"Energizer Bunny arrested, charged with battery."So… What is “REAL?”

Merriam-Webster defines real as, “not artificial, fraudulent, or illusory; occurring or existing in actuality; of or relating to practical or everyday concerns or activities; existing as a physical entity and having properties that deviate from an ideal, law, or standard.”

On Real Parents,” a recent post on Grown in My Heart, contributor Jessica opens with, “There isn’t another question out there guaranteed to light the adoption stink bomb like “real parents.” I agree. And although she was writing of adoptive parents I would propose that “real” goes further. For those who are part of the adoptive community—adoptive parents, children or adults who has been adopted, or birth parents, the word “real” is complex, chock-full emotion and nuance. I consider “real” a whopper of a trigger.

Adoptive parents often go through a process of dealing with “real,” most likely because it calls the relationship with their child(ren) into question, or so they feel.  I would venture to say that most adoptive parents feel they are the real parent of their child. They would also admit that their child’s birth parents are just as real. The fact that adoptive parents, especially those who have adopted transracially, are inundated with “real” is what sets them apart. They would prefer validation.

When people ask if children within the same family are “real” siblings, well, come on, parents do tend to become frustrated and/or annoyed. I can share that I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been asked this and often with the follow up, “You know what I mean…” Yes I do. My husband and I, aside from the fact that we did adopt, parent intensely to build a cohesive integrated close family. Our children are as real as siblings can be without being conceived by and born into the same family. My kids fight and bicker, but are also tender and loyal. They love and have compassion for each other.

But let’s focus on the child. This parenting you are immersed in is all about your child, yes? So how do you view “real” in light of your child? How do you think your child views and processes questions or comments laced with “real?”

When a child is young, their world is rather simple (hopefully). Real equates to being a physical entity, to existing. But as your child grows up, he begins to looks at adoption differently. He begins to ask more complex questions or perhaps act out because he doesn’t. You may see your child respond to other triggers, such as a birthday or a move to a new school.

“Real” might imply a relationship with you and lack of with his birth parent(s). Your child may ask you if his birth mother is real. My son did.  “Real” might trigger a deep sense of loss of everything tied to having been adopted and then it could blossom into more, like shame and self-esteem issues.

Nip it in the bud. Talk about the nuances of what “real” means in age-appropriate language—why people ask, what they might be digging for and what doesn’t concern them. Give your child examples of how to talk about adoption with others so that he feels empowered to share what he wants, express that he is uncomfortable with what is being asked or said, not answer or comment, or walk away. It is your child’s story. Help him own it.

Parents: How do you deal with “real” when it comes up, as related to adoption.  Has your approach differed as your child as become older or the longer you have been parenting? How do you empower your child to deal with this concept?

~ Photo by Brightdawns

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Elizabeth Vaughan February 23, 2011 at 5:33 pm

“Real” is a four-letter word, all right! Terrific post. I’d love to hear some of the examples you mention of things you can tell kids to say when they are asked about adoption. I imagine it differs by age. I love the idea of preparing kids for these questions in advance so they can, as you say, “own their story.”


Robyn Gobbel LCSW February 9, 2011 at 9:30 am

Awesome post, Judy. “Real” is definitely a trigger word, and I love how you pull the focus back around to the child.


Judy February 11, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Thanks, Robyn!


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