Unconditional love, or being a “real” parent

Our kids are in school now, and that means the burden of addressing adoption has suddenly started to shift to their shoulders. Tess is the “special person of the day” on Thursday, and I guarantee you she will talk about her first family when introducing herself and showing baby pictures. I have no control over what she says or how people respond, so this will be interesting.

Tess and Remy adore each other, and will often stop their class lines in the hallway to hug each other. The other day, both classes ended up in the sandbox at the same time, and Tess and Remy immediately started playing together. So now both of their classes know they are brother and sister, and at the same time they somehow know (as kindergartners!) that Tess and Remy don’t match.

As the kids get older, this also ties into siblings from their first families. What constitutes “real” family? People seem a bit obsessed with how to apply that word to families built through adoption. To be honest, I haven’t found a really good answer. For me, family is the people who love you and the people who are there for you when you need them. It’s the people you share experiences with, and the people who share your heritage. Our kids share many of those things with us, with their siblings, and with their first families. So why does it have to be so complicated?

Today, I heard a mom describe true motherhood as unconditional love. And I paused for a minute and thought, “can it be that simple?” The answer for us is yes. “Real” family are the people who love you unconditionally, whether they are family friends who have known you since the day you appeared in the world or whether they have blood ties. That means biological relatives and adoptive relatives are equally part of the family. 

People in the adoption world get very defensive about that word, “real”, and with good reason. No matter how you’re applying it, in some way you are denying another part of our family. The confusion is totally understandable, as all of us are on a journey to see how we fit together, the same way the newly married couple has to navigate how their families fit together. But when we say “real family”, we are including everyone who makes our kids feel safe and loved. And that’s a pretty huge swath of humanity and canine-kind!

I’m going to be honest – this week sucked. But the kids’ fevers are FINALLY gone, we had a spontaneous Toplingers night of laughs with Joy and Elodie, and made broccoli soup while the kids quietly played. (I’m going to be honest – after multiple days of straight screaming, I forgot they knew how to do that.) And some university friends I haven’t seen in ages drive up from Chicago for dinner – more inexplicable family! So it can only get better from here. Woot!

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