And a few states away, Jessica Stepleton Stern was one of those children, living separated from her seven siblings and father. After her mother died when she was 10, Jessica and two of her sisters lived with a foster family for a year. While three of her youngest siblings lived with their aunt and uncle, two additional siblings lived a town away with another foster family.
In honor of Mother’s Day, Stern was published in Richmond Mom, “Mothering Beyond DNA: A Mother’s Day Tribute From a Former Foster Child.”
Richmondmom.com is the go-to source for families in the Richmond and surrounding areas providing resources to help locals discover family-friendly Richmond, Virginia.
Below is her article, displaying her motivation in creating a new innovative technology to improve the foster care experience.
Mothering Beyond DNA: A Mother’s Day Tribute From a Former Foster Child
by Jessica Stern
Mother’s Day is fast approaching and mothers everywhere are top of mind, honored for their unconditional love and for the countless hours they invest ensuring their offspring become productive members of society.
Generally speaking, mothers teach their children how to start every day off on a positive note beginning with the practice of good hygiene and a hearty breakfast. They teach them how to read, write, and clean their rooms. After all, “cleanliness is next to Godliness,” and we cannot underestimate good ‘ol fashioned morals and values like this that have been passed down from generation to generation.
It’s safe to say, that mothers make unparalleled contributions to society and have an immeasurable social impact.
So what happens to the children who don’t have mothers?
Great question. May also happens to be National Foster Care month, hardly a coincidence if you ask me.
My mother died of breast cancer when I was 10-years old. Even though many life lessons were successfully instilled by the time she passed, there was an enormous amount of mothering that still needed to be done. While my father was a loving man, we were living in poverty. A week after my mother’s funeral, I moved in with a foster family until my father was able to come up with a plan to move forward.
My foster parents were lovely, but not until adulthood did I fully comprehend their incredible role. My foster mother woke us up every morning with, “Rise and shine, it’s going to be a great day,” as she routinely opened the blinds to our room. She seemed to have rays of optimism beaming out of her ears. I found it somewhat annoying at the time. “What is so great about this particular day?” I thought more than once.
I recently asked my foster mother how she remained positive in the middle of such a depressing situation; she and her husband took on three girls who were mourning the death of their mother and experiencing the devastating loss of a father and five other siblings.
She replied, “What other choice was there? I had to keep the train moving. There was simply no other way to get you through the day.”
That’s what moms do.
I will never forget when my foster mother gave me my first training bra. It was terrifically embarrassing. The garment was a tank top with a little budding pink flower in the center.
“Is this a joke?” I thought. And then I may or may not have shoved that tiny tank top into my backpack while waiting for the school bus.
I gave that woman plenty of frustrations, yet she remained consistent. As it turns out, that was just what I needed, consistency – and the training bra.
My adoring aunt was another constant influence growing up, even though I never lived with her. A few years ago, I asked if she ever stopped to mourn the loss of her only sister, my darling mother.
She responded, “I didn’t have time to think about it. My only thoughts were of you children. So I focused on my mission to keep you safe and loved.” Spoken like a fierce leader.
After my father marginally managed to get back on his feet, I moved far away to start life all over. Dad wanted to rebuild in Florida’s paradise and took four of us kids with him, while the youngest four children stayed with our aunt in the Midwest. Suffice it to say, paradise was overrated, but there was plenty of sunshine.
From age 11 on, I can barely count the local mothers who seemed to appear out of thin air to lend a helping hand, not by taking the place of my mother, but rather by filling in at all the right moments. It was almost as if they were passing along an invisible baton with instructions rolled up tightly on the inside.
I did not share their DNA, but they knew I needed guidance. They knew I needed support. They knew I needed a mother.
Whether it was softball or cheerleading camp, my friend’s mothers encouraged me like I was their own. They would offer a compliment or a “job well done!” These women knew my story and felt compelled to lend a hand any way they could.
When I needed school clothes, I got them. When I needed a small loan to buy a $30 dress from the Goodwill, my friend’s mother loaned me the money. It was a horrific gold and black dress, meant to dazzle at the eighth-grade dance, and to say it was a fashion disaster is an understatement. This woman barely had enough money to feed her own children, but she allowed me to pay off my dream dress $5 at a time.
When the principal threatened to take away my school lunch, a teacher, who happened to be a mother, handled the embarrassing situation swiftly. She advocated for me when I could not do it myself, and the principal later apologized to me for humiliating me in front of my classmates.
When I was chosen for the homecoming court, a friend’s mother made sure I had a fabulous dress and make-up. I felt so important that day. It’s too bad they did not take a second glance at my hair-do, but this lesson reinforces the fact that you can’t have it all—at the same time.
The mothers of my friends stood in the stands that evening, clapping and cheering when the announcer called my name.
When my father died. I was responsible for signing papers to take him off life support. I’ll never forget walking into that hospital. There stood a row of mothers from my high school waiting to support me through one of the most difficult decisions of my life.
To this day, I feel immense gratitude.
Three decades later, I celebrate all of these beautiful mothers who took time out of their already busy lives to support me. After all, each and every act of kindness has shaped how I operate in the world. This is the power of motherhood. We have the capacity to influence beyond DNA, outside of the walls in our home, and into the community where we are needed perhaps the most.
Today, I am the mother of Samuel, and co-founder of Connect Our Kids, a non-profit organization using intelligent software to find permanent families for foster children.
There are over 400,000 kids in the American foster care system. They need mothers: consistent, patient, honest, fiercely loyal advocates, and unconditionally loving mothers.
With love and support, every child has the capability to reach their full potential, and it is my goal to connect every child in need to a loving mother (and father) to help them achieve their value in our society.