changed patterns and broke habits and addictions. She is a warrior, a fighter and a conqueror.
So, I have a daughter. I’m not nearly old enough to have a college graduate for a daughter. But, I have a daughter. And I love her just as deeply, fiercely and passionately as if she were my own flesh and blood. I am beyond thankful to the Lord for giving me the blessing of being her mom.
Stephanie lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband Rhett and their four small children, Brock, Henry, Alexander, and Gwyeth. She has a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies and is completing her graduate degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She volunteers with several women’s ministries, and finds the most fulfillment in those that foster and guide the healing process for victims of abuse.