I wouldn't trade a moment. Not one. There is something magical and life-changing about loving a child.
Don't have kids? No fear, it doesn't even have to be your own child that you love. There are lots of ways to love a child. Families are made in so many ways.
In my novel, When Chicks Hatch, infertility is an issue for some of my characters. It's something I experienced in my own way for a time.
I was never supposed to have children, or so the doctors claimed. My body was too effected by endometriosis to sustain a life within it.
Wherever you are at, whatever your situation, find a child to love. They just make everything better.
Here are ten suggestions:
If you have read any of my previous posts, you have probably heard me mention my little cousin (who isn't so little now at 22). Shayla was the first child I ever loved with a sense of ownership. She was born right around the time that I was first dreaming about being a mommy. Since I was far too young to be one, I sort of claimed her as my own. She was like my little doll, my tag along. At first she called me Heffer. She couldn't say my name. Later I became Momma Her and finally I became friend.
Don't discount your little family members. They are great training ground for motherhood and a perfect opportunity to practice love.
When I was 18, a cousin on my father's side needed a home. He was in a very bad situation and needed somewhere safe to heal and grow. He came to live with my mom and I. As old as I was, he didn't feel like a little brother. He felt like my child. I helped him pick out his clothes, nagged him about bathing and brushing his teeth, helped with homework, drove him to school (when he didn't ride the bus), advocated for him to his teachers, took explicit notes about everything he said about his life before us, and met the bus after his school day ready to give him a snack and help with homework. I wasn't his parent, but in so many ways I felt like one.
This arrangement didn't last forever. Eventually the state of Tennessee made him come back and placed him in foster care while his parents did back flips to regain visitation and eventual custody.
I was just a stopping point in his life, but I believe it made a difference. I hope it did.
When my husband and I were engaged, I had an opportunity to be a nanny for a couple at our church. They had two kids when I started and, before long, she became pregnant with their third.
After I got married, serving this family was sometimes very hard. I was trying to get pregnant and couldn't while their family was growing. I was jealous of them and fulfilled by them at the same time. I loved those kids. I mean, I really did.
The oldest was sarcastic and witty and thought he was just "the man". He was independent but clever and cool to have around. He must have been at school or out playing when the picture above was taken. His little sister was a pip. She was a strong-willed princess with quirks and character. She exhausted and excited me at the same time. She could cuddle like nobody's business and I loved feeling needed by her.
The baby was my little buddy and I could have happily done nothing but hold him all day. I sang lullabies to him and played on the floor with him every day. I was dreaming always of when I could do those things with my own baby, praying it would really happen for me, someday.
4. Be a mentor.
After I got married, there was a little girl I met at church. Her name was Ruth Anne and she had a hard life. She lived in a rough part of town and had been through things I didn't want to think about, but she was strong. Quiet, timid, but strong. There was something about her that just screamed out to be seen and I saw her. We went out a couple of times. I took her for ice cream and the park. I talked with her mom and encouraged her family however I could. I let her talk and kept her secrets. I prayed for her. I was there, witnessing her life and caring. Never underestimate these things. They matter.
5. Work in children's church or the church nursery.
Why is it that moms are always recruited to work in the nursery? They are with their children all day, everyday. Let's give them a break, can't we?
My husband was a Children's Pastor for 10 years and we were children's volunteers before that.
None of those kids were our own, but we cared about all of them. We made a difference with them. We taught them about God.
6. Wait for your miracle. Prepare.
We had tried to get pregnant for months and nothing was happening. Doctors had already stolen our hope away. A lump had appeared on my left side. It was painful and forced me to wear dresses, oversized sweat pants or overalls all of the time. I knew something was wrong and I was afraid. On Mother's Day, a group of women at church prayed over me and as their hands touched that area, I could feel the lump go down. One of the people praying prophesied over my husband and I telling us to act in faith. He specifically told us to "prepare the nets". God was going to answer us soon and we needed to be ready.
We heard and responded to that advice. We prepared for a child that didn't exist yet. We set up a nursery by faith. We moved our focus from "can't" to "if it's God's will, may it be".
By the fourth of July we had a little one swimming in my womb (that 13 year old I spoke about earlier). Our miracle expanded every 2 years until we had 5 blessings (one in God's care).
I'm not naive, I know that belief does not always make things happen. Faith is not a magic wand, but it's worth resting on.
The miracle may come from inside you, or it may come another way.
We began looking at foster care when our youngest was still an infant. We never finished the process.
I have a very good friend who has fostered several children. She says that people hear how many children she's had and they immediately think she's an ignorant woman with the sex drive of a rabbit. When she explains that they fostered, they suddenly view her as Mother Theresa. She says that honestly, she's neither. She was just open to love. It's her reality. She was needed and she answered the call.
My best friend is adopted. My husband is adopted. I am incredibly thankful that adoption existed so these amazing people could be here and part of my life.
Adoption is beautiful. My best friend's mom used to tell her "Some babies grow in their mom's bellies. You grew in my heart." I loved that.
We tried to adopt a baby that my friend was fostering and did not have room (or desire) to adopt. I loved Victor. He was never in my home but, oh my word was I ever attached to him. My children were as well.
Victor's social worker said that we would qualify for kinship adoption and began preparing us for it. We were told we could have him by Christmas.
My husband got a new assignment in another town. We confirmed that it would not mess up the plans and that everything was still on schedule for December. I couldn't wait.
My husband went ahead of the family to secure us a home in our new town. He was gone when I received the phone call that still makes my heart sick to talk about.
A family member had come out of the wood work. They wanted Victor and now the social worker had decided that we would not qualify for kinship adoption afterall. My heart broke. Like that our dream was over.
Why am I telling such a miserable story? Because I don't regret this either. I loved a little boy who needed love. I held him, fed him, saw a future in his eyes. I pray for that little one (now 7 and no longer named Victor). I know God did what was right for him. I pray for him when I pray for my other babies. I know he's in God's hands.
Love is NEVER a mistake. Get that. Live that. It's true.
10. Try IVF.
This is the option my characters used. It's an option. I have a relative who is trying to build her family this way. If it's a valid option for you, why not?
One of my mom's friends tried this many times. It was hard. There are emotions and challenges that I honestly can't comprehend, in spite all of my research.
Still, it is a way to love a child, to form it when your body won't comply by natural means.
It's okay to try. It's okay to risk your heart. Again, love is NEVER a mistake.
Bonus: Since my baby is 13, I thought I'd throw in 3 extra ideas.
11. Be a friend to your child's friends.
Eventually, when you have your child (through birth, adoption or borrowing a friend or family member's kid to love on) you'll find that other kids come with them. Friends flock to your house and, before you know it, there are more kids in your yard then you know what to do with. All of these children will watch you. All of them are special.
12. Enjoy sons or daughters-in-law.
As I said at the very beginning, time flies. Someday your child will have a spouse and you'll have new "children" to impact and love.
13. Spoil those grandchildren.
I'm told this is the pinnacle of loving a child. This is the kid you get to spoil, play with, hype up on candy, give loud obnoxious toys to and send home to Mom and Dad at your convenience. They get to be your friends and playmates; your legacy.
There, you have 13 ideas. Whatever you do, open your heart to a child. Time flies, make it count. Leave your mark.