Monday, December 11, 2006

Looks like we all just wanna be REAL

Well, in my last post I pulled out the 'real' conversations as an example of things that can potentially side-track adoptive parents. Since then, I've seen some comments elsewhere that touch on that same subject, and I guess I have a bit more to say as I think it all through.

Obviously, no adoption-triad member wants his or her experience to be labeled as, or implied to be, anything other than 'real' - and rightfully so. And that's what makes this discussion of 'real mom' become so personal for some people. Many of us APs appear to be looking at it like this: If she's real, then what am I? Or, if she's real, then I guess I'm not. I have to say that I think this is an overly-simplified (and overly-emotional) way of looking at the situation. After making a much-too-lengthy response amongst the
comments regarding this issue on Paragraphein blog, I thought I should just speak for myself and work through my own questions, right here on my own space instead of someone else's (sorry N!).

It's no secret that - I'm guessing - all APs are eventually going to have to respond to questions about our children's 'real' parents. It's a topic that is just so fascinating to people outside of adoption that they can't help asking (over and over) -so it behooves us to put some thought into the hows and whys of a good response. How will I respond, and why?

I believe that my son's Korean mom is his 'real mom'. True, I don't prefer to be viewed as only a substitute or stand-in, but in my mind's reality, that's what I am - so that's the POV I'm coming from as I write this. Right now it doesn't overly concern me that I'm not his one-and-only. I also can't help but think that some time in the future (yet unknown to me), my son's thoughts and dreams and curiosities about his Korean mom will be every bit as real to him as the fact that I feed him and clothe him and take him to activities and hug and kiss him. His longing for her and love for her and concern for her will be as real as real as real. I suspect. So, if the fact that literally having given life to someone isn't enough reason for an AP to see a first mother as being 'real' - perhaps the fact that first mothers are reality for our children, will convince us to forget the whole name-game.

Anyway, back to example linked above. Store clerk asks about child's "real" mother. WHY would I respond (as adoption propaganda would have me do) with the question, "Do you mean his birthmother"? This is how I see it: We're all so concerned about what 'society' will think of us (APs) if we don't address this misuse of the words 'real mother'. We'd be silently acknowledging that we're something other than real. And how can we be our child's advocate if we allow other people to constantly call our relationship into question like this? We wonder if years of letting our children hear others refer to their birthparents as real (gasp!) will have a negative effect on us, them, and how they feel about us.

Let me propose a different question. How will years of an adoptee hearing his adoptive mother refer to his other real mother as something other than real, make him feel? If I were to rephrase with the birthmother clarification every.single.time. some stranger referred to my son's Korean mom as 'real' - wouldn't I really be saying that she's something other than real? After all, I've substituted a most-telling prefix to her mother status: birth. Birth only, just birth. You, dear store clerk stranger, can put her right out of your mind now. She was there for a time, and now she's gone and it's allllll me. I'm his real mother, please refer to her as birthmother. Now obviously these aren't the (exact) words people use, but they might as well. Don't you think that's what little ears will hear after witnessing this conversation, oh, a hundred times?

I care waaaaaaay, no, infinitely more, about the way in which my son perceives his Korean mother, than I'll ever care what any stranger thinks of me (I should add that I realize his perception of his Korean mother will be his own, but I acknowledge that I could seriously affect that perception by the words and actions I choose). Strangers can think what they want (it's not as if the love an AP has for her child can truly be understood by a stranger, anyway). My child will know whether I love him, and whether my love and our relationship is real, based on how I treat him and others important to him - not based on how I try to 'frame' our relationship and categorize his first mother. I want him to see, amongst many other things, that my desire to treat his flesh-and-blood mother with respect and dignity, is real.


So how would I actually answer the question, "Where is his real mother?"

Well, we have options. yay. We're all different, but I dare say that none of the options has to include a clarification that relegates one mother's position to that of something less than the other's. Honestly, when I have been asked, I've just either 1) Ignored; pretended not to hear 2) Replied, "She lives in Korea" 3) Replied, "We'll let our son choose if and when he wants to discuss his family's make-up" (or similar wording). And this is also an option for those who must verbalize the reality of their motherhood, "He has two real mothers. His other one lives in _____". Actually I think there are probably many more options that let us ALL be real.


At 10:05 AM , Blogger N said...

LOL Zoe... it's like you crawled inside my head once again. Said pretty much the same think to Karen on my blog. =)

At 3:47 PM , Blogger Kahlan said...

Let me propose a different question. How will years of an adoptee hearing his adoptive mother refer to his other real mother as something other than real, make him feel?


Beautifully said, Zoe. Your writing puts me to shame.

At 6:41 PM , Blogger Paula said...

Dear Zoe and Kahlan,

I recently found your blog via Margie, aka Third Mom. As both an adult Korean adoptee and an adoptive parent of a son from Korea, please accept my heartfelt "thank you" for your voices of honesty, integrity and validation for adoptees and first mothers.

Regarding the current entry, my parents never got too bent out of shape when others inquired about my "real" parents - - they acknowledged freely and frequently that yes, I did have another mom and dad in Korea, and that semantics didn't have to signify a personal affront to their relationship with me. I am thankful for both the self-confidence and humility they possessed to allow me to express the feelings and inquiries of my own about my first parents. It's hard for me to understand why some APs feel so threatened about acknowledging and truly honoring their children's first families.

I've found it very intimidating to engage in honest and open discussion on the larger, public adoption forums; there seems to be a large amount of opposition to addressing the tougher issues within adoption. I'm grateful to be reading perspectives like yours, Margie's and others who are willing to leave the comfort zone.

I've enjoyed the many discussions that I've read here so far. I look forward to reading many more.

Best regards,
Paula O.

At 6:50 AM , Blogger said...

You don't have to answer questions from a shopkeeper. They are supposed to ask you how you want to pay and how many litres of milk do you want to buy.

You can say you're not in the mood for personal questions today.

The real mother thing wouldn't bother me if I adopted (i wouldn't but if I did). I would not feel less real if I respected and acknowledged the other mother. I don't think my child would either. I would be the mother too.

At 8:33 PM , Blogger zoe said...

You are welcome here, Paula - along with anyone who can help us put down our defenses and talk about things rationally. :) I appreciate your perspective.

I believe you Kim, when you say you don't think the 'real' terminology would bother you if you were an adoptive mother - it probably would have gone right under my 'offense' radar, too, if I hadn't been primed to think of it as wrong. Now I'm just trying to back out of that line of thinking, I guess, since I think it is more of a defense mechanism rather than a valuable tool for the adoptive relationship.

At 7:15 AM , Blogger Dawn said...

I just found you via paragraphien. When people ask me about my daughter's real mother, I tell them about her and sometimes use the term Jessica uses (birth mom) as in, "Her birth mom lives here in town, actually." I just don't care about the real mom title and am not too worried about how Madison will feel about it 'cuz I figure it's one of those things that we -- as an adoptive family -- just have to accept is common terminology. And it's not harmful -- I don't feel like it denigrates me or our family.

We have a bio son, too, and I get much more bent out of shape by the (rarely to our face) assumption that he's somehow more real to *me* because I think that is harmful to my daughter and to our family.

At 6:50 PM , Blogger Betsy said...

I'm new to your blog. Great, thought provoking post. Thank you.


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