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Mother's Day Emotions

I get a lot of mom content in my feed. A month or so ago I got all the emails from conscious brands asking me if I wanted to opt out of their Mother’s Day promotional material, knowing that it can be hard on women for a lot of complicated reasons (infertility! dysfunctional family! parental loss!). I have seen Jen Hatmaker’s post resurging this year reminding people what moms actually want for Mother’s Day. (Spoiler: they do NOT want to be responsible for planning it!) I listened to a discussion on one of my favorite podcasts, Best of Both Worlds, suggesting moms who are spending Mother’s Day doing something they don’t want to do - going out to dinner with the family, planning an event for their MIL, etc. - celebrate a Mother’s Day (Observed). Just like when a big holiday falls on a weekend and the federal government designates a weekday to be closed, moms should pick another day where they can celebrate themselves the way they want! I am steeped in the cultural tension around Mother’s Day, yet I still feel like none of it really gets at the heart of the challenge for me.

I have had the best kid living in my house for 7.5 months. Our first foster placement is hilarious, spunky, impulsive, kind, and awesome. We love him to pieces. Around three or four months in, he started calling me Mom, and that little word did a lot of things to my heart. It made me really sad for his bio mom. She loves him immensely, and my heart broke to imagine her sharing that special title with anyone else. It made me happy. It was sweet, and it felt like hard evidence telling me I was doing a good job at healing this child, which I desperately wanted. It scared me. His permanency plan had him moving to family soon - I was afraid calling me mom would make it harder on him when he had to leave us.

Being who I am, I put on my teacher hat. We prepared the environment and made a lesson to help explain who we were, exactly, if not mom and dad. My amazing friend had sent us this book, Just Like a Mama, by Alice Faye Duncan.

The little girl in the story has parents who live far away. She wishes they were together, but right now she lives with Mama Rose, who is just like a mama to her. We read that story a lot. I also designed a photo book to tell him his story, which includes pictures of his bio family as well as me and Logan. This is your mom and dad. They love you very much. Right now their home isn’t safe for you, so you are living here with Rebekah and Logan. The lessons worked. He started using our names, or his version of them (Petah and Woo). He seemed more settled.

And yet I can’t take him into public without people calling me Mom, and I go back and forth on what to do about it. I try to read his cues. If someone says something like, “Ask your mom if you can have a sticker”, he will look around in confusion, wondering if his bio mom is hiding somewhere. In those moments, I speak up. Oh, he calls me Rebekah, thank you for the sticker! Other times I let it slide, then almost immediately beat myself up for it. An older woman stopped us in the grocery store to tell me how cute and polite he was, then said, “Good job, mom!” as she was walking away. She went out of her way to be kind and encouraging to me, but it inadvertently hurt him. Do I call her back and correct her to ease his heart? I chose not to, then naturally we ran into her several more times as we looped through grocery aisles, and I regretted not fixing it initially.

I’ve seen other foster parents tackle this problem by wearing t-shirts like this. I am considering trying it, though honestly I have worked enough retail in my time to know the general public does not actually read, so I’m doubtful of its effectiveness.

I have spent some time with him planning out how to celebrate Mother’s Day for his bio mom, which is weird and heavy. He won’t see her on the actual day, so we’ll celebrate at his next scheduled supervised visit with her.  Her Mother’s Day (Observed) will be a two hour block, hanging out in a toy filled conference room while someone monitors their interactions from behind a two way mirror. No mom wants their special day to look like that. No child wants that to be their Mother’s Day memories. We have a small gift, a card, some photos. I know she likes to see what his daily life looks like, so I try to tell her stories of what he is into, show that he seems happy, and ease her worries. It’s the best gift I can think of for her in this season.

There’s my own feelings over the title ‘Mom’. A month into his stay with us, a fellow foster parent asked me if I felt like a mom. I had an easy answer then: I feel like I’m working an extended babysitting gig. She said she felt the same way. Eventually she adopted the children from her babysitting gig, and over time her feelings changed. If she asked me again today, my answer would be more complicated, but still I shy away from Mom. I can tell him I’m "just like a mom, like Mama Rose", but if I have to use a title with others, I carefully craft my sentences around being able to call myself a parent instead. ‘Parent’ feels a little lesser, somehow. A promotion from babysitter, but not Mom, and it feels more accurate for our temporary arrangement. And maybe, most likely, it is a little barrier I put around my heart to save me from some future pain.

I don’t have a neat little bow for any of this, and no good way to wrap it all up. Mother’s Day can be beautiful and sweet and fraught and weird. Right now I am celebrating my Mother's Day (Observed) by giving myself time to put these thoughts down in the hopes they’ll stop rattling around in my head. Maybe I’ll just end with a request: when talking to a child you don’t know, exchange the word Mom for grownup. Would you like a sticker? Ask your grownup first! There are so many complicated situations, and you could save a child or grownup some grief and confusion. And reach out to your fellow mothers, ‘just like a mother’s, and women wanting desperately to add mom to their list of titles. Community is healing for all of us always, on Mother’s Day, Mother’s Day (Observed), and every day.

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