The Other People Who Raise Us

I am a very lucky woman. My mother is a freaking saint, filled with the patience, love, and support that is almost mythical in it’s awesomeness. I could go on for days about how I have the best mommy in the whole wide world, but that is for a different article. The people I am referring to here are the other people who raise us, the ones who come into our lives early or later on that shape our thinking and lives in ways that are different from our actual parents.

The idea for this article came from random thoughts I was having while walking the dog the other morning. I moved in with a family when I was 18 to be a full-time, live-in nanny. While most people at 18 have a basic grasp of many household tasks, I did not. My mom worked full-time and it was often easier for her to do things herself than to nag us to take on some responsibility. I had chores, of course, but I had no idea how to do laundry, cook, or be mindful of the myriad tasks that are required for basic daily household upkeep. All of the sudden, I started a position that was as much household management as it was childcare and I was in way, WAY over my head. I know my lack of skills was frustrating to the mom, let’s call her Jen, but she was as patient with me as she could possibly be expected to be and walked me through some basic skills I was sorely lacking. I learned it was important to separate whites and colors when washing clothes. Who knew? I learned how to cook basic meals and how to suppress my gag reflex when handling raw chicken (though now that I have nobody else’s nutritional intake as a responsibility, raw chicken can go fuck itself. Won’t touch the stuff). I learned how to notice all the little mundane pieces of the puzzle that adults have to recognize and deal with every single day.

But the lessons she taught me were much larger in scope, as well. She is an excellent mom, both loving and supportive and yet incredibly mindful of developing a child’s independence. She taught me child rearing skills that I have incorporated into my interactions with every child in my life since, skills that I have found infinitely useful. It was from her I learned the importance of setting boundaries with kids, making my expectations clear so that they knew what was expected from both of us. She stressed that kids thrive when they know where they stand, and this has served me incredibly well over the years. She taught me to never make idle threats, and never to throw out a punishment I wasn’t prepared to follow through on. She taught me how to foster the boy’s curiosity and my own, to constantly seek out new things, new ideas, and to never be satisfied with “I don’t know.”

It wasn’t just child rearing, though. When you live with a family, you become part of the family. You are there for everything, from the overwhelming joy of the birth of their second child to the embarrassing-for-everyone middle of the night marital screaming matches. I learned how to navigate when to get involved and when to get the hell out of the way. I learned that sometimes, the person you love the most in the world will hurt you in ways you never thought possible and swore you would never abide, and yet, abide it you do. I learned that marriage is a series of compromises, that sometimes you will forgive someone for something unforgivable because the alternative is worse. From her I learned how to choose my battles, how to let the little things go, how to make the good of the family more important than my petty squabble or my precious pride. From her I learned to always trust my gut. I learned that even your closest friends sometimes have ulterior motives and you should never ignore your intuition when it tells you something isn’t quite right. I learned that no amount of money can make you happy, that the size of one’s bank account does not protect you from life’s disappointments.

And from her I learned how to have my first grown-up friendship. A friendship that was built on the most supreme trust you can have in another person, the trust of your child’s life. I was closer to her than I had been to anyone in my life outside of my family. We spent every single day together for years. We went through the moves together, we traveled extensively together, she supported me through one of the most heart wrenching break-ups of my life. We were a team, and she would often refer to me as her “wife,” and tell others that all women deserved a wife like me. And when it comes down to it, she took over for me where my mom left off, and now I tell all of you that everyone deserves a “second mom” like Jen. Someone who, like family, will accept your faults, delusions, and mistakes and help you turn into the person you are on the path to become.

I think we find these people all throughout our life, and part of the challenge is recognizing the lessons and applying them. As we get older, we are less willing to be molded, to be guided, to recognize that there are still things we need to learn. On top of that though, and part of the reason I put this out into the Internets, is to let her know what she meant to me, what she means to me to this day. Though it has been a decade since we lived together, the lessons she imparted on me are evident in my daily life even now. Even though we don’t get to see each other often, I want her to know what a profound effect she had on me. I think we all have an impact on others all the time, and mostly we never know it. One of the things I want to work on this year is letting the people who have shaped me as a person know that they did so, and how. And to thank them, truly thank them, for what I learned.

Are there people in your life you feel this way about? A teacher, a roommate, a boss? Have you ever let them know? Do you feel like they helped raise you, or do you see it as something different?

20 replies on “The Other People Who Raise Us”

I’ve been lucky to have quite a few people that fulfill the “other mother role” in my life (because my mom fails me every so often… lets just say she has her own way of showing love that isn’t exactly conventional).

My supervisors at my work study are like big sisters to me. I have a few close friends that I also have sisterly bond with. And bless my technical writing professors heart, because she helped me get my materials together for grad school. I’m thankful blessed that my mom’s sisters are all very loving and kind to me.

My mother’s parents moved in with us when I was 5. Even though my dad ran a successful business, my mother continued teaching because being a stay-at-home-mom made her feel trapped (it’s not for everyone). My grandma worked as a domestic all her life (see: The Help) and my grandpa was a chef, so the house was always spotless and dinner always ready.  But more than that, it was great to always have someone to come home to.

I didn’t consider her a second parent, but my grade eight teacher was really great. She was very liberal, which was amazing considering how conservative that small town and its inhabitants were, and she encouraged all of us in different ways. She was challenging, but also willing to have fun. She let me and my group of friends take a couple of hours every week to plant and tend a little garden outside of our classroom, she taught us about so many forms of birth control in our sex ed unit, including condoms, the pill, the patch, diaphragms, etc., which is amazing considering we were about 12-14 at the time, and she told the entire class about how her best friend, whom she’d known since she was in kindergarten, died after contracting AIDS in the 80s, and how outraged she’d be when her parents told her she should be dating him (he was gay…so that wasn’t happening). She was also encouraging and accepting when one of my friends decided to stop shaving her legs (I can’t remember why she stopped). She really helped me challenge the way I saw the world, and I hoped some of it rubbed off on my classmates – unlikely since a bunch of them are now pregnant, on drugs, or posting homophobic crap on Facebook. She was probably the only good teacher at that elementary school. I wonder what she’s up to now…

Not necessarily in my life, but I have to give a shout out to “Miss Tammy,” the daycare provider I had for my kids when they were young.

She was awesome to the power of infinity.

She was everything I was not – creative, artsy, craftsy, etc. etc.  My kids did so much at her house – it was like sending them to day camp every freaking week day.  And she loved them and they loved her back.

Seriously, to this day I can’t think about daycare providers without sending up a big THANK YOU to the Babysitter Gods that I found her.  I was (and am) a great mom (and I’ll be the first to tell you that) but she helped make me one.

She was just . . . wow.


Mine was later in life too, a former boss. I had been with the company for about 4 years as an admin, but was stuck under another admin who had been there 6 months longer than I had. I couldn’t get promoted unless she got promoted too, so she was always one level higher than me. It was infuriating. Eventually, we acquired another company, and a new position was created that I was perfect for, so I applied. There were rumblings of not letting me have the position because it was 2 grade levels higher than my co-admin (heaven forbid!). Thankfully I kept pushing and got the job. The manager of the position came from the other company, and thus didn’t know me from Eve. Long lead in to this: he was the best boss I ever had. He was more mentor than boss, and taught me how to navigate through the political minefield that is corporate America. He treated me like a capable adult, trusted me to speak on his behalf to others, and held me to my word. This was something no previous boss had ever done. I ended up moving out of state to keep working for him. He wasn’t always popular in our company, mostly because he wouldn’t put with people’s BS, but if he had the right position and wage for me, I’d walk out of here right now.

Mine came relatively later in life; I felt really adrift for my childhood and first few years of young adulthood. My parents had their own thing going on, and frankly children just weren’t their top priority. That’s totally okay, because I think I became a really self-sufficient person very early on and some of the skills I picked up as a result are skills I probably wouldn’t have naturally been attracted to otherwise. It wasn’t until university that I started meeting older adult women to whom I could look up, not only professionally or academically, but also personally. I have a trio of professors who gave me not just solid academic counsel but top notch personal support as well. I still look on them as friends and mentors.

I haven’t had any since college, either, but it was nice for a while to have some people in my life to advise me and encourage me like that. It’s different than peer encouragement, you know?

my grandma has been a huge influence on my life.  if she disapproves of anything i’m doing, it weighs heavily on me.  she’s always been the one to validate my thoughts and feelings, especially when my parents didn’t.  she really continues to be an incredible support for me.

I have been lucky to be surrounded by smart, thoughtful women my whole life. There are things I disagree with them on (religion, abortion, and politics, most notably), but ultimately, they shaped me to be an independent woman. They are not feminists the way I am, but their nurturing made me see the path. I was taught to be open-minded, to think critically, to really listen to someone, to think before I speak, and to examine things from other angles.

I was really lucky to have been considered part of my best friend’s family in high school. My home was all a mess of disfunction and her home gave me refuge. Her brother and sister were like my own and her parents taught me respect for other people, how to think critically about everything from books to religion, how to be my own person but to also be an adult about it, and they simply hugged me. I will always be thankful to her family for the years of happiness they’ve given me.

When I was reading Sex At Dawn, one of the main concepts of the book is the farcity of the nuclear family. We still model our family dynamics on the 50’s style model of mom + dad + kids , when really, its always been about a group dynamic in which everyone was family and you learned consistently from the elders in your group until you were an elder.

I work part time with a group of about 8 women, all who I love and care for dearly. We refer to each other as wives or moms or sisters because thats how it can feel sometimes. These women are my largest support group in my life and there isnt a time where I havent been challenged, humored, saddened or just been okay being bored with them.


I went to boarding school at the age of thirteen. Teachers at boarding schools are basically your second parents anyway, but my Latin teacher there has always been first and foremost in my heart. I’m off to go see him in Oxford later this month – I’ve now known him half my life. He’s my adopted godfather. When I started teaching Latin myself I had a framed photo of him on my desk. He’s amazing. Here he is:

Wow. I was literally just thinking about this for my next piece because, like you, I have so many people in my life who have impacted me like this. I was raised mostly by my badass Grandma and lived with many families around the world who have made me who I am today (still somewhat awkward…). We also have the raw chicken thing in common. Fucking gross.

I have one of these. :) Her name is Virginia, and she was my first, and possibly best, boss. I worked for her from age 12 to 18 catering. She always treated me like a person.  I’ll never forget how wonderful she was and is to me. I only get to see her every few months now, but she’s forever in my heart.. and in my head when I can’t find my keys. :P

I have two godparents that I see as second parents. Their son is like my brother. I love them as much as my own parents.

I also went to an afterschool daycare in a house in my neighborhood growing up. A woman who used to work for the school district set up a day care for neighborhood kids and teachers’ kids. She became my third grandmother. It’s incredible to think back to all the things she taught me or helped me figure out on my own. The greatest thing? Putting sourcream and onion chips inside the gooy part of a grilled cheese sandwich and then eating it. You just can’t believe how delicious that is. She also taught me how to stop nose bleeds. That became a Valued Skill in the coming years. But really, she taught us manners. She taught us how to respect everyone – even if they initially didn’t show respect first. And she taught us good study skills. I miss that kitchen table…

She also taught us how to never  be bored. It’s just not possible anymore. I’m never bored.

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