On Being Made Real


“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day.

When you’re 9 years old and a girl, I suppose being an emotional wreck is to be expected.

Ah, heck.

When you’re 37 years old and girl, I suppose being an emotional wreck is to be expected.

But sometimes, it’s hard to know which 9-year-old wrecks are I Stubbed My Toe And That’s A Great Excuse To Let Go Of The Emotional Mess Smouldering Inside Me,

and which wrecks are Real.

Yeah, yeah.  I know they’re all real.  But the Real real ones are those that will haunt my daughter into adulthood.  The ones that have Serious Potential for me the mama to Screw Up.

The other night, my Aden missed her birthmom.  Aden and Ian share a birthmom, so it was a natural conversation for the three of us to have together, and soon Ian was snuggled up, all ears.  There I sat, on the ground in the hallway next to the piles and piles of dirty laundry, with two kids missing their birthmom and asking questions.

I genuinely love moments like that.  It’s epically, gigantically important to me to talk to my kids about birthparents and adoption, and I’m grateful for every opportunity they give me.

But I almost Screwed It Up.  Especially when Ian kept asking about his “real mom.”

Now, I don’t always know where kids pick up their terminology, but I can tell you that we’ve never referred to my kids’ birthmoms as the “real” moms.  Mostly because I don’t want to be… what?  The fake mom?  The pretend mom?  The long-term sub?


I’m the Real Mom.  That’s me.  My title.  Real Mom.

And she’s the birthmom or the biological mom.  I cherish her.  I’m grateful to her.  I cry for her, and I honor her.

But I’m the Real Mom.

Every adoptive mom I know thinks about how she’ll respond to “real momness.”  Whether the question comes from a stranger at the grocery store.  (“Are those kids your own?”  “Why, yes.  Yes, they are.”) Or from my child.

So I felt very prepared for Ian’s “real mom” reference.  I could finally use the clever responses I’ve honed over the years!  Yay!

“Real mom?  Real mom??”  I said to Ian.  “Who wiped your poopy bottom?  Huh?  Who works with you on homework?  Who buys your groceries, and kisses your owies, and makes you bathe?  Sorry, pal.  I’m your real mom, and you’re stuck with me.”

I smiled and winked.  And Ian smiled back, because he understood.  That kind of easy, breezy answer was just what he wanted.  He wanted to know that I am content and confident in my real momness, and that’s what he got.

But Aden continued to cry, and my light answer failed to soothe her.  Because kids are different.  They grow at different rates, and they have different needs.

My snappy, clever reply was neither snappy nor clever when held to the light of her need to be heard.  It didn’t dry the tears or diminish her pain.

And that’s when I realized that this mom, Real or not, was too hasty.

I was too quick to talk about my own selfish need to be Real.  And too slow to listen to my daughter’s Real sense of loss.

Sometimes, I wish for a word that can describe the plummeting of my heart or the way my gut can turn itself upside down when I’m ashamed of myself.  Other times, I’m glad there’s no word for that.

I slowed down, and I shut up.

I listened to Aden talk about her hurt and her pain.  Which everyone knows is not my best thing.  I like to fix those things, not lay them all out on the table to discuss.

As I listened, I reevaluated what I think about being Real and my own selfishness in hogging that title for Just Me.

And I told the truth as far and as best as I understood it in that moment.  Which is a different truth than the one I’ve been reciting in my head all these years.

I told Aden the truth that all of us are Real.  And that there’s room in the Real pool for more than just one mama.

Your birthmom is your Real mom, Aden.  She grew you inside of her own flesh, and she gave you the gift of life, which is something I couldn’t do for you.  Nothing will change that or take it away from you or her.  That’s Real life.  Her story will always be part of yours.  And stories are things we get to keep forever.

And I’m your Real mom, too.  I get to love you and parent you every day.

You know what else is Real, Miss Aden?  Holding the loss and love of your first Real Mom alongside the love of your Me Real Mom in your heart.  Because it’s not an either/or.  It’s a both/and.  Love and loss.  Pain and joy.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.  When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.

Sending love today to my kids’ other Real moms,



Quotes are from the beloved children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams. Interestingly, the book’s alternative title was How Toys Become Real. The artwork above is by the original Velveteen Rabbit illustrator, Sir William Nicholson.

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57 responses to “On Being Made Real”

  1. Beth Woolsey,
    I recently read your blog about love the sinner/hate the sin. It has changed my life. So I was perusing your other blogs when I stumbled upon this one about adoption and being the real mom. My youngest is adopted–we have an open adoption with her birth mom. I adore her birth mother–she is the bravest, most loving person I’ve ever known. But I still bristle at the implication that I am not real. I’m reading a book that you might find helpful: Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge.
    I wish I’d read it years ago. If I’d read that book AND your blog, I might have handled situations with my girl in a different way. Dang, sometimes I want SO BADLY to be able to unring certain bells. I’ll just keep hoping she forgives me and that someday I’ll be worthy enough to be real.

    Thank you so very much for your loving words. They speak directly to my soul.

  2. Beth:
    I found your blog about Poop in the Closet. Hilarious! But then, I saw the list of other blogs, when my eyes fell on the Real mom/adoptive mom. Our adopted son, Chris, who is adult now, found his birthlady on a website. He told us about her, and we have since have met several times for dinner. It was a real blessing to meet her and tell her in person that I am so thankful she chose to place him in adoption. I told her I was looking forward to meet her in Heaven to let her know we prayed for her and were so thankful she chose the adoption option! We have since corresponded on Facebook. I praise God for the opportunity to meet her and tell her about Chris and how special he is to us.

    Your blog is beautiful, and I intend to continue to follow your blogs. Thank you, Penny Boyd

  3. Hello, greetings from Poland.

    I am so glad I came across this blog and this post. You’re a great mum to approach your children in a different way and respect their individual needs and fears. : )

  4. I was adopted, and throughout my life, I’ve always flinched when people ask me about my “real” parents. What’s more real than spoon-feeding me baby food and driving me to swimming lessons?

    Beautiful post. And beautiful blog. Your children are blessed to have a mom as awesome as you.

  5. I do not have any adopted children, not that have gone through the legal process. But I have 2 stepdaughters that live in my home with my husband and me and my 3 children. And although I am not their REAL mom, I am their mom. I feed them, I help them with homework, I do all the not-so-fun mom stuff. While the biological mom gets the fun 48 hour visits on the weekend with no responsibility. And then I remind myself, I would not trade this for anything. Because the other mom gave them their smiles and some of their fun quirkiness that I get to enjoy. Every. Single. Day. While she only gets short spurts or enjoyment. So this is the kind of REAL mom that I will cherish being, because I can not imagine life without them. Thank you for sharing, Beth. This touched my heart.

  6. This is just beautiful Beth. We’ve got adoption in a few places in our lives, including both “sides” of placing for adoption and adopting (my husband adopted my son, my dad was adopted, I have an adopted uncle, and my husband’s brother placed for adoption). This speaks truth and love into both “sides”.

  7. Hi Beth

    Greetings from Singapore. I chanced upon your blog today with a link from Huffpost Parents and I just want to let you know this post touched me greatly. I’m a fellow adoptive Mom (after multiple child losses) and I know the day when my inquisitive 5-year old daughter quizzes me on her ‘Real’ mom will come sooner than I want. I can only love, parent and pray for her more than what any ‘real’ moms would do because I am chosen by God to be her ‘forever’ Mom….

  8. Is this in any way offensive?

    1 birth dad
    + 1 birth mom
    + 1 adoptive dad
    +1 adoptive mom
    = 1 fantastic kid

    Be honest but not mean.

  9. I just recently became aware of your site, and just now found this particular blog, oozing with love, sympathy, and everything “mom.” I am a half-adoptee (on the dad side) as well as a birthmom. I totally understand the REAL versus the also-real, from both sides. Over many decades, I’ve seen references to birthmoms running from hideously uninformed and insulting, to empathetic and embracing. Thank you for your words. The Lord has you right where He wants you!

  10. This is exactly what I needed to read today, and I found it completely by chance. I don’t have an adopted child in my home, but one in my heart, and it can be so hard to love a child and take care of them like your own, but to have them still long for a birth parent who is barely in their life. It is so hard to see the big picture sometimes. I am sitting here bawling, both out of sadness that this doesn’t really go away, and relief that I am not alone. Thank you.

  11. This is so beautiful. I’m so glad I came across this and I pray that I remember this if/when the issue arises in our life down the track. You give so very much as a parent on a daily basis but the bond of blood and birth is a powerful one too for every human <3 your kids are so blessed to have you x

  12. What an amazingly beautiful post! I don’t think I could ever have thought up words as honest and peaceful as these. I have a friend who is struggling with this right now with her children. I will be passing this along to her.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us!

  13. Hi Beth,

    I found your blog today and I have to say that as a child of adoption, I can’t tell you how much this resonates w/ me. As a child, I used to get asked often “Do you ever want to know who your “Real” parents are?” This was so confusing to me, because I thought, silly people, my PARENTS are my ‘real parents’! It wasn’t until other kids would point out and they would make me feel badly or confused that I even thought anything different. I’d come home, in tears some days, until my mom would hug me and say “they don’t understand. I am your real mom, and that’s all you need to tell them.” I knew what she meant. As a mom of four biological children today, I can honestly tell you that I don’t feel a stronger bond between my kids and I than the bond I feel w/ my parents. Beautifully written. Will definitely be back!

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