Thursday, October 30, 2014

What Makes a Family?

This post could just as easily be called: "What I want to post on social media, but don't as to avoid drama". There has been this terrible trend that I'm noticing around foster care circles and with friends and family of foster parents who are trying to be supportive. It makes me want to vomit, and cry, and punch someone's face all at once. It's memes and sentiments along the lines of, Going to court for baby's birthmom. Waste of time since we all know who his real Mom is. Then the naive friend comments, How can anyone think she is a "mom" at all when she can't even come to a doctor's appointment? Or we say something along the lines of, Why does he have any say at all? He hasn't seen her since birth?! Can you even have parental rights if you're just the sperm donor?

Here's the thing: Sharing DNA with someone does make a family. Period. Children who have been conceived using actual, legitimate sperm donors have petitioned the courts to find their Father. Genetics matter. I have first cousins that I met literally once when my Grandmother (who I never met) died. 20 years later- with a mutual non-interest in each other's lives- they are still my cousins. The woman who birthed my Father is still my Grandma. The mere fact that we carry the same bloodline makes us family. When a woman births a child, she is forever the "real", "true", "natural" Mother to that child. Forever. Her legal rights can change. Her access to the child can change. Her family tie to that child does not. She is their Mother. Same for Fathers. To pretend anything else is delusional.

But... But... But... I!!!! 

You what? 

You were there for the child since birth? Stayed up late with them when they were sick? Kissed all the boo boos? Changed all the diapers? taught all the nursery rhymes? Loved without condition? Worked day and night through debilitating exhaustion to help the child heal from the unspeakable things that happened to them? I know. I get it. 

Here's the second thing: Parenting a child does make a family. Period. I have sons who I have not seen in years. When you foster or adopt, you welcome a child into your family. You treat them with the same regard as biological family. You take all the responsibility for the child's well being. You become the "real", "true", "natural" Mother to that child. Forever. Your legal rights may never come. Your access to the child may change. Your family tie to that child does not. You are their Mother. Same for Fathers. The constant need to defend our role make us look delusional.

Biological Family and Adoptive family are not competitors. We co exist -with equal value- in our children. It is hurtful to try to one up each other, or worse, trying to boil down the other party to simply mechanics or mere signatures. 

If I value my child's status in my family (which I do), and I think that my parenting is real and natural (which I do)- I do not need to go around proving myself. Putting down Biological Parents by stripping them of their title and using their actions to discredit their role makes it seem like there is a question of who this child belongs to. Not only does it pose the question, but it suggests we think the answer could be that the children do not actually belong to us.

I didn't come up with this next concept on my own, but I'm not sure who I got it from otherwise there would be major credit given. The question should be posed: Who belongs to this child? The answer should always be all of us. By stepping up and working to keep everyone who belongs to your child connected to them, you are minimizing trauma and loss. You are giving your child the gift of family. You are never making them choose. And (quite selfishly on my part) you are generally more pleasant to be around.

So can we stop the pissing contest, people? Can we just be great parents to our kids without ripping apart their other parents? Can we stop trying to make them the bad guys and collecting accolades for being the heros?

I am committing to stop using BioDad or BirthMom when speaking of my children's parents. Because obviously if I'm talking about Baby 9's Mom, I'm not talking about myself. Respecting their role ultimately respects the child. That's more important to me than being deemed real or true or awesome. I share my child with another Mother. She's a Mom and I'm a Mom. My kids are lucky if they never have to say Goodbye to either of us.

I'm interested to hear what words you'd commit to stop using in respect for the parents who gave life to the children you love. Leave me a comment!!


  1. This is really interesting to me, as I've just decided to work harder on using "bio-parent" more for M. We're finally close to adopting her, and she understands so much when we talk about it in front of her. She knows that she wasn't born to us the way the baby was, but she also knows, with certainty, that I'm her mom and Andy's her dad; it's hard for her to wrap her head around that when I still refer to someone else as "M's mom" all the time. But that's a deliberate change, because for almost three years now I've referred to her original set of parents as her "mom and dad" while simultaneously using that title for us, the people raising her.

    I look forward to seeing what language she chooses as she gets older, and of course we'll follow her lead on what feels best.

    I have also seen this trend of disparaging the original family as a way to bolster the new family, and it sucks. We've tried hard to keep people from doing that but it's such a popular move.

  2. We don't use birth or first mom with our 10 year old foster son. We call her "Donna-mom" (not real name) and me "Alethea-mom." Donna-Mom is deceased, and FS has been in care nearly 4 years. We don't compete for real-momness, but it's partly because she's not around. At 10, however, and with some stability and ability to reflect, FS is starting to see ways in which she was not a good mom. We never discuss these kinds of things, but he'll bring up, "You do things XYZ way, but my Donna-Mom did ABC and that made me feel scared."

  3. Wow! I loved the "Who belongs to this child?" thought. That is beautiful!

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this! I am so tired of hearing "Their parents don't deserve to get them back" or "I hope they can just stay with you forever". Until the rights are terminated, our goal is still reunification. And if the rights are terminated, they will still always be the children's parents. As terrible as the parents may be, termination is never a happy thing!

  5. As trite as it may sound, there can never be too many people to love a child. Should G's mother have gotten him back? Prob not(for his emotional well being) but she did, and that is that. Her choices good and bad don't change her status as his mother. If it could have been different and we could have all shared his care it would have been in HIS best interests, but it didn't happen. We will always love him, and much as she would like to she can't unmake us his grandparents, we haven't seen him for 17 months and 29 days but we are still here. No amount of wishing or hoping is going to change who she is and who we are, it is, as they say, what it is.

  6. We've been wrestling with this in our house. I've always referred to Primo's parents as his parents or his Mom and his Dad. In my blog I may have referred to them as Bio parents now and again but in real life I've always called them his parents. I kept thinking we needed to come up with a new term for when his adoption was complete. But I still call them Primo's Mom and Dad, that's who they will always be.

    Just the other day I was talking to my sister and referred to Primo's Mom as such and my sister asked why I call her that? And then reminded me that I'm his REAL Mom. I shared with her that I've never been offended by anyone calling Primo's parents his Mom and Dad, that's who they are and always will be. We are both his Moms.

    When I talk to Primo about his Mom he does get a bit confused so I've started calling her "your Karen-Mom" (not her real name).

    We also have framed photos of Primo with his Mom and Dad in his room. I can't tell you how many times friends and family have questioned us about this. The bottom line is that they think we're crazy, but those are his parents, that is the truth and always will be so why would I want to keep that information and relationship from him?

  7. This is sucha difficult topic! Our first foster daughter (who is still with us after 4 months) comes from an environment that I could never accurately describe. It is riddled with abuse and incest and drugs.HOnestly I waffle back and forth from despiseing them for what they allowed to happen/did to Snow White to piting them.

    Despite all of that I will say this: that can never, ever, ever be something that the children should ever be able to pick up on. THey have enough issues trying to figure out how to love all of us at the same time that they don't need us trying to bad mouth the others.

    I am working on having compassion.... you are further along then I am Teresa. But I agree... one day the judge will make a decision, and Snow White will either go back to a place that is not safe, or I will have to tell her that she will never go home. Neither will be a win.

  8. I love this. Reading it made a lot of sense to me. My husband and I are just starting out in the process of hopefully becoming foster parents. We aren't sure we will ever have our own kids and we would love to help other kids if we can't. I always wondered what the right way was to refer to ourselves, do we call ourselves dad or mom? What do we call their biological parents then? This made blog post and your most recent one made me feel a lot better about all of that. Seems so complicated sometimes. So again, thank you!

  9. I really loved reading this! I was adopted and it always felt weird to talk about my "biological mom". As I got older I started thinking about my "biological mom" as my mother. A mother is someone who gives birth. And I owe her my life because she chose to love me and give me life. Then I have my Mom. My "adoptive mom" is the only one I ever really knew. I think of "mom" as a more personal term, one reserved for the one who cared for me and raised me. This has made it so much easier so I don't have to clarify with so many words each time I talk about one or the other.