Monday, 19 May 2014

Auntie Seraphic and the Soon to Be "Single Mom"

This is truly one of my most unusual letters ever!


Dear Auntie Seraphic,

So I haven't found much info on this topic anywhere.

Yes, I think I've found a topic about singleness that you have not written about even once!

I will spare you the details but I'm a [woman in my late 20s] maybe about to accept custody of my x month old niece and almost y year old nephew. I love them dearly. I strongly suspect I'm their best option.

Many, many factors are directing this probable outcome but I won't go into them now.

One thing I've been wondering is this:

How does a single, Christian woman, who's never so much as been on a single date but HAS TWO KIDS go about navigating the world of still-hoping-to-be-married when the statistics show that the most dangerous person in the world to a child is the mother's boyfriend?

Not to mention the fact that two kids in tow makes one look married, or at least, divorced. Or someone who does not care about things like "marriage."

Because I'm sure not going to be going around telling everyone that these are "just my niece and nephew." [Seraphic's emphasis.]

And who would sign on to help provide for two little ones who aren't his and aren't technically his wife's children either? I mean, even the best type of man still gets a little nervous when women bring up children right away on the first date. What if right away on the first date, she brings up that she HAS children?

These kids have had my heart from the moment they were born. Also from the moment they were born, I knew Child Protective Services would likely one day be handing them over to me since my parents have always stated that they didn't want to raise children again and my sister and her husband have always exhibited certain parental type red flags.

I know enough about children to know dating will be out of the picture for a long time as I'm going to have to pretty much devote myself to them and allow them to get used to their new situation.

I know their needs are going to have to come first, and my life and my hopes of getting married are going to take a back seat.

But I'd also like to know (as I ponder this giant commitment and start preparing my heart for this type of parenthood) is there any hope? Or is this the end of all my hopes for getting married?

Will single women tell me when I am lonely and overwhelmed that I should just be grateful I have children at all? Will married women with children make room for me in their circles? Are there single moms who even have the time to spare to befriend another single "mom?"

What will the church think of a single woman walking in with two little ones and no husband?

So many questions! Is it terribly selfish of me to still be thinking of these things when I am needed by two little ones?

I am so willing to be there for my niece and nephew. I love them. Do I have to give up marriage for them?

I've been a nanny for seven years and I still work with kids at my current job. I'm not worried about the day to day care of kids. It's the everything else that scares me. I mean, it's overwhelming with two parents.

The probably soon to be newly single mom.

Dear Single Aunt,

The first thing I have to say is that you must be rooted in reality. These are not your children; these are your sister's children. You are not their unmarried mother. You are their aunt. Even if the court grants you custody, you will not be their mother. You will be their guardian. And their aunt.

I heartily ask you not to pretend to anyone that you are a single mother. Single mothers are stigmatized among men not because (or primarily because) they have children but because these women seem to have been rejected by men, or have rejected the father of their children. It is the shadow of the invisible and absent man who has sexually known the woman (and either abandoned her or been banished) that keeps men away or dismissive or disrespectful. Men get their cues for how to treat an individual woman from other men, and the idea of being banished from their own children frightens them. It is too bad that you will often be mistaken for a "single mother" by wary men, but the children calling you "Aunt" or "Auntie" will set them straight.

I think this is the most important thing I have to say. It will be wonderful, if sometimes frightening, to be the most important woman in the world to two small and helpless children. You do not need to co-opt the name "mother" to be this woman or to protect and raise them as well as you can.

Living a romantic, sentimental lie would in fact work against this God-given task. The most famous beloved aunt I can think of at the moment was The Beatles' John Lennon's Aunt Mimi.

As an aunt, you do not have to worry about men rejecting you for being a "single mother". However, of course you will be have to be extra careful about the company that you keep because your first responsibility will be to the innocent, helpless children in your care. This means not inviting men home or introducing a boyfriend to these children unless you know him to be a good, non-abusive man, and you and he have established a firm commitment.

I wish you and the children all the best, and I will pray for the children's parents. How awful it must be to have one's children taken away; their problems must be terrible crosses to bear.

Grace and peace,

As an aunt, I have very strong feelings about the primacy of parents. When a small child, for fun, said "I'm going to call you Mommy," I heartily discouraged her. For one thing, her own mother was in earshot, and I thought her feelings would be hurt. (My Pretend Sons are over 25, so I don't think my absurd claims will annoy their real mothers. I hope they don't inspire them to present me with a bill for their admirable educations.) St Edith Stein wrote about women doing what is needful without making a fuss. Stepping in to help another woman raise her children when she is unable or forbidden to do so is one of those times.

As for the bliss of being called "Mommy", my never-married great-grandmother gave birth around 1915 (1918?), and to hide this, told everyone she had adopted the child and brought her up to call her "Auntie". In those days, being the daughter of an unmarried mother was a severe social handicap. Thus, my great-grandmother made what we might consider the unthinkable sacrifice of never being called "mother" by her own, deeply loved, child. She was "Auntie" to us all to the day she died. She still is "Auntie" in our prayers. What a woman she was!

My final thought is that there is no "just" about a niece or nephew to the childless. My niece and nephews are, as far as I am concerned, the most important children on earth. Standing in a toy shop recently, trying to remember what toys I liked best when I was four, I felt an overwhelming wave of love for my niece. I pray that her parents will live long, happy, healthy lives and that my niece will be an elderly woman when she sees them to the grave. And may I go first. Sum primogenita, Domine. Dignus et justus fuerit.

Update: I see that I have been remiss and never answered the ultimate question. No, no single parent or guardian of children has to give up his or her dreams of becoming married. The biggest difference, one that both a birth parent and a court-appointed guardian share, is that he or she has to be even more careful about who he or she meets and about his or her social behaviour than singles without children.

But I will reiterate that the single mother, to this very day, has a social hurdle the single aunt or other guardian does not have. People are more likely to see the single mother as a plucky (or easily exploited) victim of bad luck/bad choices/bad men/circumstances. The voluntary guardian is more likely to get the praise without the pity. Of course people will often admire their own friends and relations who are single mothers--and appreciate their daily sacrifices-- but there is no spontaneous "Good for you!" from society as a whole. I have a friend who dated a woman who adopted her sister's child, and if I remember correctly, she was discussed in awed tones, as if she were Superwoman.


Julia said...

Single Aunt is a brave and good aunt.

Seraphic, what do you think about children whose mother is dead calling their stepmother "Mum/Mom"? (P.S. This is not a situation in my family, so no matter your answer I will not be personally offended.)

Seraphic said...

If they want to, they want to. Let the children call her what they want, as it will not hurt their deceased mother. If they asked "Are you my new mother", I should think she would be right to say "Yes, and I will be your new mother until I die."

Seraphic said...

I am struck that Marilla, who adopted Anne of Green Gables, wanted to be called just Marilla. Nothing formal, like Miss Cuthbert, and nothing familial like Aunt. Marilla was scrupulously honest in everything in her tough 19the century Scots-Canadian way.

Bee said...

Dear letter writer, kudos to you. My sister was a social worker for many years, and people like you were dream placements--connected to the parents, mature, responsible, and full of love for the little ones. But she would agree with Auntie. Do not act as a single mother to other people. Do not encourage the children to call you mother. I don't know if it's on the table in your situation, but at my sister's agency, the goal was reunification with the parents, or at least healthy relationships with them. Even though it may seem confusing to very little ones to not call the only woman raising them for years and years "mother," it will be inordinately more confusing to learn that they have parents when they are older. Be clear (age appropriate), consistent, and honest--especially if the nephew is out of his toddler years. But I do understand that in using the word *just*, you don't want your special relationship diminished in anyway. I'm sure there are ways to be honest "This is my niece and nephew, whom I am raising" or some such.

As for your questions regarding dating etc. Good for you for recognizing their needs come first, that it will be awhile before you can date, and that it will be trickier. But I want to say that I am hopeful for you. Actual single mothers do get married to quality men.
What I think will be helpful for you is a supportive community. What struck me the most was your question about the church. When you get the children, have picked out your faith home, then introduce yourself and the niece and nephew to the priest/pastor/minister. All you can do is try with regard to other moms and socializing. It may take a while, but surely there are some decent, charitable, friendly women who won't judge you. And not for nothing, single women will not begrudge your laments simply because you have children. That is because when we (at least my friends and I) dream about children, it is for those born from a marriage. If anything, we'd secretly admire you for what you're doing, and I would think be more sympathetic.

You are not selfish, but a very normal woman in a not so normal situation. But you sound like me--worrying about just a possible not-future too soon. Find that supportive community; be very careful with men; and trust in God. In prayer.

Sarah said...

As an adoptive mother, I find your advice preposterous. When parental rights have been terminated, then the mother is the one who is changing the diapers, nursing the fevers, cuddling, kissing and wiping the tears. Many women who give birth are not mothers, and many who do not are. (My children have a birth mother, who had the love, courage and conviction to bring them into this world and to sacrifice her own happiness for what was best for them. Thus, my children have two mothers, myself and MamaS, their birthmother.)

There are many support groups for families fostering and fostering to adopt who can give the writer guidance on how they are to be addressed by the children and other issues. I would not take advice from someone who is not an adoption professional and has little familiarity with navigating complicated relationships that emerge from adoption.

My own thoughts is that some men will be scared away by a single mother (because make no mistake, that is what the reader will be), and some won't and will admire the writer for choosing to parent these children. It speaks well to her character.

Seraphic said...

@ Sarah. I see from your link that you have just adopted two newborn babies. Congratulations! You must feel very blessed.

I assume from what you write about the grieving birth mother that she was not your married sister and that the agreement was between you and the birth mother, not between you and the state. Incidentally, I hope your financial troubles do not take the bloom off your joy. Personally I think it is outrageous that adoption is so expensive. My own city is crying out for foster parents, whom it would willingly pay to foster.

But I am not sure what part of my post you find preposterous. Is it the idea that an aunt should continue to be called an aunt, and to refer to her niece and nephew as her niece and nephew, after having been given custody of them by the court? Or is the idea that men feel nervous of single mothers not because of the children but because of the thought of the absent men and the broken relationships?

Don't forget that my reader is the SISTER of the woman whose children are being removed (or have been removed) by the court. She is thus part of the aunt's history and presumably still a part of the aunt's family. The children may have their father's name, too, as he is married to their mother. There is a prior family relationship here. And I haven't been given an indication that the parents of the children will never be allowed ever to see them. Thus, her situation is probably very unlike your own.

sciencegirl said...

But she is their aunt already, and I think that does change how she might be called (unless the kids and she want something else). When Bernie Mac adopted his three nieces/nephews, they called him "Uncle Bernie," not "Dad." I grew up knowing that if my parents died, my aunt would adopt us, and figured we would keep calling her "aunt." For an aunt to continued to be called "Aunt" instead of "Mom" takes nothing away from other adoptions. These kids have already known her as their aunt; now she will be their guardian, and if they really want to call her "Mom," okay, but they might not want to, and that shouldn't be seen as a threat to adoptive parents.

Seraphic said...

If my single-mother sister had died when her child was an infant, and the courts granted me custody, that child still would not be calling me any honorific but "Auntie", no matter what sacrifices I made for him, out of love for and respect for my sister, never mind any lingering single-mother stigma.

I would have told him about her, and shown him her photo, and told him how much we loved her and how beautiful she was, and made sure he prayed for her every night.

I would have wanted him to know everything good I could say about his mother, and if he had ever defied my authority by saying "You're not my mother" I would have said, "No, but I am your Guardian-Aunt and you are my Ward-Nephew, so you must do as I say!"

Even if he had been a teeny-weeny baby, I would have felt a loyalty to my sister that would have overcome any desire of my own to feel like, or appear to be, or assert that I am, a child's 'real' mother.

And I think my other sister and my sister-in-law (and, regarding parenthood, my husband and my brothers) would say the same. Not a single one of us would ever want to replace any of us in his or her child's affections, or take his parental title, no matter what we were called upon to do for that child.

There is a dignity already to being a child's uncle or aunt, and I can think of no greater honour or responsibility for an uncle or aunt than being asked to become a child's guardian.

Gregaria said...

I have so much respect for the original letter-writer. What a huge task, but those kids are so blessed to have you in their life.

Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick said...

What a terrific and brave and loving letter-writer! Wow.

Echoing others' comments, I think most women will be in awe of you, because of how generous you are to your niece and nephew. That would include other mothers, who will surely let you in to their circles. If you happen to live in Oklahoma (yeah, right), you can come to our mom's group!

(Actually I have friends in most major US cities, so if you are looking for mom-friends, let me know)

TRS said...

I think we must consider what happens in reality.
When courts grant custody, in the foster care system, the goal is either adoption or reunification with the parents. Legally, our young aunt will most likely adopt these children to avoid any legal disputes in the future.

Okay. As an example, my sister died when her son was 2.5 years old. My parents adopted him.
As it turned out, he called my mom, his grandma... Mom, because that was what my brother and I called her. He called my dad, his grandpa, grandpa, because that is how we referred to him. "Go show your truck to grandpa." "Ask mom if you can have ice cream."
We did not decide that. It just happened that way. Because it is adorable to call your dad grandpa when there is a grand hold in the house.
Mom will always be mom.

My point is that, you can try to control what they call you... And maybe if you're aware of how it accidentally happened in my family, you'll catch yourself if it starts going in a way you don't prefer.

But if she adopts these kids, she has every right to be referred to as mom if that is her preference.

Now, on another view of this.... As I look back, now that I'm in my 40s, I recall that I considered taking my nephew when he was about 11 or 12... Because by now my parents were quite old and in some ways, not equipped to go through the teenage years again.
I was in a different city than the rest of my family, and I could have managed getting him to school while I worked, but I had the sort of career that meant later work hours. Not home til after dinner, that sort of thing,
I was mid 20s by then, and my parents wanted me to have my youth, so they continued to raise him through high school.

Looking back, I see that I would have had a far better chance finding a husband with a kid in tow, than I do now as a single woman with no kids.
Divorced men with children seem to think that women who have never had children don't know what to do with them!
Not true, I was 15 yo when my nephew was a toddler, and I was another parent to him. Strangers thought he was mine!

Anyway, I share that to point out that the sort of man you want, won't have a problem with you raising two children.

And I think you'll have better luck at church with other moms than a single woman with no kids.... Because single adult women with no kids are often viewed as though they have three heads.

What you are doing is wonderful, and it will all work out!

TRS said...

I want to add that my nephew, now 32, calls his grandma, grandma... When he's being respectful.
And he refers to his deceased mom, as mom.
I believe he would have done this all along if we hadn't accidnetlh established the wrong pattern.... As we forgot that the tiny child wasn't thinking, " my aunt and uncle call their mom mom, but she's my grandma. "

I have remained aunt. My nephew wanted to refer to me as sister, just so he could feel more normal in his situation, and I think he did do so when I wasn't around (I was off at college)
But I always maintained Aunt... Because I didn't want to diminish my sisters existence.

Your mileage may vary.

Sarah said...

I am in my parents' will as the person to whom custody of the children would go to in case of their deaths. If they died tomorrow that would leave me in charge of six children between the ages of 5 and 17. Wow.

I think about it sometimes and how that might affect my future and I can see it affecting my future in a big way in regards to finding a spouse. It would take a strong man to willingly take on me AND six children right from the get-go.

But two children and six children are very different, so I digress.

I would not want my siblings calling me mother at all. They've called me Sarah their whole lives and it would be strange for all of us if they stopped. Or if there were any infants and THEY called me mother when they could speak and all my other siblings called me Sarah.

However, family situations and relationships are so much more complicated than I think your answer takes into account.

When I was a nanny, for example, the two year old DID call me "Mama" sometimes (even though it was cuter when she tried to say 'Sarah'-- Sah-wah) and the actual mother thought it was sweet and even referred to me as "Second Mama."

My father's family refers to his grandparents exclusively as mom and pop. Everyone does.

Anyway, families are complicated. I am sure whatever happens as far as an honorific will happen organically, and that's just the way it goes.

Sarah said...

And furthermore, I think the letter writer is probably a lot more worried about how this will affect her future in terms of marriage than she is about what the kids will end up calling her, which I very much sympathize with.

But as a few people have said, actual single mothers get married all the time. You'll have to, of course, be choosier, seeking someone particularly responsible and kind, but that's not a bad thing. :)

sciencegirl said...

Maybe she will even find a kind uncle who adopted his nieces/nephews. Stranger things have happened!

I think that one thing that could help is to tap into the local church to get some supplies for the kids and to learn about resources for them. They will all be adjusting to their new lives together, and it could help to have people bringing over some food or used kid furniture to help settle her in (if she doesn't have that already). This way she could also get introduced to some other families and maybe even other adoptive families. Every city and county has families who are taking care of nieces/nephews/grandkids, and it might also help to network with them for support and advice.

Ally said...

Thanks to ScienceGirl I am now imagining a "Brady Bunch" type situation where Auntie and her niece and nephew meet uncle and his niece and nephew, and I really want it to happen. Or at least become a Hallmark movie (that would be one of the few Hallmark movies I would watch - I think the last one I actually could stand to watch was Loving Leah and that was because it had all the intrigue of Levirate marriage and Judaism and I am a big huge nerd!)

Jeth-ka said...

Hey there, letter-writer! Your love and openness shines through in your letter and will no doubt shine through in the way you raise these kids. I'm really touched and inspired.

Apart from the fact that you will no doubt be very attractive to men who, like you, are loving and open to the movement of the Spirit, I also think that if it's God's will to one day lead you to marriage then He can manage that even with two little tackers in tow. (Say that quickly twelve times.)

Seraphic said...

Well, she asked me how to avoid, if she were given custody of her niece and nephew, the social handicaps of a single mother, and I suggested she avoid them by making it obvious she was a single guardian aunt.My solution is based in just telling the truth, which I think is rather neat. The issue here was first and foremost how not to repulse men or scandalize people.And naturally people love a plucky gal who steps in to care for her own flesh and blood. As their aunt, she can even reassure anyone who thinks it is selfish for a single woman to adopt kids who might have been adopted by a married couple.

Heather in Toronto said...

Dear Probably Guardian Auntie:

What will people at church think of you bringing a couple of little ones with you but no fellow?

Most likely they will think "oh, look at those darling little moppets."

Seriously. Kids are cute and therefore way more likely to be paid attention to than you are. I know lots of happily married families whose daddies work shifts that prevent them from attending with their families. No one makes a fuss.

If there ARE any gossipy fusspots at your church who pry into business that isn't theirs, just introduce them as your precious niece and nephew whom you have taken in on a perhaps temporary, perhaps permanent basis (or whatever the situation is), and ask them for their prayers.

Actually ask your pastor and your local blue haired ladies for their prayers anyway, because you should never underestimate what an army of gossipy church ladies can do with their prayers and any other help they can mobilize for someone who is feeling overwhelmed.

As for the dating thing, just a note to add to Seraphic's sage advice. Don't be frightened of the statistics. A man that would be dangerous to children is not the kind of man you would want to be dating anyway.

One step at a time. Love these children who are already part of your family and always will be. Take care of them if that is what ends up being decided, for however long that needs to be.

"What am I going to do and how will I adjust?" is the question for now. "Will I ever meet a man who will respect my devotion to my family?" is a question for later. "What will everyone think of me?" is a question that can be left alone since there is no actual grounds for scandal here. They are not "just" your niece and nephew, they are your cherished family members, and clarifying that you are their custodial auntie and not their mother is in no way dismissive to either you or them or your relationship with them.

Amused said...

Love and prayers to the letter writer!
I do think it is always best, and less complicated, just to be open about the way things are. If you're an aunt, you're an aunt. Honestly, I think as a kid in their situation I'd rather call such a guardian "aunt" and have it clear from the get-go that she's not mom, rather than having to sort things out as a sensitive adolescent... I definitely think it's a different situation from that of an adopting couple, both because of the surrounding family context, and because of being unmarried. Being as clear as possible will also help prevent people from judging you as immoral because you're an unmarried woman with children in tow. Of course, it would be very uncharitable for them to do that, but guess what...people are uncharitable.
Make sure you pray a lot to St. Joseph! He can find you a spouse, and be a father to the kids in the meantime!
And yes, I honestly believe there are men out there who, rather than being scared away by the kids, will be attracted to the loving generosity of the woman who accepted them into her life. And that is the kind of man who is worth having!

Sheila said...

Making friends of local moms should be no trouble at all! When moms make friends, they are concerned with whether it is easy to get together, whether you are their "type" (personality or parenting style) and whether the kids are trying to murder each other at all the playdates. No one really cares if you are married.

However, if you're still working (I assume you are?) that is a challenge because most "mom" activities are during the day. Perhaps ask at your parish for a working mother's group, or browse MeetUp. Maybe you will even find an adoptive/foster parents meetup. Nothing like finding friends who share your challenges!

Ditto for judgey people at church. I see lots of moms at church with kids and no dad. I usually assume their dad isn't Catholic, though of course it might be work. My dad is military and often wasn't with us either.

I can't tell you how the dating scene will go; it seems to me you'll weed out a lot of bad ones and save yourself the trouble, as soon as they hear you come as a package deal with two kids. But you should probably stay open to divorced-and-annulled or widowed men ..... if they are dads already, they will understand your challenges and not be upset to hear you have to go home at 8 pm to relieve the babysitter, or whatever.

I'd make sure I'd met a man's friends and family before inviting him into my home. Kind of like getting a reference. Some women seem to put less thought into the men they bring home and let move in than they would put into finding a good plumber!

And it might be wise to take a few years off dating at first, because the kids will be in a vulnerable emotional state and will need to know you are there for them unconditionally. You'll have to play it by ear and figure out what they are ready for. A husband is hypothetical, but they are your family NOW and you have to worry about them first.

I am sure things will go fine for you -- your biggest challenge may be people perpetually canonizing you when you feel you are doing what any loving aunt would do. But it IS a noble thing, all the same. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

My sister was widowed with 2 children under school age and did meet a great guy, married and now has another 2 as well. As far as I know he's been a brilliant step dad - there definitely are some out there, despite the statistical risk. They went through a short phase of wanting to call him dad, but now - early teens- have settled to calling him by his first name.
She found him inside her local church community, which was and continued to be a huge source of support. It was also a place where she was able to observe him and benefit from other people's takes on what kind of a guy he really was.
It also opened up practical possibilities and I think it's probably important to work at getting a set of back up carers in place. Prosaic but true!
Getting to know and establish long-term reciprocal friendships with other families really helped my sister, , both for general support and care for her, but also for practicalities of baby sitting for dates and so on. Takes a while to establish though and it's rare for first flush friendships at the school gate to go the distance. It's the slower ones that last.
Good luck OP!! Take care.

Maria C said...

Last night I was praying for the dear Aunt and guardian-to-be and meditating on two things, which, since she does attend Church, and therefore I'm guessing is Christian, might be interesting to ponder...

The first is that we hear Jesus talk about his Father all the time in Scripture and he is never referring to Joseph (who is called 'the husband of Mary') but rather to his Abba-daddy in heaven.

The second is that Our Lady says a big and scary 'yes' to the incarnation without the certainty of the security of a man to take care of her and to help her to raise her child. And after she does, God sends her the best husband on the planet…

I will continue to pray for you, and your lovely charges, as well as for all the readers and for the wonderful Auntie S.

Aquinas' Goose said...

To repeat what has already been said, legal custody does NOT equal legal parentage. Unless Aunt-with-Guardianship actually legally adopts these children, and Both parents wave all their legal parental rights, these children can be taken away from her and given back to their biological parents at ANY POINT where the parents can prove they have met whatever standards or conditions CSS have declared they must meet to regain custody of their children. I have seen it happen (and nothing, nothing is more painful for the children and the guardian). Until she gets that piece of paper declaring her their mother (as petty and as--in some ways--arbitrary as that may sound) this aunt will not be these children's mother, and she is potentially setting herself (and the children) up for heartbreak if she starts thinking that she it without that paper.

Also, I think she should give her church community a little credit: her community would be shocked to have her with children calling her "mom" when she a) hasn't been pregnant and b) hasn't talked about adoption. So, really, the only people this woman needs to worry about are completely strangers, who won't bat an eye in public if the children refer to her as "aunt" and the potential boyfriend who she'll need to be honest with ("these are my niece and nephew and I have custody of them until their parents are fit to receive them back into their care" or, post adoption, "these are my niece and nephew who I adopted").

Cordi said...

To Soon-to-Be-Single-Mom: God bless you! What a genuine act of love! You have my admiration. And I am willing to bet that there are plenty of good men who would be attracted to you because of, not in spite of, your big-heartedness. Best of luck!

possible-soon-to-be-mom said...

This is the "soon to be single mom" posting here.
Thank you so much for all the prayers, encouragement and advice! It's immensely helpful to hear everyone's thoughts about this issue.
Just for the record, I use the word "mom" in this case simply to refer to what my day to day "function" will be; I will be performing a mothering role, as an aunt. Since my sister still will visit, it certainly doesn't make sense for the babies to call me mom.
I also want to give them the ability to recognize (and grieve) the loss of their mother as their primary caretaker. I want them to know it's okay and it doesn't hurt my feelings if they wish things were different or wish they were with their mom.
Because the fact is that a tragedy has occurred in their mother's loss of custody.
It is foreseeable that there will be times when the kids are older (and they don't feel like answering prying questions or explaining why they live with their aunt if their mother is still alive) and they just refer to me as mom in front of someone or say I'm their mom to avoid appearing different from their peers. We'll deal with that issue if and when it happens.

My main concern was that I would attract people who were dangerous for kids just because I would have kids near me - people I haven't worried much about because I haven't had little ones in my custody. And I wondered how to balance the issue of the kids in my custody being my niece and nephew (which indicates that something went wrong with their parents at some point in the past) without discussing the details or incurring too much curiosity.
Also, I wondered if men would ever look past the simple presence of children to even find out if they were my niece and nephew or my children.
It's been so good to catch a glimpse of how helpful and openhearted fellow mothers and mother-ers are! Thanks so much!