Dear Mama, 

I have something I need to thank you for. It’s something I’ve never thanked you for before.

I hope you already know I think you’re wonderful and amazing. Actually, I hope you’ve known I think that for a long time.

Of course, like most kids, I didn’t realize exactly how amazing and wonderful you are until I had children of my own.

You’ve been wonderful in so many ways, but I need to thank you for the one that underlies all the others: thank you for being the mom you didn’t have. 

In no way do I mean any disrespect to my grandmother. I loved her dearly, but I also knew a much different version of her than you did. 

I know she hurt you in so many ways, both physically and emotionally. I know she did not love you the way a mother is supposed to love her daughter.

I’m not sure my grandmother knew how to truly love you or that she was even capable of it, but that doesn’t excuse what she did and didn’t do. Still, this isn’t really about that; this is about what you did do. 

Somehow—grace comes to mind—you loved me and my siblings out of intention rather than out of experience. You loved us by decision rather than by example.

You took care of us.

You worried about us.

You supported us.

You cheered for us. 

You believed in us.

You nurtured us.

You cherished us.

You protected us.

Thank you for doing these things that were not done for you.

Thank you for showing love in a way that was not shown to you. 

Thank you for giving love in a way that was not given to you. 

Thank you for choosing love in a way that was not chosen for you.

All my life, you haven’t been the kind of mom you had. Instead, you’ve been the kind of mom I wanted to be . . . the kind I still want to be.

Thank you for being the kind of mom who would work as a census taker just to earn a little extra money for our family, even though it meant you had to go to the house of every scary dog in the neighborhood.

Thank you for being the kind of mom who would pull me onto your lap that day I was in high school (and too big for your lap) and a girl from the class ahead of me was murdered and no one, including you, knew what to say and so you just held me while I cried.

Thank you for being the kind of mom who would go up to that cute guy I’d talked to at church that one time I was home on vacation from my job and would tell him, “My daughter won’t write to you first, but if you write to her, she will write you back.”

Thank you for being the kind of mom who, when that cute guy at church proposed to me in a state 700 miles from you, would listen to my description of my engagement ring over the phone (the old-fashioned kind of phone with a cord but without a camera) and then would go to a jewelry store and tell the jeweler, “I’m trying to find a ring like my daughter’s so I can see what hers looks like.”

Thank you for being the kind of mom who would come over the day after I brought your first grandchild home from the hospital so you could take care of your baby—me—while I took care of my baby. And the whole time, you would wear your “mama smile”—the one that makes you look like you have everything you’ve ever wanted, all in one place, all at the same moment.

Of course, there is no way I can ever truly thank you for being this kind of mom. There is no way for me to ever fully repay you for being the mom you didn’t have.

But I’ll try to thank you and repay you the best I can, mostly by doing this one thing: I’ll try to be the mom I’ve had.

Your daughter

Elizabeth Spencer

Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two daughters (one teen and one young adult) who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebook and Twitter.