Parents enter parenthood in countless ways. Sure, there’s the traditional method — get married, have a baby and raise your family. And that’s a wonderful way to go about it. But there are all kinds of families out there, and I know that I — for one — sometimes forget that moms and dads are made in more ways than one.
I think of my stepfather, Mike, as my dad. He and my mom have been married for more than 20 years and, for all intents and purposes, he raised my sister and me. When Mike joined our family, I was 10 — deep in the throes of preteen surliness and ready to fight anyone who had the audacity to suggest I wasn’t well-versed in the ways of the world. My stubborn streak and smart mouth didn’t faze him, though.
Mike jumped right in and didn’t miss a beat — carting my sister and me to and from school and extracurricular activities, cheering at sporting events, helping with homework, fixing dinner, enduring trips to the mall and picking up the tab for all those endless childhood expenses, such as braces, clothes, class trips and even cars.
At the time, I took my stepfather’s presence for granted and, even now, I probably don’t express my gratitude enough. I can’t imagine how tough it must be to jump into an existing family and never look back. But he did, and I’m glad.
I have a friend who jumped through endless hoops to adopt a baby girl in need of a stable home. For years, my friend fought legal and emotional battles to become a mom and, in the end, emerged with her own little family. That “baby girl” now is in elementary school, and my friend is the only mother she has ever known. She is happy — they both are — and incredibly well-cared for.
My mother’s parents adopted her and her brother when they were infants. My grandparents, in my opinion, were two of the most amazing people who’ve ever walked the Earth. They raised my mom and my uncle well, providing a solid upbringing based on faith, morals, education, hard work and compassion for others. They were kind, generous souls, and everyone who knew them would say the same.
As a little girl, I once asked my mom, “Do you ever wish you knew your real mom?”
To this day, her answer brings tears to my eyes.
“I do know my real mom,” she answered. “She is your grandma — the woman who raised me.”
How right she was — and still is.
“Parents” are the people who raise, love, nurture and provide for children. They need not be biological in nature. Parents are foster moms and dads, legal guardians and grandmothers raising their grandchildren. They kiss boo-boos, read bedtime stories, check closets for monsters, administer baths, clean up messes and put food on the table.
Parents clap with glee as their little ones ride bikes for the first time. They brush away tears of pride at graduations. They sneak around late at night, slipping dollars under pillows in exchange for lost teeth, filling up Easter baskets and piling presents under Christmas trees.
Parenting isn’t about blood. It’s about completely losing oneself in the care of another human being and surrendering to a love so fulfilling and insurmountable, it leaves a person utterly powerless and wholly empowered.