The homeless mothers sit before me, dressed in their best clothes, well groomed, cautiously, hesitantly returning a smile to me. Ranging widely in complexion, height, and shape, their commonality is very striking. They are young (under 25), single, and have children. They are poor and live in a transitional housing program. They are the objects of intimate betrayal, abandonment, and abuse by both family, the father of their children, and friends. They
are subject to widespread stereotypes, biases, and discrimination.
I am here to congratulate them on their participation in a series of support groups. I want to know the difference the experience made for them. They are so beautiful yet seem so fragile, as if the chorus of professional women who happily surround them is surreal. Each youthful parent peeks out at me from an inner place, hoping that she is safe, or appropriate. So much trauma lurks in their life stories; they seem so incredibly vulnerable. I hold back my tears. I hold on to my belief that we are much more than what has happened to us. No matter the devastation of past circumstances, we can move beyond survival to a quality of life.
One by one, the women make a presentation to me in front of the entire gathering. Each shares what the support group has meant to them. I did not know that others had the same thing happen to them. I thought I was alone; I realize I’m not alone. I didn’t know I could trust another female. I stopped wanting to die. I stopped hurting myself. I’m a survivor. I have a job. I have learned that my children must come first. I have a plan. I can talk up in groups and share myself. I can ask for encouragement and support now. I really needed this group to help me get through. Distinctively, the voices are feisty, shy, soft, dramatic, adamant. All of the women thank the staff for facilitating the group. They have found lifelong friends in each other. I cry openly.
I am the guest speaker. I now respond by asking questions. What does it mean to be confident? Why is this important for you as young women? We exchange thoughts and feelings about needing approval from others, hiding true self, defending and not opening up, or being receptive to change, and protecting ourselves even when it is safe. They describe feelings of shame, guilt, and failure, how hard it is to take a needed risk, how unworthy they feel because of past mistakes, how stupid. And we talk about the fathers, the children and the need to create a better future for their family.
At the end of the celebration, staff recognize each mother’s unique strength and growth. The simple act of sharing, seeking understanding, and lifting up others is an exercise in redemption, removing so much of the residual hurt and pain which permeates so much of our lives. Yes, such simple acts are redeeming. Personally, I am reinforced once again to believe that good outweighs evil, and that love, through human connection, heals all. In truth, we need to be with these young mothers just as much as they need to be with us.