Mother’s Day for me is a day filled with mixed emotions because the child I am mothering is a foster child.
As a result, there are countless little ways in which I am constantly reminded that I am not her real mother. I can't take her to get her hair cut or take her overnight across city lines without permission. I have to answer monthly to caseworkers armed with checklists and paperwork referring to me not as a parent but as a “resource provider”. I can't share her photos and videos on social media because I'm told her story isn't mine to share. But the most painful reminders of all are the many questions I have to field from people, questions most mothers never have to answer such as, "Isn't it going to be so hard to let her go?"
So understandably, when I heard what my church was planning to do for Mother’s day, I wanted to participate but also felt a bit guilty for doing so. Would I be allowed to take advantage of the free pictures, flowers, and cupcakes? Would anyone call me out or judge me for being “just a foster mom”? Some of my family and friends had been supportive and even sent me mother’s day cards and included me on Facebook shout outs to all the moms out there. But others felt the need to put the word mom in quotes when referring to me, redrawing a line of demarcation between those moms who have a bond of biology with their children and those “moms” (like me) who don’t.
Others reminded me that I should consider myself a mom based on all the mom-like tasks I perform. And while, yes, I have made bottles and changed diapers bleary eyed at two in the morning, somehow a performance based definition of motherhood still lacked something. And then, in the middle of the night as I was just starting to fall asleep, the real question at the heart of my dilemma hit me:
Does God think I am a mother?
I don’t know why this question mattered so much or why it had stayed hidden so long. I thought I had already considered a lot of the complicated emotions that go along with this journey, but I had never examined whether or not Scripture had any role models for me. And then I came across John 19:25-27 and found the example I needed.
Jesus, while on the cross, tells his mother that the disciple John will now be her son, then tells John that Mary is now his mother. In this single act, Jesus redefines what it means to be a family. He assigns Mary to be John’s mother, despite the fact that John was a grown man and still had his own birth mother, Salome, who was also standing right there at the foot of the cross. And Jesus did not choose one of his own younger biological brothers to take care of his mother, which would have made more sense from the world’s point of view.
Earlier in Matthew 12:46 Jesus says, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." Jesus defines family as those who share a spiritual bond, not shared DNA or last names. When I say yes to caring for a child placed in my home, for however long that might be, I am participating in the divine will outlined in James 1:27. And that’s what makes me a mother. Not DHS terminology, comments on Facebook, the number of diapers changed, or the fact that I may lose the child that today calls me mama. If I let the world dictate my identity, I will live in hesitation and fear as I attempt to navigate the unstable world that is fostering. But if my identity remains rooted in who God says I am, I can love with confidence.
I wonder if John ever had someone ask him, “Yeah, but is Mary your real mom?” If so, I hope his answer was a simple, “Yes.”