I’m closing in on close to two decades of parenting and I still hear it—“real”—used as a qualifier of relationships that our children have with their birth parents, siblings, and adoptive parents, as in who is real and who is not. The concept of “real” is confusing, intimidating, or can elicit emotional injury because, uttered as a modifier by others, it says a lot about how the familial relationship of one is valued compared to another.
In preparation classes we talk about the term “real,” as in parents and siblings, and birth parents. It is the responsibility of the adopting parents to educate family members and close friends on use of correct language—parents, brothers, sisters, birth mother, birth father, birth parents, etc. Parents should advocate that all of these individuals, regardless if the adopted child knows them, are real and should be recognized for their relationships, and they should be treated with grace.
For adoptive parents there is no biological connection to their child, the “preferred” method of parenting society. Adoptive parents are quite aware of this bias. Adoptive parents who struggle with correcting others about the use of “real” and other positive adoption language may have trouble with entitlement—a topic explored in several of the classes I teach. For parents coming into adoption via infertility the sense of entitlement can be even a larger issue. Using the word “real” to denote the nature of the parent-child relationship can further diminish the parent’s sense of entitlement.
What do I mean by entitlement? Fully embracing that you have the right to parent your child. This belief comes from claiming your child wholly, developing a sense that she “belongs,” even though you didn’t give birth to her. For a number of adoptive parents it’s a big hurdle to get over, especially if they grieve their infertility (and your child can sense your pain).
Parents with entitlement:
- Have strong base of self-esteem.
- Are committed to their relationship with their child.
- Claim their child as theirs (recognizing that this is an ongoing process).
- Have empathy for their child and their unique story.
- Are comfortable discussing adoption and their child’s story (all of it).
- Are open about their child’s birth parents and history (known or not).
Parenting is a coveted role; adults want to parent. It is one of the key motives behind why people adopt. Parents journey into and through parenting accompanied by their unique lenses and baggage. Kids, with their wonderful sense of radar, will know whether you feel entitled to parent them. Are you worthy? Do you feel it? If not, what can you do to get there?
Food for Thought: So, where are you with openness about your child’s birth parents, whether they are known and engaged or not? Are you intimidated by your child’s birth parents? Do you fear your child loving them more than she loves you? Do you feel second best?