When I was a little girl, I dreamed of having a family one day. I knew I would have two girls and two boys. I knew that they would have brown hair and blue eyes like me. And I knew that they would have peach-colored skin, just like mine.
But when I finally married, I found that my dreams were no longer realistic. When I was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, the doctor told me that I would have a hard time conceiving, and even if I did conceive, I would have a hard time carrying the baby to term. My dreams were crumbling before my eyes.
When my husband and I started dating, we taught first graders who were bussed to our church from the less-desirable part of town. Every week, these children begged to go home with us, afraid of what or who would be waiting for them when they returned to their own homes. It was then that we decided that growing our family would include adoption, and so that’s what we did.
Today, I am often met with stares when I go out in public with my children, and sometimes inappropriate comments like, “Are they yours?” “How much did they cost?” “Where did you get them?” “Do they look like their dad?” “What happened to their real mom?”
I try to answer the questions graciously because most of the time they come from a good place. But the ‘real mother’ comment is a hard pill to swallow. I have had all three of my children since birth. I have rocked them to sleep, fed them, clothed them, wiped their tears, kissed their boo-boos, and cheered them on. I have handled bad behavior, growing pains, and insecurities. I am the one who cuddles with them and fights with them. I am their real mother.
But sometimes, I remember there is another woman out there who also wears the title of mother for my three children, all of whom are half-siblings. My oldest looks the most like her birth mother, and has many of her mannerisms. She also has some of her defiance to authority, and her stubborn streak. And she definitely does the same wrinkling of her nose that her biological mother does, when she is humoring you.
Mothering someone else’s child can be tough, especially when you don’t know a lot about the family history. You are forced to leave a lot of spaces blank when you go to the doctor’s office. And questions arise when you see your child begin to act out. Is it just a part of growing up, or is it something born inside her?
This past year, we also became foster parents. We had the joy of loving ten children, some stayed for just a few hours, and others stayed for a couple of months. We knew they weren’t going to be with us for long because we just signed up for respite and emergency care, but we loved each one of them as if they had always been a part of our family. The worst comment I hear about fostering is, “Oh, I could never do that. I would get too attached.” Indeed, we did get attached, as any good foster parent should, and our hearts broke each time we sent them on their way. I love these children as my own, but they call me Mama Katie because they call someone else mommy.
So, what does it look like mothering someone else’s child? A child who didn’t grow in your belly, who comes with their own set of unknown problems, and who doesn’t look anything like you? It looks like the Gospel.
You see, God takes us out of our less-than-desirable situations, washes us clean, and makes us a part of His family. We long to go back to our old ways; we run from Him; we lash out at Him. Yet, He continues to love us unconditionally. Romans 8:15 says, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”
I can love these children who don’t look like me because my heavenly Father has done the same for me. When He sent His only Son to die on the cross for my sins, He said that I am wanted and loved. That’s all my children need. They need to know that, despite any baggage they bring with them, I will love them and care for them because they are mine. And I can love them as my own because God keeps His promises. “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 113:9).
Katie Cruice Smith is a freelance writer, journalist, and editor. She resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with her husband and three adopted children. She is an adoption and foster care advocate, and her husband and her are licensed foster parents, and the founders of their church’s orphan ministry. Her book, Why Did You Choose Me? is currently available online. Follower her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.