The Measure of a Mom

Note from the Editor:  This week we are honored to welcome back Michele Cushatt as our guest blogger.  Michele is a well-known author, speaker, and coach— who is also a wife and mom of six!  If you haven’t heard her incredible and inspiring story, check out her Ziglar Family interview here. 


How many children do you have?

It’s one of the first questions I’m asked, whether speaking at a conference or paying for groceries. It’s an expected question, a natural one.

But I never know how to answer it.

I have six children — ages 26, 24, 21, 11, 11, 11 — but only one of them called me “Mom” from birth. Only one shares my genetics: brown eyes and mischievous smile. Only one did I nurse and swaddle and witness his first smile.

The other five came to me in unexpected ways. Two from a second relationship, when they were just 5 and 6 years old. That relationship eventually became the marriage I treasure today, over 18 years strong. At times they’ve called me Mom, but the biology is different.


Does it count?


And what about the youngest three? They’ve been in our home for not-quite seven years. They call me “Mom” daily, the former “Aunt” reference fading. Still, they know my perch in the family tree is not as “birth mom.” Another woman carries that title.

So, on Mother’s Day Sunday, when my pastor asked the moms of four or more children to stand, I didn’t know what to do.

“Should I stand up?” I grabbed my husband’s wrist, whispered in his ear.

“What?” He didn’t understand my question.

“Should I stand up? Do I count all six of our kids or just one?”

He shrugged. I waited, needing his validation.

“Sure, go ahead. You’re their mom.”

So I stood up, along with a couple dozen other moms. But then, doubt. Loads of it. Did the pastor require proof? Birth certificates? Court orders? Blood tests? Baby books and snippets of hair?

If so, I’d have to confess my fraudulence to a packed room of perfectly traditional parents.

Ugh. Anything but that.

This is my very real struggle. One I share with scores of silent women (and men, for that matter). At times I wonder if it’s just me and my skewed perception. But then a dear friend, who didn’t mean to offend, asked me later:

“Did you stand up at church on Sunday? How many kids did you say you have?”

Ouch. Exactly. Her question confirmed my fear.

My sense of unworthiness isn’t insecurity. It’s cultural perception of what it takes to be a “real” mom. I may love my six children as if I’d given birth to each one, but without a certificate or blood test, I don’t measure up.

There are many of us “un-moms” out there. The step-mom. Foster mom. Guardian mom. Kinship mom. Mentor mom. Even, at times, the adoptive mom. Regardless of the dinners made, homework assignments completed, conversations shared, and “I love you’s” given, she’s discounted as less than ideal. Less than enough.

It isn’t right. Maybe not intentional. But it’s real.

So what do we do?

At the least, it warrants a conversation. Even better, a commitment to see and actively support the thousands of men and women who fill gaps they didn’t create and love and lead children they didn’t birth. What they’re doing matters, and it does, indeed, count.

But the first step begins with the un-mom herself. The one who doubts her significance and wrestles with her role.

Yes, you.

[And me.]

So you didn’t wear maternity clothes and eat tacos at two in the morning. So you didn’t groan for twenty-one hours of labor until the doctor dropped a squalling child in your arms.

So what.

You said “I do” and opened your arms to children you didn’t birth. You said, “Yes,” and welcomed a troubled child with nowhere else to go. You signed papers and set up extra bedrooms and got that extra job.

A birth certificate isn’t the measure of a mom; what you do with the gift you’ve been given is.

Don’t wait for the world’s validation. God has given you a sacred responsibility. For whatever reason, He brought you—YOU—a child needing your love.

Do it well. Stand up and take your place as a lover and molder of children.

You are a mother.

Do you know a non-traditional mom, someone who is investing in a child she didn’t birth? Tell us about her. Then send her this post. You’ll make her day. 



  1. Heather Williams May 12, 2018 at 8:50 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. You are indeed blessed and a blessing. I have similar feelings as all of my sons friends call me Mom. I feel like a mom to 12 teenage boys (they are his soccer team mates) who spend weekends at our house. I give them advise, mentor and counsel them. I feed them and even do laundry sometimes. I feel their pain when they hurt ad joy when they are happy. I did not give birth but opened my heart and home to them. And to them, I feel like their mother. My life has changed in the last few months and my family and I have to move. Telling these boys was one of the most difficult things I had to do. They all cried and cried and cried. One even said he feels as if part of his family is leaving. How could I not be their mother? Blessings on you and your family.

  2. Edward Frank Flores May 13, 2018 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    Thank you for your insight as to what really makes a mother a mom who loves beyond genetic markers, biological origins, and birth certificates as well as birtth defects. We are all defective by the Fall of Adam and Eve. Praise, glory, and honor to Father God for His incomparable gift of love in Jesus Christ’s sacrificial love at Calvary to bring us into the highest of love relationships with Christ.

    Keep writing and telling your story. It is worth hearing and repeating every day until we do not forget and it becomes second nature in a heart cleansed, molded, and made mature through the power of the Holy Spirit’s work in us and wth us.

  3. Dale May 13, 2018 at 3:12 pm - Reply

    I know the feeling. I have been a foster dad for over 20 yrs. And I get the same response from just about everyone. Even my own family. “You’re not a real dad” “ You haven’t raised any children of your own” “ they aren’t your real children “. People believe if they are not you biological children they don’t count. The sad thing is I can take it unfortunately the children hear the words others say and start to believe they are worth loving.

  4. Janis May 10, 2019 at 1:49 am - Reply

    I adopted my son at 4 months. Unfortunately I was severely depressed for a long time when he was five. I was advised to leave my marriage and child behind. I never forgot him though and fought to maintain our relationship. Today he is forty-five and in the process of finding his biological family – I have never felt closer to him. I actually never” left him behind”- he was always in my heart. When I was in therapy for years he was always #1 to me. Never give up.

    • Jen May 10, 2019 at 10:03 am - Reply

      Thank you for sharing, Janis. This is inspiring, I’m sure, to those who’ve experienced similar, and heart-warming to all of us! Thanks again!

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