Jessie’s 23-year drug and alcohol addiction had already cost her a son and a daughter, taken from her as babies. But she had managed to hang on to 2-year-old Caleb amid the chaos that was her life.
“I’d been running amok, using and just not really being there, even when he was young,” Jessie says. “I just wanted a break, I wanted to party.”
One night, she asked her mom to pick him up so she’d be free for another night out. But Grandma had had enough; she didn’t bring him back.
“I remember thinking, ‘How could you do this to me? I’m a good mom’ – which I wasn’t at all.”
Jessie wanted Caleb back, but she never could seem to stay out of trouble. (In fact, most of her seven tries at addiction treatment had been aimed at getting her kids back, and they all had ended in failure.) So she only got to have Caleb occasionally, and her mom started the process of adopting him.
“Every time my mom would pick up Caleb, you could just tell his little world was just out of control,” she says. It was clear, even to his grandma, that Caleb still really wanted Jessie.
“My mom overheard him tell this little old lady, ‘Well, I live with Grammy, but I belong to my mom.’” For his sake, Jessie’s mom told her, “You’ve got to get it together.”
Knowing she could lose Caleb permanently, Jessie finally reached a point where she was ready to give up her own pride and selfish desires. Sitting outside the Center for Women and Children, “I just gave it to the Lord. I’m like, ‘You know what? I’m not going to try to control this anymore. … I don’t want my mom to control it. I just want You to be in control of this whole situation with him.’”
That started a different road for Jessie, with different motivations than the last seven times she’d tried to change. She finally saw the value in an 18-month commitment to the recovery program, for her own sake as a person, not just a mom. “If I keep doing it for him, for him, for him, I’m not taking care of the core issues that are really keeping me sick and using all the time.”
Still, it still helps a lot to remember Caleb: “Even though there are times when it gets hard here, where I’m like, ‘Ugh, I just want to leave,’ I know that I have a little guy depending on me.”
Now, she spends their time together focused on cultivating a relationship with her son. Eliminating the chaos her addiction brought has allowed her to give him the undivided attention he’s craved for years.
“He has been waiting for me to just be his mom,” she says.
One thing she’s learning is to “instead of react, respond to him” – consider his needs above her own feelings in how she parents Caleb, who is 5 now. Part of that is actually maintaining discipline, saying no when it’s better for him – even if that upsets him in the short term – as well as setting an example.
“Before, it was just, ‘whatever you want to do, it’s a free-for-all.’ ... I now tell him, ‘Well, we have rules we follow here. We have bedtimes. And mommy has to follow rules just like you have to follow rules.’ … [I] let him see me walk out the things I need to walk out.”
Ultimately, faith in God is what is making a permanent difference in their family.
“To live for the Lord and [have Caleb] grow up in church and just be a stable mom. That is my future for him and I, which may not be a lot, but for him and I that’s huge.”
We're celebrating moms and kids being reunited this month on the Impact Blog. You can celebrate Christ's coming with your family this season using Holiness Revealed, a free Advent devotional you can download immediately.