Non-moms and the UnAmerican Family

I miss on out all sorts of atrocities because I don’t watch television. One that I recently discovered via Girl with Pen was a recent NBC show that culminated on Mother’s Day called America’s Favorite Mom. It’s one of those American Idol-ish contest shows with a “theme” and “ordinary people” contestants and that perennial American favorite, audience participation via voting. Or something awful like that. The reality show as contest genre is about as simple-minded as entertainment gets these days. I would personally rather watch reruns of Happy Days after Fonzie jumped the shark than any of these 15 minutes of fame shows.

America’s Favorite Mom is a nausea inducing enough concept, the creators of the show have Donny and Marie hosting it and divided the idea of motherhood into categories. There are levels of motherhood. SAHM who are cleverly renamed COE (Chair of Everything) Mom’s who haven “given up careers to do it all for their families”. Wow. I am impressed to the point of being teary-eyed already. Military Moms – and no they didn’t mean really strict – these are the women mothering from a distance as they promote and protect the ideal of freedom in countries that would swath them in fabric from head to toe and deny them the right to have a career outside the barefoot, pregnant and chair of everything that keeps them tied down. Naturally there was a category for the Working Mom and the Single Mom (though that should have probably been the Single/Working Mom), hailed as the Wonder Women they are. Finally, there was the category for the Non-Mom.

Non-Mom? How can one be a mother and not a mother at the same time? It almost reads like a riddle. But the answer is really quite simple, a non-mom becomes a mother through adoption.

There is a reason why people in the land of my birth are so morbidly fixated on the idea that biology trumps all in matters of family and this show is a perfect example of it. We are taught to believe that the only real family are those people who are related to you by blood. Well, all people who are related to each other by DNA are taught this while the rest of us know better.

Pundit Mom had an interesting assessment of the prejudice that adopted families, mothers especially, endure, but her take on the non-mom thing really struck home for me.

I was adopted when I was not quite two weeks old. Aside from my daughter, I haven’t a known genetic tie in the world and yet I am not wanting for family. There are my two older girls, Rob’s daughters with his late wife, Shelley, who I sometimes refer to as my step-daughters but mostly just reference as the “the girls” though neither are at 23 and 25. I have two sisters, a brother, two nephews and six nieces (if one counts my brother’s girlfriend’s daughter and my youngest sister’s three daughters who were adopted when they were small by three different families- which I do). I have a brother-in-law by marriage, and ex-sister-in-law by common law standards and my oldest nephew’s father who was never even achieved common law status but is family none-the-less as is his daughter by another woman who is my nephew’s sister. And this is just my most immediate family before I start adding up mothers-in-law (I have two), sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law (a problematic count because there is Shelley’s family to consider) and Rob’s nieces and nephews (another interesting problem for the genetic census takers). Of the ten first cousins on my dad’s side, which includes my siblings and I, five of us are adopted.

In addition to my family, I also am the mother of a little girl conceived through IVF. In some people’s eyes, the blind ones, that makes me a real mom. In other’s, just as blind, it does only by technicality.

I am uncertain where the idea that the best kind of family is a bio-family came from originally. There is certainly much legal precedent that babies are better off with biological parents when adoptions are contested. I remember babies Jessica and Richard, adoption nightmares that even as an adult affected me quite a bit.

Teleflora, which sponsored the mom contest apologized for the non-mom label, issued an apology and redesignated the category “Adopted Mom” but only after the fact. After the marginalization and reinforcement of a pervasive stereotype had done their damage. My favorite part of their contrition was when they cited that they actually employed people who were adoptive parents. Kind of like how racists always have some black friends and sexists love their wives and mothers.

Biology is the least of all the factors that go into being a good parent, as anyone with good parents or who is a good parent will tell you. Perhaps Teleflora and NBC didn’t run across any of these people in the focus groups that allowed them to come up with their awful contest.

9 thoughts on “Non-moms and the UnAmerican Family

  1. Sally, the “one woman is mom” thing? Yeah, it’s situational right? My birth mother is not even a shadow figure in my life. Were she to come back at this point, she hasn’t the history with me to be “mom”. Someday that is how it will be for Katy. Rob will be the one with the history with her and not Will. For kids who are half grown or a bit more, I don’t know. I guess it will depend on the (step) parenting though in the end we kind of forge our own family on our own terms, biology or no.

    Julie, it does stun, doesn’t it?

    Silverstar, we build our own families and mom is really a title a person earns and is granted.

  2. The Boyo’s mother is more a mother to me than my mother ever was. I count his sister as a sister-in-law, and his niece as my niece. My own nieces are all very distant to me, having been birthed by siblings who are not close to me. I have one sister who is close to me, and her boys are definitely my nephews. The one brother I am close to is gay, and as far as I am concerned, his partner of 32 years is a brother-in-law. Family, IMHO, doesn’t have much to do with blood, and more to do with who cares about you. It is only the patriarchy that gets it’s jockey shorts in a wad about bloodlines.

  3. Hey Annie,

    This is a super post, on a chilling topic. I’m gonna take one tiny exception to one thing you said in one of your comments, though, but referencing dad’s instead of mum’s (which might make all the difference…)

    I am not convinced that only one man gets to be a person’s dad- I think for my Sydney, possibly for my Sam, and possibly even for your Katy, the term might be applied in more than one instance- time will tell.

    Sam’s father has never been a dad to him; we refer to him as Papa-Richard, and although he lives within 30 minute’s drive from here, his presence in Sam’s life is limited to about 6 get-togethers a year…

    Before long, our daughters will have had their step-dads in their lives for longer than their original dads (which is such a bittersweet thing). I suspect in both cases, that their “Rob” will become their “dad” in all the ways that count, but I don’t know that that will mean that Will and Willis will entirely lose the title.

    I’m curious to know how it will work out- in our family, my step-sons are adamant that their dad will NEVER be a dad to anyone but them. They are currently 10 & 12, so things may change over the years.

    In any case, I am 100% with you that the title of mom or dad applies to a relationship, and not to biology.


  4. Non-Mom? Good grief how redundant. You are right, only in america geez. For some reason this is the sort of title that I think good ol George W. would come up with, and be proud of it! ugh

  5. Myra, only in America. And I agree. Only one woman gets to be a person’s mom.

    Daisyfae, it is cool and it’s not even taking into account the family I have acquired like my friend Meg who is like a sister and her husband and girls and by best friend Vicki and her husband, girls and her parents and grandmother (who my daughter will sometimes reference as her grandparents as well).

  6. Argh! Shoot the marketeers! That’s awful… i didn’t know what a “COE” was, although i’d heard the term…

    And by the way, i needed a whiteboard to draw out your family – just like mine! Very cool! It’s not about blood/genetics…

  7. wow I can’t believe anyone would make a competitive distinction between mothers who adopted their children and other mothers.

    I’m insulted on behalf of my mother who adopted me at 2 weeks of age. even though I met my birth mother as an adult and have an ongoing strong relationship with her, I only had one “Mum”

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