Non-Mom? Really? Are You Sure You Want to Go There?

Mon, May 12, 2008


Since I became a mother over seven years ago, I’ve been called a lot of things related to my parental status — Forever mom. Adoptive mom. Mean mom (yeah, you know that one was from PunditGirl).

I’ve always hated labels, but I’ve never been able to figure out why our media insist on branding families – step-sisters, half-brothers, foster children. What is gained by describing families in these terms, other than to divide or to suggest that one type of family relationship is better than another?

For me, families are families. But there is clearly something up with society in terms of wanting or needing to define people by the degree of blood relations they have — as if not having a genetic connection makes people less of a family.

But the one that really took the Mother’s Day cake was this weekend when NBC and Teleflora hosted what I think is an incredibly silly show called, “America’s Favorite Mom.” Among the various categories was one that was apparently designed to encompass people like me — a mother by adoption — as well as other women who are parents of children who are not related to them by blood.

The classy title they came up with?


It took me a while before I could actually sit down to write this piece because I had to wait for the steam to stop coming out of my ears.

One of the “non-moms/adoptive moms” is described as having a child “of her own” and six “meth babies.” Do I even have to start explaining all the ways this is wrong??

While PunditGirl became a part of our family by adoption and not as a result of some of the more fun ways of creating a family, I am not her “adoptive” mom.

I AM HER MOM! Period.

By law and by love, in all ways, I am her mother and that will never change. Even if she is lucky enough to someday find her birth mother — or as we call her, “China mom” — I am the one who loves her, cares for her and is legally responsible for her, just as parents of biological children are.

But for some reason, there is rampant yet subtle prejudice in our society against non-biological family relationships. Friends, media and even relatives can’t get past calling families like mine something different. As if by calling us “adoptive” families makes biological families better — read: real.

Don’t believe me? Check out what one of my favorite adoption writers, Dawn from this woman’s work, has to say about the NBC/Teleflora mom snafu:

Adopted kids — and the adults they grow up into, although in the eyes of the world they’re always adopted children — just aren’t as “real” as people who get to grow up in their families of origin. The only reason non-mom would ever bother me (because honestly I don’t give a damn what people call me) is that it’s indicative of the disrespect that society has about our kids.

Take this a step further — why is there even a need for a separate mom category? Is it because “adoptive moms” aren’t military moms? Or single moms? Or working moms? Or CEO moms? Garden Variety Family blog wonders, at what point we’ll stop with the silly categories:

How about a category for artificially inseminated moms, fertility drugged up moms or moms who have had children via embryo sorting/gender selection? Why [does] my route to parenthood need to be aired as something that doesn’t make me a mom?

Sure, NBC and Teleflora said they were sorry when the uproar got loud enough — if you can call what they issued an actual apology:

After closer examination, we can see how this may have been offensive to moms who have adopted children — moms who are indeed real moms to their children in every sense of the word. In fact, many of us at Teleflora are ‘adopting’ parents ourselves, including our president and owner.

Insensitivity? That’s a pretty big understatement. Stereotypical insult would be more like it.

In an E-mail message to me, Amie at Mamma Loves … wrote:

My mom is my mom. I have never once qualified her status in my life. She is not my “adopting” mom or my “adoptive” mom or any other BS. SHE IS MY MOM.

And I am my son’s mom (even though if we want to be technical I’m his aunt).

This is the most insulting thing I have seen in a LONG time.

I could care less about myself, but for my mom??? I can’t pound the keys hard enough or type fast enough to get my anger out.

Those whose families are not impacted by issues of adoption, divorce or extended family members raising children, may find this is hard to understand. But here is the simple truth — biology is not the only thing that makes a family, so it’s time to stop talking about real moms and dads and real families.

There is a need for people to take a step back and shake off the old assumptions and start to believe that our kids are our kids. There are still so many people our family encounters, not that infrequently, who ask the bizarre questions (how much did she cost?), give us ‘the look’ (Oh, that’s so sad you couldn’t have “your own” child), or ask my daughter if she knows her “real mom” (uh, that would be ME!)

Perhaps the only way to end this sort of “adoptism” is to start reversing the questions and asking biological families:

“Did you use in vitro to conceive or did you do it the old-fashioned way? Boy, I bet that was expensive?”

“So, how many months did you ‘try’ and not succeed?”

“Are you sure he’s ‘your’ child? He looks nothing like you?”

You get my drift. This is about so much more than a silly contest hosted by Donny and Marie. This is about how we view families and children and the messages we send as a society to our kids about who has worth and value. The clear message by continuing to make these senseless distinctions is that some kids aren’t real or as good as others. You know, there’s enough of that in world as it is — we don’t need to divide kids by how they came to be part of their families.

My husband (Mr. PunditMom!) has two daughters from his first marriage. Since PunditGirl joined our family through adoption, she is not related to them by blood. So what do we call them?


Until we can get more people on board with the fact that all families are real families, we will continue to be diminished. And, as Dawn at this woman’s work says, as an adult, I can deal with the categories others try to slap on me, but stop telling our kids that they’re not part of real families. Because as long as we allow that to happen the message that the world gets is that non-traditional families are second-class, inferior and not worthy of the simple word ‘family.’

I’m real. And our daughter is real. PunditGirl is “our own” (even though, as with any second-grader, she’d like to disown us as parents when we embarrass her in public). My family is as real as any other. Real is a lot of things other than sharing genes and a blood type.

Here’s the proof:

PunditGirl and her real PunditMom
Cross-posted from BlogHer, where PunditMom is a Contributing Editor for Politics & News.

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36 Responses to “Non-Mom? Really? Are You Sure You Want to Go There?”

  1. Heather.PNR Says:


  2. Karoli Says:

    I can only assume that the genius who thought of the term ‘non-mom’ was either temporarily insane or registered quite low on the IQ scale.


  3. Mamma Says:

    It makes this kid’s heart swell to know that I’m not different because I’m adopted. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to sometimes feeling a little less worthy because of it, which is funny since I don’t think of my mom any differently.

    Thank you for your treatment of this. As always, you are thoughtful and brilliant.


  4. Alyson & Ford Says:

    You gave voice to the pain and hurt my wife and I felt with regard to the non-mom mom reference. Thank you for speaking for us. Thank you…


  5. impromptublogger Says:

    How idiotic! I saw the show description and thought why are they bothering to categorize everybody?

    Actually Rachel NOT looking like you may come in handy in a couple of years when you just standing next to her is cause for embarassment (ahem – like my daughter). My daughter looks too much like me for people not to know but Rachel can just pretend you’re a perfect stranger! ;-)

  6. Mom101 Says:

    I watched about ten minutes of that show until I realized that it would be more interesting picking lint out of my belly button.

    That is the most offensive thing I’ve ever heard and I can’t even imagine how many green lights the script had to go through to get to air. That’s a whole lot of ass hats in production and marketing.

    You always educate me so much about parents who adopt. But in this case, you don’t have to be “enlightened” to know that families who come together through adoption are as real as any other.

  7. toddlerplanet Says:

    You tell ‘em, PunditMom!

    This is absolutely ridiculous. Have you sent a copy of this to NBC yet? You should … once all of us have a chance to commment and say that WE ARE ALL MOMS and this was OFFENSIVE.

  8. MeL Says:

    You said it. Beautifully.

    My favorite sis-in-law is one of three adopted kids, and she and her mom are actually closer than my mom and I have ever been. I envy their relationship… which is based on the fact that her mom is awesome, and has nothing to do with whether or not she voyaged through the woman’s birth canal.

    Labor is short, excrutiating, and sometimes beautiful… but it is not what made me a Mom. 2am feedings, a million plus diaper changes, kissing boo-boos, providing discipline and – most of all – LOVE is what makes a mother. The rest is just labels – and labels are only worth having if they actually serve to describe something. In this case, the label was so far off the mark it’s too ludicrous to fathom…

    You GO, SuperPunditMama!

  9. Kelby Says:

    Good for you! Give them hell! This term non-mom must be the most ridiculous thing I’ve eve heard.

  10. Daisy Says:

    Non-mom? Good grief, I can’t think of any mom who would fit that discription. And I’ve met many, many moms in my teaching life!
    Love, love, love the picture!

  11. Becky Says:

    “After closer examination, we can see how this may have been offensive to moms who have adopted children …”

    Dear NBC & Teleflora, Donny & Marie, et al: I have not adopted children, nor am I adopted, but this was offensive to me.

  12. Christina Says:

    Non-mom, as applied to moms who didn’t biologically give birth to their kids, is one of the most offensive things I’ve ever heard. Implying that you’re not a mom because you didn’t suffer stretch marks and hemorrhoids is insane. Were they going to next say that those who had c-sections aren’t real moms?

    Their apology isn’t much better: “moms who are indeed real moms to their children”. So they’re saying that the kids think of them as real moms, but no one else does?

    There is no difference between a child who was adopted and one who was born to the mother. A mom is not someone who gives birth – just like a dad isn’t the same as a sperm donor.

  13. Laura Says:

    this issue really gets stuck in my throat and makes me gag. First of all because my husband and I are both children of divorced and remarried parents. There are many steps and halfs and what-not branches grafted into our family trees but it all boils down to the fact that we are family, period. The other reason is the reaction we receive from people who engage their mouths before their brains and make stupid-assed comments or ask even stupider questions about our son and his REAL parents….so that makes us the fake parents and the fake siblings. We are his mother and father period, end of story. He is our son, our real, live son period. Of course I should forgive shiny, happy stupid people because the media continues to celebrate this delineation of real versus adoptive parents and children. For example:
    Nicole Kidman’s anticipated birth of her FIRST child….um she is already the mother of two gorgeous, amazing children….and on and on about any other person in the news who has made their family complete through adoption.
    Perhaps one of these celebrities should take a stand and educate these media clowns…or maybe bop them in the head a until they get it. We are all amazing mothers, children and families and nothing more.

  14. Karen Says:

    your and your girl are as real as it gets. NBC needs to back off, down and away – as does anyone else who feels the need to qualify.

  15. Amanda Says:

    I have such an urge to say a very “Un-Osmand Family” string of words. I saw the show starting as I clicked the tv off. What tripe!

    Non-mom. Horse puckey.

    Sorry, Mom.

  16. canape Says:


    Thank you for this.

    NBC is just on a roll lately, aren’t they?

  17. dana Says:

    I’m so happy to read your post. I had read a few others about this a couple days ago and I was miffed. It reminds me a lot of my friend’s situation.

    Her ex-husband is from Korea and both her children look just like him with their beautiful hazel eyes and dark brown hair. But when my friend goes to the grocery store, people ask her if she adopted her children from China. She gets really creative with her responses. Once she retorted, “Were you adopted from the planet of stupidity?”

    I think it’s insane that some people can be so bold with their assumptions, and actually say aloud what they seem to be thinking.

    A mother is a mother based on the love and care they provide to their children, whether or not they gave birth is irrelevant.

  18. Mutha Mae Says:

    I’m Mae, another Non Mom who adopted from China last year. I also have two biological children and one is two months younger than my China born baby.

    I am a mom, period. Or as I like to call myself, a Mutha. Those are my daughters. They are sisters. We are all valid. Nothing NON about us!

  19. Maia Says:

    Thank you for writing this! One of my little sisters saw the show on TV and it upset her a lot. I read your post to her and she thought it was great (she’s 13). She’s from Guatemala and was adopted when she was 6. She’s in the unique position of having two moms – our Mom and “Maria-mom” in Guatemala – both of whom love and cherish her. My Mom and older sister are both “non-moms” and that means that they are AMAZING. Shame on NBC and kudos to you for writing so eloquently!


  20. Rebekah Says:

    This is appalling!! Thank you for flagging it for us…. it’s the first I’ve heard of it, and it’s a disgrace.

  21. Sue Says:

    WORD. Great post!

  22. Mrs. Schmitty Says:

    Are you freaking kidding me? Non-Moms? That is absolutely horrible. Idiots.

  23. Anonymous Says:

    I was offended because I could not imagine how children would feel about someone referring to their mother as a non-mom. I am middle-aged and I can handle the stupidity of ignorant people, but I guess I was lucky growing up because I was never treated any differently by extended family, friends or neighbors just because I was adopted. My mom (boy, do I miss her) and I would joke about entering one of those mother/daughter beauty pageants because we looked so different (she, short and brunette and I, tall and blond.) Yet, when I went to visit her in the hospital, the nurse knew who I was, even without me telling her, because we had the same mannerisms.

    Thank you for being a wonderful, concerned mom!

    Julie Rios

  24. anniegirl1138 Says:

    Lovely post. I didn’t see the TV show (or even hear about it until now as I don’t watch TV), but that kind of idiocy doesn’t surprise me one bit. The “bio” family thing is so ingrained that the prejudice against extended/blended and adopted families goes almost unremarked upon. It’s like making fun of the overweight. Acceptable.

    I am adopted myself and I am a step-mother to two smart, funny and beautiful grown women and the mother of a darling 5 year old via IVF, so I think I run the gamut of “family types”. I noticed the somewhat (to my sensitive ears) remarks directed at those of us who became parents via medical procedures and want to say that I have encountered quite a bit of negative reactions to the way my daughter was conceived. In my prenatal swim class I actually had another mom to be give me a horrified look and swim away from me when I mentioned that my baby to be was IVF. It is considered by some people to be a bit anti-god in a Frankenstein sort of way that I find offensive.

    To me there has always been a multi-path approach to the mother thing. It is quite normal and natural no matter how it happens.

    When I was a little girl some of the neighborhood kids would tease me and my siblings about being adopted and my standard reply (which I coached my younger siblings to say) was “My parents picked me out but yours got stuck with you.” Not an enlightened thing to say perhaps but in the case of a few of those kids – probably true.

  25. Jen Says:

    “non-mom”? That’s beyond disgusting. I wonder what my son would think about his mother being called his “no-mom”. Although since he’s mine by adoption and my daughter is mine by mirth maybe I’m only a part-time non-mom? I actually see a lot of offensive things about that contest but non-mom? That takes the cake.

  26. Rhonda Says:

    Thank you.

    I was and still am disgusted by the entire debacle that NBC created by that show. You would have thought that someone with half a brain (cell) would have spoken up before it got to the point it did.

    Don’t even get me started on the apology…it “may” have been offensive? Puh-lease.

  27. DD Says:

    “moms who are indeed real moms to their children in every sense of the word”

    That was the most back-handed insult by adding that to their apology! All they did was say, “Yeah, I’m sure you’re real to your kids, but not to the rest of the ‘normal’ sections of our society…”

    In my case, pregnant via donor egg, this is one reason why I fear being open with my children when they are ready: how they could end up with these ridiculous labels.

    Thanks, Plain Jane Mom, for this link.

  28. Don and Be Says:

    Hopefully, when Father’s Day rolls around, the mental giants at NBC & Tele-Florist will have a better grasp of cute terminology as this prospective Stay-at-Home-Dad ain’t freakin’ ready for any ‘Mr Mom’ classification. Our daughter has a mother whose name is Be & a father whose name is Don – it’s as easy as that (although I do kinda’ like the title “HomeDaddy”).
    So be ready Matt, Ann and whoever the heck the rest of you are – try anything like this on Father’s Day and the hammer’s comin’ down.
    HomeDaddy Don

  29. bellevelma Says:

    I thought non-mom’s were women who didn’t have any kids, period.

    Who cares how you got the kids. If you have to care for them, cook for them, feed them, wash their clothes, pick up their toys, help with homework, etc… then you’re a MOM.

  30. Karin Says:

    Yeah, I am an expecting non-mom. Thanks for quoting me in your post. Feel free to say hi some time.

  31. sarah Says:

    So very real.

    So agree with you!

  32. Vivian M Says:

    Thank you for putting this so eloquently into words. Unfortunately, they did go there. And it is a reminder of just how much more I need to protect our daughter.

  33. Asianmommy Says:

    “Non-mom” is a horrible way to describe a person who’s obviously a mom. Your daughter is your daughter, and she’s beautiful.

  34. Shelley P Says:

    Dear PunditMom:

    While I certainly appreciate your offense at the “non-mom” term, I dare say that I know a hundred women that have been labeled “Non-mom” since the day they signed the papers which allowed you (collectively adoptive moms) become moms. While many of us were fortunate enough to have children after the loss of the child you subsequently raised, many did not for various reasons. And what are they? How do they feel when Mother’s Day rolls around? The adoptive issue is certainly a delicate one for moms on BOTH sides of the adoption fence.

    Just feeling the need to speak up for the silent moms that made your joy possible!

  35. PunditMom Says:

    My point was this — moms are moms are moms. There should be no labels, no matter what “kind” of mother we are.

  36. Susie Says:

    I can only imagine what comment discussion ensued here that it needed to be deleted. As any mother should be, I am completely offended by that term that we will no longer say out loud. Really, how did that get past any thinking person before airing. Did not one person say, “Hey guys? Do you think we should rethink this ‘non-mom’” reference? Someone might be offended?” Thanks for putting all your thoughts together in such a well-written/non-ranting way.

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