With Love and Strength
A mother draws on her children as her source of strength to keep her family together.
Strength can be defined as “the capacity to withstand great force or pressure,” a concept with which Shaunta is more than familiar. As a single mother to an 18-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son, she wears many hats. “I’m not just their mom,” she admits proudly, “I’m their counselor, teacher, friend…” and the list goes on. Her own mother was a single mom of three children overwhelmed by physical and mental challenges. Her father had been in prison since the time Shaunta was born. As a result, Shaunta went to live with another family member and was eventually placed into foster care.
With all the instability in her life, she never had an example of how to be a mother. When she became a mother herself, she knew that providing for her children and creating the support she never had was the most important thing she could do. Throughout her journey of supporting and raising her family, Shaunta has found herself continually fighting the odds. Financial stress, physical and mental health complications, and a lack of support and compassion from outside resources are just a few of the obstacles she faced during her journey. Yet despite all this, she strives to make different choices for her children than the ones she experienced growing up. Shaunta has remained strong and faced each challenge head on, teaching her children that “as long as you are trying, anyone can beat the odds.”
Throughout the worst of her struggles, Shaunta worried that she would be unable to care for her children. She describes those times as being like a game of Russian Roulette, never knowing what bill would be paid or if there would be enough food for their next meal.
“As long as you are trying, anyone can beat the odds.”
“There were times I thought maybe I should just drive off a cliff, but I wanted a better life for my kids… I had thought maybe someone with more money could take better care of them, but I beat that,” Shaunta admits, acknowledging the similarities in the challenges she and her mother both faced.
But even in the hardest times, she told herself that her children would be taken care of. Sometimes, she went without eating, just to make sure her children had enough food for themselves. The instability of her financial situation resulted in several close calls with Child Protective Services where her children were nearly removed from her home, but Shaunta was determined to not repeat the patterns she had seen in her family.
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On top of her financial challenges, Shaunta was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 32, a condition that attacks the nerves throughout her body. She found herself experiencing times of extreme numbness and couldn’t even drink a glass of water without pouring it on herself. During the worst episode, she was paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair for two months. Even then, she was fighting for her children. She told herself, “I cannot be like this. My kids have no one but me.”
She pulled through the paralysis and decided to change jobs, continuing to work while training to become a CNA to care for others living with multiple sclerosis. When her children faced challenges during this time, Shaunta still went the extra mile to care for them without neglecting her responsibilities, even when that meant taking bus rides after work to visit her daughter, who was in the hospital during this time. She pushed herself to pursue this new career to serve others and provide stable financial support for her family. Now, she is a proud CNA II empowering others with multiple sclerosis to take care of themselves and not let their lives be hindered by this disease.
This past spring, Shaunta’s daughter accomplished a major milestone, something that Shaunta had not done herself and greatly desired for her own children: graduating from high school. When her daughter’s graduation day came, it was met with great celebration. For Shaunta, family is unity and togetherness. Every challenge they have faced, they have faced together. The most important thing to her was making sure her children were not only taken care of, but that they knew they were loved and wanted. “I want them to know they have beaten the odds,” she says proudly. “I still struggle today, but I have raised my kids and supported them…”
To keep their family strong and connected, Shaunta and her children practice what they call “family sharing time.” They take the time to intentionally sit down together and share about the things going on in their life and how they can support each other through it. Everything they go through, they do so together and ultimately, they come out stronger.
Having gone through the foster care system as a child, Shaunta knew that she wanted something different for her own children and would fight to make that happen for them. Today, she still has contact with her mom and tries to forgive her and not judge her for the past. Even so, she questions why her mom did not fight harder to keep her. Shaunta wonders if a different child welfare system that offered more support systems and counseling services could have made a difference for parents like her mom. She believes that if someone had offered her mom these types of resources and programs earlier in life, she may not have felt compelled to turn to harmful choices. Maybe, she would have felt more equipped to keep her daughter.
Shaunta desires a system where families are met with kindness and humility because every situation is unique – a system free of judgement that advocates for families in their greatest time of need. With a more responsive system, Shaunta believes that families will have better chances and stronger motivation to stay together.
Shaunta shares her story with others with hope that families will find strength to fight for each other and know they are not alone. Despite all the challenges her family has faced, no matter how severely she struggled, Shaunta drew on her children as a source of strength and fought through each obstacle to keep her family together and offer her kids a better life.
“If my kids were taken from me, I don’t know what I would do,” she says. “If they go on vacation with other people, I’m worried, you know? Just the thought of not being able to take care of them, to see them, to love on them…I don’t think I could bear that feeling. That’s why I always tried my best…to stay above water and provide for them.”
When asked what she believes is the most important thing for families to take away from her story, Shaunta said, “…through all the ups and downs, through all the lonely nights and sleepless nights, you can get through with the love of your family and the strength from your kids.”