Last week my mom was placed with four children, who came with just the clothes on their backs, and a small bag of clothes that were filthy and tattered. In her 20 years of being a foster parent, this was by far one of the saddest placements. Immediately, we all rushed to her aid. We found her clothing, and booster seats. Our community really stepped up, and we are eternally grateful.

When my kids heard of this new placement, there was an assortment of emotions. Kisha was beyond excited. They were all younger than her, and she could be a mother hen. Josiah was so excited that there was a girl his age, and he hoped she was cute. Zathan was quiet. I have learned over the years that he gets nervous when there are big changes. The fact that there was a baby involved worried him. He is his momma’s baby, but he knows his momma loves babies.

As we were going to my moms house to help her prepare, Zathan said five words that sent my stomach lurching. “Why was my real mom”. That was it. As soon as he said it, he realized that he had said something wrong, and he stopped.

The term “real mom” or “real dad” are horrible words. We do not use them. This was the first time any of the kids, in nearly five years, have ever uttered those words and it stung. I don’t blame him. Those words are everywhere, often times out of anger or disapproval. We have heard them in public, on television, even other kids will ask them about their “real mom”.

I didn’t respond right away. Instead, I prayed for God to guide me in my actions. We went to moms, played with her new kids, and had a fun evening. When we returned home, I asked to speak to Zathan by himself. He climbed up on my lap, and we began to talk. First, I asked him what he had said. He didn’t want to say it again, so he pretended he didn’t remember. It took some prodding, but I finally got him to repeat it. I took a deep breath, and I let God guide my words.

First, I reminded him that the correct words to use were “birth mom” or her name. We talked about what the word “real” meant. To kids, real does not mean the opposite of fake. However, to adults it does. When adults use the words “real mom” they are saying that people like me are fake moms. Since I didn’t carry my kids, then I can’t possibly love them like a “real mom”. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I would lay down my life for MY kids. I am there for every smile, tear, bad dream, and joke. When they are sick, I am there to cuddle. I am their mom. No other words are needed.

After we discussed real and fake, I talked to him about how lucky he is. He has two moms. Although our roles are different, we are each moms to him in a way that the other one can never be. His birth mom got to carry him in her belly, and got to see his first smile. She got to count his fingers and toes. I did not. Yet, I get to be the one who tucks him in at night. I get to be the one he picks “yellows” for. (Yellow’s being our nickname for dandelions.) I get to be the one who holds him when he is sad. In that way, I am a mom to him in a way that she can never be. We each have a specific job that God wanted us to do. That doesn’t make either of us less important.

That was one of the hardest conversations I have had to have with my child. As much as I love my son, I wish that he would have never had to be in foster care. I wish that there were parts of his life I could erase, even if that meant I would be erased as well. I wish his beginning could have been different, but I will work tirelessly to make sure that any of the bad doesn’t outweigh the good. He may not be my flesh and blood, but he is mine, where it counts. There is nothing fake about that.

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