Mother’s Day is fast approaching and many are scrambling to make plans to honor our moms with gifts, flowers and dinner plans. Relationships with our mothers are often loving, but can be very complicated. The rise of television created the trope of flawless women who effortlessly cared for home and family and put everyone’s needs before her own. But the reality of parenthood is much more difficult than this, because children idealize their parents who are only human and make the same mistakes we all do. This May, NYXT celebrates mothers and mother figures and all the challenges that face them in a tribute to unconventional motherhood.
Immigrating from a Latin-American country as a child, Dulce never seriously believed she would be able to pursue higher education because of her undocumented status that bars her from receiving federal financial aid. While living in New York and raising children of her own after a string of low-wage jobs that severely limited her economic mobility, Dulce realized the opportunities that lie in DACA, also known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, as she qualified for educational opportunities, work permits and temporary status afforded to young undocumented students. Forging a close relationship with her children allowed Dulce to see options that were available as she became highly involved in their academic lives. As she tells The Youth Channel, by earning her GED and going to college, she gained confidence as a person that inspired her to become an advocate for other undocumented people and an even better parent.
Clemmie Greenlee also became an advocate for her community after losing her son, an innocent victim of gang violence. In memory of her only child, she kept a promise she made to him the last time she saw him alive to protect the people he cared for most. As she tells Open Society Foundations, rather than internalizing anger and sadness, she turned her grief into positivity by becoming a mentor for young people in need of guidance to help them break away from gang ties. Making countless trips to prisons to visit the youth and helping them to re-enroll in school, Clemmie keeps the spirit of her son alive and repents for her own past mistakes as she becomes the leader she wish she had had. More criminal justice advocates like Clemmie are necessary to encourage young lives away from the cycles of violence that leave many impoverished or dead.
The majority of men and women in jail are parents and mass incarceration sees the destruction of communities and families, primarily within communities of color. The Correctional Association of New York advocated for extending timelines for parental rights termination in the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), which helps incarcerated parents keep their parental rights, instead of families being destroyed by a carceral system. The criminal justice system imposes many hurdles that prevent incarcerated parents from retaining custody, leaving children in limbo and affecting their emotional development. As Sharmaine Smith, a member of the Coalition for Women Prisoners and a former inmate states, losing children on top of losing freedom makes for an unbearable life. Maintaining relationships is essential for prisoners’ well being, and the Extended Discretion Law allows for incarcerated parents to still have a place in their children’s lives.
But many surrogate mothers are stepping up to take the place of parents in times of need. Through Children’s Aid, many women have become foster mothers, especially for teenagers, who need extra guidance as they are acutely aware of their uncertain circumstances. For the greater good of their emotional and social development, these foster mothers are there to be the families children were deprived of through no fault of their own, offering increased opportunities and a chance at a stable life. Being a teenager is difficult enough, but without parental figures to look up to and help us figure out who we are, transitioning into adulthood is arduous, continuing a cycle of turbulence. Being a foster mother helps to anchor children and provide them with the love and acceptance humans need. Learn more about becoming a foster parent.
There are endless opportunities to thank and support a mother this Mother’s Day. You can:
- donate to support breast cancer research with Breast Cancer Research Foundation
- send postcards to support mothers in prison with Opportunity Agenda
- bond over books with the mom in your life at Strand Bookstore
- make a contribution through Make-A-Wish to brighten the life of a critically-ill child and their family
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