When Insanity is Normal

I’ve started a new case for my volunteer work.  So I don’t repeat myself too much, you can read a previous post about what I do and what my observations have been as of about 2 years ago.  But this new case has made me realize something else.  I can’t name names but let me give you a taste of what’s going in the case.

A 24 year old woman had her kids removed from her because upon the birth of her last child, she and the newborn tested positive for cocaine.  Her partner also tested positive for cocaine.  The partner is the father of the youngest two, the oldest, who is 5 has a different biological father, who until recently hasn’t been involved because the mother actively tried to keep him out of her life when he remarried.  The father of the youngest two was reported as having sexually molested a 3 year old girl.  He claims he didn’t do it, but the child’s story was detailed enough that he is on record as a known perpetrator.  This father is 32, the mother 24, which is a bit of an age gap, given that their first child happened when she was only 22 and he was 30.  He has 3 other children of which he has lost parental rights to all 3.   There was evidence that often the oldest who is 5 was locked in a room with her 1 year old brother and was at times the primary caretaker of him.  Since her children have been removed from she and the father have continually tested positive for cocaine.  If they are unable to keep clean they will lose parental rights to their children.  Currently they both live in their car, and have no home.

The children upon being removed were originally placed with the maternal grandmother.  The story of her life involves her baby brother dying of SIDS when she was 5.  She has cleary had undiagnosed mental illnesses throughout most of her life from PTSD, to bi-polar, to clinical depression.  To give you a sense of the situation she has been recommended to receive mental health treatment from 9-2 pm…Monday through Friday.  Upon the death of her brother she began being extremely violent towards animals, and pushed her sister onto the driveway as her mother was backing out who then ended up running over her sister (luckily this only result in slight injury).  She has 4 children through 3 different fathers ranging from the age of 26, to the youngest being 12.  Her youngest daughter was actually a twin, but she was with an abusive partner while pregnant, killing one of the twins.  She believed that the birth of a daughter would soften this guy (who was also a cocaine user) but not surprisingly this did not happen.  Her oldest son has 3 children, her oldest daughter (the mother in my case) 3 children, her 18 year old daughter is pregnant.  Recently, the partner she has been with now for 10 years was accused of sexually molesting her 18 year old daughter since she was a young girl.  This turned out to be true, and this maternal grandmother apparently knew about it and didn’t do anything.  The maternal grandmother’s sister also hit her niece badly causing child services to remove the niece for a time from her sister’s home.  It would be too lengthy to give more details but this maternal grandmother has exposed her kids to some broken people, has moved back and forth from different states, has at times not had her own home, and has clearly suffered through some nightmarish experiences.

I know that most of my readers will read those last two paragraphs and be like “WTF!?”  Some of you might feel anger, some sadness, probably both.  Overall, if you’re like me you will recognize this as an insane situation in which can hardly connect to.  This is chaos, and my intuition is helpless as I observe all this because it is so foreign to me.  I cannot fathom how this is real, human life.  But what I’ve come to realize is that this is normal for them.  This is just how life is.  This is how life is for much of their family and friends as well.  You might say, how can a mother let her daughter be molested and not do anything about it?  The only answer I can come up with is that through generations of poverty that the tolerance for deeply troubling behaviors and people is high given that this all seems like par for the course.  And poverty is at the heart of this at the heart of this tale.  Now that’s not to say that there wasn’t a period of prosperity in the maternal grandmother’s life, but the people she imported into her life, because she grew up with no parent recognizing her mental illness, because the behaviors of her own parents seemed normal, has kept a level of dysfunction in the family that would break most of us if we had to tolerate it for more than a day.  I remember my first visit to the maternal grandmother’s home.  Two of her other grandchildren were there along with her son and daughter in law.  The place was a mess with laundry everywhere.  It was a small two bedroom trailer, in which the 3 grandchildren she was fostering, her 12 year old, and her and her partner lived.  I felt claustrophobic and wanted to leave and try to pretend that people didn’t have to live like that.  And that’s not to say that people don’t have it worse.  All I’m saying is that for so many families, all this is absolutely normal.  This shouldn’t be normal.  In talking to the maternal grandmother I actually found her to be fairly prescient, places importance on school and education, and seems to at least have good intentions for those in her care.  What’s not clear is that she necessarily always understand what good care actually means.  If anybody expects people to just reason their way out of the situation, theysimply don’t know what they’re talking about.

Thankfully at the last hearing a couple days ago.  The oldest daughter got moved to her biological father and his wife. Both seem like really good people.  The two youngest children have been placed with a foster family who seem really nice and nurturing.  They understand that re-unification with the parents can happen, but are also willing to be a permanent home should the parents not be able lose their addiction.  There is some stability there and there are all sorts of hardworking people trying to do what’s best for the children.  Children are innocent and born into these situations.  It’s easy to condemn the adults, but when you learn more about them you just realize that they were just like these children and born into impossible situations.  I do this work for the children, but my heart breaks for the adults as well.  Most of the time they just get judged by the rest of society and forgotten.  When the mother had her visitation reduced at the last court hearing and found out she wasn’t going to get any special time with her children at Christmas she was in tears.  Despite the fact that she isn’t capable of being the parent her children need, the pain in her voice, in her face, and the intensity of her sobs made it clear that what little love she had in her life was slipping away.  I am not saying this is an excuse for giving her her kids back, and I’m glad Pennsylvania always tries to give parents a path to get their kids back, but I can imagine the pain I would feel if the same was happening to me.  It still broke my heart.

I appreciate all the people who dedicate their lives to helping children and families in these situations, but it’s really just all not enough.  We have to do better.  We have to make these kinds of things priorities for our politicians and raise awareness of what poverty is really like.


For those of you interested in volunteering for the organization I work for it is called CASA.  You can check out the national website, but you’d have to see if they exist in your county if you wanted to volunteer.  But if you just want to donate to them some time that also helps.  There may be other service providers that help children in your area as well that could use your support.

30 thoughts on “When Insanity is Normal

  1. I used to do foster care Swarn. It is a eye opener, especially to the drug and mental health issues. CASA workers are an amazing breed. Nice work sir. My wife is currently a coalition instructor teaching mandatory classes for some of these parents. It’s a struggle just to demonstrate they can or need to improve. Thanks for your service as well.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Jim. Yeah one of the things I was surprised about when I started doing this was how many services are there for parents and children all free to them. Parenting classes being one of them. One of the fathers I worked with learned a lot from those classes. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to kick his heroin addiction and ended up losing his children. There is just so much these folks are dealing with. And often the court mandated services and evaluations they are required to do…even though it can really help them add to stress in their life, because often they are trying to also make enough money to survive and keep a home for their children to eventually come back to, and their time is more limited than yours and mine.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. So much of this hopelessness ties into your post yesterday. It is a stressful system even for the capable. Throw in a touch of personal disaster and this can be very difficult to handle—Many times over one choice made years ago.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Well said. You are exactly right. And that disaster need not be much. It could as little a car breaking down which sends a stable situation into a desperate one. In my last case, the mother seemed to largely bring these horrible men into her life largely because they made decent money and she was trying to raise 4 children while working a minimum wage job in McDonalds. I think she had alcoholism issues as well, but the desperation for daily survival is a stress that causes people to act in unpredictable ways that aren’t always in their best interest, or their children. Long term thinking is just a big part of your thought process when you’ve grown up poor and you are wondering whether you’ll be able to feed your children the next day.

          Liked by 3 people

  2. Oh good grief, Swarn, no wonder you get cross/infuriated/sad about the state of things. We live in cultures where the prevailing belief is that poverty is poor people’s fault. Also there is so much mental illness that goes unrecognised or unhelped – much like the opioid addiction in the US. At least it is good to hear that the children in this case have been found some stable carers.Also that there are some free support systems for adults, but perhaps they are available too late down the road to dysfunction? How do you break addiction in broken-hearted people? And what a compound tragedy when so many people’s lives become scarcely worth living, the madness passed down the generations. Well done you, for caring and taking action.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you Tish for your comments and kind words.

      How do you break addiction in broken-hearted people?

      This is a very important question, and not one easily answered. As I mentioned in a response to someone else, the parents are often ordered so many services, plus trying to maintain at least one and sometimes two jobs to maintain stable housing, that this increases the stress that they face. Which makes it hard for them to quit their addiction. On my last case, I had a dad who had gone about year without doing heroin but fell off the wagon, when he was probably only a month away from getting back his kids. He was a good dad, had taken parenting classes, and was using those techniques to discipline his kids. Especially son who was a special needs child. It was awesome to see and I really felt like he was going to make it. I honestly feel that if had gotten back his kids just a month sooner he might not have fallen off the wagon. I think not having his children around gave him more free time to hang out with the wrong sorts of friends. He was also really stressed wondering if he was going to get his kids back. In addition to falling off the wagon, he ended up selling his kids Christmas presents for money to buy drugs, and then got arrested fleeing a crime scene, that he was at, although he didn’t commit any crime (except of course possession of heroin). I am not sure what happened to him. He was in jail when he lost parental rights, and I wonder what impetus there is give up drugs now that he’ll never see his kids again. It’s all heartbreaking.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Margaret Claire Hogue

    My heart aches for this family and the children, Swarn. It feels defeating when we can see the problem is systemic but our society wants to view the problem as being solely one of personal responsibility.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s a great way of putting it Claire. I think that even these people would tend to place a lot of value on personal responsibility. I suspect that many of the people we help are probably Republican voters. They feel powerless against the system and all they have left is their bootstraps to pull up. Unfortunately there is only so far they are going to get. I imagine if nobody had given you the help you needed for at least a couple generations, you’d give up on getting systemic change. It’s really up to the rest of us to fight for those changes to make these people believe that we as a society do care.

      Hope you are well Claire!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Swarn, first I want to applaud you and say just how enormous and impactful your help and humanity means to the overall suffering in our country. Thank you… from the bottom of my heart. And I mean that in the most DEEPEST way imaginable, because I have years worked in the Psych/A&D rehab field, and this is much more prevalent than many Americans — in their self-consumed busy, opulent, hectic ivory-tower lives — realize. And the energy and funds dedicated into America’s mental-illness and addiction epidemic is nowhere NEAR enough or informed as it should be.

    Bravo Swarn. BRAVO!!! You are such a good person, a caring human. We need so many more Swarns in this world. 😉 ❤

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you professor, but please don’t heap too many accolades on me. There are bigger heroes than myself helping children out there. I mean many of those folks who agree to be foster families are far more amazing and spend a far greater amount of time helping children to give them some stability. I really just wrote this to bring awareness to how people live, and what we might easily judge is just a normal way of life for so many. And it’s a cycle not easily broken.

      Overall, I just want to make the small world around me a better place. I feel this is a better way to spend my time than being on Facebook. There are amazing heroes who dedicated their lives to helping people in other countries, but not all of us can do that, but if we spent more time just trying to make our little corner of the world better, I think the world we a better place.

      Liked by 4 people

  5. I used to work at a non-profit social services organization and came across the same type of generational dysfunction. It was a terrible cycle of abuse, assault, drug use and early pregnancy. People in these situations do begin to believe it’s “normal” and can’t see a way out. The Bible mentions that times would be hard during the last days and that people will have no natural affection, no sense of direction or love and no moral values (2 Timothy 3:1-5). These attitude are continuing to get worse and situations like this will become more prevalent as the wage gap and poverty continue to increase. The system is truly broken and I look forward to God’s Kingdom ridding this world of the wicked ones that keep this mess going (Psalms 37:10,11). I’m grateful to people in this world like yourself that are trying to make a difference one family at a time.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Heather for your kind words and sharing your experiences.

      I know you mean well with your biblical references, but it is curious why you have thrown those in to every post even though I have not talked about religion. As you might be able to tell from other blog posts, I’m an atheist, but I try discuss topics in which people of faith and science can find common ground and I’d appreciate if you would keep your comments on topic. If I do post about religion I’d be more than happy to discuss the merit of various bible versus.

      That being said, even if I did put stock in the Bible I don’t think I would see this as end times. In the long arc of history we have made moral progress as human race, and of course we are far from where we need to be, but I try not to get bogged down by the short term and keep my eye focused on the bigger picture. It may be that progress is a two steps forward one step back sort of process, and maybe we are just in the step back right now. End of world prophecies are as old as human civilization and it hasn’t happened yet.

      I tend to think that waiting for God to rid the world of wickedness causes many people to not work to make the world a better place themselves. It leads to apathy which is never good. I also think that those that are wicked are just a product of the genetics and environment, just as the parents I have written about here who have brought harm to their children.

      We are all imperfect, and all have the potential for redemption. I think despite our religious differences I think we can agree. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I apologize if my biblical references were offensive. That certainly was not my intention. I’m an avid bible reader and the Bible’s message of something better brings me much comfort and hope. I try to share that comfort when I get a chance. Moving forward I’ll refrain from doing so when responding to your blog posts.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Thank you Heather. And I did not mean to give the impression that I was offended, and as I said, I know you meant well, just that I like to keep discussions focused on the topic at hand, whether it is agreement or disagreement. I am glad your faith has value to you and I appreciate you reading my blog and sharing your perspective. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Reading posts like this makes me realize just how lucky/fortunate a lot of us are.
    They didn’t chose which family they would be born into. So those of us who are in a position to make a difference, should do so

    Great job Swarn and keep on the good work

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Jonathan for reading, your kind words, and your comment. While I do feel like I’m helping, it still feels like I am not the most effective person to be doing something like this. Society however doesn’t to pay for the volume of support required to help children like this, and I shudder to think how much worse it would get should abortion become illegal again. Something is certainly better than nothing, but I wish people with greater expertise in child development was doing what I’m doing and getting paid for it.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Okay. I had to come back to this post. Lots going on here for me. As you may or may not know, I came from a family of professionals far removed from the poverty they grew up in during the Depression. They succeeded in overcoming history, at least financially. But they were deeply flawed. Violence and molestation were my father ‘s great sins. My mother was violent as well as complicit. It took many years for me to get past this, to forgive. But I did with time and perspective and years of counseling and spiritual delving and counseling people with similar histories.

    What I can tell you is that normal is what you know. One learns to set a very low bar. And out of seven kids, I think we all blamed ourselves for a lot of it, as kids will do. Dysfunctional does not begin to describe it. I am sure my father had some sort of undiagnosed mental illness; my mother suspected this, and I wonder about her as well.

    So although this story really was shocking, I think these situations are far more common than any of us can even dream. Victimizing women and children is as old as time. Treating women and children as property one can do with as one wishes is also pretty standard, historically.

    Each of us is called to help one another in this life in one way or another. I truly applaud your efforts, Swarn, and I’m sorry I cannot offer any ready answers. Humans are often detestable as a species. And brilliant, and full of heart, and full of shadows. The most I can hope for is that more people become conscious of their own dark side. Because as a Depth psychologist, the problems originate when we suppress our inner demons. Then they come out sideways, and drugs and alcohol are just there to facilitate the madness.

    Blessings to you and yours. 💕

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences here. I do think you’re right in that these things are far more common than we think. One of the things I only touched on lightly, which I think is also important is that perhaps one can be more easily “rescued” from this dysfunction if it is not the norm within the community you live in. When I went to visit the grandmother she was initially not at home, because she was over at the neighbor’s trailer that had a big “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, and the husband had just been released from jail and she was welcoming him back home. Chaos is everywhere. It seems like kids in that situation don’t have too many examples to see where some sort of abuse, addiction, dysfunction is not the norm.

      And yes, you’re right that women and children have been considered property for some time and that mindset is ripe for abuse because property is not human. And when people are dehumanized the empathy chip get switched off a little.

      It’s interesting I think about this, and about abortion. People who are anti-abortion want us to recognize the humanity of fetuses, and yet there is a lot of overlap in such people who don’t recognize children as fully human and treat them as less than human. Whether it is sexual molestation, physical punishment, or religious indoctrination. Anyway, just a thought, but either way, the fact that children are not treated humanely has been an unbearable fact about this world for some time to me. The fact that the first child abuse case in this country was tried under animal abuse laws, tells you a lot about how children are viewed.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Ugh! Didn’t know that (child abuse tried under animal abuse laws). Yes, it’s really tough stuff you’re tackling, and you deserve loads of praise. I answered first on my phone, never a great look, but I meant to highlight that my parents had come from dire situations yet even with education and material success, the abuse, itself played forward. I wonder how many generations it ‘typically’ takes for it to clear itself from the family line. Or could some of it be genetic? (Thus the presumption of some sort of undiagnosed mental illness. Spiritual malaise?) Some of my siblings carried the abuse forward as well. Tough stuff, all. And yes, religious indoctrination meant we kept secrets for a very long time. Some of us still do. For me, ‘the truth will set you free’ has always made sense.

        Best to you, Swarn. We do what we can, where we can. What I’ve come to is to stay focused and not pan the lens too much or it’s easy to become overwhelmed. It’s a work in progress 😉

        PS: I am also prompted to flag you on a book I’m reading just now called Privilege: The Making of An Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School by Shamus Rahman Kahn. Why I am not sure, (many reviews seem to gloss over or miss the points I would highlight) except the author points out that, though elite institutions are proud to say they are diverse, they are far from equal, exploring the New Elite among social classes. (And how disadvantaged students that somehow make the grade still remain marginalized.) I think you might find it interesting, though it’s not relevant to this topic, per se. Then again …

        Aloha for now.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Thanks for the book recommendation. That does sound interesting, and I’m certainly not surprised. As my current series on greed indicates, there is no color really to being rich. In the U.S. it might lean towards one race primarily, but worldwide that’s not the case, and such people have the advantage the world over. From reading various articles it seems that if you are from poor beginnings and got to a prestigious university on scholarship you are still not an equal.

          What I’ve come to is to stay focused and not pan the lens too much or it’s easy to become overwhelmed. It’s a work in progress

          This is very true. It’s part of the reason why I got off of social media because the panning the lens was paralyzing me in some sense. Not that it still isn’t important to be aware of what’s going, but it just felt like overload.

          Liked by 3 people

    2. Hi Swarn and Bela,

      I have managed to read all of the comments here and in the other post. Consequently, it has taken me quite a while to go through the post entitled “Greed Pt 2: Systems, Cheaters, and Dehumanizing the Poor” and then this one entitled “When Insanity is Normal”, the latter seemingly even more searing than the former. So much sorrow and injustice! And so much for living in a supposedly civilized society! So much so that the title of the post might as well be “When Inhumanity is Normal”!

      Perhaps it is not exaggerating at all for some to think or conclude figuratively that in many unequal and unjust societies, the rich (and powerful) have walked all over the corpses of the poor (and powerless).

      Thank you, Bela, for your multiple thoughtful comments, and Swarn, for your civic diligence and moral stalwartness in tackling these issues with unswerving grit.

      When there is more time later, I shall hyperlink your said posts (and others) to the relevant ones on my website, as I have done so for your post of 2015 entitled “The 4th Age of Sand” to mine entitled “SoundEagle in Best Moment Award from Moment Matters”, which also mentions some similar issues.

      Swarn, when I find the time, I shall also reply to your long comment left at the post entitled “SoundEagle in Debating Animal Artistry and Musicality”.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s almost silly that you feel like you need to apologize for your patience in reading through my lightly edited writing. lol I appreciate all your careful reading and consideration and certainly take no worry for any delay in response, or even if you didn’t have time to respond to my comments we all have busy lives I’m sure. lol

        I didn’t intend this piece to necessarily to connect to my series on greed, but my experience in my volunteer work is that poverty is the common denominator and it does seem like there is a lot of it about in this country, and despite Trump’s assurance that the economy is great it continues to not be for so many people. Certainly there are places where I am sure things are getting better in the country, but many states in the rust belt especially have seen poverty, hopelessness, and addiction grow at alarming rates.

        Thank you for your kind words and again thank you for all the time you’ve spent on my blog thus far.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Aloha, SoundEagle! I see your colorful Gravatar now and again in my comment notifications, and need to get to your site to check it out. I’m not on WP as much as I’d like these days, so this has gotten shuffled aside. Thanks for your kind words, Bela

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Swarn,
    I had time to read this day and fell with a broken heart reading this malfunction in our world. Very difficult scenario! But let me be very clear as an x-therapist, being Poor DOES NOT denote ABUSIVE or Addiction.
    This family has a long history and the causes might have been dealt with long ago, however we have a horribly inefficient medical system (I personally know for myself) and as to Mental Health care, well our country is an abomination when treating all case of mental health, injury misfortune and poverty.
    We seem, for the better part line people up as in Nazi regime and shoot them mentality, end of subject! We are deplorable, and I have been on both sides of the fence.
    Being a product of a private adoption at 18 months between 2 intelligence officer from the pentagon, one would hope something would end my favor; it did not. Dick (appropriately named was my parental father and force my french mother give me up) my second father a wonderful man with lousy taste in wives. His second wife, my adopted mother was a Violent Psychopath and I was her battering ram for 14.5 years.
    This did not make me a druggy nor abusive, I was born altruistic and stayed this way. Read the few family laws at 14 years of age and self emancipated myself, life was not going to be easy.
    Unfortunately for your area of volunteering, we are not equipped in social service education to help a mother see her addiction to both “unhealthy relationships, sexually abuse, drug addictions, and the need for companionship < no matter the cost. She is falling into despair as all others have in her life and given examples, poverty does not help, it is more of a sigma and a blame tactic for outsiders.
    Now what could be done: Supervised visitation rights!! Look at Portugals' way of thinking in drug addiction therapy. And the children will all need some detection if incest had indeed a lasting affect, it depends on the child's resilience capacity and who helps them along in young adulthood to move along in life in healthier examples of relationships.
    You are potential talking life long for all family members and some will NOT succeed. Does our medical system support this? NO
    Back to the Nazi "line them up and shoot them" case. Damned if you do damned if you don't.
    Where the change could and can prevail are the humanitarian entrepreneurs………….this goes into your next post………..Wealth – the need for funding to help turn individuals who fall through the huge chasm our country, of recent decades, has not deemed important for our people.

    Liked by 1 person

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