Once when I was in Mexico, a woman I met at a wedding asked me if I had children.

No tengo hijos,” I replied to a very sensitive question for me.

“Well, don’t you want them? Or can’t you have them?” she interrogated me.

I didn’t answer her. I politely smiled and walked away.

I always thought I would become a mother. I wanted children, but then my husband of 10 years decided he didn’t want to have children. So that marriage ended without children.

Soon it was biologically too late for me to have children. 

I have single friends who have adopted children, and I’m happy for them. As a child of divorce, I never wanted to be a single mom. So I processed the grief and let go of the idea of becoming a mom. I’ve come to accept it wasn’t meant to be for me.

Luckily, I have a very loving Mexican American mother who never pressured me to give her grandchildren or judged me when I divorced. Plus my four siblings gave her seven grandchildren, so I was off the hook.

I’ve come to realize there are many ways to be a mother figure without actually giving birth to children.

My marriage ended, but I’ve stayed close to my husband’s daughter. I met her when she was just 4 years old, and today she is 33. I remember taking her to the playground as a child. Recently, she moved cross-country and found an apartment just a mile away from me. We’ve gone on beach walks, to dinner and concerts. My marriage, sadly, ended, but I still have a stepdaughter. She gave me a bouquet of sunflowers for this Mother’s Day.

As I mentioned, I have seven nieces and nephews. One nephew, also my godson, came to see me for his spring break last year. We went on a food tour of Los Angeles. He was talking to a college friend on the phone and called me his “cool aunt.” I have a niece who is an artist and I collect some of her prints. Another nephew called me recently for career advice.

I’m also a godmother. A close friend adopted two children from Mexico, who are now adults. She asked me to be the godmother to her first granddaughter. Another friend who adopted three boys from Morocco asked me to be the godmother to the youngest. These friends must see something maternal in me to ask me to be a madrina. 

A friend once told me, “You’ve had hundreds of children.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. 

“Your students,” he said.

I’m a college journalism professor and I have taught more than 1,000 students over 15 years. I follow my students’ success with pride. After graduation, they text and email me with updates. I feel like a proud parent.

So this Mother’s Day I want to acknowledge all the women who technically aren’t mothers but who mother. They are hermanas, tías and amigas. Some of them, like me, wanted children but weren’t able to have them. 

Others have chosen not to have them. Let’s honor their choices too and their right to make that choice.

Motherhood takes shape in many forms. I’m grateful for the young people in my life.

Read more stories about this special day here.

Teresa Puente has spent her career reporting on immigration and Latino issues in the U.S. and has also reported extensively from Mexico. Previously, she was a staff reporter at the Chicago Tribune and...