The agony of being separated from your children is real.

Photo credit: Volkan Olmez on Unsplash

Last year, I was separated from my children for a month and 10 days. It was pure hell.

It was right after our dog died. She was the first dog I’d ever had… and I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye.

Needless to say, I was already having a pretty rough summer.

Back to the kids.

My kids were with my ex’s family, six states away. I didn’t have a clear understanding of when they’d be coming back.

I am an extraordinarily dedicated mother. My kids mean the world to me. And although I appreciate some “me time” as much as the next mom, a month and ten days was more than I could bear to be apart from them.

I also have severe anxiety, for which I am medicated. When my kids were away, my medication was rendered ineffective. I stopped sleeping. I started having regular panic attacks. I began to despair.

I know what the onset of depression feels like. I went to my primary care doctor. I told her the situation. She asked me if I was suicidal. I told her truthfully, “No.” But she could tell this was nothing short of an emotional breakdown.

She refilled my Xanax. Then she looked me in the eye and said, “Get your children back.” It felt like a prescription… and doctor’s orders.

The kids returned a few days later, but it took a few months before things felt right again. I was traumatized. Angry. Scarred. And I made it clear that a separation of that length and distance would never happen again.

Moms need their kids, and kids need their moms.

I missed my children, and they missed me.

That’s how it is.

With this experience in mind, when I first heard about immigrants being deported without their children, I was utterly horrified.

On June 20, my favorite news anchor, Rachel Maddow, received news that babies were being held in “tender age shelters.” The usually extraordinarily composed Ms. Maddow could barely get through the rest of her broadcast without exploding into tears.

Tender age shelters? What the hell does that mean?

It means little kids — babies, toddlers, and kindergartners — were being detained and kept in cells.

Oh. My. God.

Yesterday, Houston Public Media published an article stating that despite the court-mandated parent/child unifications, more than 5,000 children are still being held in shelters in Texas and throughout the United States.

Five thousand children.

Being held hostage.

Inside the United States.

Houston Public Media’s article summed it up:

Texas regulators do not differentiate between children who arrived at the border without adult supervision and those separated from their families under a new Trump administration policy of “zero tolerance.” Under that policy, parents and children were split up at the country’s southwest border, with kids sent to federally contracted shelters and their parents sent to jail on the criminal charge of illegal border entry.

My children were only separated for one month and ten days… and I knew where they were. I could call them anytime I needed to speak with them. I could see them in photos and on video calls. If I needed to, I could have driven to pick them up. These men and women — parents like myself — do not have those luxuries.

Imagine for one moment that your nine-month-old baby girl was forcibly taken from your arms. Or your two-year-old son.

Your children, removed from the safety of your arms.

Your parental rights, illegally revoked.

Because you came to the United States seeking asylum.

Some parents have not seen or heard from their children since the separation and have no way of reaching them. They have no way of knowing where their children have ended up.

As parents, we need to know our children are safe. We need to see our children, to hold them, feed them, clothe them. Our emotions, minds, and bodies are intertwined.

Separating a child from her mother or father is similar to trying to disentangle chewing gum from a carpet. You may be able to do it, but it won’t be neat, and neither the gum nor the carpet will come away unaffected.

“Mothers and children are in a category all their own. There’s no bond so strong in the entire world. No love so instantaneous and forgiving.” — Gail Tsukiyama

Thank goodness for the media which uncovered the separation of children and their parents in the first place. Here, an article from PBS NewsHour tells the story of parents forcibly separated from their children and were only reunited because attorney generals filed legal motions on their behalf.

PBS NewsHour reporters culled through 99 declarations from parents who had been separated from their children due to Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy. Of those, they published 12, the first of which is shown below.

“(My son) is not the same since we were reunited. I thought that, because he is so young he would not be traumatized by this experience, but he does not separate from me. He cries when he does not see me. That behavior is not normal. In El Salvador he would stay with his dad or my sister and not cry. Now he cries for fear of being alone.” — Olivia Caceres, separated from her one-year-old son for three months.

What unimaginable cruelty.

If this doesn’t break your heart, please feel free to read on. One of them certainly will.

Thank goodness the checks and balances of the federal government are still [somewhat] in place, because a month ago, a federal judge ordered the government to reunite kids with their parents. The federal government missed its deadline to reunite all of the kids, but they were able to confirm they had reunited nearly 900. Thursday, July 26 is their new deadline to finish reunited the rest of the kids with their parents. We’ll see how that goes.

And here’s a new wrinkle. Yesterday, CNN reported this:

In a status update on the ongoing court-ordered family reunifications filed Monday, the government said 463 parents of separated children aged five and older are indicated as no longer in the US, according to their files. Though the government says the number is “under review,” it implies that potentially that many parents were deported from the US without their child.

In other words, the kids are here and the parents are… well… elsewhere. How do you get in touch with a father in Guatemala to reunite him with his child? There aren’t even roads in some parts of that country. Forget about using the phone. has published an interactive guide to track the issue of family separations. Remember — not ever child is eligible for reunification. If the parent was arrested and charged with a criminal act, the kids are still on their own. ThinkProgress says this:

According to the most recent government figures, roughly one-third of separated kids have been reunited with their family. The administration said it isn’t obligated to reunite every family, citing that not every adult is fit to parent; the judge okayed this.

Of the 5,000 children being detained, only 2,654 of them are eligible for reunification. What will happen to the other 2,346 children?

God, what a mess.

I have read enough Holocaust accounts to know this is how ethnic cleansing begins.

The United States is a nation of immigrants. Many of our ancestors came to this country of their own accord, but others were collected up and summarily expelled by their native countries. (Read White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg.) The large majority were not the crème de la crème of contemporary society.

So who are we — children and grandchildren of unwanted immigrants — to judge other unwanted immigrants? Who are we to deny others the rights we enjoy simply because of our birthright?

This is not an innocuous series of actions that will be lost to history.

I will remember this moment forever:

It is the moment my beloved country snubbed its nose at its immigrant roots and thwarted its own deeply held values.

None of us will come out of this unscathed.

“Becoming a mother makes you the mother of all children. From now on each wounded, abandoned, frightened child is yours. You live in the suffering mothers of every race and creed and weep with them. You long to comfort all who are desolate.” — Charlotte Gray

Esther Hofknecht Curtis, MSM-HCA is an independent writer living in Dover, Delaware. Follow her on Facebook — go to

Book nerd and freelance writer finding gold in ordinary places. Email me at Visit

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