To Build a Home
“We’re going to break those cycles,” said the 39-year-old nurse, eyes ablaze with the unwavering determination and resoluteness of a woman scorned. “With these kids, that ends.”
In a home in northern Syracuse, Maria Santos tries to balance raising her children while working full time. At times, the challenges of single parenting prove to be overwhelming.
“Sometimes it feels like you’re alone and everything is on you,” said Santos. “I think it’s a little harder for me than some people because of what I’ve been through, what’s in my mind and what I have to overcome mentally every day.”
Santos had a tumultuous childhood ¾one that still haunts her to this day.
“Being physically abused by my mom and being sexually abused by my stepfather made me feel like I wasn’t good enough, like I wasn’t capable of accomplishing certain things or being loved,” she said. “It made me think that there was something wrong with me.”
She has learned to wield this negative energy, using it as fuel to build a better future for her children. Seeing a similar pattern of negligence and abuse within two of her younger brothers’ families, Santos decided to intervene.
“I have seven children, but not all of them are mine, per se,” said Santos; “Four of them are biological, and I have legal guardianship of three of them: two nephews, Hector and Elias, and a niece, Julie.”
The legal courts had ruled against her brothers who, consequently, lost custody of the three children. Santos has seen the damage that youths suffer due to family separation, so instead of allowing the foster care system to split them up, she decided to take them into her home, regardless of the economic strain this would add to the household.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get them all three-square meals a day,” she said. “I don’t get food stamps because I work full time, but my babies don’t go hungry. They may not eat right when they want or eat what they want, but they eat. Thank God for that.
“I just don’t want them to look back and say, ‘Nobody wanted us. My mom didn’t want me, my dad didn’t want me, and my aunt didn’t want me either,” Santos continued. “I know that my kids are going to make a difference in this world, one way or another. I know that they’re going to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Santos admits to not being a perfect mother, but she believes the love she has for her children will end the cycle of trauma in their family.
“I love my kids unconditionally, and that’s something I didn’t have growing up, and that’s how I know they’re going to be all right,” said Santos. “In the end, that’s what builds a home. It’s love ¾the reason why my home is what it is today.”