I once had a professor who opened a class on intergenerational family relationships by saying, "We come to parent in many different ways."
She wasn't a mother herself, but she talked fluently and reasonably and emotionally about how she'd parented many loved ones. It was in the commitment and full-hearted care, we examined as a class, that we build family relationships in isolation and sprawl, over miles and years.
I thought of that this week when I read about the family that adopted a teen boy who fled his home out of fear of rejection, violence and his life after telling his parents he is gay.
After sharing the truth of his sexuality, the teen boy became ill and was ignored by his family. Desperate and delirious, he reached out to a friend, threatening suicide. But the friend's mother stepped in, immediately going to pick up the teen boy, take care of him and take him in.
What was an immediate response has become a loving home for that teen boy, and the woman who came to his rescue has become one of his adoptive parents. She and her husband's description of his character and kindness sound like the parents of a newborn as they flip through 5,000 pictures on their phone of the wonder who know inhabits their hearts.
His biological family badgers them on Facebook, spouts slurs and alleges that the story, featured in newspapers, is full of lies. This is not a fairytale.
It is real life, though — hard and heartbreaking and fearful, full of risks and surprising kindnesses and unconditional acceptance. It is the realest kind of parenting — helping a sick child get well, pulling a scared kid out of a bad situation, making a bed, making a life, promising to love no matter how he came into your home or heart or family.
It made me wonder who could answer this call to parent. If your teen had a friend in this much need, would you have the resources, emotionally and financially and otherwise, to parent another child? And what if you didn't have a partner to talk it through or help clear out a space in the basement, to fend off the hateful comments protectively and with grace or to whisper, "Yes, this is absolutely the right thing to do" in the middle of the night? Could you, would you then?
We come to parent in many different ways, with or without partners, with or without shared DNA, with or without warning. Could you be the single mom who parents the way this married mom did?