The Bed Woman and Foster Care
The Side-by-Side Community Circle is a weekly free dinner and support group in Boston. An African American woman asked for a Constellation to help with her 21 year-old twin daughters. One is emotionally close, but lives 800 miles away. The other one lives nearby; she treats her mother with disdain.
Eighteen years ago, the mother was arrested on drug charges. A social worker from the State Department of Family Services recommended the daughters be placed in foster care. This case worker promised after 6-12 months, if the mother successfully completed treatment, the children would be returned. The mother met these conditions. However, her daughters remained in foster care for 15 years. The mother made numerous requests and filings to terminate DFS control, all unsuccessful. In the eyes of the State, the stigma of being a teen mother, drug addict and convicted felon made her permanently unfit to care for her children. The girls were shuttled between several foster homes. They reported being abused. The twin who is estranged calls one foster mother her “real” mother.
Crying as she spoke, the mother said her heart is bursting with love, guilt and unbearable pain. She asked us for a Constellation to melt the barriers that keep her distanced from her children. The Constellation began with the female line – daughters, mother and grandmother. Each felt the pattern of ill-will, loneliness, and disconnection. The mother recalled family lore that a great-grandmother from slavery days was a bed-woman for a plantation owner. This was a slave who provided on-demand sexual relations for the Master. When she became pregnant and gave birth, the child was given to field hands, making the baby an orphan with neither mother nor father.
Putting in a representative for this ancestral mother and her child energized the women. I added a representative for the Master, his white wife and their son. Filling in the white great-grandchildren to the present generation, the descendants of the Master, wife and bed-woman formed two parallel lines, one black, the other white. They were related by common ancestry, but opposed in their lives and experiences.
It became suddenly clear that we were diagramming both the extended family and the foster care system itself. Not necessarily factually, but culturally, the children of the Master and his wife became the judges, legislators, and social workers who determined the mothers descended from the bed-woman were unfit. The African American descendants suffered from profound alienation and loneliness which expressed itself in the inebriation of heroin and alcohol, teen pregnancies, abusive parenting and persistent poverty.
The bed-woman’s children, while biologically mixed-race, were seen by all as black. The universal acceptance of this biologically false reality fuels the social insanity that is part of the foster care system. The irresolvable conflict between the inherited (genetic) consciousness that remembers the truth and the personal consciousness that denies it binds the barrier between daughters and mothers.
This particular mother, and her mother and grandmother, had partnered with older men of higher caste who related to them as cold and distant figures of male authority. This suggested that the bed-woman’s child’s yearning for her inaccessible father remained active for many generations.
The Constellation’s last step was to put in representatives for Mother Africa and Father Europe. 21st Century American culture is born from this primal kidnapping and rape. American society, from the extreme poverty of broken urban landscapes to the elite wealth of suburban golf courses are owned, built and populated by the children of this archetype couple. In slow silence, the representatives discovered healing movements. They suggested new possibilities for closeness and acceptance between the mother and her twin daughters.
After the Constellation, we sat again in a circle and completed a round of personal reflections. What was most remarkable was many circle members shared painful and rarely spoken histories with foster care. These included parents whose children were put in state care, those who had been raised in foster homes, former foster parents, and a social worker who had managed cases. One after another they spoke of the pain of their experiences. This Constellation touched a deep and hidden place. We left inspired, sobered and nourished, perfectly fitting for the Community Circle.