It happens several times a week. Someone calls the Adoption Center and asks for help finding their "real" parents.
I admit it. This topic puts me in vulnerable overload! As an adoptive mom, I am both sensitive and defensive when I hear that phrase. I immediately want retort that birthing (to me, anyway) is different from parenting. And that one does not always follow or preclude the other. At that moment, I would like nothing more than to educate the person that those words are not necessarily true. And furthermore, that phrase affects adoptive parents, big time.
I work at being sensitive to the caller. As I cringe and keep my temper in check, I politely ask, "You are looking for your biological parents, then?" (Emphasis on the word "biological.")
"Yeah. I just want to find my real parents," they reiterate and then usually end up telling me a capsule version of why.
I swallow and count to three. Sometimes to four. Before I react, I work at responding – by putting myself in their place. Please realize: I do understand that need to know—whether based on a sense of loss, a desire for cultural identity, medical reasons, etc. I get that they are curious. (Were I in the same situation, I would probably be curious, too.) Furthermore, I respect their desire to search and reunite—whether to obtain closure or provide a new opening. Wanting to know one’s roots is instinctual and, for some, finding birth family members could even reframe their life path. I heartily “root” for any who can stay the course to do so.
But that isn’t the issue.
"Finding one’s birth parents isn't always easy…." I say quietly, emphasizing the word "birth,"-- again, working to respond rather than react, educate rather than rant. I calmly let them know there is no national database of all adoptions throughout the United States and that our office has no information that could help their search other than the information contained on our website.*
And while I don’t dissuade them, I am a voice of reason, letting them know that some states impose a waiting period, or maintain the adoptee must be a certain age, and many make the hoops one has to jump through for this coveted information pretty darn high.
Usually, they miss my quiet shift in language and continue to use the term "real" when referring to the people for whom they are searching – so my 15 second window to educate them in appropriate adoption language evaporates. But I am left wondering: how can I and other adoptive parents let others know that this phrase, as innocent as it may seem, hurts the feelings of a multitude of adoptive parents?
Birthing isn't parenting—yet! Parenting is the process of raising a child. To me, "real" parents (no matter biological, foster, or adoptive) are the ones who invest in the child they raise—through providing comfort, commitment, discipline, like, love and even tough love. All parents make choices in child rearing. Most plant love. Some abuse. Some sacrifice. Some mistreat. Some are selfish. And a great number instill faith, ethics and morality. Some ignore or abandon. Let's face it: there is no one standard in parenting or creating a family. "Real life" parenting is hard and doesn't guarantee real good parenting.
I hope that more universally accepted "real" definitions when referring to biological and adoptive parents could take root in our culture. A child's birth parents will always be their birth parents. No contest. But when they cannot or do not raise a child who later becomes adopted, they lose the chance to imprint through everyday "real" parenting. When adoptive parents work at parenting and raise their child(ren) through love and support, tenderness and concern, I think it more than qualifies them as ("real") parents. For real.
*The Adoption Center has gathered information on the basics of state laws and compiled a chart which references the basic information on search and reunion, include obtaining original birth certificates. Please visit www.adopt.org "Adoption Search and Reunion" section, "Searching Based on State" and click on the link National Adoption Search and Reunion Info.