You Don't Have to Have Kids to Be a Great Mother

For Marcy, 38, of Dallas, TX, the chance to adopt a rescue pet was a ray of hope after a medical condition forced her to undergo a full hysterectomy. She admits that at first she was angry, and later sad, that biological children were no longer a possibility for her. Her life changed when she saw a picture on an email listserv from a pet rescue organization.

"I found I had an instant connection with her and had the room both in my heart and in my home," Marcy says. "Miss Daisy became my furry child in every sense of the word as she filled my home with unconditional love." She soon found herself changing her own routine to accommodate her pet.

"I would carefully make arrangements for vet appointments, baths, trips to PetSmart, the dog park, and even playdates."

Much like any other doting mommy, Marcy celebrates milestones with her faithful companion. "On the anniversary of our first year together, I threw a birthday party with a doggy cake and doggy cupcakes as take home gifts for attendees."

As a longtime sufferer of migraine headaches, Marcy initially worried about a dog causing trouble when she was ill. In fact, what happened was just the opposite. "Miss Daisy knows when I am not well and stays close, usually standing over me on the bed with a paw on my shoulder. Somehow, I had been saved in return for saving this little girl from impending doom in a kill shelter."

The stigma of a woman pushing 40 who dotes on her pet hasn't disappeared. But unlike that stereotypical image of the lonely, crazy cat lady, women like Marcy show that being dealt a bad hand doesn't mean you have to fold.

For some, bonds with younger family members can offer more rewards than a "World's Coolest Aunt" card. At one point in their lives, Anita's nieces felt closer to her than to their own parents.

"When the girls' parents divorced they looked to me for guidance. I was very careful to stay neutral in that situation," Anita says. "But I always told them they could tell me anything, even stuff they couldn't tell their parents. They knew that if it was something serious, that I would have to tell their parents, but amazingly, they were still comfortable talking to me." When one of the girls confided in her aunt about a situation involving first-time sex and worries over an STD, Anita described it as "the highest compliment."

For me, that moment came during a Monday after-school meeting with my troop. I had passed around index cards and asked the girls to write a positive quality for each of the other girls in the troop. That way, each scout would get to hear to six different positive reinforcements from the other members.

When the girls started reading aloud the index cards they had written about me, it took all my willpower to keep the tears in my eyes from spilling down my cheeks.

What did I get out of being a Girl Scout leader? The chance to experience parenthood, when I didn't think that would ever be possible. The confidence-building that comes only through firsthand experience. The perspective on the world through a child's eyes that I would use in every aspect of my own life from there on out.

Anita says that being a surrogate to her nieces also gave her the confidence to entertain the notion that she could actually be a good parent.

"I always thought I'd be bad at parenting," she says. "I was a tomboy growing up, not at all maternal. I don't really cook. I got to the point where I thought—I could be good at this. I was very patient and even-keeled with them. I enjoyed being maternal with them."

When the twins were born, I took what I hope will be a temporary leave of absence from my Girl Scout leader duties. But my son and daughter aren't a replacement for "my girls." Troop #2301 showed me that whether or not I had babies, I was already a mother.

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Ronnie Koenig is a freelance writer based New York City. She the author of the forthcoming book Am I Your Mother? A Memoir of Love, Girl Scouts and Figuring This Whole Baby Thing Out.

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