A Mom by Any Other Name

Why It’s Time to Address the Bias of Motherhood

Posted Sep 09, 2016

Footage Firm, Inc.
Source: Footage Firm, Inc.

As a mother of sons who are adopted, there are a lot of things you get used to hearing and then there are things that you just can’t believe people just said. No need to go into them here. Those parents who are in my same boat understand and I’m sure have experienced a few choice phrases of their own. What’s a mom to do?

Simone Biles shrugged it off, feet planted firmly on the ground rooted in her truth “these are my parents.” Her strong response to NBC journalist, Al Trautwig who believed he knew better than her and insisted who her “real” parents were. Raised by her grandparents after her birthmother relinquished her parental rights, Simone knows them as mom and dad. Al Trautwig insisted he knew better and announced it on air. While I believe he was wrong, he shines a spotlight on the bias we have toward parenting, but in particular, motherhood. 

There are many ways to be parents these days, which means there are many ways that we come to be mothers. In my case, it was through adoption twice but there are also foster moms, same sex couples with two moms, moms who are biological relatives of children they are raising (usually grandmothers) and moms who have earned the title because of the love, care and nurturing they have provided for a child in their life (step moms and “aunties” come to mind).

While Al Trautwig was rightfully taken to task on this, it prompted me to think about the ways in which U.S. culture still gives preference and predominance of motherhood to those who give birth. The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute’s benchmark survey, done almost twenty years ago, concluded that “58 percent of Americans know someone who has been adopted, has adopted a child or has relinquished a child for adoption.” If this was true of over half of the population twenty years ago, it stands to reason that the numbers would certainly be higher now.  These are just the numbers for adoption. Certainly most people today are aware that the other ways to be a mom are a part of our family structure.

In 2015, The Pew Research Center reporting on social and demographic trends revealed that “there is no longer one dominant family form in the U.S.” We are a changing culture even though we are reluctant to change with it and this causes conflict. As a culture, we still assume that if a woman is a mom, then she has given birth. I am often met with questions about what my pregnancies were like, or eyes searching immediately for a genetic connection in my sons' faces. I still read parenting articles with statements declaring that every mother has the right to choose what kind of birth she wants to have as if every mother births her way into this role. I regularly stand in the midst of conversations with moms, who have given birth to their children, who discuss the bond that only a mother can have with her child because of pregnancy and childbirth with the certainty that we can all relate. It is still the assumed way to come to motherhood even with the millions of mothers who form their families differently.

It is time to break culture and adopt (pun intended) a new mindset, language and attitude that is inclusive of all of us moms and that reflects the times we live in. I am certain that there are dads who want to hop in on this one as they can relate to the way they are viewed as well. When my sons were younger, every time I traveled for business, even with my disclosing my many years of marriage, I always had moms ask me who was taking care of my sons while I was away.  Dominant culture is hard to break. So I’m suggesting some small changes to start.

Assume that every mom comes to the table with their own story. Rather than ask about pregnancy and birth, try asking, “What’s your family story? How did you come to be a family?”

If you write, give talks or workshops about parenting, it is okay if what you are sharing only applies to moms who have given birth, but at least let the rest of us know you have thought about and respect us. Using language like “I know every mom does not build their family by giving birth. So this may not apply to everyone but to those who have given birth etc.” I can then choose to skip what you have to say or not, knowing that you have acknowledged our different stories.

Check your mindset. Do you naturally assume that families come together in just one way or maybe you remember adoption, if reminded, but nothing else? Check in with yourself and be honest. Start looking for ways to shift that.

Addressing our bias when it comes to motherhood will not come easy, but it is timely.

What’s your family story?