Who is Your ‘Real’ Mother?

The following is the first in my series of blogs on the topic of adoption. This is written by a guest blogger who wishes to remain anonymous. I feel it’s the perfect story to open the subject, as it touches on one of the most difficult questions adopted children and families face. There are many ways to answer this question, but I feel the analogy the writer makes here is treated beautifully, with respect to all those involved in the adoption triad. The adoption triad includes birth family, adoptive family and child. I cannot express my gratitude enough to the writer for sharing one of her personal experiences which will hopefully shed a little light on a sensitive topic.  

Who is Your Real Mother?

Over two decades ago, my husband and I adopted a six-year-old girl from another country.  Since Elaina, as I’ll call her, did not speak our language, or look at all like us, or the other children in our family, it was pretty obvious to everyone that she had not been born to us.  Human nature being what it is, and rudeness not having yet been outlawed, I guess it shouldn’t be at all surprising that this opened the door to an onslaught of unsolicited curiosity.

 In all kinds of public settings, from strangers and non-strangers alike, Elaina was asked the most amazing things:

          “Do you like your new parents? 

          “Aren’t you glad you were adopted?”

          “Do you remember your real mother or father?”  And even, unbelievably,

          “You seem like such a nice little girl…how come your mother gave you away?”

My personal, all-time favorite, though, was the query directed to me and my husband: “Are you ever going to tell Elaina that she’s adopted?”  How truly sorry I was at that moment that I had been raised to be polite, for it prevented me from answering, “No, we’re going to tell her that sometimes children are born six years old, and a different race than their parents!”

Mercifully, in the beginning, Elaina’s language barrier spared her from some of the pain of these thoughtless remarks.  However, children’s minds are wonderful little sponges, and soon she had mastered enough English to understand that she was an object of curiosity among her peers at school as well.  Most of them had no experience  with, or knowledge of adoption, and while their interest in her story was usually innocent, she often mistook it as cruelty.  We did our best to comfort her, and helped her learn how to respond to their questions.  At the same time, we always told her it was fine to tell her classmates (and nosy adults, too, for that matter), “My mom said I don’t have to tell you that!”

We always shared our concerns about Elaina’s sensitivity to adoption-related issues with her teachers, and she was thrilled, and I was grateful when her second-grade teacher asked me if I would come and talk to the class about adoption.  Elaina decided I should do all the talking that day, so while I shared about many of the aspects of adoption, she passed around photos of her native country, the orphanage she had lived in for almost two years, a foreign-language newspaper, small trinkets, her passport, and a shawl like the ones used by mothers in her native country to carry babies and toddlers.  Then we shared some of Elaina’s favorite fruits that were unfamiliar to children here. 

While the children were eating, I wrapped up my little presentation with an object lesson that I hoped would address what I see as the core issue most adopted children wrestle with—where do I really belong?  I held up a quarter and asked, “Who knows what this is?”  A dozen voices shouted out at once, “A quarter, a quarter!”

“Right,” I said, “and believe it or not, this quarter has a story to tell us about adoption.  One of the questions Elaina gets asked all the time is, ‘Who is your real mother?’  Kids know that she has one mother that she was born to in another country, and a mother—that’s me—that she lives with now.  And so they want to know which of those two is her real mother?”

“Well, let’s look at this quarter closely.  It has two sides, doesn’t it?”  I held up one side of the quarter to the class, and asked, “Which side is this?” 

The kids that were  closest yelled, “Heads!”

I flipped the quarter over.  “What about this side?”

“Tails!” rang out all over the room.

“So, which side is the real quarter?” I asked them as I flipped it back to ‘heads,’ then to ‘tails’ again.  Puzzled stares.

“Well, if I want to go to the store and buy some candy with this quarter, which side do I give to the clerk?”

“You can’t cut it!”

 “You can’t just give one side of it!”  Scattered giggles. “You gotta give them the whole quarter!”

“That’s exactly right,” I told them.  “Elaina’s real mother is like this quarter.”  I held one side towards them.  “On this side is the mother who gave her life.”  I turned the coin over.  “Then here is the mother who does for her all the things your mothers do for you.”  Both of them love her, and cannot be separated from her life any more than we can separate the ‘heads’ from the ‘tails’ on this quarter.”

I hope those children left their classroom that long-ago day realizing that Elaina would not, and could not, be who she is without both of us.

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One Response

  1. Reblogged this on Trying2Express Blog and commented:

    Adoption awareness month is coming to an end and I wanted to share this blog written by a guest blogger. As adoptive parents we hear our children asked this question so frequently, and our children hear it much more frequently. It can be a tough question to answer but the writer makes it so clear that children can easily understand. Hopefully this story will help parents also and open a conversation with your children, both adopted and not…

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