not quite mom (7:17 am)

fourish years ago, a ten years turning eleven, scrap of a boy came to live at my house with a bag full of clothes and need for a haircut.

his mother had ended her life a year before over the thanksgiving holiday. and eventually it became clear that his place was with us, a family in the middle of being a family.

he had spent the last year not knowing how to be in a life suddenly void of a parent, giving his grandparents a run for their money in the working out of his anger and confusion. he came to us needy for love and not trusting that he deserved it.

four years later he has become my son…but i am not supposed to say so. he has a mother and she is not me.

my label is aunt.

i circle guardian on forms or cross out mother to clarify my position. i stumble over introductions, clumsily correcting misunderstanding between son and nephew...knowing there is no birthing or document to confirm my heart’s claim.

and i battle tiny seeds of bitterness along the way.


i held him through months of letting grief bubble up and be released, so that he wouldn’t be stuck between before and after. i held him while he processed a mother saying i love you in the morning and taking her own life the same day. i read the letters he wrote to her, watching him learn to understand her brokenness. i was his witness on his journey to healing.

i am the one whose stomach fills with nerves as he lines up to compete. i am the one that hands the paper back and says do it again, knowing he will be better for the lesson…receiving his temporary resentment until he exchanges it in for understanding. i am the one that holds strong against the hurt of his pushing hard to test the limits. and i gently pushes him forward when he thinks he’s reached the end of his own abilities.

i am ashamed of the moments i sullenly kick at the pedestal he sometimes places her on. frustrated that i–the flesh and blood, making mistakes reality– cannot compete with only good memories held on to by a nine year old. saddened that i have made it a competition i run to a friend who knows my true heart. she holds the hands i beat myself up with and i remember:

that i want nothing more for this boy than to know he is loved forever, that god’s plans for him are good. that the question of his value brought on by being left behind, is always answered with a resounding you matter and we will always want you.

and at the end of the day, his life…and the mother that i am rests in the hands of his father.

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families….” (Psalms 68:5-6, NIV)

and i… i take that piece of my heart that wants more and i lay it at the feet of jesus… over and over again. and he fills my heart to overflowing. over and over again.

and our house? it is filled with ‘your mama’ jokes and no one cringes at the word suicide. god has restored this boy and given his heart a home.

and i am his aunt. it’s a good, good place to be.


19 thoughts on “not quite mom (7:17 am)

  1. wow….I love this. And it eases my curiosity at who this young man is in your pictures. You are something else.

  2. I cried as I read this. I remember the agonizing moments during those difficult days. What a wonderful heart you and M have! You’re a good woman, Lady!

    • cherry, you and so many others were a support and blessing to our families during that time…much love to you lady! :) xo

  3. As a child who was parented by family members who were not my parents, I’ve seen a glimpse of what they must have felt when I clung (and still cling) to the people who held the title of mom and dad, even when they didn’t act like it. And it also gives me a better understanding of what my mom, also a victim of our bad circumstances, must feel when I elevate my grandmother. I think those feelings you feel are completely normal and understandable.
    And may I whisper this bit of encouragement: He may not always be vocal about it. It may not come as quickly or as deeply as you deserve, but rest assured knowing that the appreciation, the admiration, the respect and the payoff of a life better lived will come from him in time. He’ll feel it and then you will too.
    Thanks for raising him up even when it wasn’t your job.

  4. What a beautiful story, Kris! I have a friend “raising someone else’s girls” and that struggle between “mom” and “aunt” sounds all too familiar. And there isn’t a lot of support out there for people like you. You are in the trenches with him and yet… I hear that desire in you and it’s okay. So thankful there are people out there willing to take in the lost and love them like their own.

    Christy @ A Heartening Life

  5. So powerful… it pulls at my Mama heart and makes me oh so thankful that you were – ARE – willing… that with Him, you are more than able!

  6. Kris, I get this. Well, kind of. You know my husband and I fostered before our son was born and I so GET that role of parent-but-not. How it tears your heart up. I hear your ache and it makes me hurt, like in my gut. So glad you find rest in Him in the midst of it. I pray you hear His “well done” today, friend. Grace, grace, grace to you.

  7. Ugh, the beauty of what you’ve written here just floors me! Thank you for sharing! For exposing and showing the scars that God is graciously healing. Thank you for caring, for being a MOM to the boy left behind. Yes, I said it here. Because no matter what you say or think, God knows it. He sent this precious child your way because He knew you would be MAMA to him – and not simply ‘an aunt’. Thank you for families like yours that take up this courage – if only more of us in the Church would or could do the same! I know only too well what you speak of, as my own parents became that to 2 older teen girls just before we began living as missionaries. One whose father and brother had died and had been scarred by domestic violence – and another who had fallen pregnant out of wedlock and whose parents abandoned her in the world because of their own domestic violence. My parents understood and brought them in. Because the first 10 years of my own life with my mum and older sister had also been marked by this evil (dom v). And so now, over 20 years later, we seek to soothe those hurting from dom v or whose family unit is somehow broken – even if it means making them family. So thank you for what you do. It matters to the children who struggle with feeling abandoned and rejected, like I once did. Blessings and peace x

  8. Kris, this hurts to read in its honest beauty and pain. Thank you for sharing what it is to be a mother by choice, one who loves and fights and gets up to do it again. What a gift this story of this boy, your boy. A redemption song for sure.

  9. Dearest Kris- So heartfelt and honest (as always!). Just thought I should share that this post revealed to me a a similar struggle in my heart regarding my daughter-in-law, who lost her mother to suicide – although at not as vitally young & reliant an age as C was that Thanksgiving those years ago (I vividly remember that phone call from you & M, by the way – since J&D were at my Mom’s at the time). Thank you for speaking your heart & especially for making the CHOICE, you and M, to love on purpose.

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