Not every mother-daughter relationship is a biological one. After all, the American household is very diverse with grandparents, same sex parents and adoptive parents raising children as their own. Here we interview Diana who, along with her husband Dave, enrolled in the Big Brother Big Sister (BBBS) program and has enjoyed a mother-daughter relationship with her match, Autumn, for 26 years.
Why and when did you enroll in Big Brothers Big Sisters?
After doing the ‘fertility thing’ and having no luck, Dave and I tried to adopt – but at that time, they wouldn’t accept couples if the woman was over 30. To be around children, I looked into being a Girl Scout Leader but I was working full-time and they wanted leaders who could meet with the girls after school. So, I turned to Big Brothers Big Sisters and Dave supported me; we enrolled in a new couples match program and were connected with Autumn. In signing up, we made a commitment to meet with her at least once a week for at least two hours for at least one year. She was 12 years old at the time, and we are still in each other’s lives 26 years later.
What was Autumn’s life situation?
Like many children who enroll in BBBS, Autumn came from a dysfunctional family. Her parents divorced when she was eight and her father, who was schizophrenic and bipolar, won full custody of Autumn and her younger brother Mark. I learned later that was because Autumn’s stepfather had sexually abused her friends at a party.
While Autumn was extremely intelligent (her IQ was very high and she scored in the top 1% of most national tests), she had a lot of problems and couldn’t function well in the world. She was scared – deathly afraid of insects and simple things like making a phone call to ask someone a question. She worried a lot and her mind worked so fast: what if this happens, what if that happens, what if this doesn’t happen. And she lived in a rundown neighborhood in a house where there were no rules and very little care. She only ate prepared or fast food and had never been to a supermarket or seen a meal cooked. She was not taught how to clean up after herself, make a bed or hang up her coat. She had no friends.
Needless to say, we had to handle more issues with Autumn than I thought possible for us to handle!
Did you feel like Autumn’s mother? What was your relationship like?
Autumn’s mother lived in the same town as her and she came in and out of Autumn’s life – I could never replace her mother. I was more of a mentor or friend, but in many ways our relationship was very much like a mother-daughter one. I was the first person she called when she had a problem, Dave and I went to all of her school events, we spent holidays together and she spent summer weekends with us at our lake cottage. I taught her how to shop and bake, how to drive and how to deal with boy problems and roommate problems (she went to a boarding school for high school). Dave and I even helped her move in and out of her college dorm each year, and she spent the summer between high school and college with us at our house. We were the stable force in her life that she could depend on.
We had, and still have, a loving relationship; we say “I love you” to each other and give each other hugs and kisses. She knows that I will always be there to help her.
We both jokingly introduce each other as “my Rent-A-Kid” or “my Rent-A-Mother”!
How was your relationship different than a traditional mother-daughter’s?
Well, I didn’t get as much sass because she was probably afraid that if she ticked me off, we’d leave!
What have you received from the relationship?
Helping to raise Autumn was an unbelievable experience – I love her like my kid. She has made me so thankful for my own parents and the stability they provided. I also have a lot of compassion for parents who have children with emotional issues – it’s tough! Last, our relationship with Autumn helped us relate to our friends with children. We could talk about her when they discussed their kids.
Where is Autumn now and what is is your relationship like?
Autumn is now 38 and living in California with her boyfriend Warren, who we love. He is patient with her and knows how to deal with her issues. She held a high level IT job with a bank for many years but had a breakdown and went on disability about a year ago.
While we don’t talk as much as we used to, we are still close and I continue to encourage her through life. We are very much still a part of each other’s lives; in fact, she and Warren are coming to visit us in Florida next week!