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In being “momala” and a loving aunt, America’s vice president is an example of all the different ways mothering takes form.

Kamala Harris speaking in mic
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America - Kamala Harris, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

We all got to bear witness to history in 2020 when we the people elected Kamala Harris—the first-ever woman, and the first Black woman and first Asian American—to be the next Vice President of the United States. 

As the Madam Vice President-Elect graced the stage to give her victory speech, she made a point to acknowledge her family. “To my husband Doug; our children, Cole and Ella; my sister, Maya; and our whole family, I love you all more than I can express. We are so grateful to Joe and Jill [Biden] for welcoming our family into theirs on this incredible journey.”

…being a mom figure to a child you didn’t birth can be rewarding, even if it’s challenging at the same time.

What I saw on stage was a powerful, successful woman. A woman who not only built an amazing career and secured her place in the history books, but did so while being a doting mother figure and inspiration to children she did not bear herself. As someone who was a step-parent long before becoming a biological one, I could relate to Kamala’s words as she described her role as a stepmother to CNN.

“I love those kids,” she said. “It was a collective decision that the word stepmother has been adapted by Disney and others, not necessarily a great word. They call me momala.”

Stepmoms: ‘An Additional Source Of Love’

Now that I am divorced and biological mother, my role as a stepmother is complicated to say the least. But I still view that relationship as an important and meaningful one. (Afterall my stepchildren are still my son’s siblings.)

It would be easy for me to be a stepparent in name only while continuing to mother my own child. Yet I feel like my appointment as a stepparent didn’t die with the marriage. While they all still have their own mother, my job was never to be a replacement. It was to be an ally, an advocate, a friend, and an additional source of love.

Kamala expressed similar thoughts in an interview with Dana Bash

“One of the keys to my relationship with Cole and Ella is their mom,” she said. “We are friends. The thing about blended families—if everyone approaches it in the way that there’s plenty of love to share, then it works.”

Aunties Serve ‘A Special Purpose’

However, Kamala isn’t just a mother in her role as a stepparent. She’s also an aunt. Seeing her on stage with her grand-nieces reminded me of my relationship with my sister and her children. They stretched me to love in ways I never could have imagined long before my son was a notion. Being Auntie has given me the opportunity to find a special purpose in my family, one that allowed me to experience motherhood long before morning sickness and labor pains. 

Kamala’s lawyer, author, and activist niece Meena gave us a glimpse of the influence her history-making aunt has on her, her girls, and ultimately, young girls all over the world.

Mothers like “Momala” can still see you. Love you. Support you. And yes, mother you. 

“In the Harris household, ambition means courage,” Meena wrote in an Elle essay. “It means living your purpose. But to a whole lot of other people, ambition—women’s ambition, that is—is code for taking up space that wasn’t intended to be yours.”

“As my aunt showed us…when we encourage ambitious girls, they become ambitious women,” she continued. “And ambitious women can break barriers, shatter ceilings, and win.” 

And win she did. 

The kind of love and devotion Kamala has for her step-children and nieces isn’t reserved just for biological mothers. Women like Kamala make a choice to be in the lives of children who aren’t theirs when they, by no means, HAD to. 

This decision doesn’t come easy or natural to all people – and that’s okay. However, being a mom figure to a child you didn’t birth can be rewarding, even if it’s challenging at the same time. 

As a biological mother, I felt “programmed” to love my son as soon as I saw the two lines appear on the pregnancy test stick. But not having that same experience doesn’t necessarily lessen your love towards a child. And it doesn’t reduce the significance of the role you play in their lives. You can still instinctively know when a child needs a friend, an ally, a cheerleader, a good talking to, or simply an ear. Mothers like “Momala” can still see you. Love you. Support you. And yes, mother you. 

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Brooke Dean is an operations manager with Audible Originals In addition to her corporate experience, Brooke is also a freelance writer. She is mother to a 7-year-old son and recently launched a podcast with her friend and colleague Phara Joseph titled “Single Moms Doing the Most.”

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