Up to that point, 13-year-old Theresa had only crafted a meal out of a combination of items from the dollar menu or a box of mac and cheese. She was nervous when Melissa, the nutrition Case Coordinator at Emerge shelter, asked if she would like to choose and help cook the evening meal for the families at shelter. Theresa went to the garden and returned with a handful of oregano for the spaghetti and meatballs she had chosen to make. As one of the women living at shelter put water on to boil, Theresa chatted with her inquisitively about all the different ingredients they would be using for the sauce.
When her mom, Janet, came back from work, Theresa ran to the door to greet her – excitedly sharing the news that she had helped make dinner for everyone at shelter. Her mother was thrilled. This was the first time Theresa had spoken to her in over a week, the transition to living at shelter had been very difficult on the family. Theresa had been feeling angry at her mother and fearful about the new environment.
Later that evening, Janet told Melissa how proud she was of her daughter and how happy Theresa was since she helped make the spaghetti. Janet knew that Theresa couldn’t understand why she was unable to see her father or why the two of them had to live at shelter. She hoped that if they began to make meals together, she might be able to reconnect with her daughter. The following night, Theresa and her mom worked together to prepare all the fixings for tacos while another woman cooked the meat and shells. The opportunity to have an interaction with her mother that was not overshadowed by stress and fear allowed them to begin to bond once again as a family.
After Theresa went to bed that night, Janet found Melissa and thanked her for helping to facilitate the communication between her and her daughter. Janet had been working with her case coordinator about how to talk with Theresa in an age-appropriate way about the abuse, but had struggled to break through her daughter’s anger and fear. She wanted the two of them to have a healthy, trusting relationship and she couldn’t stand the possibility of Theresa being mistreated in her future relationships because of the abuse she witnessed between her parents.
As Janet and Theresa re-established their bond through cooking in the kitchen, Theresa began to trust her mother again. She was still upset and emotional, but was open to talking with her mom instead of shutting her out. Eventually Janet talked with Theresa about why they went to shelter. It wasn’t an easy conversation to have, but it ended with them embracing each other. They continue to rebuild the trust that had been lost as a result of the abuse.