Real vs. Not Real…?

“Mom, are you my real Mom?” My son asked as I started his bath water.  “I’m sorry, Honey. What did you say?”  I knew his question, but I wanted to hear it again so that I could listen for the slight change in his voice when he said the word “real’.

“Are you my real Mom?” 

I stared at him for a minute, poured the body wash into the running water so that bubbles would emerge, and said, “Why do you ask?”  He went on to explain that a boy on his gymnastics team kept saying to him that I was not his real mom.

“Well, I wonder if he meant biological mom.  If he did, then no, I am not your biological mother, but I am your real mother.  I love you and take care of you, and that is what makes me your real mother.”

“But he said that because I was not with you at birth, then you are not my real mom”, my son said.  “Was I with you at birth?”

“No, you were not, but you came to live with us when you were just a tiny baby, and I am your real mother.”

And just like that, he went on to talking about what happened at school.  Just like that, the conversation was over.

My children know they are adopted.  We have discussed what makes us different that biological families.  We have spoken the words of adoption, birth mommy, birth daddy, two moms, two dads, adoptive mommy and adoptive daddy to them since before they could barely speak.  My husband and I have always felt that our duty as adoptive parents is to only speak truth to our children.

They deserve to know that they are adopted.  They deserve to know that they were weaved in other women’s wombs, and that they have biological parents.

It has not been easy, you know.  I suspect that a lot of adoptive families have experienced random conversations about birth parents and adoption at the most unsuspecting of times.  I chuckle a little bit when I hear that adoptive parents are waiting for the “right time” to answer children’s questions about adoption.

The truth is that there will never be a right time.  The right time is when you are driving to school one day and your child suddenly pops you with a question.  The right time is when you stumble across a movie about an adopted child, and your child compares himself or herself to that character.  The right time just might be when your child is settling into a warm bubble bath.

As my son’s mind lingered off to the antics of bath time, my mind kept swirling around the word, REAL.  Why is it that we focus on that word (real) when we live in a time of a lot of artificial things?  There is artificial sweetener, artificial limbs and organs, and artificial insemination; yet still, when it comes to parenting, we use the word real.

Real or Not Real…?  I guess that is the question.

I do not know why we automatically jump to the terms of “real mom and real dad”, but this is what I do know:

  • If one is not real, then one is imaginary.  My husband, myself, and my children are not an imaginary family.  We are a very REAL family.
  • When it comes to parenting, why does “real” even matter?  Would you ask a parent if the discipline bestowed upon his or her children was real?  What about the sleepless nights with newborns…are they real?  And how about those cupcakes you baked for your child’s birthday? Are they real?  See?  It seems silly to question if discipline, sleepless nights, and cupcakes are real. Why then…Why do we choose the word “real” when it comes to motherhood and fatherhood?
  • The day-to-day tasks of parenting are all very real.  My husband and I are not faking it.  We get up each day, remind our children to brush their teeth (multiple times), get them to school on time, hold them while they are getting shots, comfort them while they are sick, encourage them when they are down, admonish them when they are acting in ways that will not help them, cheer for them when they are trying their hardest, discipline them when they need corrected, cry for them when they are struggling to make sense of their worlds, stand up for them when it seems the world is not, feed them, dress them, love them, and accept them.  This is REAL parenting.

If your children have friends who are adopted, then this is what you might want to teach your children about adoption:

Adoptive families tend to stray away from the word “real”.  Instead, we use biological or birth parents.  Adoptive families are just like other families.  We were just put together a little differently.  We live the same. We cry the same. We love the same.  

If you are wondering how adoptive parenting might be different from parenting biological children, or if you have friends who have adopted, remember this….

We are all fighting the same battles.  We have a separate history to consider, but for the most part, we are dealing with the same frustrations that biological families are dealing with.  We are all struggling with how to be better parents.

We are all yearning to raise children who feel they are the center of our worlds, but not the center of the world.  

We are all working to keep our children healthy. We are all considering the future, and what that will look like.  

We are all pouring our entire beings into the little souls we have been given to raise.  We are just like other families.  

We are all praying for our children, asking for protection upon their lives, and carrying a bit of them each day in our hearts.

We are all very REAL parents.

I suppose my son (and my other two children) may face questions and even ridicule in the future about being adopted.  This breaks my heart to consider, but also challenges me even more to be an intentional parent…to love with intention, live with intention, discipline with intention, and educate others with intention.

Real or Not Real…?  

Seems like a silly question.  After all….

We are all very REAL families.

our very real family
our very real family

Real Mom

The other day my son said something to me that stopped me in my tracks.  He was mad at me for getting on to him about needing to clean his room when he said, “You’re not my real mom.”  Whoa…I felt that gut-wrenching, knife in the heart, floor dropping out from under me twinge of pain.  After he said it, I sat down next to him and looked at him.  He had that look of confusion mixed in with a little sadness and anger.

I asked him, “Sweetie, what do you mean?”  Nothing…nothing but staring off at the TV screen.  “Honey, please help me understand what you mean.  Do you mean that I’m not your real mom because I didn’t give birth to you like your birth mother did?”  Silence.  Then finally, he looked at me and said, “You are not my real mom because you tell me what to do and you always get me in trouble.”  I have to admit that I was a little more relieved with his explanation, but still bothered.  I told him that he gets in trouble when he disobeys, and my job as his mom is to tell him what to do sometimes.  I also told him that we are his real parents and that we love him more than anything.  He looked at me and said, “Okay, but you’re still not my real mom.”  My mind was racing with how to handle this.  I grabbed the basket of laundry and used it as an excuse to escape off to our room to silently and quickly allow myself to exhale, gather my thoughts, and hold back the tears that were wanting to escape.

I returned to the living room and noticed that he went on with his after-school routine of building Legos, drawing, and eating a snack.  From time to time though, he looked at me and studied my face.  I kept it all together.  I acted as if nothing was wrong and that his words had not bothered me.  We went on with the rest of the afternoon like usual.  Later on in the evening, my son was quite clingy.  He wanted me to hold him, lay by him on the couch, snuggle, etc.  I took him up on the offer, and wondered if his words were still on his mind as well.

When I told my husband what was said, he responded “Caroline, you have to expect this.  If he knows it bothers you, then he will use it in the future when he is mad about something.  He was probably just testing you out to see how you would respond.”  My husband was right.  I do expect both of my children to refer to their birth parents as their “real” parents at some time during their lives.  I expect them to have a lot of questions about their birth family histories, how they ended up in our home, and anything else that has to do with adoption.  I guess I just didn’t expect it so soon, and I certainly didn’t expect it to hurt so much.

I don’t even know where my son got the term “real mom”, or why he would say this.  I know he was mad at me, but he had never said anything like that to me before.  Perhaps someone said something to him at school.  Maybe he overheard someone else talking about this.  Or perhaps, he is just starting to really process and learn how to navigate his own world of adoption.  Maybe he has a fantasy version of his birth mother, and in that fantasy she would never “get on to him”, put him in time-out, or make him clean his room.  I don’t know, but it reminded me that adoption is extremely complex and there are layers within it.  One certainly needs to have “thick-skin”!

One thing though that has been laid on my heart since all of this took place is that my husband and I need to be mindful of the adoption language we use around the home and in the community.  We need to be there to answer any and ALL questions our children have even if it makes us uncomfortable.  We need to not perceive questions about birth parents as a threat to who were are and the relationship we have with our children.

And, we need to keep in mind that we are their real parents.  We are a real family.  We get on to each other.  We discipline the kids when they are being disobedient.  We lose our tempers at times.  We get frustrated at times.  We are not perfect.  But, if we were perfect, didn’t lose our tempers, didn’t get frustrated, didn’t discipline, and didn’t get on to each other, then we would not be real at all.