HELLO my name i̶s̶ isn’t Mom

The doorbell rang. I took a deep breath before my husband and I answered it together. We opened it to a brown-eyed, speckled, ten-year-old boy in a Star Wars t-shirt. Next to him was his foster mom who said “Isaac, these are my friends, Brandon and Janelle. They’re going to watch you tonight while I’m at the banquet.”

kcmb hello my name isn't momThat’s how we would first meet our future son: under the guise of babysitters. This is a common practice used to protect the children in foster-to-adopt situations from further pain should the arrangement not work out. We got to know and grow closer to him as the “babysitters” Brandon and Janelle a few more times before eventually agreeing to be his foster-to-adopt family.

Deciding to adopt was extremely difficult for me as I had never wanted to be a mom. I just didn’t think I was the “mom” type. Moms were more nurturing, more thoughtful, and moms certainly didn’t eat cereal for dinner on a regular basis. But I agreed to be a mom with many hesitations, feeling called to this decision.

So, I was pretty taken aback at my own disappointment when our son first came to live with us and didn’t immediately call me mom. I figured there would be some magical switch that would flip in his head changing me from babysitter to mother, from “Janelle” to “mom.” After all, with parental rights terminated, I was the only active mother in his life at the time.

But the switch didn’t flip.

Perhaps as he settled in and got to know me better, maybe then he would call me mom. And it didn’t have to be “mom.” We gave him multiple options – mom and dad, ma and pa, mama and papa …

So I waited and hoped for that switch to flip. How long could it take? A few months, perhaps? But a few months came, and I was still Janelle. “I bet once we adopt him!” I thought, but that didn’t make a difference, either. It’s been almost two years since he first moved in, and while he’ll tell his friends that I’m “his mom,” he still addresses me as Janelle.

Our family therapist has assured us that despite not having the titles, Isaac thinks  of us as his mom and dad – yet selfishly, I just really want him to call me mom. My heart would love nothing more than to have him walk through the door one day and say, “hey, mom! I’m home!” That seems normal. That seems like what you do in a family. When your child calls you by your first name, you not only question what other people think, but you occasionally doubt your own role as a mom, as well. Am I not doing something right? Am I not “mom” enough? Will I ever be “mom” enough? Why doesn’t he want to call me mom? I hear other moms complain when their toddlers make the switch from “mommy” to “mom,” and everything inside me just wants to shout, “don’t you know how lucky you are?! Your child calls you mom!!”

But as frustrating as it is, it doesn’t matter what I think or what I want. This isn’t about me. This is about Isaac and what’s comfortable to him. He’s the one who has to sort out all of the “moms” and “dads” that have been there for him over the past twelve years. I have absolutely no clue how difficult that might be. So, if the easiest way to do that is to call his current mom by her first name, then so be it.

I’m still the one who gets to wake him up every morning with, “who’s the best son in the world?!” I’m the one who washes his clothes, takes him to the dentist, and fights him to wear his coat when it’s cold. I’m the one who plays basketball with him in the driveway and has tickle fights on the couch. It was my hand that he held in the emergency room as the tears trickled down his cheek. These hands also pack his lunch, give him allowance, and take away his video games when he’s in trouble. I sing with him in the car as we play our favorite songs. I’m the one who gets to hold him every night, saying “I love you, and I’ll see you in the morning.” And, should the Lord allow, I’ll be the one who gets to watch him grow up, to graduate from school, to fall in love, and you’d better believe I’ll be on the floor when they call for the mother/son dance at his wedding.

I may not be the most mom-like person in the world, but I’m doing the best that I can – and to me, that means forgetting what I want to be called in order to be the mom that he needs. I may never hear “mom” from his lips, so I’ll just need to learn to listen to his heart; as sure as it beats, it lets me know that he’s my son and I’m his mom, and that’s how it will forever be.

Janelle never imagined herself to be a mom, but found herself being just that when their (at the time, 10-year-old) son, Isaac, moved into their home and hearts in May, 2012. She and her husband were thrilled to adopt him just seven months later, and she loves connecting with other parents trying to navigate the foster-to-adoption process. She enjoys working in Human Resources at her church and has a part-time gig at a bank in Lawrence as the best (and only) shoe shiner in town! She’s passionate about Jesus, board games, traveling the world, and KU basketball - to varying degrees - and if she were ever to go to a party where colors were invited, Janelle would want to talk to orange the most.


  1. A simply beautiful post Janelle. That second to last paragraph had me in tears. You are an amazing mom to Isaac! –E

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Erin! I’m trying. It helps to be in the company of other good moms like you!

  2. Beautiful! I, too, was in tears. My middle school students think something is wrong with me as I sit at my desk, crying, while they work:) Keep up the amazing job, Mom!

    • Thanks, Cali! If your students are anything like I was in middle school, they’re probably spending spending so much time freaking out about what is wrong with themselves that they don’t even notice your tears.

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