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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

A broader definition of the word ‘mother’

Published: November 13, 2009
Section: News

Marguerite Bouvard, author of Mothers in All But Name, and Dr. Stephanie Wasserman, a foster parent and Professor of Psychology at Merrimack College, spoke Tuesday in Liberman Miller Lecture Hall about the role non birth mothers can play in a child’s life.

Bouvard’s book, based on several interviews that she conducted, deals with the issue of mothers who did not give birth to their children, and their experiences raising children.

Bouvard, who raised her sister’s daughter for reasons she did not specify, explained that the term mother can apply to women, biologically related or not, who lovingly raise a child.

“For millennia, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, and strangers have taken on the responsibility of mothering, and we don’t recognize them for some reason,” Bouvard said.

She also discussed the difference between kinship mothering, where a woman related to the child takes on the role of the mother, and mothering where a woman not biologically related cares for the child.

“There’s a whole area that we don’t know where friends step in in times of crisis and families are made out of love, not biology,” she said.

An open supporter of gay marriage, Bouvard said that “we have a narrow view of mothering and we need to open up,” and called gay marriages “wonderful,” explaining that throughout history ten percent of people have been, and are, homosexuals. Explaining the challenges she faced researching her book, Bouvard commented that while there was some information on grandmothers who took the role of a mother, there was no information available on aunts, friends, and strangers who accepted the role of a mother.

In order to account for this lack of research, Bouvard was led to conduct several in -depth interviews with many of the mothers in her book.

Speaking about the difficulties she faced when choosing between her sister and her niece in court, Bouvard made clear that she considers her niece her daughter regardless of what others say.

“She is my daughter, but nobody gives the recognition of our society,” Bouvard said. “There are women that have children [who] are not mothers and there are women [who] do not have children who are excellent mothers.”

Referring to one of her foster children, Wasserman at one point called the child her baby, then said, “it’s hard–the terminology– the language, because it’s just not there,” she said.

Wasserman researched the foster care system before writing a chapter of Bouvard’s book, she focused on the powerful women she has met as well as the problems with the foster care system. The foster care system is composed of two types of foster parents, according to Wasserman. There are those who were part of a loving and nuclear family growing up and those who are “able to overcome the pains they felt [growing up].”

“I do not want to idolize the foster care system, [but] within the system, are some powerful women who change the lives of young people,” Wasserman said.

Wasserman said she was proud to be able to tell people about her experiences and the truth about foster parents.

“It’s the fulfillment of a dream come true,” Wasserman said in an interview following the event.

“Children need someone to love them and it doesn’t matter who it is,” Bouvard said.