Monday, September 23, 2013

He Called Her "Real Mom"




I'd love to know your opinion on this one.

The other day Wenxin and I were talking, and I'm not even sure how it came up. I think I was telling him that I bet his foster mother would be so proud of him.

And then he asked.

"What about the other one?"

"The other what?" I replied.

"The other mom. You know . . . my REAL mom." (emphasis mine)

"Oh, I see. I bet your first mom would be so proud of you, too."

We talked for another minute or two, and as he ran out the door to go play, I said with a wink, "Hey Wenxin, don't forget. I'm REAL, too."

Big grin, and he was off.

So here's the question. He's 10 years old and adopted for three years now. Is it important for me to teach him what most people consider to be appropriate adoption language? Should he call her his first mom or his birth mom instead of his real mom? Does it really matter?

My gut tells me he should be able to call all the mothers in his life whatever seems appropriate to him -- because it's his story. My gut says I should follow his lead on this one. But he is only ten and is still making sense of his own history. On this issue, does he need guidance from me? Specifically, does he need me to choose his words?

I'm not concerned about my place in his life. I know this kid loves me. I also know I'm his third mom. I'm OK with this. And I think I can live with him calling her his real mom.

But since it's not what's normally done in the adoption world, I'm wondering if I'm missing something here?

I also have a real fear that some adoptive parent will correct him. It could happen, you know, cause calling the birth mom the real mom. . . those are fightin' words in a lot of places.

I'm also pretty sure he'll call her whatever I ask him to call her. He's sweet and obedient. And he believes what I say about things. If I say he should call her his first mom or his birth mom, then I'm pretty sure that's what he'll do -- for now, anyway. But do I want to make that decision for him?

So what do you think? What would you do in my place?

Waiting for all of your words of wisdom.

If you are an adult adoptee, please let your voice be heard on this one.

Sharing today over at Emily's place.



32 comments:

  1. I have a good friend who is an adult adoptee and who recently (last 2? years) reconnected with her birth mother. When she blogs about it, she calls her mothers 1-Mom and A-Mom -- distinguishing them in a way in which both are "first" and neither takes precedence.

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  2. Hi Dana. My son (adopted at 6, almost 5 years ago) have had similar conversations, with the same terminology on his part. I go with it. At times I considered his developing English skills and that he was grasping the English word/s he thought most appropriate. I'm with you...I know I'm "Mom #3" and that's reality for these kiddos. I understand consideration of what the rest of the adoption world will think, but in my humble opinion I wouldn't correct him at this point. Love your blog...keep doing the important work and bringing these issues to the forefront. Thanks!

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    1. Yes, I think that their emerging English skills definitely affect their word choices.

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  3. I think the only reason why you may want to talk with his would be for the sake of others. If you are comfortable with whatever he chooses in terms of defination that I would let him know that it is OK that he calls his birth mother "real mom." As for me, I am not sure how I feel about this dialog. I don't want to be third mom or second mom. I want to be mom! While I know my child will always wonder about her birth mother and I don't want her not to it is still a strange situation because then where do I stand.

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    1. I get that. And I wouldn't like to be referred to as "Third Mom." He calls me Mom -- with no need to add any other words. I also think this is less threatening to me because I didn't have him as an infant and toddler. So it's is very much a part of my thinking that other women mothered him before me. And honestly, if he started talking about his birth mom all the time and referring to her as his real mom all the time -- I can't say it wouldn't bother me.

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  4. I personally would sit down with him at some point and ask him how he thinks you should refer to her- give him some options- first mom, birth mom, etc. And then I think it's good to stick with one choice so that she has a solid title within your family discussions, rather than a nebulous, some days 'first mom' other days, birth mom, real mom. I think the 'real' reference didn't have a lot of meaning here, other than to designate within the scope of that particular conversation that he was referring to 'the one who gave birth to me'. But I personally dont think he should continue using 'real mom'- she needs a title that belongs to her and her alone. We use "China mom" to designate my daughter's birth mom- I dont know if this is 'correct' but she is the only person from my daughter's past to bear that title. My daughter is younger so it's more necessary to keep it clear in her head- she often says her Nanny was her China mom- I clarify that Nanny took care of her so well like a Mama would, but she wasn't her China mom. China mom was first, then Nanny, and now Mama.. That way we can pray for her specifically, and discuss her (well as much as you can discuss someone you know nothing about!)

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    1. I like that idea - solidifying how we refer to her while giving him voice.

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  5. I know it's a hit in the gut in a way, no matter how small, and he probably didn't even really know any other way to refer to her, especially if he hasn't before. And at least he feels comfortable talking to you about it! I think I went through a few different ways of identifying my birthmother; I probably called her everything from my "birth mom" to "biological mom" to "real mom," I even now just kind of call her "my Kim mom" (and in the same conversation will call my adoptive mom my "MOM mom", as in "THE person I consider mom"). Confusing yet? I'm sure Wenxin will do the same, trying out different ways of identifying her until he figures out which one is the most truthful to him. And that will also depend on how he deciphers the words he is using, because "real" can have a lot of meanings to a 10 year old in this situation. It may not be something that you even have to discuss with him at this point unless it really starts eating at you and you feel like you need to bring it up. Maybe wait and see how he refers to her the next time? But if you feel like it's something you should approach now, I think the person commenting above me has a good way of going about it!

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    1. Emily, I was hoping you would give your thoughts! Thanks.

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  6. My 9-year-old daughter, adopted at age 7, used the term real mom to ask about her birth mom. Only for the sake of clarity and understanding (I am not concerned with what others are going to think about how we discuss her private life) did I explain terminology she could use to differentiate between the three moms in her life.
    First, I reinforced that we are all real moms to her, lightheartedly talking about how none of her three moms are “fake”. We are real people. She didn’t imagine or pretend us. And yes, we are all mom to her. As the adoptive mom, I don’t need to compete for “real mom” status, nor do I think it is healthy for my daughter to negate her birth mom or foster mom from being “real”.
    Once the “real” word is diffused, the vocabulary is easy. Are you talking about your birth mom, foster mom, or me (adoptive mom)?
    I prefer not to assign numbers to describe motherly persons. My sweet daughter has felt deep grief at the loss of her birth mom of whom she has no memory and her foster mom who cared for her for 4 years. If I am mom #3, that could imply there are several moms in her future. The most important message I want to give her is that she is secure in this family, that her adoption is permanent and forever.

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    1. The "fake mom" thing came up with us a long time ago. I jokingly asked that if he had a real mom and a foster mom, what did that make me? Wenxin is very quick witted and he said, "Umm . . fake mom?" We laughed about it and joked about it for a couple of days. But one day I told him I'd been thinking about it, and if I was having a bad day it might hurt my feelings to be called "fake mom, " even though he was just joking. I told him I would rather not be called "fake mom, " even in play. He's never said it since!

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  7. I am probably the odd-ball on this one. My kids all call their biological moms "mom" as well. I don't know why, but it's never bothered me. Maybe it's because I legitimately feel like they HAVE two moms and I can't just gloss that over with words. Their moms (and dads and grandparents and other relatives) come up all the time in random conversations and I just think that its healthy. I know my view is way wonky from a lot of others, but its just they way we roll here. :p

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  8. I'm fairly new to all of this, and we're still dealing with how our son would like to describe his foster mom and dad, but he's too young to really choose for himself. I'm trying to handle that in a way that will hopefully make it easier when we get to his bio-mom. As I've waded into this adoption thing, I must say the thing that niggles at me the most is so much emphasis on "correct" ways to word things. Which I know are fighting words themselves. So while I might help someone not in the adoption world to have the correct words not to annoy other adoptive families, I think I couldn't stomach creating my son's vocabulary for him. I do like Christina's idea of sitting him down and asking what he would like you to call her. I also think you handled it really well, fwiw, in a way where it might not surprise him if another adoptive parent were to correct him (which, I know they would, but that would annoy), but would let him come tell you if they did.

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  9. I had to chuckle as I read your post. 3 years ago we adopted 3 children, ages 6 to 12.5. The oldest was the only one who remembered her birth mom and referred to her as her "real" mom. It didn't really bother me as I had already had parented 4 other children for years but after hearing that expression for a while, I jokingly asked her if I was her "fake" mom. That gave her cause to think about her words. I also told her that she was my "real" daughter just like my biological children, even though I didn't give birth to her. Now we laugh about it and she refers to her birth mom by her first name.

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  10. Honestly? I wouldn't worry about it too much, if I felt like we were bonded and it was just a word choice.

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  11. When my kids use "real mom," I don't take offense. But we do have conversations about how our word choices communicate "between" the lines things. We also talk about how others are sensitive to it. We prefer bio or birth mom. I'm an adult adoptee who doesn't have any contact with any birth family or memories of them, so i never really needed a term too often. I think I prefered birth mom. Sometimes we also refer to them as "your mom in " since one of our kids has a living mom and a foster mom he was close to.
    Bottom line, I wouldn't ignore it or stress about it. I would choose middle ground and tread gently.

    Melissa
    www.thecorkums.com

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  13. Thinking about this, it's interesting to me that the thing that gets me most emotional is the thought that other adults might try to correct his choice of words. For instance, it would REALLY bother me if another adoptive mom heard him refer to his birth mom as his real mom and engaged him on this trying to get him to use different words.

    Like this response on Facebook: "We let the girls use whatever term they are comfortable with. My only issue has been with another adoptive Mom who felt the word she used was better than the word we were using. Was difficult for the girls as she is a teacher at their school."

    That would make me crazy.

    We honestly don't talk about his birth mom much, because he never knew her, but I think we're at a place where he knows it's OK to talk or ask questions about her. I've also used the words birth father as we were talking, and I think that might have surprised him. I'm not sure that he'd ever thought that he had a birth father.

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  14. As someone who has shared kids through foster care and consequently adoption, I quickly learned that "Mom" was a feeling more than a name. I panicked the first time someone else's child called me Mom thinking this was somehow disrespecting the birth mother. In fact, it was a way for the child to show me respect for my role in their life. I love that this came up in such a nonchalant way for you. Quite honestly, there may very well (O.K., I think it is inevitable) come a day when that same phrase may be shouted in a very angry way, "You're not my real mom," and when it happened here, I realized this is just another form of the "I hate my life" stage of adolescence making it easier to not take it personally. I think if I asked my teenagers who their "real Mom" was/is, they would quizzically look at me like I had two heads. They know. They just don't always know how to articulate their feelings by assigning names in the ways that we expect or want. You have had wonderful responses here and I agree with the majority to let Wenxin design his own vocabulary. He'll figure out what's best for him in his own time.

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    1. Jennifer, You could write a book. Wise advice!

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  15. I think its more about words at ten years of life. Perhaps if he were older he would choose another more thoughtful choice from a broader dictionary of words he's learned. I don't think its a big deal but then again, I haven't adopted a child. Visiting from Imperfect Prose.

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    1. I agree, Shelly. And we're talking about a second language learner as well. It is interesting, though, that despite all the attempts at "correct adoption lingo," when a younger child who is a second language learner grasps for the appropriate term for his biological mom, he chooses the term, "real mom." Out of the mouths of babes.

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  16. I am not an adoptive mom, but I am a first mom/birth mom or whatever other term is acceptable depending on the circle that one might belong to.

    Personally, I hope that this decision is always my daughter's to make. What she calls me is what I will be called. Although I don't believe her adoptive parents will be supportive if that included any reference to being her "mom" in any way. Which I find sad.

    But past that, I am also a step mother (for many years) and I have a son who also has a step-mother of his own.

    When my son was about 5 year old he became a brother (half) to a new little sister. Because he spent a significant amount of time at his dad's house (we had shared custody) suddenly the woman that his dad had referred to by her first name was now being called MOM.

    I sat my son down and explained to him that I knew that when he was at his dad's house he might find himself calling his step-mom by the name of MOM instead of her first name. I assured him that I was completely fine with this. I wanted him to feel like he was not defying allegiance to me as his "real mom", but instead I acknowledged that she was acting on behalf of a mother when she was parenting him at that house and I could understand why he would call her mom while there.

    I felt like it was important to let him know, before he even asked, that I knew it was hard having two moms and I was going to support him through it. He called his step-mom MOM on occasion, but as he got older he referred to her by her first name. His choice.

    My step children (one of whom I raised since he was 1 year old), called me by my first name. It was their choosing. Sometimes they would slip and say mom and I would just roll with it. As time went on they would tease and call me all kinds of things, like STEP-MOTHER, or MY OTHER-MOTHER. The name they used was not important to me, but instead the spirit in which they said it. I love the way my step-daughter says STEP-MOTHER with a huge smile on her face and over exaggeration. She also coined the phrase "Rock On Step Mom!" that she uses still to this day (she is 26).

    I guess it kinda goes back to the open adoption philosophy of "can a child be loved by more than one family?". Can a child have more than one mother? I believe the answer is yes.

    Maybe just educating Wexin about the different names people call the moms he has had in his life and explaining why they would use those terms (first mom, birth mom, foster mom, etc) you could help him navigate what he wants to say. Maybe he could call his first mom by his native language name MOM? You might also tell him why some people choose to use some names and some people have hurt feelings with other names (carefully explaining that it doesn't hurt YOUR feelings, but it might hurt others.)

    I sure seem to have a lot to say for a woman who is neither an adoptee or adoptive mom! LOL

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    1. Lisa Anne, You don't know how happy I am to read your reply. It is rare to find a first mom/birth mom who will speak so openly to a group of mostly adoptive parents (and I know that not all adoptive parents are open to listening.) So thank you for adding your voice to this conversation. You have so much mom experience, having mothered both biological and step children and your daughter who you placed for adoption. Thank you for such a thoughtful comment.

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  17. My two grandbabies are adopted. One at birth, one at age two. I have no idea why, but my grandson always gets mixed up and calls his birth mom his "step mom". I just thought you'd enjoy the chuckle.
    I'm visiting from Emily's today.

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  18. Dana, have you read this post by Beth at Five Kids Is a Lot of Kids?
    http://putdowntheurinalcake.com/2011/06/on-being-made-real/

    Prayers to you and yours.
    Emily Goldberg

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    1. Wow Emily! That is an amazing post. I love her perspective and agree with her 100%.

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  19. As an adoptee, I thought your answer was fine. I wouldn't worry too much about the "real" thing in this situation, it is just terminology. In your answer, you subtly mentioned another term without pushing him to use that term. I like the replies of some of the other comments.

    One thing I've found as an adult is that it doesn't bother me that much when people use "real" in a QUESTION because it is often just a case of not knowing what words to use. What does bother me is when people make statements telling me WHO my REAL parents are - it is up to me to decide who my "real" parents are. They are all "real" to me.

    Btw I will say it irritates me online when I hear APs say, "I'm THE real mom" - to me, it would be better to say "I'm A real mom". Saying "I"m A real mom" is describing what you are - saying "I'm THE real mom" sounds like a competition.

    I'm an older adoptee so perhaps the "I'm THE real mum" gets to me because I'm pretty sure my bmom didn't relinquish me because "she couldn't be stuffed parenting", all evidence points to her having very few choices presented to her (even less choice than 20 years BEFOREHAND). She might well have missed not doing all those "Real Mum" things for her child. She passed away quite young so I can't say for absolute certain.

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  20. My son is only three and doesn't even know what adoption is and we don't have contact with his birth mom, but since we live in his birth country we still see his grandmother from time to time. I just call her his Taiwan grandma since the three grandmothers he has are from different continents and I figured nationalities aren't loaded terms. Then again, he's too little to know that's what I'm doing so we'll see how things go when he's a bit bigger.

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  21. I'm coming at this late, but wanted to give my input as an older child adoptee.

    I kind of want to touch on my view of "real" mom because still at 22 i refer to my birth mom as my real mom.

    I was adopted at 17 1/2 and knew my birth mom for over half of my life before I was taken away. My mom didn't have a choice when I was taken; however she had the opportunity to fight and she didn't. I spent many years in foster care with many failed adoptions and through those years, somehow my mom was still my mom. One of my failed adoptions actually had to do with the "real" mom thing, because the mom, like many, didn't like my use of the "real" mom title. She felt uncomfortable that after all my mom had done to me, I would still refer to her as my real mom. A lot of times its was out of not knowing what else to call her. She gave birth to me. She was SUPER real to me…and just because I didn't live with her didn't mean that I wasn't a part of her or her me. When I was finally adopted at 17 1/2, my adoptive mom fought with me for months because I would call my mom my real mom. She didn't know what to do with it…that caused us a lot of tension as I felt she didn't respect my pain and my process of how to handle my mom and she felt I was disrespecting all she did for me in calling my mom my real mom. Then we came to the conclusion, mostly out of respect to her, that I would call my mom, mom. I've had too many moms to count on 1 hand and only 2 of them matter in my head: The one that gave birth to me and I lived with for 14 years, and the one who adopted me and albeit the adoption didn't work well she tried. They both hurt me, but they are both still moms in my head. One is just my real mom. That doesn't make my adoptive mom any less of a mom or a fake mom. It makes her just as real. BUT she doesn't share my flesh and blood. SHe didn't know me in those first hours. IT's nothing personal…just MY way of processing and understanding what happened to me and who is who in my life.

    I think you handled it well..but like the blog that was posted on Being Made Real, be careful to not let your need to be the REAL mom outweigh your childs need to express the mom roles. At 10 it may be just 10 year old language…but even if it continues, try not to let it eat at you…and if it does don't force him to call her something he doesn't WANT to.

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  22. I'm a 56 year old adoptee. my bio mom is just that. period. i call her by her name Carol. Not mom, not real mom, not bio mom, just Carol. My adoptive mom, even though passed away now, will always be my real mom and therefore, the only person on the planet deserving enough to be called that; because she raised me from infancy up. What IS a real mom? A "REAL" mom is the mom who would give her life to see you happy, would stop a locomotive to protect you from harm, and would die for you. That's true, loyal, unconditional, forever love.

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