As many of you have probably already figured out, I am not very good about responding to comments. You can usually count on a response from a personal email, but I get a bit lazy when it comes to these other little tidbits. I promise I don't mean anything by it. I L-O-V-E to hear from all of you! I just can't seem to find the extra time in my day to respond to each and every person that leaves their calling card. It's probably because I talk way too much, and would feel the need to write a novella in response. Something tells me my family would not appreciate that. 8^)
That said, a couple days ago I was inspired. I received a comment on this post, the likes of which I have never known before. It wasn't mean or disrespectful, wasn't from an anonymous source and it wasn't spam. Most importantly, IT DID NOT OFFEND ME. It WAS long though, and it made me think (read what KHS said). In fact, it made me think so much that I couldn't gather my thoughts enough to answer it until today. After some more thought, I decided to post my response here on the blog. I wasn't sure at first, but since the comment is out there for everyone to read, the response might as well be too; just in case anybody else out there has a different method of handling this issue like Karen does. So, without further ado....
You have some pretty valuable things to add to this discussion too. There are so many variations in families, and they all have to be accounted for when we decide what works for our own individual family. Divorce, remarriage and siblings with different biological parents definitely throw the whole system into a frenzy. I know. That's how I grew up. My parents separated when I was 2. They were both married to new spouses by the time I was 4, and each pair had two new children together. I have a Mom and a Step-Dad (I have called him Papa, Dad & John at different points), a Dad and Step-Mom (I've always called her Diane), and four half siblings that are just my brothers and sisters as far as we are all concerned. I couldn't agree with you more about the parents' approach to all this confusion setting the tone for what's "normal" to the child. My parents always took all the extra family I had in stride, so I did too. It was a little hard explaining it to my friends sometimes though.
I am so sorry if my previous post implied that the solution that works for our family when referring to birth parents is the best thing for everyone. That is so far from what I meant. We were very lucky to get the name of Grace's mother when we went to Ethiopia to bring her home. It is not uncommon for abandoned babies in Ethiopia to have a similar lack of information from their pasts as what you described about your Chinese daughter. The photos we got were a gift beyond my wildest expectations. If it hadn't been for a thoughtful nurse at the hospital when Grace was born, and the commitment of a kind volunteer that took care of her for the first couple months of her life, we wouldn't know anything. As it is, that is the full extent of the information we have. I am not exactly sure what we would have chosen to do about how we refer to Grace's birth mom if we hadn't learned her name.
The terms Mom, Mama, Mommy, Mummy, etc. are all intended to denote a certain connection. There aren't many sweeter sounds in the world, than hearing your children say "mama" for the first time. It isn't said because you labored and delivered the child. They are expressing their love and connection to you as their most prized caregiver and nurturer. Birth mothers are mothers in the sense that they sacrificed their bodies, time and personal feelings for the betterment of their children. They could have aborted them, or placed them in an adoptive home and then ripped them back out because of their own selfish desires. Many (or I even dare to say most) birth mothers have long term issues finding peace with their decision to place their child for adoption, but we, as adoptive parents, are still given the gift of mothering these children in spite of that. Those are pretty big sacrifices. However, that doesn't obligate you to use any specific term of endearment for them that you prefer to save as a special expression between yourself and your child.
As for me, I have never been "Mommy" to any of my kids. All of them called me Mama when they were little, and graduated to Mom after that. In fact, it sounds a little strange to me to hear someone else refer to me as their "mommy". I imagine that played a big part in my willingness to give up this particular term to the women that played a pretty darn significant role in my ability to parent my children now. There were a few important things that we considered when trying to decide how to refer to our kids' first parents:
1. Is it a term that my children understand?
2. It is a term that shows respect/love for their 1st/birth/bio mother/father?
3. It is a term that both my husband and I are comfortable using?
As I wrote # 3 just now, I felt a tiny check in my spirit. I wasn't always comfortable with calling another person my son's Mommy. She most definitely was, but there was a part of me that seemed to dream of wishing all of that away so he could just be mine. That was my issue though; not his. I wouldn't have been fair for me to make it his issue either. He felt love in his heart for his first mother, and we all needed to honor that. I am happy to be able to report that those reservations have long since faded from the picture for me. I just needed time to make my own memories and past with him, so I didn't feel like I needed to covet her's.
So to wrap up my rather long winded response, I will leave you with this. Don't call your son's birth mother "Mommy _____" if it makes you feel uncomfortable. As long as it conveys respect, any term that you use consistently will likely be fine with him. Kids, especially young ones, tend to follow their parents' lead. If you force yourself to say something that you feel uncomfortable with, your attitude is likely to show through to your children, so don't do it. If they indicate that they need something different in the future, try to be open to it. These are their identities/memories/feelings after all. As far as your children having different backgrounds, I suggest honesty and a whole lot of compassion. To quote my husband, in our family we have children that are, "Yours, Mine, Our's and Someone Else's". There is no way that I can make any of them have the same past. It is just plain impossible. It probably will be hard for your daughter when she gets older and really wraps her mind around the idea that her brother has photos and information about his first Mom, and she has nothing. This might sound harsh, but life isn't fair. She will have to make peace within herself for this injustice she has been dealt by life, and she will likely need lots of love from you to help her do it. In the mean time, since you don't have a name, perhaps the word for mother in Chinese would be a way to refer to this special lady. Another option would be to ask your daughter what she would like to call her when she is old enough to talk. Things that start early in life have a tendency to stick around when they become part of the fabric of our family conversation. Your daughter might even forget that she "named" her birth mom as she gets older. It would be a sweet memory for you to share with her later. Of course, sticking with "Birth Mom" works too. I'm not sure what the best answer is, but anything done out of love, and concern for the well being of your children and family, sounds great to me.
Best of luck,
PS See...I told you all I might write a novella!!