I was getting my haircut by a new hairdresser the other day, and we started making conversation:
“How long have you and your husband been married?”
“Oh, just over four years.”
“Nice! Do you guys have any children?”
“Yeah, we have a son, he is so precious!”
“How old is he?”
“He’s almost 4 years old”
“Wow, you guys got married and had the baby right away didn’t you? No wasting time!”
“Actually, our son is adopted.”
“Oh really? Wow! That is so cool… Does he still see his real mom?”
At this point in the conversation my heart rate quickens, my blood pressure rises, and my face starts to flush. Now, I know you have good intentions, but when you refer to my son’s biological parent as his “real mom” it feels awful. Let me tell you why.
Adoption is a beautiful thing. I absolutely love our son, as much as I would if he came from my own flesh and blood. However, being someone’s flesh and blood isn’t the criteria for overwhelming, all-consuming love – just think of your spouse or partner.
Adoption can also be a very sad, angering, and complex situation. For example, my son’s birth mother was a drug and alcohol addict. She didn’t contribute to our son’s well being for the first year of his life, and child services eventually took him away from her because his well-being and safety were seriously jeopardized enough times.
This story is not unique—many adopted children have had the same experience.
So what would it feel like for you if someone said, “Does your son still see his real mom?”
What does “real mom” even mean?
A real mom is someone who holds her child while he cries, feeds her child when he is hungry, Band-Aids and kisses his scrapes and wounds, cuddles her child when he is scared of monsters, teaches her child the difference between right and wrong, and sets healthy boundaries to ensure the child feels safe. That is what a real mom is. I am my son’s real mom.
I don’t want to shame people that have asked about an adopted child’s “real mom.” Before adopting, I too occasionally and unfortunately referred to the biological parents as the “real parents.” I am sure I have hurt, annoyed and exasperated other adoptive parents with my well-meaning question. Now that I have adopted, I am incredibly aware of the complexities surrounding adoption. However, more importantly, I know that my bond and love to my son is true, real and deeper than the ocean.
If there is one thing you can take away from this: if you don’t know the parents well and you just found out they adopted, be mindful of what you ask. Refer to the biological parents as the biological or birth parents. Remember who the real parents are. I am my son’s real mom.