By Colleen Sparks
As Mothers Day approaches, women in North Central and around the country are redefining what it means to be a parent.
Many women are raising foster children or have adopted kids. It also is becoming more common for grandparents to raise grandchildren. While some mothers are married, others are single and some are in same-sex relationships.
More than 14,000 children are in Arizona’s foster care system, according to Arizona’s Children Association. Nearly 60,000 grandparents are the heads of household responsible for their grandchildren, who live with them, in Arizona, according to AARP Arizona.
Meredith Russell Francis, 40, of North Central lives with her partner, Amanda Nieman, 35, and Russell Francis has two biological sons: Andrew Francis, 9, and Jackson Francis, 12. Russell Francis had her sons with her ex-husband and they share custody of them.
“We’re very clearly committed to each other and then it became a level of commitment to the kids,” Russell Francis said. “The kids are so happy. We talk about love is love.”
Nieman said she has always liked children and had always envisioned herself adopting kids if she wanted to become a mother. She stayed home with Andrew when his school switched to virtual/online learning earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic. That quality time gave the family a chance to implement more structure for the boys, Russell Francis said.
Nieman advises other people who date someone with children to be upfront.
“Be kind and be honest,” she said. “They know when I’m being genuine and when I’m not.”
Julie Rhein, 38, of North Central is a single, foster mother, caring for a girl about 18 months old. She had thought about being a foster parent for a long time.
Rhein said the biggest challenge initially was transitioning from being a single person only responsible for herself to thinking about a young child. She described herself as “super type A, organized.” Rhein has frequent contact with the girl’s biological parents, who are not together, but is not sure when or if her foster daughter will return to one of them.
“I do love her,” she said. “She is just a little joy.”
Darcy Olsen, founder and CEO of the non-profit organization Generation Justice and a North Central resident, is single and raising four children ages 9, 8, 7 and 4 that she adopted. They were initially foster children. Olsen fostered her first baby girl, Ophelia, now 9, shortly after she was born.
She said being a single parent has been challenging and at times she is exhausted but it is well worth the effort.
“I always think of the Scripture: love is patient, love is kind,” Olsen said. “It’s the love that fuels you through those challenging times.”
Barbara Covey is married but also encountered challenges when she and her husband decided to raise their three grandchildren, starting when they were 4, 6 and 7. She and her husband already were raising their own two biological daughters. Covey’s son, the father of her grandchildren, is incarcerated.
“On a daily basis it is very encompassing to figure out how to navigate each day because each kid has a different trauma,” she said.
Covey and her husband also had to use credit cards, remortgage their house and tap into their retirement savings to raise their grandchildren but she would do it again in a heartbeat.
“It’s been such a blessing,” she said. “They’re stronger. We’re stronger because of it.”
However, the family has benefited greatly from Duet, a Phoenix-based non-profit organization that provides support, resources and activities for grandparents raising grandchildren. To learn more about Duet, visit https://duetaz.org.