Friday, May 11, 2018

"I Am Not a Mother. But I Am Something."

Just in time for Voldemort Day (my preferred name for That Day Which Shall Not Be Named), the New York Times has published a moving opinion piece: "I Am Not a Mother. But I Am Something."

Paula Carter has no children. She had been in a long-term relationship with a man who had two sons -- but when the relationship with the father ended, so (sadly) did her relationship with the boys. 
I was not the boys’ mother — they had one of those; I was not even their stepmother. But, I was something... 
When we don’t have the words to name something, it is as though it doesn’t exist. Maria Popova, in a beautiful post on her website Brain Pickings, wrote, “To name a thing is to acknowledge its existence as separate from everything else that has a name; to confer upon it the dignity of autonomy while at the same time affirming its belonging with the rest of the nameable world.” 
When you realize you are outside of what has been deemed normal, what has been named and defined, these are the things you feel you lack: Dignity, autonomy, belonging. And a shared understanding of the role you play.
Carter's story is different than mine -- but it speaks to all of us whose stories are more complex than most people are comfortable with -- those of us outside the norm, whose life experiences haven't followed the generally accepted trajectory, who don't neatly fit into the usual categories, who sometimes lack a definitive label (who don't LIKE the labels we've been assigned...!).

Read the whole story, and tell me what you think.

Happy Voldemort Day. (Hang in there, it will soon be over...!)


  1. Loribeth, you're using up all my NY Times free reads this month! lol

    It was a good article. I ached for those little boys who had her in their lives for five years - at 9 and 11, it would feel like their whole lives - and then lost her. She was a step-mother (I don't think you need a piece of paper to be a step-mother, and her relationship lasted longer than some marriages), a second mother. So I ache for her too, as she doesn't have the dignity, autonomy, belonging that a title would have given her.

    Yes, it was nice that the man noticed someone didn't stand. But it's hard to know if he was praying for her because she didn't "belong" that day, or was he praying for her to become a mother so she could belong? We'll never know. I would like to think it was the former. I suspect it was the latter.

  2. This:
    “We know that more people are marrying later in life or not at all; that more married women are not having children and that more unmarried women are. By choice or by circumstance, all of these things are changing what it means to be a parent and a family. And yet we are still mired in narrow expectations and language that is not able to accurately describe the broadening range of familial roles.”

    Cue alarm bells.

    I agree with Mali: this woman was a stepmother and I grerive for those boys as losing her was losing a part of their family. I don’t know why the father and mother didn’t make a point to make sure she was somehow still part of their lives (likely due to narrow definitions), but that would be such a hard thing to navigate for them.

    Thinking of you and so many others today and tomorrow.