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I May Have Adopted Each One of My 4 Kids — But Please Don’t Call Me an “Adoptive” Mom

Image Source: Rachel Garlinghouse
Image Source: Rachel Garlinghouse

Recently, I took three of my four children to a new pediatrician. Our first round of appointments were back-to-back physicals. My toddler son grew restless in the waiting room, finally succumbing to laying face-down on the germ-infested floor and wailing like he had just received news that Jake and the Neverland Pirates would cease to exist. I began to sweat, alternating between breaking up arguments between my eldest two children and trying to lure the toddler off the floor with an old cell phone and a granola bar.

Finally it was our turn. I herded my children into the exam room, arranging them in the available seats with objects from my Mary Poppins bag of fun, before turning my attention to the nurse. She began asking questions about the children’s health, and then she paused to ask, “And are you … a foster mom?”

This wasn’t the first time (nor would it be the last) that I’ve been asked this question. As a mom whose children were adopted — children who are black, while I am white — we are faced with many questions about what “category” our family fits in, which boxes can be checked, what label can be placed on us.

“No,” I replied.

“So you are … let me see. I mean, I have to put something in the file. You are, an adoptive mom?”

“I am their mom,” I replied, looking directly into her eyes.

Later, I replayed the situation in my mind, reflecting on what my family knows as truth.

First, we’re a real family. And real families — authentic families — don’t need to qualify their “type.” There is no word that needs to be in front of my title as mom. I’m the boo-boo kisser, the puke-catcher, the food preparer, the bedtime storyteller, the classroom Christmas party planner, the encourager … You know, the person who performs all motherly duties — because I am the mom!

Which brings me to my second point, which is that my kids know me simply as “Mom.” Period, end of story. When they have a bad dream in the middle of the night, they don’t cry out, “Adoptive mom! Adoptive mom! I’ve had a bad dream!” When they are angry with me for telling that no, leftover Halloween candy isn’t one of the dinner options, they exclaim, “MOM!” not, “Adoptive mom!” When one falls down and needs a reassuring hug, they cry out for “mom,” not “Hey, adoptive mom! Can you get me a bandage?”

Third, the “othering” is an unwelcome interruption. As anyone can see, I’m doing what moms do: rushing about, trying to keep the kids content and attempting to maintain some sort of personal sanity. A demand for a label, for information, for a category is annoying and unnecessary. I’m just trying to keep my son from opening every single drawer of no-touch objects in the exam room.

The fact that we adopted is no secret, and it’s definitely not something we are ashamed of. But it certainly isn’t the thing our life revolves around. Our life, as shocking as it may seem to some, is normal. Our day-to-day existence is similar to those of every other growing family. We argue, we laugh, we play, we cuddle, we drive, we talk. We plan vacations, we have sick days, we do laundry, we have playdates.

So when we someone tries to qualify us, I always meet such demands for justification with simple, direct answers. I am proud to be the one my children call mom — the one who was entrusted to raise them, the one who refuses to let another person’s uncertainty or curiosity impress up upon me that I am anything less than a full-fledged mother.

And that will never, ever change.

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