I recently had a reminder of how powerful societal messages are in shaping our children’s perceptions when my 4-year-old daughter (through birth) asked where her 15-year-old brother’s “real mom” is. As you might imagine, I was floored. Here I am, an adoption educator and my own child asks this question about my other own child!!!!
Of course, I explained that his real mom is me! That I’m right here and am his mama just like I am her mama. He just came into our family in a different way. I told her the story that I’ve told him for years and years…. I explained that a man and woman made him, that he grew in another woman’s uterus and that the man and woman weren’t able to take care of any babies. But, God had a plan. He knew that this little baby boy needed a family of his own and he knew that our family needed a little baby boy and so God helped us all come together and be a family. Her question was answered and off she went!
In the future, I expect we’ll have other talks, just as her brother and I have had over the years and continue to have. We talk about what it means to be a mom, a sister, a son, a father, a daughter, etc… and in 4-year-old language I explained that we define the words “parent”, “mom”, “dad”, “sister”, “brother” and “family” as verbs. We describe “love” as actions, not just feelings and we describe “family” as actions and not just biological or legal relationships.
What struck me about all this is that Olivia has been getting strong messages at home that say all these things and yet she still equates “real mom” as the woman who gives birth. Granted, births are easier to see. Our neighbor recently had a baby. Olivia is just fascinated with anatomy in general and has asked lots of questions about pregnancy, birth and the like. And, granted, at this same age, my son had the misconception that all babies come from airplanes and that their moms and dads get on the airplanes and fly to the “baby store” named Russia if they want to have a baby. (Don’t we wish it were that easy!!!) When he was her age we were very involved in an adoption support group and he witnessed many new families be “born” in that way.
I believe that the “real family” title must be earned. I also believe that a person can have more than one “real family”. The word “real” should not be limited to birth parents, adoptive parents or even to those people currently parenting a child.
What is your definition of a “real family”?