An Accidental Mother by Katherine Anne Kindred is a memoir in which the author recounts the relationship she developed with her boyfriend's young son, Michael, and the devastation she felt when he was taken from her. This short (225 pages) but powerful book shows the reader the relationship that developed between Michael and Katherine which makes the removal of Michael from Katherine so painful. When Katherine began dating Jim she knew he had a son from a prior relationship; he had full custody of the boy since Michael's mother had some issues with drugs and was not involved in their son's life. Jim also had a daughter, Elizabeth, from another relationship but he shared custody of Elizabeth with the girl's mother.
Initially, Katherine was merely Michael's father's girlfriend and Jim really performed all the parenting and caretaking duties for Michael. As Jim and Katherine's relationship continued and they moved in together, Katherine began doing more and more with and for Michael. It is clear he depended on her as a son would a mother and she provided the motherly love that he was sorely missing from his own mother. Despite the fact that Katherine had not wanted children, she began to care deeply for Michael and felt her life was enriched by his presence.
Unfortunately, as Katherine's love for Michael deepened, her relationship with Jim soured and they decided to separate. Initially, Jim agreed that Katherine would remain in Michael's life and they carefully explained to the boy that although they would no longer be together it did not change Katherine's love for Michael. Somewhat abruptly, however, Jim decided to move out taking Michael with him. Katherine was devastated - she felt betrayed by Jim but mostly mourned the huge loss of the child to whom she had become a mother. She was able to see Michael a few times once he and Jim moved out but ultimately Jim blocked her from seeing the boy altogether claiming it was in his son's best interest and would be confusing for him to still see Katherine. He completely ignored the fact of how difficult it could be for Michael to lose yet another Mother.
Katherine tells her story in a very matter of fact way - there is little flowery language - just plainly stated facts. The style increases the impact of the book and makes her loss that much more raw. Between chapters, the author includes quotes from both Elizabeth and Michael which were sweet and funny observations on life that only children, in their innocence, can make. Which brings me to the one thing that bothered me about the book - Katherine's relationship with Elizabeth - or lack thereof. Katherine's story focuses almost exclusively on Michael even though Elizabeth spent 50% of her time at Jim and Katherine's house. Katherine talked about taking care of her as she did Michael - doing the bedtime routine, going on outings and preparing for school. However, she seemed emotionally disconnected from the young girl; she tried to explain the difference in her relationship with Elizabeth and Michael by the fact that Elizabeth had a mother with whom she had a relationship and she only spent half-time at their house while Michael lived with them full-time and had essentially been abandoned by his birth mother. Both explanations make perfect sense but somehow the author's disconnect from Elizabeth still seemed out of place for me.
Regardless of her relationship with Elizabeth, her relationship with Michael was touching and it was devastating to see him taken from her. I can't imagine how Jim could so hurt and betray Katherine not to mention what it might have done to his son. Read this book if you want to see the many ways in which motherhood can be defined. It would also be a great gift to anyone that is an "unofficial" mother in your or someone's life.
Thank you to Caitlin at Unbridled Books for sending me a review copy of this book.