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More than biology: Celebrating the love and dedication of non-biological mothers

These women redefine what it means to be a mother.

Being a mom is about much more than giving birth. Biological or not, moms and mother figures are the ones who love you unconditionally (even when you roll your eyes or forget to call). They keep your well-being and happiness top of mind, encourage you, laugh with you, and so much more. 

Non-biological mothers and mother figures are more common than you might think. In 2021, the National Center for Family and Marriage Research reported more than one in 10 children live with married or cohabiting stepparents in the United States. Over 2.5 million children are raised by relatives or close family friends in “grandfamilies” or “kinship families,” according to a report from Generations United. And there are about 1.5 million adopted children and about 391,000 in foster care.

Here, moms who live these dynamics every day share the rewards, challenges, and lessons of raising non-biological children, as well as how they’ve cared for themselves in the process. 

Adoptive and foster mothers: Building a family 

Becca Graham with her family

Becca Graham, 34, has two biological sons and one daughter she fostered before adopting. Graham and her husband are also in the process of becoming legal guardians, rather than temporary legal guardians, for another boy who joined their family three and a half years ago. 

“Because each addition felt unique, it was like becoming a new mom again and again,” Graham says. “I felt fear and insecurity awaiting each labor and each Child Protective Services delivery, wondering if I had what it takes to be a mother to these kids. However, I also felt gratitude, adventure, and awe at the wild ride life can offer us.”

Jess Lex, 37, has also been a foster and adoptive mom since 2012. In addition to her adopted twin boys and one current foster son, she has fostered seven children.

Despite challenges that come with raising kids from traumatic backgrounds, “I have enjoyed watching my kids that came from really tough situations turn out to be great humans who will be able to take on the world,” Lex says. 

Both women have found it important to remember to care for themselves to be the best moms they can be. Throughout her parenting journey, Graham has relied on counseling and a fitness community for moms that has been “a life preserver.” Meanwhile, Lex found it “incredibly helpful” to connect with other people who are foster and adoptive parents. 

Kinship moms: Finding a rhythm 

Before Emma Smith*, 32, became a mother to a biological child, she was a mother figure to her cousin, who is 14 years younger than her. 

“Her biological mother was no longer capable of being there for her in the way that a teenage girl needs,” Smith says. “She chose to leave her mother and move in with my husband and me.”  

It was overwhelming and awkward transitioning from being the “cool cousin” to the mother figure, Smith says, but they found their rhythm over time.

“Watching my cousin rise from such a dark place is absolutely the most rewarding part of being a mom,” Smith says. “She is so happy, well adjusted, and overall an amazing kid. Knowing I played even the smallest role in that is very special.”

Stepmothers: Creating a unique relationship 

Kristen Skiles with her stepdaughter

Kristen Skiles, 32, has a stepdaughter who splits her time between her parents’ houses.

At first, Skiles wasn’t sure where she fit into the family dynamic and what kind of relationship she could have with her stepdaughter. She says she sometimes felt like an outsider and that her relationship with her stepdaughter was seen as less important.

But with time, the two have created a special bond. “My stepdaughter has developed a similar sense of humor to mine,” Skiles says. “She’s kind, empathetic, and I can see so many of the values I’ve worked to instill in her.”

Skiles now helps other stepmoms as a certified stepparent coach at and host of the “Stepmomming Made Easy” podcast. 

Mother figures: Choosing family

A woman wearing a black scarf smiles, sitting between two blonde young women.
Ghazala Lalani and the women she cared for as children

Ghazala Lalani, 58, has the experience of being a mother and an important mother figure.

In addition to having two adult daughters, Lalani became a nanny for two teenage girls shortly after their mother passed away in 2013. “After my preschool teaching job, I used to come to their house, cook dinner, and straighten up their rooms,” she remembers.

It didn’t take long before she became more like another family member, officially moving into the family’s home and becoming their live-in nanny in 2015. 

“People who unexpectedly come into your life and then become family, whether they are younger or older than you, help you thrive,” she says. “We all grew, helped ourselves heal from our wounds, and lived in an environment of mutual respect, love, and support.”

-Ghazala Lalani

Support for unique family dynamics 

Non-biological mothers deserve not just equal recognition, but equal support in caring for themselves and their children. 

Point32Health, a local nonprofit health and well-being organization that is the parent company to health plans Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Tufts Health Plan, recognizes that health care access and coverage can sometimes be limiting when it comes to non-biological relationships. That’s why they’ve focused on expanding services for their members to help support different family structures.

Wellthy, a caregiving support service offered by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care to eligible members, is an example of a health care support service built with all types of family structures in mind. The service provides personalized support to help caregivers manage the logistics of caring for loved ones — even if the individuals are not on the caregiver’s health plan. A Wellthy care coordinator can help make calls, schedule appointments, fill out paperwork, and more, giving back time to caregivers to spend focusing on their well-being and time with their families. 

Though non-biological mothers are part of countless unique family dynamics, there are some things they all have in common. As Skiles tells those she coaches, “You have stepped in to care for a child that is not biologically your own, and you’ve done it so well. You’ve shown the child respect, care, and love that has made an impact on them forever.” 

*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the individual 

Point32Health is a nonprofit health and well-being organization, guiding and empowering healthier lives for all. Together, our family of companies — Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Tufts Health Plan — help our members and communities navigate the health care ecosystem through a broad range of health plan offerings and tools.

This content was written by the advertiser and edited by Studio/B to uphold The Boston Globe's content standards. The news and editorial departments of The Boston Globe had no role in its writing, production, or display.