"Non-Mom?" Really? Are You Sure You Want to Go There?
Since I became a mother over seven years ago, I've been called a lot of things related to my parental status -- Forever mom. Adoptive mom. Mean mom (yeah, you know that one was from PunditGirl).
I've always hated labels, but I've never been able to figure out why our media insist on branding families -- step-sisters, half-brothers, foster children. What is gained by describing families in these terms, other than to divide or to suggest that one type of family relationship is better than another?
For me, families are families. But there is clearly something up with society in terms of wanting or needing to define people by the degree of blood relations they have -- as if not having a genetic connection makes people less of a family.
But the one that really took the Mother's Day cake was this weekend when NBC and Teleflora hosted what I think is an incredibly silly show called, "America's Favorite Mom." Among the various categories was one that was apparently designed to encompass people like me -- a mother by adoption -- as well as other women who are parents of children who are not related to them by blood.
The classy title they came up with?
It took me a while before I could actually sit down to write this piece because I had to wait for the steam to stop coming out of my ears.
One of the "non-moms/adoptive moms" is described as having a child "of her own" and six "meth babies." Do I even have to start explaining all the ways this is wrong??
While PunditGirl became a part of our family by adoption and not as a result of some of the more fun ways of creating a family, I am not her "adoptive" mom.
I AM HER MOM! Period.
By law and by love, in all ways, I am her mother and that will never change. Even if she is lucky enough to someday find her birth mother -- or as we call her, "China mom" -- I am the one who loves her, cares for her and is legally responsible for her, just as parents of biological children are.
But for some reason, there is rampant yet subtle prejudice in our society against non-biological family relationships. Friends, media and even relatives can't get past calling families like mine something different. As if by calling us "adoptive" families makes biological families better -- read: real.
Don't believe me? Check out what one of my favorite adoption writers, Dawn from this woman's work, has to say about the NBC/Teleflora mom snafu:
Adopted kids — and the adults they grow up into, although in the eyes of the world they’re always adopted children — just aren’t as “real” as people who get to grow up in their families of origin. The only reason non-mom would ever bother me (because honestly I don’t give a damn what people call me) is that it’s indicative of the disrespect that society has about our kids.
Take this a step further -- why is there even a need for a separate mom category? Is it because "adoptive moms" aren't military moms? Or single moms? Or working moms? Or CEO moms? Garden Variety Family blog wonders, at what point we'll stop with the silly categories:
How about a category for artificially inseminated moms, fertility drugged up moms or moms who have had children via embryo sorting/gender selection? Why [does] my route to parenthood need to be aired as something that doesn't make me a mom?
Sure, NBC and Teleflora said they were sorry when the uproar got loud enough -- if you can call what they issued an actual apology:
After closer examination, we can see how this may have been offensive to moms who have adopted children -- moms who are indeed real moms to their children in every sense of the word. In fact, many of us at Teleflora are 'adopting' parents ourselves, including our president and owner.
Insensitivity? That's a pretty big understatement. Stereotypical insult would be more like it.
In an E-mail message to me, Amie at Mamma Loves ... wrote:
My mom is my mom. I have never once qualified her status in my life. She is not my "adopting" mom or my "adoptive" mom or any other BS. SHE IS MY MOM.
And I am my son's mom (even though if we want to be technical I'm his aunt).
This is the most insulting thing I have seen in a LONG time.
I could care less about myself, but for my mom??? I can't pound the keys hard enough or type fast enough to get my anger out.
Those whose families are not impacted by issues of adoption, divorce or extended family members raising children, may find this is hard to understand. But here is the simple truth -- biology is not the only thing that makes a family, so it's time to stop talking about real moms and dads and real families.
There is a need for people to take a step back and shake off the old assumptions and start to believe that our kids are our kids. There are still so many people our family encounters, not that infrequently, who ask the bizarre questions (how much did she cost?), give us 'the look' (Oh, that's so sad you couldn't have "your own" child), or ask my daughter if she knows her "real mom" (uh, that would be ME!)
Perhaps the only way to end this sort of "adoptism" is to start reversing the questions and asking biological families:
"Did you use in vitro to conceive or did you do it the old-fashioned way? Boy, I bet that was expensive?"
"So, how many months did you 'try' and not succeed?"
"Are you sure he's 'your' child? He looks nothing like you?"
You get my drift. This is about so much more than a silly contest hosted by Donny and Marie. This is about how we view families and children and the messages we send as a society to our kids about who has worth and value. The clear message by continuing to make these senseless distinctions is that some kids aren't real or as good as others. You know, there's enough of that in world as it is -- we don't need to divide kids by how they came to be part of their families.
My husband (Mr. PunditMom!) has two daughters from his first marriage. Since PunditGirl joined our family through adoption, she is not related to them by blood. So what do we call them?
Until we can get more people on board with the fact that all families are real families, we will continue to be diminished. And, as Dawn at this woman's work says, as an adult, I can deal with the categories others try to slap on me, but stop telling our kids that they're not part of real families. Because as long as we allow that to happen the message that the world gets is that non-traditional families are second-class, inferior and not worthy of the simple word 'family.'
I'm real. And our daughter is real. PunditGirl is "our own" (even though, as with any second-grader, she'd like to disown us as parents when we embarrass her in public). My family is as real as any other. Real is a lot of things other than sharing genes and a blood type.
Here's the proof:
Joanne, sometimes better known as PunditMom, is a Contributing editor for Politics & News. You can also find her writing about the intersection of motherhood and politics (and adoption!), at her personal blog, PunditMom, and at MOMocrats.
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