There are, even though we’re in a small minority — about 20 percent of American women — those of us who never bear or adopt and raise children.
For a variety of reasons, we did not become parents and have stayed outside the margins of life as most of you know it, or will know it, from that first sonogram to teething to colic to kindergarten and on down the line. We wonder who will plan or attend our funeral, choose a place to scatter our ashes, what to do with (if we have any left) our possessions and assets.
It’s an odd choice not to have kids, and many people assume we must hate kids (no) or be hideously materialistic and selfish (we do tend to have more disposable income as kids, as you know, cost money) or inflexible and OCD about our white linen sofas.
In fact, there are millions of women who give enormously to the world and yet, I think unfairly and sadly, who won’t be getting a card or flowers or breakfast in bed this weekend. They may be nuns or social workers or NGO workers or nurses or teachers whose love, compassion, skills and energy have nourished and touched hundreds, maybe thousands of other people’s children.
There are also young men, and women, whose own mothers didn’t do what most people expect them to — cherish and nurture their kids. They may be: addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, distracted by mental or chronic illness and repeated hospitalizations, or mired in a life of lousy choices and thereby emotionally and/or physically unavailable to their offspring.
If these youngsters are very lucky, they find — at 4 or 7 or 17 or 28 or 43 — what I call an “other mother”, someone with the time and energy and kindness, even if they have kids of their own, to envelop them in some of the love (and discipline) they lacked and needed to mature and to thrive. That might be a foster mother or a camp counselor or a minister or a neighbor or an aunt or a family friend, anyone who loved these kids and wanted them to succeed.
As we head into the frenzy of celebrating biological and adoptive mothers, I light a candle and say a thank-you to these OMs. We all benefit from their generosity.