Student fights to overcome struggles to raise children, siblings
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 20, 2011 1:46 PM
Tanisha Eutsey, a Wayne Community College student, also juggles being mother to Xavier, 10, and Trinayah, 8, and guardian to her two brothers, Michael, 16, and Johnothan, 7.
Tanisha Eutsey plays Monopoly with her two brothers Michael, 16, left, and Johnothan, 7, and children Xavier, 10, and Trinayah, 8. Ms. Eutsey, a student and former Student Government Association president at Wayne Community College, is raising all four children.
Tanisha Eutsey has thought a lot about what she wants to be when she grows up -- a teacher, a foster parent, a social worker.
But no matter what she winds up doing, what she's becoming is something she never had herself -- a loving mother.
"I grew up in a rough situation," she said. "My mom abused me when I was younger. I was placed in the care of a relative and he became abusive."
Living in Florida, she became a ward of the state, stayed at a shelter for six months, became pregnant at 16 and was placed in a foster home. Two years later, she had her second child.
Similar versions of the scenario played out for her four younger siblings, all of whom were removed from her drug-addicted mother's care at young ages, she said.
In October 2005, she moved to Wayne County.
"I actually came to visit a friend to try to get away," she recalls. "I was going through some stuff. ... I just never went back.
"It was a new beginning. I got here and (my friends) got deployed in February 2006. They were just here long enough to show me the basics -- 'If you learn Berkeley, just the main streets, you'll be fine.'"
The only thing she cared about at the time, she said, was getting away from the life she had in Miami and making a clean start.
"I came here with a bag of clothes and a bag of shoes, I didn't have any money," she said.
She was fortunate to find a job and the ability to provide for her children, ages 3 and 5 at the time.
Then she decided to look into classes at Wayne Community College.
Education definitely put her on the right path, she said. Not only did she benefit from the academic discipline but others saw potential in her.
"It wasn't until like a year at Wayne that one of my instructors suggested I run for SGA president. I wasn't even sure what SGA was," she said. "So many doors opened for me at that point."
And so, for the past two years, Ms. Eutsey, 27, has served as the Student Government president at the college -- experience that has proven to be invaluable.
"I have never been shy but sometimes it takes people to bring that out," she said. "(SGA) helped me out with communication. I was not a big communicator because I didn't have to be. Being a part of SGA, being in an environment with the big wigs and just watching them and modeling after them has helped me be a better communicator with my children.
"I was the type that would shut down, but I didn't want my children to do that."
Her parenting role also expanded unexpectedly.
Settled in with her own two children -- Xavier, 10, and Trinayah, 8 -- she found out that her brother, Michael, had been placed with the same abusive relative where she had formerly lived.
"The three of us (her now 24-year-old sister still lives in Florida) were all raised by the same relative," Ms. Eutsey said. "Me and my sister were sent to foster care so we grew up together. I still had a relationship with my brother.
"They say you have to be careful about the things that you speak. My brother would come to visit me and I'd tell him he could live with me when he turned 18. I never dreamed he would be with me at 13. (But) I didn't want him to go through the shelter, the foster care, so I stepped up and said, 'I have to do something to keep us together."
That was three years ago. Michael, now 16, has done well with the transition, she said.
"He came here making D's and F's," she said. "Now he's on the A/B honor roll at Charles B. Aycock, playing football. He's doing great."
Then, last year, she got a call about the youngest sibling, Johnothan, now 7.
"He was going through the same thing, he got removed" from a family home, Ms. Eutsey said. "I took actions to get him as well. I got John last year, in July."
Those life experiences, she says, have taught her much, forcing her to grow up. But through the efforts of many who have been placed in her path, Ms. Eutsey says she is richer for it.
"I have grown a lot, matured a lot," she said. "But a great aspect of that comes from the people I have come in contact with. Church has had a lot to do with that-- Place of Refuge -- they're my strength. Going there helps me out a lot."
She is very clear about the roles she plays -- mother to her own two children, big sister to her two brothers. But they still respect her as the parental figure in their lives, she said, prompting her to respond to the teachable moment.
While they don't have the traditional "mother/father" roles, she says, it doesn't have to hold them back or become an excuse preventing them from having a household of love.
She chooses not to dwell on her own past, but rather the lessons it has taught her.
"When I was growing up, I used to blame myself a lot for what happened," she said. "But there's another young lady out there who's going through something similar -- maybe had a baby at 16 -- so they can relate to that. I never know who's watching me and who I'm encouraging. ...
"(Parenting) is not easy. When a lot of people see me, I'm always smiling, always upbeat. I may cry sometimes and I want to give up. When I look into my kids' eyes and my brothers' eyes, my strength comes from that. I have come too far to give up."
She has taken the summer off from her studies but plans to complete her education at WCC next May. She says she still has thoughts of becoming a social worker or a foster parent one day, but is perfectly content caring for her own children.
Her joy comes from spending time with them, being on the parent advisory committee at school or cheering them on at sporting events.
"Just to give them the support that I didn't have when I was growing up," she explained. "When you're in a game, no one is there in the stands, that's an empty feeling. So to be at PTA meetings and sports and church, just to be a part of that, that's the greatest gift you have.
"I could have become like my mom and have them all separated. To be together and have them all together is important."
For some, growing up so quickly and then shouldering the burden of being a single parent could take a toll. Instead of becoming bitter or weary by the weight placed upon her, though, Ms. Eutsey said she "refuses" to let anything keep her down.
"My birthday was Tuesday and they asked what I wanted," the 27-year-old said. "I said, 'I have all of y'all, that's the best gift ever.'"
These days, she is thankful she decided to "jump on 95" and drive to Wayne County. The move brought her not only to a college education and a church family that supports her, but a chance to grow into her most coveted role of mom.
"I have been homeless, I have slept in a car," she said. "Now that I'm in a situation where I can help, I want to do that."
The relationship with her own mother, who continues to battle drugs, remains strained.
It is perhaps not because of that, but rather in spite of it, that she aspires to do an even better job for her own children.
"The emptiness I felt being fatherless and motherless is something that I never ever want my children to feel," she said. "I was not born knowing how to be a parent, knowing how to be a child. As long as I'm coachable, in my kids' minds, I'm perfect to them.
"I think of my mom and her challenges. That wasn't her fault. But depending on her decisions, I decided I was not going to settle for less out of life. I promised myself my kids are going to be better than I am. I don't think it's by accident that they ended up with me."