Today’s guest post comes to us from my longstanding, dear friend Cathy. Cathy and my husband were in graduate school together, which means we had a lot of deep, late night conversations that twenty somethings have. During one of those late night conversations Cathy became the very first person that “came out” to me as being a lesbian. My husband and I loved Cathy before that conversation, loved her even more during it for sharing her soul, and many years later love her still. So it was with great joy a few years back we learned that Cathy was joining her life with her beloved. We were so happy that she had finally found love and that even happier that she was inheriting a family! Since Cathy is one of the most thoughtful people I know, I had no doubt that she be a great mom to her new step-children. I am grateful today to share her words with you.
I’m a mom. I’m also not a mom. The truth and fullness of both of those statements sometimes overwhelms me. I’ve never been pregnant. Never birthed a child. I’m not even legally, formally responsible for anyone other than myself. And yet, there are four young adults in the world who I parent, to whom I’m attached, and to whom I’m committed.
Here’s how I became a mom: When my partner and I began dating I knew she had kids. We had actually been good friends throughout high school and college but lost touch after I moved away from our hometown. One of the last things I heard from her was that she and her then partner were fostering a sibling group of four children.
By the time we reconnected almost ten years later, she had adopted the kids. She had also split from her ex. Although the attraction between us was immediate, I had serious misgivings about becoming involved with her. These kids had already been through so much and their needs were still great. What did I have to offer? Further, as a child of divorce and bad step-parenting myself, I was extremely hesitant to take them on the roller coaster of imposing myself as a new family member. Further still, at the time, the kids ranged in age from 9 to 16. I’d be entering their lives at a developmental phase that is notoriously tough even for the best and most conventional families. Needless to say, I was terrified of messing up.
Mixed with the hesitation and doubt, though, was a sense of calling. It’s not enough to say I followed my heart into this family. I also had a deep sense of purpose and conviction that I had gifts to bring to their table, that I belonged with them, and that my puzzle piece fit with theirs. I believed we could put together a beautifully complex picture. Thankfully, they welcomed me in.
That was almost seven years ago. Since then we’ve had some wonderful times together. There have been many meaningful conversations around the dinner table, nights curled up on the couch together for a movie, and fantastic family vacations. We’ve celebrated great successes of each child and watched them rise higher than even they expected. Last Christmas Eve, we witnessed the birth of a beautiful granddaughter who has us all smitten.
Best of all, I say “I love you” to them and they say it back.
There have also been some truly rough moments. At times, remnants of the trauma they experienced before going into foster care rears its head. We face it together, sometimes with the help of a therapist, sometimes on our own. Or the common symptoms of teenage-hood (and emerging adulthood for the two oldest) cause a struggle. Sometimes my own inexperience and frustration mucks things up and I ask for a do over.
More than anything, definitely more than the “great” times, it’s the hard passages that have turned me into a parent and which irrevocably tie me to these kids. They let me in and because of that even in the toughest moments I choose to stand by them. For kids who’ve already experienced so much change, I’m committed to being a constant. I will always choose them, love them, and act in their best interest. Sometimes I cheer, sometimes I soothe, sometimes I coach, other times I yell. All the time I keep hoping for and willing them each toward their best selves and their best lives.
I see my place in their lives. Even as I stand and cheer I know that I am not the one they want most. As for being a mom, I come in third or fourth place for them at best. Once you add in other family members, romantic interests, and close friends I may be even further down the list. That’s the journey every parent is on, isn’t it? You rejoice in the time when you are the center of your child’s universe, but eventually they grow up and choose new family—conventional or otherwise. Your role as a parent, while no less significant, becomes at least a tiny bit less primary.
Here’s how I’m not a mom: I didn’t get that phase of being primary. I won’t ever get it. There are moments when I mourn that fact with the same deep longing of every woman who wants children and doesn’t yet have them. I won’t get to be anyone’s first teacher. I won’t get to shape the life experience of anyone from when they were fresh from the womb. I won’t get to see my reflection in the being of another whether physical or behavioral.
And yet…those experiences, although significant, aren’t primary for me either. They are not what drew me to be a part of this family.
I am cheering for my kids and even though I’m not first, I have a front row seat.
I’m still standing constant, still loving them in the tough times as well as in the best.