Last Thursday night, I stood in front of a podium in the BWI Marriott’s ballroom and introduced a handsome, well dressed fifteen-year-old African American male who lives in a foster home with his younger sibling. As President of Maryland’s state association of private child caring agencies, and before an audience of nearly 400–including many of his peers from across the state–I recognized this youth’s personal accomplishments and awarded him a $50 gift certificate. After my remarks, he came forward and cautiously took the microphone from my hand. He warmly thanked his foster parents for their support. Then the tears began to cascade down his face. The teenager transformed right in front of us all, exposing his profound vulnerability. The self-assured, confident young person spoke quietly but clearly.
“I wish my mother was here. I wish she could just see me doing this. I wish my mother knew who I am now.”
For that moment, the audience was silent because we all understood. This is the sometimes unspoken truth in our field. The young people we serve grieve for their lost mothers, and long for mothers who can really be there for them. This is primal. This desire never really goes away.
Today is Mother’s Day, a most celebrated day in America. And I plan later to enjoy the annual ritual with my own mother, children, grandchildren, and the men in our family. We’ll attend church, share flowers and read aloud our greeting cards, go to a movie as a family, and have a wonderful meal at a local restaurant. But this Mother’s Day, I wanted to start the morning differently…with reflections on the children who are placed in NCCF’s care. I know only too well what it took to assure my own adopted children that I am their mother, and how persistent I was. I grew to recognize that every child needs someone who fusses and hovers, demands and comforts, and unconditionally loves him or her, even while staying awake at night with concern. Every child needs to be held and heard, challenged and disciplined, advised, guided and allowed to benefit from both individual success and disappointing failure. The adult must model how to manage anger, how to share and express feelings appropriately while encouraging confidence, humility, ambition, and integrity. All of this involves compassion, empathy, stamina and personal sacrifice. It requires being open to learning and oftentimes, painful personal growth. This is what constitutes motherhood, as well as a faith that one day our children will become healthy adults capable of taking care of themselves and their dependents. This is motherhood, any way you slice it. Those of us who have had caring mothers deeply appreciate our good fortune every day, not just today. Yet too many children in our community continue to seek to find a real mother every day, not just today. This desire never really goes away.