I am Quite Happy to be the “Growing Up Mommy”

There are few discussions that get the adoption community more stirred up- than when one person tries to tell everyone else what they believe to be the proper terms for “biological Mom” and “adoptive Mom”. Adoptive parents, biological parents, and adoptees can get very caught up in taking a firm stance on what they individually believe is the right “adoption language”….. Birth Mom, Biological Mom, Adoptive Mom, Forever Mom, Real Mom… they can even argue endlessly on whom should be called “Mom”.

And while I watch these intense debates taking place on adoption websites and blogs with a great deal of interest, I know that what is most important for me, is what each one of my children thinks at a particular point in time.

Right from the beginning, we offered some terms to our kids that we felt comfortable with, in order to have a starting place to encourage discussions about adoption. And the term we chose to describe each child’s biological Mom was “China Mom”… which we explained to be “the Mommy in China who carried you in her belly until you were born”. This allowed each of our children to ask questions regarding their “China Mom”… “Where is she?”, “I miss her- does she miss me?”, and so on.

The whole point of offering up “China Mom” was that it was simple, understandable (we watch our videos from China and talk about China all of the time), and it was just a starting point until each one became old enough to have his or her own opinion on the matter.

And this summer, one of my daughters decided that “China Mom” wasn’t cutting it for her anymore…..that her “China Mom” was her “Real Mom”…… and she decided that this meant that I was now the “Fake Mom”. And all of this she explained to me in a very matter-of-fact manner.

Now I know how much my daughter loves me, and the fact that she has decided to now think of me as her “Fake Mom” shouldn’t really matter. Except that some part of me didn’t want her to think of me as “fake”, which causes me to think of something even worse than fake….. temporary. Yet I did not want to ask her to change her mind on how she wanted to (and needed to) think about her first mother. If the term “Real Mom” felt right to her…. then it is hers to use. But I asked her if maybe we could think of another term that might better describe who I am to her. Since I am the Mommy who takes care of her, and helps her learn how to do new things, and cooks for her, and washes her clothes, and all of that other fun stuff…. what would be a good way to describe me?

And we came up with “the Mom who is helping her to grow up”… or the “Growing Up Mommy”.

Now I know that as time goes by, she may choose to toss away these terms and choose others that fit how she is feeling at that point in her life. And that is fine with me. I am just happy to be here to help her grow up….. so for now “Growing Up Mommy” suits me just fine.

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    • says

      No, she has never really asked about “meeting her”…. mostly she says she “misses her”. And once in awhile she might ask if we can see her the next time we go to China- but when I explain that we don’t know her or where she lives or what her name is…. she doesn’t react in a sad way, just kind of an accepting way. I think that there are many levels to understanding this concept in any depth, and right now we are just scratching the surface. She’ll determine the pace of discussion.

  1. maggie says

    Sharon – You are so right – words we use can mean so many different things to different people and, to your point, the same people at different times. I know I cried when our daughter said that I wasn’t her Mom and her Mom was in China. She didn’t use the term “real Mom” but I knew what she meant. I didn’t make a big deal of it and quite soon after that she starting calling us Mommy and Daddy and uses the Chinese terms mama and baba for her foster family. I always refer to them as her foster mama/baba but she doesn’t and I don’t want to force her to use a term that she doesn’t want to. She’s 5 1/2 right now so this works for her. At some point that may change or it may not. Thanks for the post. Maggie

    • says

      I try to look at discussions about her “China Mom/Real Mom” as discussions about my daughter. When she decides that I need to be called something else, even “Fake Mom”, I try to keep in mind that it is not about me at all.
      I know that it hurts on some level- I really do. But I really do not think it is meant to be a dismissal of you, or of her love for you, or of your importance in her life. She is just grappling with all of the facts and trying to find a way to love and honor this phantom “Mom” in her life that feels right to her. And I do believe that it is she is completely assured of where she stands with you, that you love her unconditionally, that she feels comfortable exploring this other part of her feelings.

  2. says

    A good friend of mine asked me recently how we told our kids that they were adopted. I honestly couldn’t remember a time when they just didn’t “know”. Mine call me “momma” and have never really asked about their “other mom”, but someday I know they will.
    Gina aka Slappy recently posted..Funky Pretty

    • says

      That is EXACTLY how it should be…. there should never be a time in your child’s life when he/she first realizes that he/she is adopted. It should be a part of the stories you share at night “I remember the first day I met you, the first night you snuggled in my arms, the first meal I served you”, etc. We tell those kinds of stories all of the time around here, either from me bringing it up, or one of them asking to hear it again. And there came a time, when one of their teachers was pregnant that we talked about babies growing in bellies and how they grew in another Mommy’s belly.
      Sometimes it is hard to find the words to introduce the topic…. but you have to go there in tiny bits and pieces, as a way of saying “It’s always okay to talk to me about these things…. I will never be upset that you want to talk about it, I am here for you.”

  3. says

    Thanks for writing about this. I hope to adopt some day, and I’ve often wondered how “growing up parents” handle this issue.

    My husband was raised by a male relative other than his biological father. Moving from living with his parents to this relative’s house happened when my husband was three, so he remembers both before and after. He did see his parents from time to time after that, but never really had a relationship with them. His relationship with his mother was problematic, to say the least, and the man who raised him was divorced, so I never had to learn anything about naming terminology about “mom” for him. For my husband, “Dad” is the man who raised him. When he talks about his biological father, he consistently says “Father.” This particular arrangement took some getting used to for me, but it’s very convenient for him, as he can talk about either man to anyone while sidestepping the whole conversation about his family’s drama.
    Rachel recently posted..Open-Ended Purchasing: Part 1

    • says

      Thanks so much for sharing this Rachel. As an adoptive parent who was raised by my own bio parent, I don’t have the benefit of first-hand experience as the child raised by “growing up parents”. So I really appreciate it when someone shares their own perspective. We can all learn from one another.

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