The Best Mother
by Lisa Ritter Starr
A familiar chilling current of air has finally crept into this late
Oregon autumn. I've had to break out all the winter gear: scarves, gloves,
hat, and my big wool coat. Investigating the year-old contents of my coat
pockets, I was surprised to find a homemade bookmark I first discovered last
season as I leafed through novels at the bookstore one day.
The bookmark was a simple, rectangular piece of cardstock with the words,
"The Best Mother" written in red and pink child's handwriting on one side. On
the other side was a quote from the book of Titus, a tiny Biblical chapter
I've heard little, if anything, about. It was from chapter three, verse five:
"Not by works of righteousness which we have done but according to His mercy
He saved us."
I'm not particular to Christianity or the Bible, as far as religion goes,
but I felt this mystery message deserved some thought. After all, it
literally fell into my hands, not another's. And I did find the words
intriguing, to say the least.
First, I was curious about superlative: the best mother. Which mother,
except by virtue of being your own, deserves the title of "best," and why? If
"the best mother" were a job you had to apply for, what experience or
characteristics would you need to qualify? An abundance of money, time,
patience? The ability to change diapers and read bedtime stories? The ability
to love, unconditionally?
Second, how does this idea of "the best mother" fit into adoption, where
there are always two mothers? It has often been emphasized that the true
(perhaps best?) mother of the child is not the one created through biology,
but the one who proves her role by performing, doing, acting. Is this who we
would call "best"?
I can't help but wonder what we are encouraging kids to value. As a
whole, we are a society that needs to assign dollar values in order to
understand worth. We value doing, rather than being, because action produces
concrete results of measurable worth. "Simply being" is otherwise known as
"simply being lazy." When applied to adoption, our message is that mothers
who not only have the financial means to provide (produce results), but also
routinely perform typical motherly duties, are the "real" and the "best"
mothers for the child.
Perhaps this definition evolved to help the adoptive family validate
their roles, and to make the child feel safe and loved. Undoubtedly, these
are noble ideals. Yet now more than ever, we should recognize the value of
simply being. Conditions these days are extreme, with more crime,
environmental destruction, world and civil conflict, and stress-related
illnesses than ever. It is obviously doing, not being that has led to this
In general, birthmothers are the mothers of being, not doing. They simply
are, and nothing can undo this reality. Yet, for varied reasons, many
adoptive parents would like to forget that their child's birthmother is, in
fact, a mother. A few probably wouldn't mind if they could forget her
existence altogether. They claim it is safer, less threatening, easier, and
simpler for the child to understand.
Yet if all adoptive parents were required mentally to fast-forward to
their child's adulthood, they couldn't ignore the fact that most adopted
adults wonder or have medical reasons to find out about their family of
origin. Perhaps just as many have the desire to connect even earlier.
Clearly, some birthmothers are willing to place their children in closed
adoptions. And there is always a degree of instability - usually it is
financial, but for some it is also emotional. But children don't stay
children forever. At some point, they should be able to contact their family
of origin, or gain that valuable medical information, without the barred door
of fear and ignorance in front of them. Think about it: how will they feel
when they discover their own parents are the ones who made it so hard by
sealing the door in the first place?
The words written on the other side of the bookmark I found were from the
Epistle of Paul to Titus in the New Testament of the Bible. The context from
which they were taken concerned Paul's advice to Titus on how to teach. In
chapter three, verse five, I think Paul implies that a teacher is a teacher
"not by works of righteousness…but according to His mercy…" But he's not
talking only about teachers, he's talking about people in general. Therefore,
mothers, too, are not necessarily made from "works" but rather a bestowal by
In a different way than adoptive mothers, birthmothers are mothers by
nature, and no amount of closed doors or closed-mindedness can undo this.
Just as we look back to our origins, searching for our original creator
through religion, nature, and other forms of spirituality, children also need
to know their origins.
It's time to stop negating mothers of being, just so that mothers of
doing can feel justified in their actions. No one is trying to take their
motherhood away, but maybe that's what they fear. Even if all people don't
share the same religion, the Golden Rule is ever appropriate: "Do unto others
as you would have them do unto you." In other words, if you don't want to
fear that a birthmother will try to take your motherhood away, then stop
trying to take hers.
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