“It took me years to get here, where I am okay, I am not a victim, I am a survivor.” Antonia Rios, 40, is a single mother of seven children who lives in Pomona, California. Her kids are Elisa, 24, Angel 19, Mona 18, Viviana, 14, Lucky, 10, Ricky, 9, and Jimmy, 7. Rios is not only a survivor but also a fighter. She grew up in Santa Ana, California, under some difficult circumstances. During her childhood she moved a lot which made it difficult for her to ever feel connected to people and to be part of a community. “There was never really time to get to know anyone, because it was always—get ready to pack up and move,” Rios expressed. Her mother was a workaholic, which mean that Rios and her siblings did not get to spend much one-on-one time with her. Nonetheless Rios always adored her mother and was grateful that her mother was able to provide for the family and to make sure they had everything they would need. Rios's parents got divorced when she was really young and when Antonia was eight years old her father had passed away. However, when Rios’s step dad came into the picture this greatly affected her life. From age four to thirteen Rios was sexually abused by her stepfather. At this point in Rios’s life there was a lot of emotional stress occurring, but regardless Rios kept pushing through and did whatever she could to make the best out of situations.
At this point Rios had been through an immense amount of trauma. Due to a series of unfortunate events over the years including domestic violence and mental illness, Rios started using drugs and became addicted. She was addicted for many years and did not have a stable home during this period. She had four of her seven kids during her struggle with drugs and was unable to fully care for them. In 2004, Rios got her kids taken away from her and put into foster care. This was extremely hard and painful for Rios and at this moment she knew she needed to change her life. Change did not happen overnight however; it took, courage and strength to want to change her path and become empowered to strengthen her family and commit to fostering social and emotional growth.
Rios saw the light at the end of the tunnel and knew she was not giving up. She started going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings and becoming sober however, she needed to address her challenges as a single of mom of special needs children and wanted a solid future for each of them. After working extremely hard and reaching out for help Rios found Parents Anonymous®. Parents Anonymous® is an evidence-based family strengthening organization that utilizes mutual support for therapeutic intervention, and ensures meaningful parent and youth leadership. This international organization provides a National Parent Helpline® which Rios has called, ongoing weekly support groups for parents, caregivers and their children all ages to increase protective factors and family functioning. For Rios, coming to the Parents Anonymous® Program was a dream come true. “Just listening to all the different stories and hearing about trials that everyone is going through made me feel like I am not the only one and that I didn’t need to be able to be isolated. This was a safe place to be able to come and vent and at the same time get advice and not be judged.”
Rios consistently goes to the weekly Parents Anonymous® Group meetings with her kids Ricky and Jimmy. She expressed that Parents Anonymous® helped her grow as an individual and learn how to better her relationships and connections with all her children. Rios is making life for her kids enjoyable and immensely loving with laughter, smiling, using meditation and focusing on positive efforts of all her children and grandchildren. “I work with the littlest things but I make it to be something big,” Rios stated. Being a single mother with seven kids is not easy, but she puts her heart and soul to make her kids feel special. Rios strives to spend quality time with her kids together but also individually in order to connect and build on their special qualities. Rios’s kind-hearted personality and determination for success has brought her far in life. She is always willing to ask for help when needed and to take steps in a direction to becoming the best person she can be.
Since Rios has been an avid participant in Parents Anonymous® she took on the many leadership roles by first becoming the Parent Group Leader. “I read the opening statement, foster the principles, reach out to other parents and co-lead the group,” she stated. Rios has many aspirations for the near future to continue to better her life and the life of her kids. In addition, Rios wants to add as much as she can to Parents Anonymous®. “I want to get another Parents Anonymous® group opened for Spanish speaking families, do more meditation with my children and focus on myself.” She was recently selected to be a member of the California Parent Leadership Team to improve policies that address the mental health needs of children and families. Also she recently told her personal story to over 400 Los Angeles County citizens to inspire other Parents to be leaders, and to call people to join the new Parent Leadership Network to impact social change.
Rios has truly thrived in these past couple years and decided to take her path of accomplishments even further by going back to school. She is attending Mt. Sac Community College to become a Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor and expresses that she wants to help individuals overcome the struggles she dealt with. “I can connect with them because of my lived experiences, and I am not only doing it so I could give back but also to better myself.”
Through Rios’s path she has transformed herself as a person, mother and advocate inspiring her children to contribute and create meaningful change in their community to benefit all families. Rios’s ability to strengthen her relationships with her kids and also improve herself, gives hope to single mothers, fathers, grandparents and other caregivers all around the world. Antonia Rios is a fighter and will always continue to make the changes she foresees in order to be a Parent Leader and powerful change agent. “Everyone’s life is different and mine is not harder and mine is not easier. By going and getting what I need and applying it to my life, shows that I’m willing to work hard and accept that I’m not perfect.” Antonia is a Parent Leader who supports others, focuses on personal growth and works towards positive change which is an adage we all can live by.