Motherhood transcends culture

Blog by LSSNCA guest blogger, Jaclyn Goddette

The word for “mother,” or “mom,” is similar across most major languages. There’s madre in Spanish, maman in Persian, mama in Swahli, mẹ in Vietnamese, and so on. Linguists explain that mom and its equivalents are the easiest sounds to produce, and therefore they become some of the first things babies babble. It’s a rare universality that cuts through the extreme diversity of humankind.

For Maggie, fostering through LSSNCA’s Unaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM) program has also shown her how motherhood transcends culture.

In 2019, Maggie, her husband, and their three children—an 8-year-old boy, a six-year-old boy, and a three-year old girl—welcomed Zaara into their Maryland home. Zaara, a refugee from Ethiopia, was 16. The placement was “a perfect fit.” And last December, when LSSNCA identified a 17-year-old refugee from Honduras, Maggie’s family once again opened their hearts. Maria arrived three days before Christmas.

One of the few organizations that resettles URMs, LSS works with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to place youth with local foster parents like Maggie. URMs are individuals under 18 seeking refuge from war, persecution, violence, or other dangerous situations in the United States without a parent or legal guardian.

For Maggie and her husband, James, fostering was something they had always imagined. “On our second date, we talked about how it was important to both of us,” says Maggie. The couple earned their foster care license just as the Trump administration was dramatically scaling back immigration policy. It took two years for Maggie and James to welcome a foster child into the family.

But Maggie has created a loving home that makes up for lost time. The family spends quality time hiking, eating dinner together, and enjoying weekly movie nights. They’ve been able to keep these routines despite the pandemic, during which Maria joined the family. The full house has actually been a blessing this past year. “The kids have each other,” says Maggie. “We have our own little school or social club with the five of them being able to play together.”

In fact, Zaara told Maggie that the younger children helped her adjust to her foster family. Seeing three happy, healthy children made Zaara feel safe with Maggie and James. It also gave Zaara someone with which to relate. When Zaara first arrived, she did not speak English; neither did Maggie’s youngest, who was one year old at the time. “The two of them are so bonded now,” she says. “They really found their way.” 

Maggie considers it “an incredible gift” to raise her three younger children alongside Zaara and Maria. Having family members who speak different languages, practice different faiths, and come from different backgrounds has given the younger children a broader world view and deepened their compassion. Now that Zaara is part of the family, they’ve added Eid to their holiday observances.

Maggie’s younger children have also played a big part in how she understands her role as a foster mother. She’s had the opportunity to speak to both Zaara and Maria’s biological mothers, and they expressed deep gratitude to Maggie for caring for their daughters. Those conversations left Maggie with an impression of what it means for a woman to entrust you with her child. It’s a privilege.

“I flip it around and think, ‘what if something happened and I couldn’t care for my kids?’ How grateful I’d feel to someone who was doing that.”

“I think about woman coming together to care for children and the next generation a lot,” says Maggie, reflecting on previous Mother’s Days and, most recently, Women’s History Month. “I hope I play a role in that and I’m grateful for the opportunity to do it.”

Maggie and other foster moms do play a role. We’re grateful for them—this Mother’s Day and every day.

*Zaara and Maria’s names have been changed at their own discretion.

LSSNCA is happy to serve the DMV with Unaccompanied Refugee Minor foster care programming. Interested in fostering a URM youth? Fill out our inquiry form online. We are now licensed to train foster parents in Virginia. If you are interested in joining for an orientation on May 24 you can RSVP here. To learn more watch our Lunch & Learn conversation with a URM Foster Mom.

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