My niece was 2 years old when her mother, my younger sister, decided that she needed a break from the harsh demands of single motherhood. She called to ask if my husband and I would parent her daughter while she took some time off from motherhood to travel with a musical group she was managing.
I was stunned, although I had certainly wondered what she had been thinking in becoming pregnant without much hope that the baby's father would be a responsible, loving partner.
Yet part of me was thrilled at the possibility of mothering my niece. Although I was only in my early 30s, I'd been concerned that my opportunities for becoming a mother were decreasing daily.
Plans developed, and when my niece arrived with her little suitcase in hand, it was a dream come true for me. As I drew her into our foyer – and my arms – I felt as if I could protect her from what I imagined was all the hurt and sadness I was sure she must be feeling.
We found a new rhythm and settled in. My sister would call, and we'd have a good talk, but when she would ask to speak to her daughter, I would put my hand over the receiver and ask my niece if she'd like to talk to Mommy. If she said yes (an answer that decreased in frequency as time went on), I'd give her the phone. If she said no, I'd tell my sister that it wasn't a good time. I felt it was breaking my sister's heart, but part of me hoped that the less they talked, the more I would become my niece's "mom."
One Monday, after a wonderful long weekend with family, something shifted for me that would change my perspective forever.
When my sister called and I asked my niece if she wanted to talk with her, I whispered (before she could answer), "You don't have to if you don't want to." My niece shook her head no and skipped away. I told my sister it wasn't a good time, and we chatted for a while. Afterward I felt empty and unsettled instead of triumphant and secure in my role in my niece's life.
I was familiar with this statement by Mary Baker Eddy: "A mother's affection cannot be weaned from her child, because the mother-love includes purity and constancy, both of which are immortal. Therefore maternal affection lives on under whatever difficulties" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 60).
I hadn't given it much thought during that time, but suddenly it was all I could think about. I started to see that since God is Father-Mother of us all and that each of us is the full expression and reflection of His Allness, everyone, including children, has the right to express those qualities of motherhood that are inherent to every man, woman, and child. That included my niece. I saw that I could no more deprive her of the right and privilege of "mothering" her mom than I could interfere with her right to think, to be self-aware, to love.
I asked her if she'd like to call her mommy back and hear about her adventures. I suggested that she be the "mommy" today and ask her mom about her day, just as her uncle and I asked her each night about how her day had gone. She liked the idea, and we called.
It was one of the last calls we made to her mom. In a few days, she came to pick up her daughter.
They have been best friends, confidantes, and cheerleaders for each other for the last 20 years. My sister is one of the best moms I know. Later she married a wonderful man who adopted her daughter.
This began my adventures in adoption and parenting.
A mother's love cannot be weaned from her child. God's love cannot be taken from us. We have the right, at whatever age, to express those qualities of motherhood and fatherhood to, and with, the children around us – the children of God – whether they be infants, toddlers, 8- or 80-year-old "children" whose hearts leap at a mother's touch, a father's joy, a child's care.