Other Mothers


Mother’s Day is coming up. This is a tough one for me. Not as a daughter but as a mother. It is a day that I am reminded of how society often disregards the other mothers of the world. I am one of those other mothers.

The number 1 question every woman is asked is, “Do you have children?” You might think this is a simple yes or no answer; it is not. Many women “have” children but did not actually “have” them. It is a complicated question to answer. Some women struggle with how much of an answer to give, I know I did.

I raised 3 children. I changed their diapers, wiped their snotty noses, made their lunches, consoled their hurt feelings, drove the carpool, gave up my own dream of going to graduate school, stayed home from work with sick kids, lost my hair during their teenage years and many nights of sleep. I laughed, cried, enjoyed, loved and hated parenting. But, when someone asks me if I have children and I say yes, I feel like I am not telling the whole truth. I do have children, I have 3 but I did not birth these children, my partner did and we have raised them together with her ex-husband and his wife. If I tell people the whole story their response is often “oh, you are not the real mom.” Being labeled “not the real mom” made it so I was not allowed to ever complain about parenting or my kids because if I did other mothers would say, “it’s different when it is your kid, or you wouldn’t understand since they are not actually your kids”.

These comments from others often shut me down, hurt me and made me wonder if it was okay to say yes I have kids. These comments also isolated me from the “Mom’s club” I wanted and needed so badly to be in. The Mom’s club is any group of moms that becomes friends because of their kids, moms at the park, moms who have kids in the same class, etc. They hang out together while their kids are doing  activities and provide support to each other, share their trials and tribulations of raising kids and learn from each other. I felt so alone as a mother. I felt ashamed wondering what the other mothers thought of me. I was young, I was a lesbian and I was the cause for my partner’s (the real mother) divorce. Looking back now that my kids are young adults I realize those worries of what the other mothers thought of me were all created in my own head. I never even gave a chance to those other mothers to get to know me. The few that I did allow in throughout the parenting years are some of my best friends now.

I wish I wouldn’t have wasted so much of my mommy years wondering if I was good enough and realized that the fact that I was raising someone else’s kids was BETTER than good enough. I was sacrificing and doing things for those little snotty nosed people that usually only a “real” mother would do. I should NOT have been ashamed, I should have been celebrated. But a mother’s job doesn’t usually come with a lot of praise, I understand this.

The more I have talked with women, the more I have learned that this feeling like an ”other mother” is a common feeling. Even the traditional type of mom often feels like she doesn’t fit in; she’s too young, too old, too fat, too poor, not cool enough, works, doesn’t work, whatever it is, she feels she doesn’t fit in and she isolates herself from the other mothers.

Being in my position, the other mom, not the “REAL” mom and not even the step-mom pretty much makes me the invisible mom when it comes to acknowledgement from society and community support.

I have an idea for a book I want to write about other mothers. I want to interview all the other mothers out there and share their stories. I imagine there are all sorts of women who could identify with being an other mother: lesbian moms, step-moms, adoptive moms, foster moms, divorced moms, single moms, teen moms, immigrant moms, aunts, grandmas and other relatives raising children that are not their own, moms whose husbands are in prison or the military, women who chose not to be moms or were not able to be and fathers who have  taken on the more traditional mommy role are all people whom I’d like to interview and hear their stories. I’m sure there other ‘other mother’s who I  have failed to mention here as well. I’ve been tossing this book idea around in my head for a while but now I’ve decided I am going to do it. If you are interested in sharing your story with me and being a part of this book please contact me to arrange for an interview.


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63 thoughts on “Other Mothers

  1. maria

    What a great post. It should be required reading in parenting classes. I hope you do write that book, because it’s time to make transparent the many ways in which mothers are rendered invisible in our society. I am both a step-mother and mother, but let me tell you, there have been many moments when the question of “real” got mixed up and messed up. At times my stepchildren relied more on me than their birth mother; at other times, my own children claimed at camp that they were my stepchildren….And at all times, it also happened to me when I hung out with other mothers that I didn’t feel like I quite fit in among them, as if I were not “professional” enough. So yes, we all struggle, but I can only imagine how much more difficult this has been for you. I hope this Mother’s Day brings you into the limelight! 🙂

  2. Ruth Martin

    I think your (yes, your) children are so lucky to have two real moms who love and treasure them and have given them stability through their childhoods. I hope you do write your book and have an abundance of stories to share. It will be an inspirational piece for all moms whose love comes in all shapes and sizes regardless of whether or not they share blood types or other genetic factors. Psst – I once heard that MOM stands for Most Of Me. Fitting I think. It’s something that we moms usually give our children, unconditionally and unselfishly.

  3. Dolores

    Brings up a lot of emotion for sure! Choosing not to be a mom
    has been one of the most interesting choices of my life! Finding the answer when people ask “why don’t u have kids?” I’m always never sure how to answer and left feeling awkward!

  4. Billiejean

    Sallly, as a retired teacher I taught children who also had two Moms or two Dads and can honestly say, they tended to have parents who were extremely thoughtful & who spent quality time with their children; they were truly involved with their children’s education… never missing conferences, always helping their children with homework, school projects, willing to take time to help in the classroom, drive on field trips, etc. Your children (yes…you are a real mom & your partner is the birth mom) are so very lucky to have both of you involved in their upbringing; they are beautiful, competent children with hearts of love & who are divergent thinkers, eager to do their very best in life. They also have fabulous personalities, just like you & Celia! Most of all…you & Celia have created a loving environment for your children & they know how lucky they are to be living in such a happy, secure home with their two happy MOMS!

  5. Cathy Curtis

    Sally, bravo! For you honesty and openness. Even though I’m not a mom (and that comes with it’s own issues….”you don’t have kids? ….(in other words, are you a heartless, selfish woman?) I usually find myself answering… “no, but I’m a great auntie….I love my nieces and nephews).

    I’m sure so many women will relate to what you wrote…..including single women who decide to adopt or give birth to kids on their own.

    Thank you!

  6. Tamara Holland

    Sally, what a great post. I love the way you shine a light on how you felt, what your experience was like, and share it with everyone . . . shining the way for all of us. I am cheering you on in writing your book. It would be a terrific contribution to the world.

  7. Sally_K Post author

    Cathy – thank you for your comment and you are one of the most heartfelt, generous people I know. I wish this society as a whole would just take a chill pill.

    Tamara – Thank you. I appreciate your support. 🙂

  8. Toni

    Sally – the thought that came to mind for me is “labels”. Everything and everyone gets labelled in this society and it is not always a good thing. Any women that cares and is emotionally involved in a child’s life becomes a mom. I had that same problem with my boy’s since I am both a bio and step-mom. It always felt awkward to me when people would look at me cross eyed it I told them the oldest was my son … then I would have to qualify it. When he was younger I would just look away because it felt like I was separating him out. To be a Mom is a special gift and our children come to us in different ways. Hold your head high you have created a loving upbringing for the kids and your partner made a great choice.

  9. Todd

    I had an “other mom” when I was growing up. Still do really. I appreciate and love her as my other mom. I’m proud to have her as my other mom. I even made sure to include her in the mother-son dance when I got hitched a few years back.

    It was kind of an awkward group dance with her, my “real” mom, and me, but I didn’t care. I’m closer to her than I am my so-called-“real” dad and I wanted to share that moment with her too.

    Some of the more… we’ll be nice and call them “resistant minds” in society… may not understand or even accept the “other mom”, but as the child of one of those other moms — and I’m sure I may safely speak for many of us — we love you.

  10. Sally_K Post author

    Thank you for all the wonderful comments. Todd – I especially love hearing from the children of other mothers. I think I might include a section in my book from the kid’s point of view which could be very telling.

  11. Kristen B

    I love this post!  My “Other Mother” was a very important part of my life growing up.  Without her, I would’ve missed a lot of valuable experiences and conversations that shaped who I am today.  I considered her a Step-Mom, but she was more a “Real Mom”.  To this day she knows what I want/need more than my “Real Mother”.  Write the book and share the stories.  It’s needed!

    FYI-Since I started dating my Hubby, my Mother-In-Law has become an “Other Mother”. I also have a Father-In-Law who is an “Other Father”. I wonder if Father’s have the same issues.

    Thanks for bringing this topic into the light.

  12. Rita Kuehn

    Sally, you are defnitely a mother and not just an “other mother”. My sister, Roxann, never gave birth to children, but she has helped raise nieces and nephews who often lived with her for extended periods of time. Roxann would be an excellent person to interview for your story because I beleve that she has often felt the same way that you have. And how she ended up caring for these children are very interesting stories all by themselvs.

    Any woman who has helped to raise anyone’s child is a mother. I certainly wished Roxann a happy mother’s day on Sunday.

    Personally, I adopted my daughter from Kazahkstan 11 years ago, (Roxann is my daughte Godmother) and have been the recipient of many a thoughtless remark about mothering.

    If you would like my sister’s email address to interviw her, please send me an e-mail. I’m sure she would have lots to say on this subject! I wish you great success with this topic – it’s something that should be written about! Rita

  13. Diane Fischler

    Thank you, as always, for your heartfelt honesty. You’ve shared with me many of your joys and struggles. I have chosen to to reproduce, and have often had to justify that choice to others, especially family. In my 20s, I was the Other Mother to 3 wonderful children who are grown and now parents themselves. Would love to share that story with you for your book.

  14. Colleen

    Hi Sally,

    I have always felt like an “other mother”— I was perfectly married and in love with my husband for 10 years when 2000 hit and our lives together ended. I scrambled to sell everything we owned, stayed in our rental home, went through 3 roommates… Got a new job and got pregnant with twins within a year! I spent the first 6 months of my pregnancy, alone on the hill in Fairfax, wishing my husband would come back and also wishing the father of my twins would want them! I was finally forced to move in with him when I was literally fired from my job for becoming pregnant. I have spent 10 years now, raising twins as a “Domestic Partner” to my sons’ Dad. We have tried so hard to give them everything in Marin, but we are not a perfect, happy family with an Anniversary and love between us that they can see. The love we have for our kids is so real, but the love for each other is not abundant or easy. There is a sense of respect here– more of an acceptance of “we have to raise these twins and it’s our job– no one else will do it for us”. We have a commitment to them, and I have a fear of leaving them alone with their Dad– so much so that I believe having to live part-time with out them would kill me and I’d always not trust him. This is “another mother” for you… I have never felt I fit in because of this reality– I am not raising children with someone I wanted to be with… It is just what happened after the love of my life left, and I had to pick up the pieces. I can not imagine not having my amazing boys– so incredibly challenging to me, but I grow from this experience every day.

  15. Jen

    I bet kids who grew up with the love of an ‘other mother’ or two would have a few things to contribute to your book too! It’s a great idea 🙂

  16. Marcia

    What a testament to strength all of us moms have. I think it is beautiful when someone can turn their hurt and pain into something creative. I cant wait to watch the journey your book takes you on.

  17. rachel

    You are amazing.thankyou for writing this.Something the children and i do every year for my girlfriend since we have been together is on fathers day,that is her “other mothers”day..We have everything rainbow and we celebrate her.the boys send their dad his fathers day cards etc but here at the house,we celebrate HER 🙂 She helps raise them and she is there for them for everything in their life…its HER day..We have rainbow everything and gifts and cards and it is always an amazing day..SHE is the other mother and we love her for it.Our youngest tells his friends she is his step mum becuase when he said she was my gf his friends laughed at him..a sad thing to have to do as a 6 year old but he is proud to say she is his step mum…i wish society would raise children to be accepting and tolerant and to know this for us IS our normal everyday life..not a joke,not a sin and not something to laugh at…

  18. Amanda

    I too long to be openly included in those mommy circles and as the SAHM “other mother” I find it difficult at times as well. People seem to not be able to wrap their heads around the idea that I did not give birth but I provide the majority of care while our son’s carrying mom (I shy away from the term REAL mom) works. This is a beautiful post and I would like to resonate what others have said before me…they are YOUR children and I am sure they all, in one way or another, benefited from your presence in their lives.

  19. Kate Oliver

    I grew up with my mom, dad and dad’s husband. I think my dad’s husband felt many of the same things you describe. What I can tell you as an adult is that his participation in my life has changed me profoundly for the better. I understand the sacrifices he made of his own comfort for my benefit. I totally get the questions where someone thinks they are asking you something easy and you realize it’s not so easy. Please, for your children, when someone asks you if you are a parent, say, “Yes I am.” Show pictures if you feel like it. Act surprised and offended if someone says they think you are not the “real” mom. Ask them with curiousity what a “real” mom is. I am sure you can say yes but all to birth- an adoptive mom is the same. If someone heard another person say to an adoptive mom that she is not the real mother, I can only imagine the response from her and anyone else around. Your kids know who their moms are. Show them you know it too!
    Great post.
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  20. GirlWithTheCane

    There’s so much insight in this post. Thank you for speaking on behalf of other mothers like me (first time I’ve ever called myself a mother, btw, but have always felt that I am one, of sorts…)

  21. Heather

    You absolutely have to write this book.
    Think about what you went through in your parenting years. You said you always felt shut down by other “regular” mothers… how many people in your situation would your book help?
    Never be afraid to pick up the pen and write! 😉

  22. Sally_K Post author

    Wow Thank you all for the comments! Your comments are really helping the process along. I will be contacting some of you to hear more details about your story. Writing a book is a big commitment but connecting with so many other mothers has been wonderful.
    Thank you!!!

  23. Candy

    I missed this when you originally posted it.

    Ya know… I’m a “real” mother, but I feel fake half the time. I don’t have any freaking idea what I’m doing and most of the time, I’m doing it wrong anyway.

    Honestly? You’re as much of a mom as your wife is. Or as much of one as I am. Or my husband for that matter. You love them, you worry about them, you take care of them… and sometimes… yes, sometimes… you want to disown them.

    They are your kids, Sally. Like it or not.

  24. Terri

    “If one woman told the truth about her life, the world would split open” … or something like that, as the quote goes. Thank you for telling your truth. It’s one people need to hear. I grow so weary of the whole “real” mother thing. In addition to being a mom who has raised a child, stayed up with croup, mended owies … I’m also what this culture calls a “birth” mother. One from the early era of open adoption, circa the late 80s (involved then in a religious community, naive, vulnerable – not really a “choice”). The “birth” mother role has been far more difficult, more wrenching, has consumed every bit as much of my energy as the volunteer-in-classroom-take-to-theatre-practice-mother role. I concur with the above commenter. You’re indeed a mom! Thank you for sharing this. It’s an important topic.

  25. Sally_K Post author

    Wow! Wow! Wow! Your comments, private messages and stories I have been hearing in person are blowing me away. Thank you all so much for sharing your stories and for opening my eyes and mind. I welcome your stories. If you are more comfortable sharing them in private please feel free to email at sally@sallyaroundthebay.com

    You are all inspiring me so much!

  26. Amy Coleman

    The truth is that mothering someone else’s children (by birth) is way harder than parenting your own. I have done both and have found this to be true. I was told by someone that there is a special place in heaven for those that step-parent…see you there!!!

  27. Cole

    Sally, I love your writing in the post above. Eloquent and engaging. Write that book! My mom will have events for you. I will celebrate with you. I will vouch that you are one of the most amazing moms of our generation. And I will not give specific examples, as part of being a good mom, and good friend to that mom, is not to reveal too many details of children’s inner lives to curious onlookers…

  28. Sally_K Post author

    Hey Cole – thanks for the encouragement means a lot coming from you! Will definitely take your advice on the not revealing too much about the kids part. Besides someone else already took care of that. 😉 This book is about moms, kids are just what gave us the label.

  29. JudyAnn Lorenz

    Fortunately, when I was a little girl, several teachers in the school I attended were unmarried. Yet, they loved children and spent hours and years with them. At our church, on Mother’s Day, the pastor always insisted on acknowledging these women and we gave them flowers along with the birth mothers…for they had mothered many. I’ve known women who were the 2nd wife and my daughter married a widower with 3 teens. I use the term ‘heart mother’. I know many ‘heart mothers’ who want the best for some kids and are not in competition with birth mothers. I know some who are BETTER mothers…parenting and biology have only a tenuous connection.

  30. Dottie Leroux

    Sally-Darlin’ , you are launched! This project is your ‘baby’. Just look at the response! (and you’ve barely begun) You will touch hearts, heal wounds, open eyes, and move all of us a few more inches into the next millinium. I am a star-witness , and have watched in awe as you guided, nurtured, loved, and sacrificed for those beautiful kids. Always there for them through thick and thin. You have so much to teach all of us.
    You and Celia have created a model for a loving (AND fun-loving!) family. Your writing is clear-sighted and honest. I’m on for the ride.

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