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Mother’s Day is my day to give thanks

May 13, 2012

Maria Mendez is the mother of six. She lives with three of her children in Somersworth, N.H. She also has two grown children and a son who has always lived with his grandmother. Mendez is working on getting a driver’s license and is looking for a job in the hospitality industry. She is extremely grateful for her children’s unconditional love and the continued support of her father-in-law as well as her children’s former foster parents, Rebecca and Shaun Kinney.

This Mother’s Day, I have a lot to be thankful for. It’s the first Mother’s Day that I am sober and truly enjoying being a mom. But it was a long, hard road to get here.

Life has always been kind of hard for me. Once I became a mom, it got even harder. Taking pills helped. At first, it just helped take the edge off. Over the years, pills became my way of handling everything.

My boyfriend was drinking heavily. At some point, my teenage daughter had enough. Looking for help for our family, she called the Department of Children and Youth Services. They took my daughter and her sister away.

Losing my kids was the hardest. I felt I had failed as a mother and that I failed myself. Worst of all, I had failed my kids.

Still, I couldn’t quit – even after I overdosed. Every day was a struggle.

When I gave birth to my baby, my sixth child, I still couldn’t kick the habit. Then my boyfriend went to jail. I felt like I had nothing more to live for. There was only one thing that could help me, even if it killed me: more pills.

Three months into my new baby’s life, I overdosed again. I shouldn’t be here today, but a wonderful EMT brought me back and saved my life.

The state took my baby and sent me to rehab. I had reached an absolute low point, but my brush with death changed something in me. I found a will to live again and to change my life. I knew I needed help, and I wanted that help. I wanted to get my life on track.

I made a promise to myself I would never use again. I committed to treatment and completed it. It felt great being sober.

Four months into my sobriety, the state gave me my kids back. It was the most wonderful feeling to have them back. But I was also terrified. I had never been a sober mother.

That’s why I asked the state for extra help. They sent me an angel to help me and my family.

Becky, a Youth Villages family intervention specialist, came to my home three times a week for intensive family therapy. She asked me what my goals were for me and my family, and then we got to work. I was ready and excited. This was my chance to become the mom I wanted to be.

Youth Villages’ intensive in-home program helped me learn new parenting skills. We made behavior contracts with my kids and set clear expectations for behaviors, along with rewards and consequences all the kids agreed to.

The behavior contracts are taped to our refrigerator, so everyone always knows what’s expected.

The hardest thing was working on communication skills. I was never able to communicate with my kids the way I knew we should.

My teenage daughter and I used to get into arguments that ended in screaming matches and drained our energy. Becky taught us to avoid pushing each other’s buttons and to talk to each other calmly.

Learning to communicate with each other made the biggest difference for me and my teen daughter. We can talk to each other now when something is bothering us, and we have gained each other’s respect and trust. I get all choked up thinking about it.

But the greatest compliment is when I hear my daughter brag about me as a parent. It’s the ultimate reward. Things are so different now. So good. We’re no longer stressed out being a family.

It feels awesome to have my family back, and I am so thankful I can be the mother my children need and deserve.

God kept me alive to be there for my kids but also to share my story with other moms and dads who are struggling with addiction, feelings of hopelessness and failure. There is hope. I’m living proof that parents can make changes and get their lives on track when they get the help they truly need. You can too.

This Mother’s Day I want to express my gratitude to all those people who helped me and my family make it. You gave us the greatest gift. Thank you!

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