Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Grandpa By Any Other Name

Adoption creates some unique relationships. Adoptive parents have to come up with terminology they are comfortable with so that their children know how to refer to the different kinds of family members they have that their friends might not have.

I’ve heard of birth mothers, first fathers, bio-siblings, even the phrase “tummy mommy.” And while adoptive families may not agree on which of those words to use, I think they agree across the board that they do not use the terms “real” or “natural” children when discussing any biological ones. Every adoptive family I have met or heard about feels that their adoptive children are just as “real” and “natural” as any other kids.

For us, on a day-to-day basis, the words we use are like any other families: Mommy, Daddy, brothers and sisters. But three of my five also know the family they live with is their forever family but they also have a first Mommy, a first Daddy and brothers and sisters that don’t live with them.

And that’s the easy part.

Then there are the trickier ones to explain. For example, my kids have a biological sister K that was adopted by another family. In her family, K has a sister by adoption. Now if K is my adopted kids’ sister and M is HER sister, what do my adopted kids refer to M as? And what do my biological kids call K and M? What do any of them call their parents? What are her parents to my husband and me? I feel a strong affection for the children that are biologically related to my own and that makes me feel a special connection to the parents that adopted them, particularly the mothers. To me, they are a new category of family, my sister-mothers.

One of our friends adopted their son through the foster care system like we did. For the first 18 months of his life, he lived with a foster mother who felt like she was too old to adopt a baby so she lovingly took care of him until the time that he was legally freed for adoption and was matched up with my friends. His foster mother knew that B’s birthmother was not going to be able to be the “Mommy” in his life. She also knew she had no intentions of adopting him herself and she wanted to reserve the name “Mommy” for that special woman that would eventually fill that role. So she taught B to call her “Grandma.” To this day, B stays in touch with his Grandma S and her family. This is especially important to him since contact with his biological family isn’t really feasible at this point in their lives.

We were extremely fortunate last year to meet our adopted children’s biological great-grandmother. She told us that her grand and great-grand children call her “Grandma.” Since my kids already have a Grandma, we thought we’d stick with Great Grandma to differentiate. At a visit at her house, we met an Auntie and an Uncle and we immediately started calling them such.

In early spring, Auntie came to our house to visit and brought her father, our adopted children’s biological maternal grandfather, with her. We had never met him before so I asked him what the children should call him. He stammered, saying, “Well…my name is M…” I wondered if he didn’t know what kind of answer I was looking for or if I would even be comfortable with the kids calling him “Grandpa” so I clarified for him. “No, no, what do your other grandchildren call you?” His face relaxed as he smiled and said, “Pop-Pop.”

Then Pop-Pop it is! We do have another Pop-Pop already, so to differentiate we decided to use Pop-Pop M. While he was over, my kids hardly talked to him, really, they were having too much fun running around with the kids that were visiting too (K & M). But they loved having this new biological connection and would bring him up frequently.

One day E asked, “Can we send this to Uncle Pop-Pop?”

Oh. My. God.



Huge famous E grin. “Oops, I meant to say Pop-Pop M.”

I gave him a huge grin back. “E, I think Uncle Pop-Pop is a GREAT name and I think we should call him that. “ When I talked to M on the phone later, I asked if he would like the name Uncle Pop-Pop. Like me, he thought the name was adorable. We agreed our unusual relationship made an unusual name rather apropos.

Adoption really does create some unique relationships. Sometimes, adopted children have to come up with terminology they are comfortable with so that their parents know how to refer to the different kinds of family members they have that their friends might not have . . . like an Uncle Pop-Pop.


  1. Love, Love, LOVE this post!! What a rich set of family relationships you have formed.

    Our son Lenny's situation is very similar to your friend's son B. Lenny calls his former foster mom, "Mama Brenda." My former foster daughter Nina calls us by our first names. It took her quite a while to get out of calling us "Mama" and "Daddy" but now she seems quite comfortable with it. It was a harder adjustment for me, but it had to be done to honor her one and only mother, Rayna. I tried for "Aunty Jay" and "Uncle Dyl" but that didn't stick, so we went with what worked for Nina.

    In the end, the nature of the relationships are reflected in the interactions and the love, the terms by which they refer to us are a mere corollary of that.

  2. by the way, Jay, I have a fb page now if you're on fb & want to follow:

    1. Thanks Gina, I am one of the few not on FB mainly due to privacy/safety issues re: Lenny. But I am your fan, regardless :)

  3. Hey, do you do any more writing besides the piece I read on HuffPost?

  4. Love this. As a type-A personality I always want everything to fit into neat little categories with labels. With foster care that just doesn't happen! This post was a great reminder to me that I'm not going to always find the perfect label or name for our situation that immediately explains to the world what our relationships are. So I guess now that I realize that I can embrace it and learn to be OK with giving a little more explanation at times to people.

  5. I have LOTS that I really want to write about. The only writing that I do these days, however, is the technical writing that is my profession. Someday I hope to have that blog I am dreaming about and if/when I do, you'll be the first to know! Can you send me a brief e-mail when you have a chance? I'd love to write to you privately sometimes.

  6. I'd love to, do I have your email address?

  7. Oops, I assumed you would automatically get it when I comment on your posts. Write me at: