Real mom. Biological mom. Birth mom. 

Foster mom. Resource mom. Adoptive mom.

We put labels on people like me. Over the last eleven years, I have been a mother to eight children, but only three children live in my house with me at the present time. What does it mean to be “mom” temporarily? Or to share the title “mom” with someone else? It’s complicated.

Well-meaning foster care supervisors will often tell foster parents to let a child pick what they want to call you. “Mom” or “dad” can be a loaded term, after all; best to let the child do what feels safe. But while that’s fine for a second grader or a tenth grader, that doesn’t really fit the bill for a child living in your house from 33 hours old until 33 months old, hearing other children call you “mommy” the whole time.

I remember specifically the first time a child who was not destined to be with me forever called out for me by that precious name. “Mommy!” I remember because I burst into tears. I was keenly aware of all she (his other mom) was missing. How heart-wrenching that she didn’t get to witness his first yell of “mommy” – and how strange that it wasn’t for her. 

How was I so lucky to be the object of this child’s love? To be the bearer of his trust?

One of the best quotes I’ve heard related to foster or adoptive parenting comes from Jody Landers, the author of Love What Matters. She writes, “A child from another woman calls me mommy. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege are not lost on me.”

Being a mom is about more than praying for a child, helping with homework, wiping noses, bath time, laundry, meals, and kissing boo-boos. Those are the actions of motherhood, but to be Mommy is about heart. And that mother’s heart has not failed in any case I’ve seen: not in the cases where a child has been reunited with a first mother, and not in the case where I have become forever mommy. Despite circumstances, despite overwhelming challenges, despite difficulties I cannot imagine—it has been a privilege to share being mommy with these women.

The mother of a special guy who was with us for quite a long time has brought him back to visit us several times. My heart is full to see their thriving family. She has always been his mommy, and I’m just Kelley now. But I was his mommy once, too.

Kelley Rose Waller and her husband are Pennsylvania foster parents. She is the author of two novels, The Senator’s Youngest Daughter and Going Back Cold. Kelley is Vice President of a marketing firm. Her goal is to live, work, and write to glorify the name of Jesus Christ.

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