She is the first Indian-American, the first Black and the first female to be elected Vice President of the United States. She is the daughter of Dr. Shayamala Gopalan from India and Dr. James Harris from Jamaica. She is Kamala Devi Harris, aka “Momala”.
There are many facets that make up the totality of Kamala Harris but it is the term Momala that touches my heart most. Harris is step-parent to Cole and Ella, the children of her husband Doug Emhoff and his first wife Kerstin Emhoff. She describes Cole and Ella as “brilliant, talented and funny kids” and, in a 2019 Elle Magazine article, wrote about the care and consideration she put into planning the first time they met: “As a child of divorce, I knew how hard it could be when your parents start to date other people. And I was determined not to insert myself in their lives until Doug and I had established we were in this for the long haul.”
Harris also talks about her relationship with Cole and Ella’s mother, who she describes as “incredible” and a “dear friend”. She writes about the two of them becoming “a duo of cheerleaders in the bleachers” at swim meets and basketball games, joking that their version of the modern family is almost “a little too functional.”
Harris explains that Cole and Ella came up with the term “Momala” because “step-mom” didn’t capture the essence of their relationship. As a one-time single-mother who brought someone new into my daughter’s life when she was 11-years-old, I believe that simple term of endearment speaks volumes about Kamala Harris the person. (My husband Dan was likewise gifted with an affectionate moniker by our daughter and will forever be known as “Step-Dan”.)
Parenting is hard at the best of times. Step-parenting takes the challenge to a whole new level. To be done well, it requires a level of patience, self-awareness and selflessness that could elude even the Dalai Lama. Good step-parents know how to be supportive without taking sides. They understand how to encourage and require respectful behaviour knowing they can never be the chief disciplinarian. And above all, they realize that children need loving relationships with both parents, and do everything in their power to foster openness, kindness and consideration amongst all the adults who become part of the child’s life.
I am blessed to have two men in my daughter’s life who understand that. Dan, my husband, and John, Olivia’s father, have built a relationship based on respect and their shared love for Olivia. John attended Dan’s and my wedding, joking that he’d be glad to walk me down the aisle and hand me off in a symbolic gesture. (That did not happen!) We exchange presents together on Christmas Day, share Thanksgiving and Easter with a wonderful mishmash of extended family, celebrate birthdays and show up at graduation ceremonies like the Three Musketeers. We offer Olivia a united front of sage advice combined with healthy boundaries and lots of unconditional love.
I know much will be written about Kamala Harris in the weeks and months ahead. Pundits on both sides will analyse her character and all facets of her past, painting her as victor or villain, depending upon their political stripes. But for me, “Momala” tells me all I need to know.
Heartfelt congratulations to the Vice President-elect of the United States. I believe she will bring to this daunting role the same compassion, integrity and selflessness she’s shown as a parent.