62: A Mom to Many

62: A Mom to Many

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!

A Mom to Many

Little souls find their way to you, whether they’re from your womb or someone else’s.

~Sheryl Crow

My parents began taking in foster children when I was twelve. Forty foster kids eventually passed through their home. Each one held a special place in our hearts, and each one knew without a doubt that he or she was loved and was truly part of our family.

Even as a sarcastic and unappreciative teenager, I knew something special was happening in our home. It wasn’t easy to be a foster sister to kids who sometimes stole from me, ruined my possessions and invaded my space. But I also knew it wasn’t easy for my parents, especially for my stay-at-home mother.

Not many moms would willingly and lovingly continue raising kids for half a century, but that’s what my mom did. She started, as do most moms, with her own children, having two girls and a boy before her twenty-fifth birthday. Eleven years after the youngest of the original trio was born, along came a fourth child — me. I felt a bit like an only child when my older siblings left home for jobs and college.

That didn’t last long, however, because that’s when my parents felt the call to be foster parents. There were babies and preschoolers, tweens and teens, all of whom needed more than just food and shelter — they needed love and comfort and the chance to experience what makes a house a home. My parents gave them that and more.

Now that I’m a mother of my own, I marvel at how my mom related to these battered, bruised kids who had been treated so abominably by their own moms and dads (and other relatives). Many of these kids were sexually, physically, mentally, and verbally abused. Some of them had never eaten a meal with the entire family seated around a table. They had never had a space of their own in a house. They had never been unconditionally loved. Their backstories would break your heart.

Sometimes they arrived at my parents’ house in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. The luckier ones had a few belongings stuffed into a black trash bag. All of them were frightened and lonely, and many of them missed their parents.

Mama Jo would greet them at the door with her heart opened wide. She would settle them into our house as if they were her long-lost sons or daughters returning home. Everyone was treated like a full member of our family.

My mother taught them the things that most of us learn from growing up in normal, loving families — things like how to treat one another with kindness, how to do chores, and how to act at the dinner table. She advocated for them at school, but expected them to do their own schoolwork. She gave them hugs but meted out consequences when necessary. She prayed for them, and showed them how God cared for them as well.

She wasn’t perfect, and she would be the first to admit she made mistakes. But the kids understood that she was someone who cared, who had their best interests at heart, and who was a safe haven in the storm of their lives.

Most of all, she gave them unconditional love and acceptance. My mom never allowed a child’s current circumstances to dictate a child’s future. She’s a firm believer that people can change, and kids can too. That attitude, coupled with the amazing successes she and my father achieved with these foster children, led the local social services department to call my parents first with the most difficult cases.

My parents even adopted twins who had been foster kids in our home for several years before their biological mom and dad gave up their parental rights. The boy-girl twins were fourteen years younger than me, meaning my parents willingly extended their child-raising years to start again with preschoolers when I was graduating from high school.

I know my parents made a lasting difference in the lives of those foster children because we still keep in touch. The troubled ten-year-old boy who bounced back and forth from his mom’s house to ours as a foster kid now has a successful military career. The abused teenage girl who had started to make unwise choices became a nurse who asked my father to walk her down the aisle when she got married. The sexually abused nine-year-old girl who developed an annoying personality to cope credits my mother for showing her she was loveable. Now she’s married with children of her own.

When I reflect on the half century my mother spent raising kids, the majority of whom were not hers by birth, my heart overflows with love and gratitude for the example she set for me and countless others. I try to be as good a mother as she is. If more mothers were like Mama Jo, the world would indeed be a better place.

~Sarah Hamaker

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