This post is part of a series called the True Life Series, where we share stories written by Milwaukee area moms, but posted anonymously. By and large, these stories are more sensitive in nature or cover topics that may be triggers for some readers. Publishing the piece does not suggest an endorsement by the author nor this platform.
However, we want to give these writers the chance to share their stories in a safe space, in the hopes that someone else might resonate and realize they are not alone. Topics in the True Life Series are likely to draw a lot of opinions, but we want to be clear that, out of respect for the writers of these pieces, we will be monitoring comments carefully and deleting anything that is shaming, hurtful, derogatory or otherwise abusive.
As I pulled in the driveway, my eyes were drawn to an orange note hanging from the porch light. It was from the local police department. A detective had stopped by to talk, and since I wasn’t home, he left his name and number and a request to give him a call as soon as possible.
He and a social worker from CPS needed to talk to me about a “complaint from someone in the community.”
My heart raced and my mind raced faster as I tried to wrap my head around what I was hearing. “A complaint”? My family? Is this real life?
In the 20 minutes I waited for the detective and social worker to arrive, I paced back and forth, trying to understand what was happening. I googled “what to do when CPS wants to talk to you,” and after reading a half dozen horrible stories about kids being taken from their parents and how parents need to “lawyer up” at the first sign of CPS, I put my phone down. I took a drink of water, but all I wanted to do was throw up.
Look, I may not be mother-of-the-year and I might not do everything according to the parenting text books (OK, I do almost NOTHING according to the books), but my kids are well taken care of. They’re good kids. They’re loved. They get decent grades. Sure, they have responsibilities around the house. I discipline them when they act out. I have very high expectations of and for my children. But I’m not a bad mom, am I?
I mean, someone filled a complaint.
I invited the detective and social worker into my home, and I talked to them for almost an hour. There was a complaint that one of my kids might have been physically abused during an altercation a few weeks before. My mind was hazy as I heard things like “lots of screaming,” “pushed by you during an argument,” “hit his head on his dresser” and “bruises were not visible.”
Holy bananas. This was real.
I remember the night, but not the actions as described, and I was honest with the officer and the social worker about what happened. Yes, there was an argument about bedtime. The argument went on for a while, and I was repeating myself over and over again. And with each repetition, my voice got louder and louder. It reached a point in which I went upstairs where my son was standing. I yelled one more time about going to bed, and he started walking backward into his room while yelling back at me. He tripped over a laundry basket in his room (which I had told him several times to put away…ahem…) and fell. He didn’t bump his head. He wasn’t pushed. He wasn’t bruised. I went into his room, tucked him in bed, kissed him goodnight, and walked out. Everything was fine by morning.
Or so I thought — until I found myself sitting in my living room, watching these two people taking notes on everything I said. I offered to show them my son’s room, to show it’s a messy room and quite easy to trip over something especially if walking backward. They smiled, but declined.
They asked if I was ever frustrated with my kids. I’m a mom. Am I frustrated with my kids? Heck, yeah. I honestly answered, and they both nodded their heads and smiled.
They asked if I spanked my kids. I do, although not often and not in a long time since my kids are older. I also admitted that I have “tapped” my son on the head to get his attention. I offered to demonstrate a “tap” on the detective. He declined and took notes.
When the meeting ended, the social worker and I scheduled a time for her to talk to the kids. She also requested I make a list of other people she could talk to about my parenting skills and the relationship with my children.
She returned a few days later to talk to the kids. From the other room, I could hear her ask questions. I could hear their responses and just prayed that things would be okay. The social worker called me into the room.
“There’s nothing to this complaint,” she said. “It’ll be filed as unsubstantiated and dismissed.”
She wouldn’t need to talk to anyone else, and she assured me that I was doing everything right as a mom. She made sure to tell me that disciplining kids is not against the law. “I tell parents that spanking is okay,” she said. “Thank you for cooperating and being so understanding. I’m sorry this happened to you,” she said as I walked her to her car.
We shook hands, and quite honestly, I hoped to never see her again.
Because of confidentiality, we’ll never know who made the report or why. Was it a neighbor? A teacher at the kids’ school? Did the kids make up a wild story and tell to a friend? Was it another parent? It truly sucks not knowing who filed the report, and I’ve found myself looking at others in the community very skeptically, wondering if they were the one who called.
In the weeks since the social worker left the house, some things have changed.
- I pause before yelling. Are the windows open? Might a neighbor or passerby hear and misinterpret what’s going on? Is this situation REALLY worth yelling about? I’d like to say I’ve stopped yelling entirely, but these kids know where my buttons are and can’t resist pushing them every once in a while. I’m only human.
- My kids are VERY lovey toward me, especially my son. I think this was a big wake up call for him, and he was very scared that he might be taken away from me. Things are definitely not perfect in our family, but he realizes things could be so much worse.
- Finally, I keep the orange note in my office as a reminder that the community needs to look out for one another. Yes, this was an incredibly stressful situation for me and the kids, but I’m thankful for a responsive police department and a caring CPS department. There are kids in the community who need help, kids who are being abused, and I’m so appreciative that we have strong resources in our community for these kids and their families.
No child should suffer, even if that means some of us need to deal with unsubstantiated, anonymous claims.
Thank you, law enforcement and social workers, for doing your jobs. You are appreciated.