Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"What are my birth parents to you?"

This blog post raises a good point -- do we have adequate words to describe relationships in adoption?

While eating dinner the other night, Rhubarb posed a provocative question: "What are my birth parents and birth siblings called to you?"

We all paused to reflect upon the fact that there are no special terms coined for the birth families that help to form forever families. Just as my husband's mother is my "mother-in-law" because of her special place in my relationship, shouldn't my children's birth parents also receive a special term in relation to me? Likewise, since her sister and brother's birth family hold an important place in the heart of our youngest child, born into the family, what might she call them?
Reactions? Have you addressed this in your family?  What names/words have you come up with?


myminivanrocks said...

This is something I have been wondering, too, and I don't have any answers.

We have a bio son, a daughter from Vietnam, and a son who was adopted domestically. We have an open adoption with our youngest son's mom, and he has a half-brother and sister. What do our other kids call them? "My brother's brother" doesn't seem quite right.

Heather said...

In a speech the other month, Adam Pertman talked about this as one of the legacies of secrecy in adoption, that we lack the language to talk about our interconnected families.

Anonymous said...

Good question. The same applies to step parents. I raised all three of my step kids, but the only real name they had for me as they were growing up, was my first name. I was not their birthmother, nor their adoptive mother, but I raised them, and there was no word they could use to call me with terms of endearment. My daughter actually calls her birth mother her 'mother', as well as calling me her mother, mommy, & mom.

Anne said...

When I talk with Mae about her parents in China, I use the phrase "your parents in China". I also use the words "mother" and "father" when referring to them, because they are her mother and father. I also use the phrase "your other mother" or "your first mother in China". I want it to be very clear to her that she has two families, and that she came to be a part of our family through adoption.

Linda said...

Mother, father, sister, brother, grandmother, grandfather. It's really that simple. My adoptive siblings dont need a name for my natural siblings. They are not related to them. They just call them "your brother" or "your sister". But, as you probably know, I detest the "birth" prefix.

Anonymous said...

@ Linda,

Ah, but you are an adult, thus no confusion and your wishes could/should be met.

But how to explain it sufficently to a 2 year old? A 4 year old?

The dialogue needs to begin but simply pretending its "simple" doesn't quite cut it for most families, until that is, they are mature enough to truly understand the nuances.

myminivanrocks said...

@Anonymous Re: Linda's comment

Exactly. My kids are 5, 4, and 3, and we are talking about my 3-year-old's 13-and 11-year-old brother and sister. And the 13-year-old and 11-year-old brother and sister have asked what they should call us, too. They've said that we are like their step-parents or aunt/uncle, and our other kids are "kind of" like their brother and sister, too.

It's confusing for kids, and we are in situations where people ask questions about our relationships - we do things together, they've stayed at our house, etc. Our five-year-old had a playdate, and his friend commented on a photo of all five of the kids together. She said, "Do you have older kids, too? Where are they?" I clumsily explained it the best I could.