Family situations change with rapidity these days. As I was growing up in a small southern Minnesota town in the 70s, I remember the first time I ever encountered anyone whose parents had divorced. I was ten years old and close to flabbergasted at the thought of living in a blended family as my new classmates, Karen and Denise did. The two girls lived in the same house, but they had different last names. They each had their own mom and dad who didn’t both live with them and now they also had step-parents.
Step-parents. I’ve never had to introduce someone to my step-parent. My own parents will soon celebrate 55 years of marriage. But Karen M. had to introduce her 4th grade teacher to her new mom at parent-teacher conferences.
The first part was straight forward. “Hello Mrs. Zimmerman, this is my step-mom, Mrs. Martin.” But then did Karen turn to her step-mom and say, “Step-mom, this is…” or did she call her something else? Mrs. Martin? Jan?
Having a formal modifier, step- or half- or birth-, to describe the nature of relationship that exists between two people seems…distancing.
Several years ago my husband and I served as sponsors to a couple who wanted to join our church. It was a random match of volunteer sponsors, which we were, with new members, who turned out to be Sue and Lisa. We stood up with the couple as they were blessed and accepted into our church. Eventually, Sue and Lisa began a family together.
I never asked, but I did wonder if their children called them both Mom. Each woman, having given birth, was now a mom with the addition of first a daughter and then a son into their family. But wouldn’t that get a little confusing as the children grew old enough to talk? “Hey Mom!...No, I mean the Other Mom.” I don’t think calling them Mom-Sue and Mom-Lisa would be necessarily comfortable to the kids as they entered into school and their friends would overhear.
Calling someone a second mom can be an affirming thing as in the case of my 21 year old’s best friend. Emily refers to me as her second mom and I like it. No one’s nose is out of joint because the types of relationships are clearly defined. Emily’s mom is her Mom and has no fear of being unseated. I am Em’s second mom by agreement and welcome the opportunity to extend a little maternal love on a dear young woman.
Now I have a new situation. The daughter I placed with another family through a closed adoption in 1985 sought me out and, with my previously granted permission to the adoption agency, found me. Now Jenny has two moms. Of course her adoptive mom is called Mom as it should be. But Jen and I have created a new term for me.
Jennifer calls me Suma. We didn’t want there to be distance between us by calling me birth-mom and we didn’t want to imply a diminished relationship by having to describe her Mom as her adoptive-mom. She didn’t want to call me by my first name because our relationship is closer than that. So a special name emerged so recognize my new position in her life.
What’s wonderful is that it can apply to all of the situations described above. Karen Martin could turn to her step-mom and say, “Suma, I’d like you to meet my teacher, Mrs. Zimmerman.” Lisa, who gave birth to the eldest of her children can be called Mom by that child and Suma by her younger child. Emily can affectionately refer to me as Suma without concern of hurting her mom’s feelings.
And Jenny can introduce me to her friends and family with, “Grandma, Jessie, I’d like you to meet my suma, Susan.”
Are you a Suma? Do you know one or have a suma in your life? Share this affirming name with her and see what she says.