Whether you’re a teen mom, a divorced mom, a stepmom, a stay-at-home mom, a foster mother, a mother of a special-needs child, a mom who has lost a child, a mom who is struggling with addiction, or a perfectionist mom who’s realizing she’s not perfect, here’s the most important thing you can do to be a good mother …
This Sunday is Mother’s Day. If we’re not careful, this commemoration can go the way of other annual observances — like Earth Day, Columbus Day, and Presidents Day, to name a few — and become nothing more than a perfunctory nod dictated by the calendar. Moreover, with all the intense concern about teenage pregnancy, abortion, foster children, child abuse and neglect, and single parenting, the significance, honor, and privilege of motherhood can get lost in the mire. I’d like to make a concerted effort to not let that happen by sharing some thoughts and giving some shout-outs on motherhood.
Being a mother is a biological fact. Being a good mother is extremely challenging, especially in the face of so many competing priorities, societal pressures and cultural shifts. Everything from the price of diapers to how much water we drink can impact our effectiveness. And I’ll be honest, there are times when I’d rather not be a mom.
I have a reputation as a serious, self-sufficient girl and that often clashes mightily with the goofy antics of a teenager and the occasional depression of a chronically ill young adult. Right now my biggest private joke is what a motley crew my sons and I are: a prematurely menopausal woman, a hormonal teenager, and a twenty-something with a brain injury. Sometimes I count my blessings just to get everyone where they’re supposed to be, and that I haven’t given my oldest son my estrogen pills instead of his own medication. Did I mention I also have a teenager? Hmm … where was I??
Anyway, all of the pressure and responsibility sometimes weighs on me and distorts my view of what it really means to be a successful mom. I get caught up measuring myself against the typical litmus tests: attractive, winsome kids who are good students and active in many extracurricular pursuits, and who don’t smoke, drink, curse, or have sex, who are respectful of authority, and who love church and youth group; a family that follows an orderly but appropriately busy schedule; a great looking house that shows little to no evidence of children even being present … on and on it goes.
When I feel myself sinking under that load, I remember an internal conversation I had with the Lord when my oldest son was still in high school. Long story short, God reminded me that He’s looking for faithfulness, not perfection. For someone who profiles as a perfectionist on just about every personality assessment known to man, that’s a hard message to internalize. But I believe it, and I encourage other moms to believe and internalize it, too.
That leads me to my shout-outs.
To all the teenage or premature moms: It doesn’t matter so much how your journey of motherhood began, but it matters tremendously how you navigate through it, and how it ends up. Whether you’re 15, 17, or 22, be faithful. Love yourself and your children one day at a time, or one minute at a time if necessary.
To all the moms struggling against addictions and other life issues: Whether your bondage involves drugs, tobacco, sex, alcohol, partying, self-pity, shopping, depression, rejection and abandonment issues, dangerous relationships, or some combination of these, be faithful. Dig deep and change your focus from feeling better, to being better. Give your undivided attention to recovery so that your mothering can improve. And don’t be afraid to tell your kids your story.
To all the moms in difficult marriages: Having a bad husband or an unfulfilling relationship doesn’t mean you can forego your responsibilities to your children. Be faithful. If you have to read bedtime stories, review math homework, or braid hair with tears in your eyes, do it. The tears and your kids’ childhood will pass sooner than you think.
To all the stepmoms, play moms, foster moms, godmoms, and adoptive moms: Thanks for not letting the absence of a biological tie keep you from being faithful. You’re a wonderful example for us all.
To all the church mothers: Thanks for faithfully showing us the way to God like any good mother should.
To all the moms who have lost a child: Whether it was a miscarriage, an abortion, a stray bullet, friendly fire, an accident or something else that took your child from you, be faithful to remember that progeny and to thank God for the privilege of being the mother of that child.
To all the single moms: Even though you can’t be mother and father, be faithful. Pray hard, because their lives — and yours — depends on it. I’m a witness that God really is a father to the fatherless.
To the moms of special-needs children: You may not be able to cure their disease, raise their IQ, or prolong their life, but you can be faithful. Give them the best physical and emotional care you can, and you’ll have the peace of a job well done.
To all moms out there: Celebrate yourself this Mother’s Day. If you haven’t been as faithful as you should be, it’s not too late.
SHELTER FROM THE STORMS: As Safe Families volunteers, the Meisenheimers have traded in "cookies after church" hospitality for a more biblical vision. Safe Families assists people in crisis by providing temporary shelter to their children.
In 2009, after having two children the old-fashioned way, Toby and Murphy Meisenheimer, of Naperville, Illinois, were considering adoption when someone at their church mentioned Safe Families for Children, an organization that supports families in crisis by providing temporary shelter to children.
“Initially when we got that call from Safe Families, I was extremely hesitant, because to me, it just kind of sounded like being trapped in church nursery,” said Murphy. She thought the temporary nature of the placements would mean she would have “no ownership in a child’s life.” A Safe Families representative listened to her concerns and advised her to follow the organization’s tweets to see how the Lord would lead.
The Meisenheimers received their first placement in 2010 and have hosted 15 children since then. “There’s an element to it that’s kind of addictive in that so often you see the needs of the poor on the TV screen or in your community and you kind of feel powerless, but you know you have some ability to help. …Safe Families gives our family an outlet to do that, which is to very quickly respond to an urgent need and bring some of the most helpless individuals in our society into our home and partner with that person’s parents to slightly alter their trajectory,” Murphy said.
Safe Families for Children is a national alliance comprised of three partners, said Dr. Robin Chamberlain, who holds multiple positions in the organization, including director of operations. Those partners are Bethany Christian Services, Lydia Home Association, which started the Safe Families movement, and Olive Crest, a Christian child welfare agency on the West Coast. The vision of the alliance is to “call the church as a whole back to biblical hospitality,” Chamberlain said, and “to make it as easy as possible for people to volunteer.” Biblical hospitality, in her view is “not cake and cookies after church, but actually opening up our homes and our hearts.”
Host families become like “extended spiritual families,” providing relief to those who may be isolated, which is important because “a high predictor of the incidence of child abuse and neglect is social isolation,” Chamberlain said. Although communities have always had informal networks for supporting families in crisis, she said Safe Families “provides a structure, and a network, and support” for them.
The organization’s website says it operates with three objectives in mind: to provide a safe alternative to child welfare custody, child abuse prevention, and family support and stabilization. There is a screening and approval process for host homes that includes finger printing and background checks, but it is not lengthy or invasive, Chamberlain said.
The Meisenheimers have provided respite to families in a variety of crisis, including incarceration, homelessness, joblessness, and drug addiction. All of these placements were made voluntarily, Toby said, but for at least one, a county child welfare agency had urged the mother to make the placement rather than lose custody of her offspring.
Toby sees his role primarily as facilitating his wife’s ministry. “I honestly believe she was crafted to work with kids, train them up, nurture them. …Once I could see that our own biological and adopted kids are joining us in this ministry together, it became a family cause,” he said.
The Meisenheimers have two biological children and two adopted children. They say their kids “love” hosting other children, but they do grieve when those children leave. Murphy thinks this experience teaches important lessons. “In life, we love and we lose,” she said. “It’s okay for them to risk a little bit of their security for someone else’s gain.”
It’s not only the children who pay a price though. Toby and Murphy expected to be inconvenienced and were prepared to deal with “unique behaviors” that they didn’t necessarily see in their “home-grown kids” and with “the messiness of interacting with moms and dads who are really in an extremely challenging spot,” Murphy said. What they weren’t prepared for was the emotional and relational expense of their ministry.
Toby likened the impact on their friendships to when someone gets married and suddenly their single friends aren’t quite as good friends, or when a couple has a child and it creates a rift with married friends who aren’t yet parents. “You do pay a price in awkwardness … or lack of empathy, because it is a different experience than what the typical family in America is striving for,” he said.
But they’ve also had loved ones, like Toby’s parents, who live nearby, “lean into” the ministry. “They step up and they realize that Safe Families isn’t for them, but they play a incredible supporting role in bringing groceries by and taking the older two kids for an afternoon on the town…. This isn’t really a lone ranger sort of role,” he said.
The Meisenheimers have also grappled with the fear of litigation and other potential consequences of entering into the messiness of strangers’ lives, but they choose to live by faith rather than by fear, Murphy said. “By and large, all 15-plus families that we have dealt with have shown nothing but gratitude towards us,” she said. “They’re choice other than this most likely is their child gets placed into state custody. Most of them are very well aware of what that means and they would do anything rather than allow that to happen.”
“I do trust Safe Families to have done their due diligence within the contract and in the ongoing case work. They have some duty to defend their families and not leave us high and dry if suddenly there was a litigious birth parent or something,” said Toby.
Because Safe Families works closely with churches, the organization recommends including it with other ministries covered by church insurance policies, Chamberlain said. Additionally, she said volunteers are covered by the organizations’ affiliated Christian child welfare agencies’ insurance policies and by the Volunteer Protection Act of 1997.
The Meisenheimers have had two placements end early because the children needed more intervention than they felt equipped to handle. “That’s where your case coach is invaluable,” said Toby. “As they’re coming to you and you’re building your relationship with them, you’re not an island in this trying to figure out how to relate to somebody who grew up in the inner city and has almost from a different world. You’re seeing them regularly, you’re asking them for advice, they’re praying for you and they’re your counselors throughout the process.”
DEEP CONNECTIONS: Safe Families volunteers become like “extended spiritual families,” says group executive Robin Chamberlain.
The family also takes time to recover between placements. How long that is depends on the “complexity of the case,” Murphy said, and on their own needs. After one of their children was adopted, they took a six-month break. “That might have been longest time without a placement. …We tend to get them back in pretty quickly,” she said. “One of the best parts of Safe Families in terms of a volunteer perspective is that it is flexible. So you can choose what ages you take and how long you will take them.”
“We’re glad we have taken the risk. Our lives have been enriched. We watch our kids grow through the experience to do ministry together with them. It’s worth trying and trying more than once,” said Toby. “If you’ve known somebody who tried something like this and had a bad experience, or you do on your first try, you’ve got to give it a go again, because that’s just the enemy getting in the way of pure and undefiled religion. …This is not a results driven ministry. We are just hopefully improving some brain synapses and showing love early and trusting that a two-degree bend in their direction will yield fruit down the road.”
Safe Families for Children was established by the Lydia Home Association in 2002 after its founder, David Anderson, had an encounter with a mother in crisis, Chamberlain said. The association did not offer temporary placement services for children at the time, so he and his wife (who were licensed foster parents) took her children in to give her a break. “That was kind of birthing the vision,” Chamberlain said. Since then, the alliance has placed more than 5200 children in host homes nationwide.
“The hospitality of the Bible is dangerous, demanding, and must be deliberate,” Anderson wrote in a 2010 article. He acknowledged that there are risks involved in welcoming strangers into our homes, but said, “The blessings run deep when we practice Biblical hospitality and demonstrate to the world that the Christian family, in obedience to Christ, can be a powerful source of change.” More than 5000 children know exactly what he means.
What orphans need are families who love them. Period. To be adopted into a family and kept at arm’s length or seen as a charity project in what should be your own home sounds disastrous to me. And tragic. Once in a while, I learn of people who have an almost missionary zeal about adoption but truly don’t seem enthusiastic about loving and parenting a child. It seems they have forgotten that the adoption process is just the prologue. When you become a parent by birth or adoption, you begin a very long journey.
UrbanFaith news & religion editor Christine Scheller, herself the white parent of a biracial child, recently spoke to Grant about the challenges of cross-cultural adoption, and why it should never be viewed as a “ministry” project. Listen to excerpts below.
Why adoption isn’t a missionary venture.
The bad economics of international adoption.
The “stares” and becoming aware of racism.
In addition to her book, Jennifer recommends the following resources for those interested in adoption or alternative ways to help needy children and invest in struggling communities around the world.
ADOPTION SERVICES Adoption-Link “provides quality services for all in the adoption triad: birth parents, children and adoptive families. We specialize in domestic and international adoption and humanitarian services for African, African-American, multiracial, HIV+ and other special needs children.”
Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption “exists to be an agent of change in the lives of children in North America waiting to be adopted out of foster care and in the attitudes of adults who, either unknowingly or helplessly, allow children to linger in government systems without the birthright of every child—a safe, loving and permanent family.”
Evan B. Donaldson Foundation provides “leadership that improves adoption laws, policies and practices – through sound research, education and advocacy – in order to better the lives of everyone touched by adoption.”
Show Hope Foundation is “a non-profit organization that mobilizes individuals and communities to meet the most pressing needs of orphans in distress by providing homes for waiting children through adoption aid grants and life-saving medical care for orphans with special needs.”
HUMANITARIAN RELIEF AND DEVELOPMENT Action Internationalis “a global mission agency committed to sending multi-national missionaries who treasure Jesus Christ and minister His Gospel in word and deed, primarily to the poor. Missionaries serve street children in Latin American countries by rescuing abandoned children, working to reunite children with relatives. They also work to develop a foster care network rooted in local churches and to support needy families.”
Chikumbuso “serves hundreds of people impacted by the HIV/AIDS pandemic by providing refuge for abused children, job training for widows and single mothers, and education for hundreds of orphaned children.”
Saddleback Church Orphan Care Connection provides “meaningful ways for every person to engage in caring for orphans through local churches at home and around the world. If you’re exploring adoption or foster care internationally or domestically, we’re ready to serve you.”
World Vision is “a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.”