Who do Adoptees Consider to be their Real Family

We recently had an interesting discussion on the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group on the offensiveness of using the word “real” in reference to adoption, as in:

  • “Is she your real daughter”
  • “Do you know anything about his real family”?

Mostly it was adoptive parents in the discussion, and most were highly offended by the use of the term “real.” One adoptee in our group wanted to know what more adopted people thought, so she asked a group of adoptees the following question.

Did it bother you when “real” was used instead of “biological” when people asked adoption questions when you were growing up and now as an adult.

I was thankful she asked the question. Adoptive parents and professionals must hear the voices of adoptees if we want to do right by our children. All decisions in adoption should be made on what is in the children’s best interest, so it stands to reason that everyone in the adoption community benefits from listening to the voices and wisdom of adopted people.

As always, adult adoptees do not speak with one voice. With her permission, I will share the results (paraphrased for length and privacy):

  • My A-parents always used “real” when I was young in reference to my birth parents because it was an easier word for a child to understand than biological. I think the term birth parent is more popular now.
  • I hated the word “real” when growing up, especially kids my own age asking. My mom used the term birthmother whenever referring to my biological mother. Now that I’m grown up it’s less irritating, but still bugs me a bit.
  • The term “real” was used by my peers growing up, and it never bothered me. I understood what they meant. They were doing the best they could. I would have hardly expected fellow students to know what were the PC terms to use.
  • The term “real” never made me feel “less than” or made me feel that Mom and Dad were any different than other moms and dads. I think that the honest and matter-of-fact way that adoption was explained to me helped.
  • I consider myself to have two “real” mothers. The dictionary has different definitions for “mother” which including giving birth to a child and also raising a child. One mother gave birth to me, the other mother raised me.
  • I have been told that I shouldn’t consider my birthmother to be one of my mothers and that I only have one mother. I personally believe it is my right to decide who my mothers/fathers are. No, my bmother didn’t raise me, but I also don’t think she went through life totally unaffected by the experience of having a child and never seeing her again.
  • I was bothered by biological more than anything. Man, I didn’t like that word then, and I don’t like it now.
  • Now I just use Mom and Mother and Dad and Father and people correct me to use “birth” and “biological”, and I ignore them. I’m 36, pretty sure I’m not confused about who is who these days.
  • I also consider myself to have 2 mothers. My b-mom is actually the person who told me that she isn’t my mother. According to her, the only mother I have is my adoptive mother. No one, not even my b-mom, has the right to tell me who I should or should not regard as my mother. If she doesn’t want to see me as her daughter, that’s her right. But, I have the right to label her in whatever way is best for me….
  • People don’t know what to say. I don’t care if someone wants to use the term “real” when referring to either my adoptive or b-families. And, besides, it’s difficult. Some adoptees believe that their adoptive parents are their real parents, and that’s the term they use. Other adoptees believe that their biological parents are their real parents, and that’s the term the use. I believe all of them are my real parents, but I don’t use that term.
  • Personally, I prefer biological parents. That’s what I’ve always used to be able to differentiate between the two sets. I cannot stand the phrase birth parents. But, I accept others’ word choices.
  • The term “real” didn’t bother me. Real parents is used when you’re a child, once you are older the word Bio parents is used. I feel its just child and adult terminology.
  • I don’t like being told by anyone else who’s my “real” family and who isn’t. It’s my family… it’s up to me to decide. And from where I’m sitting, my birth mother wasn’t a figment of my imagination. I didn’t imagine my adoptive mom, either. Both are real. Both are, by one definition or another, my mothers.
  • As for being bothered by the word “real” when I was a kid? Nah, I didn’t like the word, but I simply substituted “birth” or “adoptive” in its place and moved along. As an adult? I like it less… mostly because I tend to hear it used by people who are trying to define my family for me. But I mostly chalk it up to ignorance instead of malice, and try to explain how both sides of my family are equally real…
  • Yes, I was bothered if anyone said my a-parents weren’t my “real” parents, or my a-sister wasn’t my “real” sister. I’m bothered if anyone says members of my natural families aren’t “real” family, too. I chalk these kinds of mistakes up to ignorance.
  • There is genuine disagreement over the use of other terms. There are different people who are offended by the use of all the following: birth mother, bio-mother, natural mother, first mother. I’ve seen some insist that the only adequate term is just plain “mother.” That’s an understandable argument but can be confusing in a discussion that involves both mothers. The disagreements are understandable but leave one in a bind as to what to say. I almost wish for the development of completely different terms for all involved.

One of my pet peeves is the assumption that all adopted people will think alike about any topic. Of course, they don`t. This diversity means we need to listen to as many adoptees as possible.

Adoptees and adoptive parents: should we be offended by people using the term “real” to refer to kids born to a family vs. adopted into a family, or to refer to the biological family vs. the adopted family? Or is this discussion making a mountain out of a molehill?

Image credit: Sunciti _ Sundaram’s Images + Messages