Armenia has a system where children whose parents can't support them because of poverty are sent to government institutions. Yerazik's four oldest children were institutionalized.
Five years ago, World Vision began working with parents to build more stable homes and bring the children back!
For many, Mother's Day can be complicated, but this year join us in celebrating with an Armenian mother who was able to bring all of her children home.
My relationship with Mother’s Day has been complicated.
After I lost my mom when I was 18, I felt like I’d lost Mother’s Day. More than a decade later, my son Jack, and later my daughter Margaret, came along and redeemed the holiday for me, filling it with promise for the future.
When Jack died in an accident 12 years later, Mother’s Day became excruciating. Motherhood had been my ultimate desire, and here I was, mother of two, but with only one here with me. I remember my husband Tim was out of town at a race that first Mother’s Day, just 6 months after the accident. Although he tried to get home so I wouldn't have to endure the day without support, I was still on my own to get Margaret to her soccer game. What would have seemed like no big deal the year before, felt like torture that day.
This week marks my fourth Mother’s Day without Jack.
Like every notable day, it has gotten immeasurably easier. I will be next to a soccer field this time as well, but I won’t feel as if I am sitting there without skin on, nothing but a raw lump of pain in my folding chair. The sunshine won’t be an assault. I won’t feel so removed from the parents yelling on the sidelines. I will cheer on my pony-tailed daughter and get into the game.
The truth is that, in the years between the “before” and the “now,” I’ve felt far less connected to mothers whose lives seem to be chugging away according to plan, while more connected to those who are struggling. I think that is why I felt so close to the mothers I met in Armenia this winter despite our many differences.
That’s where I met Yerazik. Her four eldest children had been institutionalized because of poverty, a common practice in Armenia following the fall of the Soviet Union. This was not Yerazik’s wish or plan, but in the institution her children received food, clothing, and the extracurricular activities that Armenians hold in high regard. Yerazik and her husband were told that their children would be better off there.
The separation was excruciating, and each day Yerazik would sneak onto her children’s school bus at the institution in order to have a few minutes with them during the ride to school. This story made me think of the precious hours I logged in the car with Jack and Margaret on the way to and from school over the years. I can’t imagine that being our only time together.
In 2010, World Vision started a program to deinstitutionalize Armenian children and help bring them home. They taught parents about their rights and gave them parenting training.
As Yerazik says, “I was awakened. I found my role and place as a mother” when the children returned.
World Vision also helped the children’s father buy construction tools and find clients; he now works in Russia for part of the year and sends money home. World Vision gave Yerazik consistent parenting support and within their community helped remove the stigma from her formerly institutionalized children by integrating them fully into programs with their peers.
Today, these poised young people are living a life that Yerazik could not have imagined during their separation. I was able to meet her children, and even listen to an extraordinary TED Ex talk given by 16-year-old Julia about her experiences. Yerazik’s children are highly motivated to give back to their community. (As a side note, I don’t know if Armenians still believe in arranged marriages, but one of Yerazik’s boys, Suren, charmed me so much that I hope he’ll get to meet my daughter Margaret some day.)
Mother’s Day can be complicated for so many people.
We grieve for the mothers and grandmothers who came before us but are no longer here. We miss the children gone too soon, or yearn for the children so desired and wanted, but who were never born to us. It is a day to honor those tender parts that hurt, while still celebrating the goodness of mothers and mothering.
World Vision helped take Yerazik’s motherhood story from one of pain, poverty, and separation, and transform it into one of healing and unity.
Though we celebrate Mother’s Day in May, Armenians celebrate it in early April, but I am guessing that for Yerazik, it is every single day.
Anna Whiston-Donaldson is an author, blogger, and speaker. She blogs at An Inch of Gray.
Just last month, Yerazik's youngest, Maneh, found a sponsor from the United States! World Vision sponsorship has transformed Yerazik's family. Be a part of that transformation for a family in need. Sponsor a child in Armenia today!
Read more stories from our recent Bloggers Trip to Armenia.