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December 09, 2007

The "real parent" issue - - from a different perspective

So, this week I got to deal with the dreaded "real parent" issue. Yet again. Only this time I really had to exercise a great amount of patience, because the offending party was - - my 9-year-old stepdaughter. Let me give you a little background before Iaunch into this week's story.

My husband and I have known our plan to adopt since we first started dating. Well, let me rephrase that. I have known my plan to adopt since elementary school, and informed each and every guy I got serious with that this was the plan. So the fact of the matter is that it was always my plan, but became my husband's plan when we first started dating, since he thought it was a great idea. So anyway, we had prepared my stepdaughter and stepson for this eventuality from the very beginning, so that they would know that at some point they'd have a younger sister, and how she would come to be a part of our family. They also know that I was adopted, so it's not as if the concept was new to them. But from the very beginning, my stepdaughter has not absorbed adoption as I've seen it (tough lesson learned #1: you can't make your kids feel the same way you do about something). They both had that same perspective when we started out: "Well, who are your real parents then?". Which of course made me grimace, but they were so young that I knew they didn't mean anything bad by it. It's just that they came from their mother's body, so they didn't understand the concept that I didn't. My stepson seemed to get it after just one explanation. He likened it to a popular TV show (he watches a lot of TV at his mom's house): "Oh, so it's like that episode of that show where the woman had babies in her body that she was carrying for her brother, and after she had the babies the brother and his wife took them home and became their mom and dad?". Well, sort of (time for a discussion of surrogate parenting?). But he got the general idea that my perspective was that parents are the people who raise you and that your parents aren't always the ones who created you with the biological process.

For the first few years, my stepdaughter didn't really ask a lot of questions. But right around the time she turned 6, they started to come. "So, who are your real parents?", she asked one day while I was fixing her hair. I did my whole speech, about how my mom and dad are my only parents, how there is no such thing as "real" parents, because that would mean there are "fake" parents, and there aren't. I talked to her about proper language to use around adopted people and how some terms can hurt their feelings. This topic came up several more times over the next few years. I started to think she had a really poor memory, because I felt like a broken record. I reminded my self she was just a kid so I'd just go through it again. At some point I started to use the analogy about the fact that her mom and dad are divorced, and that doesn't make her "weird" or "not normal", and that she needed to understand that adopting a child is just another way to have a baby, that it wasn't "weird", and that she shouldn't make other kids feel that way if she encounters them. She agreed, seeming to understand that just like she disliked other kids asking her why her mom's last name was different and why she lived in two homes, kids who were affected by adoption might dislike her question about "real" parents.

Okay, so that's the last 6 years in a nutshell. So this week during a (dreaded) conversation about sex since her first sex education class in school happened a few weeks ago, the subject of babies of course came up, including how her teacher is pregnant and how some other teacher in the school just had a baby, etc. So she looks at my daughter toddling around and says, "You know, if I had been adopted I'd want to go back and find my real parents." I just about imploded. Honestly, have the past 6 years been imagined in my head?? I wanted to scream, GOOD GRIEF, HAVE YOU NOT HEARD A WORD I'VE SAID TO YOU YOUR WHOLE FREAKIN' LIFE???? But, as usual, I tried to stay calm. I went over the whole thing with her again, just like I have before. The bottom line is that she just doesn't get it. So I call my mom to vent. My mom hates those "real parent" words too, so I knew she'd understand my frusteration, although she does use the words biological mother to talk about the woman who gave birth to her, unlike me. Still, she was able to be calm enough to remind me that my stepdaughter is just a child. She also reminded me that my stepdaughter has learning issues in school and so perhaps her ability to grasp this rather difficult concept is potentially linked to her ability to grasp many of the concepts she has yet to grasp. And lastly, and I should add, most importantly, she told me that she has come to the conclusion that in this world, people who do not have any experience with adoption just don't get it.

THEY JUST DON'T GET IT.

These words really stuck with me for the remainder of the week. And somehow, they made me feel better. Even though that seems odd, since it's not an "answer" or a "resolution" to the problem. But honestly, I think she is right. No matter how hard I try to explain it to some people, they still say the same hurtful, insensitive (in my opinion) things about adoption. So it is probably a little calming to think that the reason for this has nothing to do with what kind of person they are and everything to do with the fact that they just don't get it. I wish those words "real parents" didn't bother me, I really do. But to me they are insulting because that person is saying that my parents are in some way "fake", "worthless", and "meaningless". And I know that that's not what the person means, in my head I really do, but as we all know, words hurt. So I think that's why they are such hot button words for me.

What my mom pointed out is that I can't change my stepdaughter's mind, now matter how hard I try. But my real worry at this point is that she is going to go out into the world and be insensitive to others. Not to mention the kinds of things she might end up saying to my daughter to hurt her feelings (albeit unintentionally). That one really gets me fired up, as all of you parents understand. Hurt me all you want but stay the heck away from my daugher, you know? Anyway, I guess I have some extra work to do to get her to understand that she can feel however she wants to, but that her words can hurt others and that's what she needs to keep in check. Who knows. This parenting thing is tough, and it's even tougher when you're a "part-time" parent. But that's another blog entirely.

I thought that some of you might have had similar issues, perhaps with other children you had in your home prior to adopting. Or maybe children in your extended family who have interactions with your child. I do think that it's tough to remember that comments like this from kids are a bit different than comments like this from adults, just by virtue of the fact that they are made by kids. I obviously don't have the answers here. But I did learn something from all this. Sometimes people just don't get it. And that's okay, they don't have to and we can't make them. However, at least if we keep that in mind, we might save ourselves just a little bit of "going mad" trying to figure out where they are coming from.

Posted by meredith at December 9, 2007 11:15 AM
Comments

Meredith, I wonder if she is confused because you are so staunchly denying the existence of your first parents, by stressing to her that your mom and dad are your "only parents"? Have you explained to her the terms "bio parents", "birthparents", "first parents", etc. as the people who physically make a child who is adopted? Esp if she has some sort of LD, this just not be making any sense to her that you have only one set of parents when she knows you were not born to them, and with the proper vocabulary she may grasp this idea better. just a thought... I do appreciate your sharing your perspective with us. Lee (whose daughters adopted from Guatemala each have two sets of 'real parents' - one by birth and one by adoption - but that is *their* perspective. And who knows what your daughter's will be...)

Posted by: Lee at December 10, 2007 01:04 PM

Meredith,
Again, I can see you getting steamed at having to repeat the same things over and over. I teach middle school and have similar experiences every day. Right now your daughter is too small to understand the hurtful nature of your step-daughter's comments. When she starts to get it, a comment from her may be what it takes to get through to your step-daughter. The key thing is to help your daughter understand that you are the best and most real mom ever!

Posted by: Cathy at December 10, 2007 03:31 PM

Meredith-
Thank you for sharing that! I always enjoy reading your posts. I think you're so right-no matter what we do, some people just don't get it. And honestly, there are some people who WON'T get it (not b/c they can't, but b/c they won't). I think at least with a child, at least they try for the most part-they just can't sometimes. Still, the comments are very difficult to take-no matter who the 'offender' is. Kudos to you for your explanations and patience with your stepdaughter; and to your mom for helping you down off the ceiling ;)

Posted by: Melanie at December 10, 2007 03:37 PM

I totally relate... I think some people's minds just can't get around adoption until they fully experience it. However, I agree that the home/family should be the one place that a child can be totally safe. I really understand your fears about what might be said around your younger daughter that might make her feel like she doesn't belong.

I don't know what kind of a situation/relationship you have set up with the custody of the older daughter... but I was wondering if it would help to compare adoption to her relationship with you. Many "step parents" adopt their spouse's children. That may not be your situation because her biological mother isn't giving up rights. However, depending on the situation, you probably act as a mother to her in many ways.

Just thought that might help her to relate a little better. Good luck!

Posted by: Rachel at December 10, 2007 04:12 PM

Meredith,
I had a similar issue with my 7 year old biological son. We have had our little Katie for one year (she's 20 months) and out of the blue he said "She's not my real sister, I wish she'd go back to Guatemala". Normally, he is rather doting on her. I was rather angry he said that and he was made quite aware that was a hurtful comment and he would be punished for making hurtful comments (to his adoptive sister or biological brother) in the future. After further talking with him he was feeling a little jealous of the percieved time I spent with Katie. I just hope I never have to hear that come out of my kids mouths again--it was quite upsetting.

Posted by: Danette at December 10, 2007 05:58 PM

Meredith:

On a lighter note, to make you laugh...here is
"HE JUST DOESN'T GET IT" 360 degrees in the oppposite direction.
We have two bio children: ages 11 and 7 and our adopted daughter is 18 mos, home one year this month.

I was talking to my 7 year old son the other night. He was putting on his pj's and he started talking about belly buttons. He knows that is how we were connected way back when. So he went on to say that is how his younger sister was connected to me also. He kept babbling on and I was just quiet for a minute or so and I asked him if he really thought his younger sister was connected to me this way...he said YEAH and then thought for a minute and said "Oh yeah, I guess not"! Then he just went on talking.

That is his view: COMPLETE love of his little sister. She is his sister, just like his older sister (and he gets more respect from her, believe me)....I am his mother and I am both of his sister's mother.

Maybe he just doesn't get it...but maybe he does!

Meg

Posted by: Meg at December 10, 2007 06:38 PM

You know what they say, "Out of mouths of babes..." something about truth being spoken? The truth is, it would be wonderful and preferred if all birth parents were so well situated that they could raise their children, such that adoption would not have to exist. Adoption exists because due to some terrible circumstance, the people who brought the child into the world, cannot keep her. Let us not tell our adoptive children that our having them is "the same thing" as their birth parents raising them. This 6 year old is too smart for that. She knows intuitively that losing the birth parents was not a neutral, non-event. Instinctively she knows something went terribly wrong. She is just trying to make sense of the world. How could it be that one has "real" or "birth" parents, and then, they are out of the picture, totally, and for some reason these other people are raising you? You have to admit, it is a hard concept to grasp because children don't understand economics, mental illness, legal processes, etc. It sounds like this six year old really wants to know what happened to your birth parents, and why aren't you concerned about it? If birth parents can be substituted for adoptive parents, what if someone else comes along and wants to take them? Also, kids don't like to be different from other children. My adoptive children really don't like having to answer questions all the time about their adoptions. It comes up regularly because our school system seems to use the "family history" writing exercise with great frequency. Thank you for your letter. It makes me aware that I had better field all adoption questions with calm and peacefulness, otherwise, my kids will get the read that this is a button to push!!! You must be a fabulous mother for the little girl to feel comfortable talking about the issues with you. Kudos!

Posted by: Gretchen at December 10, 2007 08:49 PM

Hi Meredith,

One thing struck me throughout your writing, and I might be missing something here....

You keep referring to your adopted daughter as "your" daughter, and the way the step-daughter relates or may relate in the future with "your" daughter. But if your daughter was adopted by you AND your husband, wouldn't that also make the adopted child and the step-daughter sisters?? I mean to me and I am sorry if I am sensing something that just isn't there (it is very hard to tell online), but you seem pretty hostile to me in regards to the step-daughter. To me, the step-daughter isn't making comments to or about "your" daughter per se, but to or about "her" sister...

Am I just completely off here? I realize that what I have brought up isn't really what your post is about...but it really bothered me. Maybe because I am a step-sister, and an adoptive mom, and a biological sister.

Posted by: Lisa at December 10, 2007 09:57 PM

My sister is an Adaptive PE teacher who knows a large family of both biological and adopted children. One of the sons was talking with his sister who looks quite differant and another student came by, She asked , "Are all the kids in your family adopted". He said, "No, there are 6 of us, and 2 are homemade". Just a cute take on kids. I am a real Mommy to 2 real kids, and they have a real biological family in Guatemala, but we get the honor of diapers, bottles, and joy and kisses. Not all the best things are homemade.

Posted by: Lisa at December 11, 2007 01:32 AM

hi--I have 2 boys that we adopted in Guatemala. Our youngest, Nico,is trying to understand adoption and what it means, we have explained the basics to him and his 8 year old brother from very early on. Sometimes in the morning, Nico watches "Peep" a chidren's show on cable--the Learning Channel--TLC. Caveat being--as soon as Peep is over , at nine o clock EDT, a show geared to adults with difficult pregnancies starts immediatlty! So if I don't turn off the tv, he sees scenes of pregnant women in the hospital, moaning and groaning and delivering babies!
One day recently, I was blow drying my hair in the bathroom and missed the transition from Peep to the next show. Suddenly Nico came into the bathroom and said to me, "mommy, did you adopt me from your tummy?"

I tried to explain the process to him--but I mention this so that we are all reminded--the cognitive functioning and retention/understanding of young chidren and even elementary children is very different from adults..

thanks,

Posted by: connie at December 11, 2007 08:59 AM

OK take out your Step Daughter's use of the words that are your hot button " real parents " and her statement carries alot of weight! I am currently reading the book " 20 things adopted children wish their adopted parents knew" and wanting to find and know your first parents is all they have talked about so far!

I am also working real hard with my 3 y.o. on focusing on the "positive behavior" so I think you could validate her statement but then remind her of correct adoption terminology.

Although I am an AP the phrase "real parent" is not a hot button for me. I know I am real! Some days when my child comes home having hit the teacher or spit @ the teacher or bit a friend... I would like to be fake and let that stuff roll of my back but it doesn't because I love this child more than anything in the whole world and I have to be REAL!

Posted by: Dale at December 11, 2007 02:50 PM

Great comments folks. I really appreciate the dialogue here. I don't usually post responses to comments, but I do want to clarify my perspective on those folks who created me as well as all of the wonderful children we love. I know that my view is an unpopular one among the adoption community, and especially among the adoption book-writing community. However, there is a big difference between denying someone's existence and defining someone's role in one's life. Lee - I do very much appreciate your perspective as well as your daughters' - - and I couldn't agree with you more about the fact that everyone's is different. That's why I'd like for my daughter to be able to create her own opinions rather than have popular media, me, or anyone else create them for her. I would, however, like all of the readers to understand that I have nothing but respect, appreciation, and gratitude for the people who made the decision to make it possible for my parents to adopt me. This was a decision that was undoubtedly difficult beyond what words could even describe. Just because I don't consider them my parents does not mean that this extreme gratitude is not present. I can understand how some of you readers might have a hard time with the fact that I don't view those folks as my parents. But I guess that is just part of blogging, people aren't always going to like what you say. At any rate, I just wanted to clarify here that this isn't about denial, it's about defining.

My stepdaughter is very aware of all of the many terms that could be used to describe the people who bring a baby into existence as well as their importance - - that's actually what brought up this topic in the first place. To clarify further - - it wasn't the idea she was expressing that was the objectionable part - - it was the terminology. I know it would be best to take out the hot button terms that we hear, but sometimes it is just not that easy, I'm afraid. Her statement, however, was validated, and has been many a time, as of course the content of it is very valid indeed. :-)

Children will define people's roles in their lives differently, whether they were adopted or not. Don't be surprised if everything you've heard, be it from books, seminars, or other resources, turns out to be the exact opposite of what your child does! Dale's referencing of the book he is reading is a great example - - that book would have been very helpful for my grandmother to have had to prepare for my mom's interest in her biological background. However, it wouldn't have helped her with my mom's brother, who was also adopted, who shared my perspective and simply wasn't interested in learning anything or finding anyone.

Thanks again for the honest and open dialogue. It is good for readers to see different thoughts on this.

Posted by: Meredith at December 11, 2007 04:49 PM

I had a similar conversation with my 9 year old niece within the last month. Is it a 9 year old thing? LOL Anyway, I put the focus on what makes a parent a "real parent" and how families are created. I turned it into a Q&A session with me asking her the questions. My niece was diagnosed ADD this past summer and has some trouble remembering details of past conversations, but she seemed to grasp the concept of "real parent" versus "bio parent" after our conversation. I think the conversation ended up being helpful for her in other ways as well since her own parents have been in the process of a divorce for two years and her father has moved on. Therefore, a new family is now being created in her life. It's sometimes hard for children to grasp the realities of life and it's sometime difficult for adults too.

Posted by: Debbie at December 11, 2007 06:23 PM

hi Meredith, you commented: "I know that my view is an unpopular one among the adoption community, and especially among the adoption book-writing community."

Sadly, while I think the word "uncommon" would be preferable, I do think you are correct when you say your view is "unpopular" (that other adoptees *dislike* it). That said, though, among the many adult adoptees I know, most of them share your point of view, of having no interest whatsoever in knowing a single thing about their birthfamilies - sometimes out of simple disinterest, sometimes out of anger towards birthfamilies, whatever. Many transracial adoptees in particular seem terribly opposed to APs taking it upon themselves to search for the birthfamilies of their minor (adopted) children. But then, I know other adult transracial adoptees who think APs *should* find birthfamilies of their minor children to get all available 'pieces of the puzzle'. I for one am glad to hear all the perspectives, beause none of us knows how *our* adopted children will feel. Your daughter may feel like you, or she may have a burning desire from a young age to know her birthfamily. We all need to listen to *all* adoptees, so we can be prepared to meet our children where they need to be met on these issues! thanks again for sharing with us!! Lee

Posted by: Lee at December 12, 2007 06:25 PM

OK-here is yet another way to think about this. Your step-daughter is a "product" of divorce. She in a sense has lost something too. She has lost having both her parents in the same household under the same roof and giving her the attention I am sure she wants when she wants/needs it. Maybe she is exploring her loss in a less threatening way. After all your daughter gets to live with her dad all the time. Just food for thought-Merry Christmas-and thanks so much for sharing your thoughts as an adult that was adopted!

Posted by: Donna at December 12, 2007 07:13 PM

Hi Meredith - I hope taht you are still reading this blog - the comments have been very interesting. While my situation is not like yours, I do understand some of your feelings. My biological father passed away when I was 10 months old - there are no family pictures of me with him although there are lots of movies of my sister with him (she is 5 years older). We have always kept in touch with my 3rd family even after my mom got remarried. In fact, my grandmother considered my dad her son-in-law.

Anyway, I was adopted by my father when I was 4 -when people hear about my history, they refer to my father as my stepfather. It really bugs me - he is the ONLY father I have ever known. It is very strange for me to visit my biological side of the family - I always feel a little out of place because I don't really have a "history" with them as I do with my dad's family. So I do understand a bit of what you are saying that you consider your parents your only parents.

I noticed in your blog that you consider yourself a "part time" parent to your step-daughter. Maybe that is a way to explain the adoption situation- you love her all the time, not just "part" of the time when she lives with you. You are not a "part time" parent, you are an extra mom. Maybe that would help.

Posted by: Ajaye at December 13, 2007 04:41 PM

As an adult adoptee I share similar feelings that you do, Meredith. I have no desire to meet my birth parents, however, I would love to see a picture of what they look like. That is my one regret. When I had the opportunity to meet my son's biological mother, I took it...mostly so that I can have pictures of her. We were lucky enough to meet his biological grandmother too. Some people are fine with open adoptions and having contact with the birth family. It is personal preference. We will wait and see what my son wants...it may be the same thoughts as I have, or he may have his own thoughts. Either way, I know I am his mommy and he is blessed to have a sister and daddy too!! And I will forever be grateful to the woman who chose to give him up for adoption, as I am grateful to the people who chose to give me up for adoption. That "real mom" thing bugs me too, but I guess just knowing that I AM his "real mom" is enough for me!!

Posted by: jul06 at December 13, 2007 11:25 PM

Just an FYI for all those adoptive parents out there. My brother tried the "you can't make me because you aren't my real mom" thing when he was 9 yrs old. Our Mom let him know in no uncertain terms that she was indeed his real mother. I think he was secretly pleased and reassured by her response...no psycho babble, just a firm "I am your REAL mother."

Posted by: Bennett at December 14, 2007 02:18 PM

I know adoptive parents aren't "the same as" biological parents but also yes we are. I just feel uncomfortable with "same as" topics sometimes because I feel it sometimes indicates we are second choice or our children got jipped with us being their parents. It can also lead into the conversation where our children are not the same as biological children indicating they were not as good a choice as having the "real thing". I consider our babies the real thing. Fertility doesn't make someone a parent. There are many people who are good decent people who may have children they have reasons they cannot raise. There are good decent people who would like to raise a child who either cannot have children or can have children but do not feel a need for a child to be biologically tied to them to call them their own. There are people who have kids who dont want them but keep them because "they are supposed to" and I'm torn on whether they should be recieving any medals.. does it really go well for those children that they are with real mom and dad when real mom and dad doesn't want them [we've all seen these people or worse read about them in the news]. There are people who have kids who dont want them and don't keep them.

Anyway, my two cents. I bless our childrens birth mother for our children being born and what she went through to ensure our children found a loving home.

Blessings to all the adopted and adopters and all the real families out there. No some people wont get it and some people just don't get it right away as they havent given it as much thought as we have.

Posted by: lisa at December 15, 2007 01:41 AM

Not to be mean, but I can tell you haven't had much experience with children before now. YOU MUST HAVE MORE PATIENCE. Instead of being smarty (in your mind) with your step-daughter. It is a big dealto you to want her to understand your adopted child is yours, but children's minds don't think like adults. Don't worrry and try so so hard to explain things. It will all come together! I have biologically children and 1 adopted from Guatemala. I have been asked those exact questions and have explained too. It doesn't sink it, but I also don't go into great detail either.
If you disagree with me, that's fine because I teach elementary school and children sometimes take longer to understand, but I wouldn't dwell on things!

Posted by: Nancy at December 15, 2007 02:21 AM

Hi all...very interesting post. As a 4th and 5th grade teacher, I have to put in my 2 cents about 9/10 year olds. Spending the larger part of most days confined in a roomful of them, they become a little easier to "decode" after a while. One thing to know about this age...they are starting to hit the border of "little kids" and "big kids" and "dependence" and "independence". They also LOVE to see if they can get a rise out of people...parents, adults, friends (hence, the beginning of boys chase girls, girls fighting with friends, new "best friends" every week. Making comments that push buttons is almost a requirement to being this age. Fairness is a big deal at this age and it is possible your stepdaughter is trying to measure her value against your daughters. Is being adopted more or less valuable than being a stepdaughter? Where does she rank? Nine is also the age when kids first start noticing their parents (and teachers) are not perfect. And believe me, once they notice it, they LOVE to point it out to you. I can't tell you the number of times each day a student points out that my "o" looks a little like an "a" and that I left out a word, and that my shoes don't quite match my outfit. They say mean, hurtful things (Did you have to adopt a baby because nobody wanted to marry you? How come you are aren't a teenager but you still get zits sometimes? Seriously, there are days it feels like being beat up!) but they can also be incredibly sensitive (I just had a student bring a birthday present for my daughter who isn't even home yet...and I didn't tell them the date, he remembered from last January when I got the referral!). Their inconsistency makes it incredibly hard sometimes to parent/teach them. They just aren't good at reading social cues yet. One thing I have found works well with those "hard to get" kids is to cry. Often as adults we hold back our emotions thinking that we are adults and we aren't going to let a kid get to us. But, how will they ever learn the hurt of their actions if they never see someone react honestly to it. No child likes to see their parent/teacher cry and it will be a lesson that sticks about how hurtful words can be. One book I highly recommend and have found to be very reliable and "right on" with about 98% of kids is called Yardsticks by Chip Wood. It explains the emotional, mental, physical, social, and academic traits of 3-14 year olds. Good luck Meredith!

Posted by: Kim at December 15, 2007 05:08 AM

If it is any comfort Meredith, I got the "real parent" question from a very smart 9 year old. She understood the term "biological mother." She understood what adoption meant. I don't think she undermines my role as "the parent." But all of these concepts are quite difficult for children to synthesize. They also have a hard time coming up with terms in order to ask their questions. I'm not concerned about children getting confused about these matters.

I am concerned about adults who say these types of things and I do think that it is a bad reflection on an adult as a person if they get confused about these terms. Exceptions being someone that isn't very intelligent or someone that is good hearted but not very sophisticated.

My ten cents worth.

Posted by: cheryl at December 16, 2007 11:10 PM

Hi Meredith,
I linked to your blogs in my blog. I truly enjoy and respect your perspective.
Lisa S.

http://guatemala.adoptionblogs.com/weblogs/drawing-different-conclusions-a-guatemal

Posted by: Lisa at December 17, 2007 10:41 PM

meridith,

I am sorry.... how very frustrating......

((( Hugs)))

Gloria

Posted by: gloria at December 19, 2007 05:50 AM

Hi Meredith .. I'm looking for other Guatamalan adoptees .. I run a network in Australia for inter-country adoptees and we have a Guatamalan adoptee who'd like to be in touch with other Gauatamalan adoptees but I haven't come across any until I found your blog. Hoping to hear from you.
Cheers
Lynelle
www.icasn.org/

Posted by: lynelle at December 19, 2007 10:58 AM

Hello Meredith:

The typical view of an adopted person during the 70s was that he was "born out of wedlock". So when someone made a remark about her brother being different and stated, "he must have been adopted...." I became ashamed of my situation. I still am quiet about this circumstance, though it turns out, as I learned in 1995, that my biological parents had been married for five years.

The most serious effects of adoption will come when a person becomes an adult. I lived in a small city when I looked for my first job and was very shy about it. Finally I began work in one company's shipping department and after they saw I was a pretty hard worker and noticed that my dad was a bank manager, I was invited to work in their accounting department. I refused because I had no desire to sit behind a desk at the young age of 23. Eventually I did work in its pricing department and failed. I had also graduated from college with a diploma in Chemistry and had joined this company because it formulated herbicides and was planning on having a small laboratory. The adage, like father like son, seems to have been violated at that time. At that time adoptions were completely confidential and no information of biological parents was ever revealed.

Let me jump forward by a few decades into the 21st century. Unbeknownst to me, a new adoption act came into effect in one province of Canada, where I was born. Beginning in 1995, an original birth registration would be made available to any adopted person once he turned 19. Similar information would be made available to mothers who surrendered their child upon that 19th birthday. For those who were born before this, an exception called a disclosure veto was allowed for those who desired continued confidentiality. In my situation I was able to find out the names of my biological parents and information about their occupations and interests. It turned out that "like father, like son" does indeed work. I wanted to operate a locomotive and was obsessed with the large equipment used to clear a path through residential areas and through West Coast forests for a new highway. That was back in 1958. My father had operated engines in steamships since he graduated from high school in 1936. It turned out also, that my biological mother was interested in science, especially chemistry. Thus, "like mother, like son" also. My entire career has revolved around chemistry and I am employed as a scientist in a laboratory.

In my past, I did not realize I had been adopted until I was 12. Even though I had been told much earlier, I did not understand. By the time I was in my 20s I was uncomfortable about this. In my 30s I had accepted this situation but wanted to know what nationality I was, i.e. English, Italian, etc. In 1995, I received a small paper that my adoptive mother had uncovered that had information about my biological parents; that they were of English descent.

My adoptive father died in 1980 and my adoptive mother in 2002; my younger adoptive brother drowned in 1987. So beginning in 2003, I began a serious search to find my biological family and found it. Although I did contract my biological mother, who would be going on 86 now, she wishes no contact with me. I have a brother who is one year older than me who I have yet to contact because I do not understand his present circumstances. I have made a New Year's resolution to find a way to contact my brother to find out if he is even alive; he would be 61 years old now.

I hope that those who are seeking to adopt will realize that an adopted person sees things differently than someone who is not. I hope that adoptive parents can look far enough into the future to understand an adopted person never "gets over it", even when he's as old as I am.

Posted by: Jay at December 29, 2007 08:22 PM

Hi Meredith,
the term "real mother" does not make me the "fake mother". those terms are only hurtful if you allow them to be. Words only have the power you give them.
And as a step mom - it truly sounds to me like your issues with your step daughter have nothing to do with adoption and everything to do with an underlying power struggle. Give the kid a break, stop stressing over "proper adoption language" and try explaining to your step daughter in terms she can understand. If you simply repeat yourself like a broken record every time she uses those oh so offensive improper adoption terms, she knows she has found your on switch and won't hesitate to push it every time she feels like annoying you. I had several hot buttons my step son could push anytime he felt like having some fireworks in the house, but I promise you, the very second he discovered those hot buttons had gone cold, he quite pushing them.

Posted by: Dawn at December 31, 2007 01:50 AM

I'd like to suggest a great book called, 'Flight of the Stork' by Anne C. Bernstein. It gives a great explanation of how and what kids understand at various ages, particularly about sex and family building. After reading that I wouldn't really expect a six yo to get adoption and I would expect to have to revisit the concept over and over again as they their understanding of families, babies, children and where they all come from expands and deepens over time. Two of the useful suggestions in the book was to give simple answers to simple questions and to ask what they think about particular things so that you get an idea about how they see the world. After reading the book I went around asking small children questions about the world, the answers are fascinating.

I highly recommend this book to parents, particularly ones with small children because of the insight you get in to how children learn.
having said that, I'm dealing with sibling jealous/rivalry(?) between a 19yo and a 4yo. the 19yo is my stepson for the last 13 years and the 4yo is our son that was born in Guatemala and was adopted 4 years ago... and I'm not really sure that the 19yo 'gets' adoption either.

Posted by: ange at January 2, 2008 09:32 AM

Hi Meredith- I was compelled to respond after reading the comments posted by both Jay and Dawn. I, too, am adopted and consider my adoptive parents my "real" parents. They are amazing people and I can't imagine my life any other way. I met my birth mother several years back, mostly out of curiosity and a feeling of gratitude to her; after the adoption agency who handled my adoption contacted me, asking if I would like to meet her. It was a good experience in that it gave her some peace of mind that I was OK and doing well. But it was also a very Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life" moment. Without going into details, I realized my life would have been very different (not in a great way) had she chosen to keep me, which made me feel all the more grateful about her choice and to have the family that I have. So in reference to Jay's comment about "never getting over it", while I respect his point of view, it is not universal to all adoptees. For me, I feel there is nothing to get over. That being said, my brother, who is also adopted, has had life-long issues with his identity and seems to have real issues about being adopted. Getting to my point (in a round-about way) is that each person's adopted experience is so intensely personal and there is no way to predict how you daughter will perceive it. It seems that you are doing all you can to make this a positive experience for your daughter. It sounds like your step-daughter is trying to get her head around what it must be like to be adopted. And siblings being what they are, I'm sure BOTH your girls will use the "adoption card" as ammunition in their arguments with each other at some point, i.e. "at least I was chosen, unlike you" etc. As Dawn said, don't let the language your step-daughter uses hold too much weight or power. She'll eventually get it.

Posted by: Terri at January 3, 2008 04:28 PM

I read your post and feel so sorry for your little step daughter. Lighten up - don't ruin her life because you have adoption issues. I don't plan to read your posts anymore. Susan

Posted by: Susan at March 27, 2008 12:21 AM

Merideth, I am greatful for your blog. It helped me put some things into perspective. I am going into a meeting tomorrow with several attorneys, my soon to be ex-husband, and adoption papers. I have fought for years to adopt my precious daughter.... my step-daughter. I also have two children I gave birth to. In our home, even before my husband and I separated, we never made a line between step-daughter, natural daughter, half sister, maybe those are hot buttons for your poor step daughter. Maybe she associates the fact that you did not give birth to her either, so what does that make you to her? but you didn't adopt her, so you must be nothing to her. I think she is just really trying to understand this whole thing. coming from a mom who currently has custody of her step daughter, soon to be adopted daughter, the kid has a lot of questions. You can't answer them all, but I would at least consider taking your daughter, i mean your step daughter out on a date. tell her she can ask any questions she wants, and mean it. then, let her. even if "real parents" comes up. That one kills me too. trust me. Maybe ask her if she is nervous, or jealous, or wonders waht that will do to her relationship with her dad, or with you. Believe it or not, she looks to you as a mother figure. Try giving her the same love and respect that you would give "your" daughter. as hard as it is, and it is hard, find a way to fell the same love for her as you do your younger daughter.

Posted by: Samantha at April 25, 2008 05:41 AM

I understand that you consider your adoptive parents to be your only parents, but frankly that is very unusual. Most adoptees have some interest in knowing their medical history. The overwhelming majority of adults at the vey least want access to their Original birth certificates, like any other citizen. You seem to assume that your daughter will feel exactly the same way. Are you going to try to make her feel guilty every time she asks a question about her life before you? If you do, that's not going to make the questions disappear. She'll look elsewhere for her answers. And if she came from Guatemala you can be sure she will hear a deluge of opinions from the press to the public to fellow Guatemalan adoptees. I notice you take a few cheap shots at both your step daughter and her mother. I just hope your not going to try this every time your daughter has questions in the future and belive me she will. You're obviously convinced anyone who differs with your view of adoption is just too ignorent to acknowledge at all. I hope you change this attitude or you are going to end up with one angry kid and I don't mean your stepdaughter

Posted by: clare at August 8, 2008 12:18 PM

im was adopted its just a word not reality her real parents are who gave birth to her you are trying to brainwash and she not stupid. The pain of not being with kin is so unbearable that adopted children blank out the pain I konw because when I meet my real family the wall came down and it has nearly killed me nothing nothing nothing can compare to being with your family i will never ever get over this and adoption is only second choice so infertile people adopt for obvious reason so otherwise they would have their own child most people in the world stay with their parents adoption screws up the natural order of life adoption is testimony to what a human can endure i knew my parents were missing and it was hard to live thats when I shut out the pain there is no such thing as birthparents adoption is new humans have been around alot longer than adoption I will never hug my daddy as a 5 yr old and say I love you and that is a crime adoption is a crime because you see if you take a baby from a woman she then has no baby she cant just get over it why do you think we have funerals losing your family hurts

Posted by: emily at November 8, 2008 02:38 AM