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When Mother’s Day Belongs to Someone Else

When Mother’s Day Belongs to Someone Else

Thoughts on grief, step-momming, and Mother’s Day

What comes to your mind when you hear the word, “mother”? I would guess that, like me, an image of a person comes to mind—your mother, the woman who gave birth to you, the woman who told you “no” when you got too close to the steaming iron, the woman who helped you pick out your wedding dress. For most, this woman is the same person. But what about those who fulfill the mother job description without the biological tie?

My days are full of mothering (v.). Especially in this current quarantine life, it feels like I rarely do anything else. Like my friends who are mothers, I cook and clean, correct and praise, brush hair and give baths, give good morning hugs and good night kisses. Some days I forget that I haven’t always had this life, these precious kids. Some days, I remember.

You see, my kids have two mothers— the one who cradled them in their infancy and the one who now reads to them before bed, the one who cheered on their first steps and the one who cheers on their high school sports, the one who bore them and the one who bears them now.

Their birth mother, Caroline, slipped away on a morning in May—one week after Mother’s Day. I try to imagine that day through their eyes. Little Salem curled in her daddy’s lap. Five-year old Isaac asking too-loud questions. Zach, days before his ninth birthday. (C.S. Lewis lost his mom at age nine. In his autobiography Surprised by Joy he relates,  “With my mother’s death all settled happiness . . . disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.” Did Zach feel like the continent of his joy and security had sunk? Like it was all “sea and islands now”?) Ian at twelve, hovering between child and teen. Samuel, then fourteen, reflects on the morning she died, “I remember my dad waking me up. His words hit me like a punch in the stomach. My mom was gone. Everything felt empty that day.” (CLICK HERE and you can listen to an amazing radio interview with Samuel).

Little Salem now calls me “Mama”. And I adopt them as my own in every sense of the word. (I’m in the process of legally adopting them now.) Their joys and sorrow are mine. Like most moms I know, I celebrate their successes, mourn with their losses, worry about their future, reprimand them for not loading their dishes, give way too much advice, and end my days wondering if they’re okay and if I’m doing a good job.

But then Mother’s Day and our mournful month of May arrives, and I wonder how to navigate all this. How do I give them space and opportunity to remember and honor their wonderful mother, Caroline? How do I embrace my new role as “mother”? How do I walk them through grief when my heart is breaking?

And, in some ways, it is hard to realize that no matter how well I love them, it will always be her that they wish was there beside them (this is absolutely as it should be… but it still hurts). When they graduate from 8th grade or high school or college. When they bring home the girl they think is “the one” (I can’t conceive of little Salem bringing anyone home right now, so I’ll leave her out of it. Lol!). On their wedding day. When they look into the eyes of their own children. The loss is not just for the past; the missing bleeds into future moments and milestones.

Grief is not a one-time event; it’s a shadow that follows you through all your days of sunshine.

David Copperfield (well, Charles Dickens, but you know what I mean) said of his mother’s death: “Events of later date have flowed from me to the shore where all forgotten things will reappear, but this stands like a high rock in the ocean.”

I recall a comment I read by a stepmom: “He was my son long before I was his mother.” I understand what she meant…I consider the kids as my sons and my daughter, but I understand if they don’t fully accept me as their mom.

So, on this Mother’s Day, I will mother my kids. I will lean into my Father who adopted me and calls me beloved, my Faithful One whose mercies are new every morning. And out of that great, unfailing Love, I will love, nurture, encourage, protect, and I will give them room… to remember.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’” Lam. 3:22-24

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Naomi Woo

Naomi is a new mom... of five! She recently married an amazing man with five kids who lost his first wife to cancer. Together they serve with OMF (Overseas Missionary Fellowship) as mobilizers, helping inspire and prepare new missionaries to share Christ in East Asia. Naomi has traveled extensively as a short-term missionary to China, Japan, Cambodia, Nepal, Uganda... to name a few. An elementary teacher for thirteen years, her heart is to raise up the next generation to know and love Jesus. She loves old books, mountains, travel, strong coffee and spending time with her new husband and kiddos!

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