“Oh, it’s no big deal,” I said to my child as she desperately searched her bag for the toy that should come with her meal. “Let me take this call real quick, and then we’ll see what we can do.”

I walked to a quieter side of the restaurant and silently prayed my daughter would forget about the toy while waiting for me to return. I heard another employee yell back that she couldn’t find any more of the toys, so I had a feeling they were out of stock. I knew it was a long shot, but I hoped the other kids would distract her.

As I answered my phone, I turned and saw my friend stoop down to talk to my young daughter. She brushed the hair out of her eyes, took her hand, and walked her up to the fast food counter. I watched as she spoke intensely to the young man standing behind the register, with my small girl looking up at her with wide, blue eyes.

He seemed to be shaking his head no, but my friend kept talking. After a few more minutes, the cashier left the counter, went to the back, and finally returned with a small book wrapped in plastic and a pink balloon, my daughter’s favorite color, which he handed over to her small hand.

As I finished up my conversation, I bit my lip with fear for what might happen next. There were five kids under the age of eight and only one had a balloon—and I didn’t anticipate a lot of sharing.

That’s when I heard my friend loudly announce to our gaggle of children: “Look! They gave her a balloon because they messed up her order and didn’t have the same toy as you all got. Isn’t she lucky?”

And I sighed with relief as I watched all the kids nod their heads up and down and then return to eating fries and nuggets.

The truth was my friend mitigated what typically would have been a nuclear meltdown by my child who struggled with her emotions. Where my first response was to ignore her complaints and suffer the tantrum, my friend took the time to offer a different solution.

She did for my kid as she would do for her own—at that moment even more than I would have done.

And it meant the world to me.

It’s great to have mom friends—other women who can relate to the issues you face, who can support you in your time of need, who will show up on your doorstep with a cup of coffee or a bottle of wine when you need it most.

But when you find another mom who loves your child like her own; well, that’s something special.

It wasn’t just getting my daughter a replacement toy that touched my heart. It was the way my friend shared her lap with my kids when reading a book or bought extra glow-in-the-dark bracelets for the 4th of July to make sure my girls would have some, too.

It was teaching them songs from her youth and always welcoming them with hugs each time they entered her house.

It was encouraging them to be better after they did something wrong and sometimes turning a blind eye when they snuck the last chocolate chip cookie.

It was caring about them even at their worst, and celebrating when they had success.

It was stopping what she was doing to give them her full attention and ensuring they waited their turn when needed.

It was serving as a role model—on how to be kind, on how to be compassionate, on how to love unconditionally.

Watching my friend care so deeply for my children made me love her even more than the wonderful friend she already was to me—and we forged an unbreakable bond that has stayed intact even though we no longer live near each other.

In a world that can feel scary and loud and mean, my friend taught my daughters they were special, they were valued, they were worthy.

And when that sort of love comes from someone other than parents, it has such a long-lasting, positive impact on kids.

So, thank you to the moms who love others’ children as your own—you make friendship stronger, motherhood easier, and the world a little bit better.

You might also like:

Life is Too Short for Fake Cheese and Fake Friends

I Don’t Have Many Friends, But I Have True Friendship

My Dear Daughters, Friendship is So Hard

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Whitney Fleming

Whitney is a mom of three teen daughters, a freelance writer, and co-partner of the site parentingteensandtweens.com You can find her on Facebook at WhitneyFlemingWrites.