I Used To Hide My Foster Kid Identity—Now I’m Embracing It
Growing up withholding my family situation became too much to bear, but my life changed when I opened up about my status.
From the outside, I appear to have it all: A successful career, a stable, loving relationship, close family and friends—all the things that many people aspire to have. I seem to be a well-adjusted individual who leads a happy life with nothing serious to worry about. But that is far from reality. The truth is, I keep a huge part of my life firmly beneath the surface.
In September 2004, when I was ten years old, my life changed forever. Along with my two younger siblings, we went into foster care. My parents had separated, and my mom was unable to cope with looking after us as a single mother due to poverty and ill-health. At first, we lived in different foster homes that were traumatic—far from where we grew up—before settling into one placement that lasted a year. As I navigated the harsh new reality away from my parents, friends, school and everything that I previously thought was my life, I went from being a carefree, happy child to feeling detached and afraid to speak to strangers.
The only creative outlet I had to help express my innermost thoughts was through writing. It became a haven for me. I kept diaries confessing how I felt, how much I missed my mom and dad and how excited I was to see them next. But what also kept me going was having my siblings by my side, going through a shared trauma. Despite our young ages, we knew we had to stick together to survive.
My Friends Never Judged My Situation
In November 2005, we were fostered by a kind family that didn’t make us feel like typical “foster kids,” and I began to feel somewhat normal. A long-term placement, unlike our last, it was an environment we felt safe in. We were well-cared for, and for the first time in what felt like an eternity, I could finally laugh, smile, ease up. The protective shell that I built, allowing me to safely retreat into myself, had started to slowly become undone. I no longer felt terrified of my surroundings.
When I started high school, I thrived—I made new friends and I enjoyed my studies. My school and home were far from where I grew up, so this allowed me to repackage who I was. Like a superhero, I hid my true identity, passing my foster family off as my own, projecting a different life against the one I was actually living. I didn’t tell anyone about my background for fear of being bullied and negatively stereotyped as a problematic teenager living in foster care. This constant worry led me to call my foster mother and father “mom” and “dad” whenever I mentioned my family or when I'd invite friends over for sleepovers. I continued this façade, repressing what I’d gone through for a while until I finally told my two best friends about everything. Instead of judging me, they reassured me that not everyone would react badly to my real life.
As I progressed through school, I kept in contact with my biological parents. Education was important to them and they encouraged me to go to college. I always wanted to go, leave where I lived, explore somewhere different and take on a new challenge. I thought college would improve my life. I didn’t want to let what I’d gone through define my life and stop me from aiming high, so I decided to apply for degrees in English, with aspirations of becoming a journalist one day. I ended up being accepted into every university I had applied for; I knew many people in my position were not quite as lucky.
I Want to Help Other Foster Kids With Shedding Stigmas
After graduation, as I grew older, I continued to withhold so much of my past from people I met and became close with. I struggled with relationships for fear others would run from me, thinking I was damaged goods. But things changed in 2015 when I met my current boyfriend. At first, I worried about telling him everything about me. But I needn’t have worried. He was caring, understanding and someone who I could let into my life, flaws and all.
In January 2020, at the age of 25, I finally sought therapy for the first time. Up until that point, for several years, I had experienced anxiety and depression due to repressing trauma and aspects of my life, without realizing how detrimental it was to my health. I felt exhausted living a double life and knew I needed help. As I began to open up to my therapist, it felt like a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. At long last, I was able to work through the traumatic experiences that occurred in my life. Those sessions every Tuesday afternoon helped me more than I could ever imagine.
Today, I continue to have a close relationship with both my biological and foster parents. I'm slowly starting to talk more about my past and no longer feel ashamed of it. If anything, I’m proud of my resilience and everything I’ve gone through. I finally feel like my authentic self and it feels liberating. In the future, I have plans to work with children and young people living in foster care who are going through the things I did and help them realize they're not a negative, outdated stereotype. Foster kids are so much more than that. We are human beings who are smart, loving and who can lead fulfilled, happy lives, just like everyone else.