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Adoption Blog: My Paperwork Pregnancies

“Real” Mom?

It’s not a far stretch to assume that everyone has heard of the word “real.” So why is this word used incorrectly in so many of the questions directed at my adoptive family?

What Does “Real” Even Mean?
A quick check in a dictionary confirms that while there are many meanings for the word “real”—some of these include “actual rather than imaginary, ideal, or fictitious,” “being an actual thing; having objective existence; not imaginary,” “genuine,” and “not counterfeit, artificial, or imitation”—none of the definitions I come across mention “sharing of DNA.”

Yet, it seems as if the questions people ask about the “realness” of my family assume that this is the only definition.

I have learned how to handle most questions with dignity and am always in the process of teaching my children to do the same. Most comments, I understand, result from not being properly educated about adoption. I, myself, was clueless about many aspects of adoption—and how to talk about them—up until I walked into my first adoption support group meeting, started reading books on the topic, and became a full-fledged family formed through adoption. Yet, when people I don’t know use the word “real” in regards to adoptive families it strikes a nerve in me.

“Real Mom?”
Strangers—whether a cashier, another parent on a playground, or even a hairdresser who sees me with my children—will ask if I’m my children’s “real mom” quite often. Even though I knew this would happen when we chose to adopt, and especially when we chose to adopt transracially, I am usually taken aback.

Since my adoptions are transracial, I look nothing like my children, so I think it’s pretty obvious there is no genetic connection. So why do they use the word “real”? Do they think I am the children’s nanny? Could I really be some counterfeit mom while the other one is getting her nails done? I know these people just want to know if my children are adopted, but don’t feel comfortable asking directly, but it’s the way they ask that I find troubling. And it doesn’t help that this kind of question always seems to come on the days where I am ready to rip my hair out from being worn out by being such a “real” mom.

Answering Tough Adoption Questions
How I respond truly depends on my mood, and if my children are with me. If I am in an unpleasant mood, I might say, “Let’s see, I change their dirty diapers and wipe their runny noses day in and day out. It certainly seems like I’m ‘real.’” If I am in a nicer mood, I may reply, “I am an adoptive parent, so yes, I am their ‘real mom.’”

Answering Tough Adoption Questions—in Front of Your Kids
What angers some adoptive parents I have spoken to on this topic, is when their children overhear strangers question whether their mom is “real.” To a child, if something is not “real,” then it’s fake. Never should a child doubt that the parent who cares for them day in and day out is a fake parent. Imagine what doubts that could place in their minds regarding their security.

Putting the “Real Mom” Debate to Rest
Honestly, I feel that all of my children have two “real” mothers. One of us nurtured my child for their first months in utero and the other has nurtured them since. Both of us “really” have held or are holding an important role and should be rightly insulted by strangers who imply one of us is fake. Without their real birth mother and their real daily mom (me) my children would not be who they are today.

Top Adoption Myths—Debunked

Related Posts on AdoptiveFamiliesCircle

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Hi Danielle,

I am an adoptive mother of three children from Korea.  They are now all young adults, and I am busy writing about the process, so I wanted to respond to your lovely post.

Actually no stranger ever asked me if I would was my children’s “real” mom, that issue came up for me with my son Brandon.

The research tells us that at four years old adopted children have a different view of their “adoption story”.  That is because at four years old children have the cognitive ability to say to themselves, if my story of adoption is a happy story, then there has to be another story that created my adoption.  In other words it begins to dawn on them, that the happy part of adoption was born out of loss.

So despite the fact that my son Brandon had heard his story many times, at four years old he said, “you’re my second mama, aren’t you”?  I said yes I am Brandon, and of course he asked, “why”.  In other words he was looking for the other side of the story.

This began a period of intense grieving for my son.  He cried, he talked endlessly about his unknown birthmother, and even stopped strange women on the street to ask them if they’ve were his mother.

I spent this time listening intently to him, crying with him, and reassuring him that his mother’s decision was borne out of love. This grieviing went on for several months and I remained as calm and collected as I could possibly be, thinking that this was a very natural thing for himing.  His twin brother never did talk about his adoption, let alone grieve, and my daughter grieved in a different way.

Finally one day, Brandon was unhappy with something I had done, and said, “my real mother would not have done it that way”.  This finally reached a tipping point for me, and I said with tears in my eyes and a shaky voice, “Brandon, we can talk about your birthmother, or your first mother, but it doesn’t get more real than this.  I am your real mother”.

This is what Brandon had been waiting for me to say.  He took me in his little arms, cried with me, and said, “I know”.

I am writing a great deal about my experiences and would love to have you explore my blog if you wish.  You can find it at

I look forward to hearing from you…


By JaneBallback on Monday, March 28, 2011 at 11:28 pm.

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Danielle Pennel

Danielle Pennel


I have recently adopted or am adopting from...
U.S. Newborn, U.S. Newborn

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