What Makes a "Real" Family

Sometimes, a comment comes across as so discriminatory that it cannot be ignored. As I lay on the couch last night, half asleep and watching reruns of “Dr G., Medical Examiner,” I experienced one of those moments. An off-hand comment on the show hit me in such a way that I took advantage of my DVR to rewind and copy the statement, verbatim, to discuss.

In this particular episode, an adoptive couple was being accused of abusing their five-week-old son. The mother had taken the child to work with her, where he was being watched in another room by a babysitter. At some point the child, who was fine when they came in, let out a horrible scream. The babysitter said that nothing had happened, but as the mother held her son she could feel his head suddenly swelling. She rushed him to the hospital, where it was found that he had two skull fractures. Children’s Protective Services stepped in. The mother passed a lie detector test. The father (who wasn’t even present at the time of the incident) showed some deception in the first lie detector test, but passed a second with flying colors. A full investigation was done over the course of weeks (during which the father was not allowed around the baby). Their daughter, who had been adopted five years earlier, was subjected to a complete body scan. No indications of any prior abuse were found.

At the completion of the investigation, CPS called the mother and asked for her to come down with the baby so that she could fill out one last piece of paperwork. When she arrived, two police officers forced the baby from her, then escorted her from the room. She was told by the CPS worker that they were going to ensure that the adoption was not finalized. The child was placed into foster care.

The producers of the show obviously made an attempt to be fair in telling this story(although Dr G’s findings were that it had been a complete miscarriage of justice, done by people who chose to ignore significant portions of fact). They had a representative of this CPS agency who appeared several times throughout the show. It was during one of these appearances that he made the statement.

These were not biological parents, these were people who were looking to adopt this child. What we try to do is keep families intact, and in a situation where the family is not really a family at that point, it’s handled a little bit differently.

The emphasis, obviously, is mine. The idiocy, however, was completely his. And his co-workers’. And an entire system’s.

I have mentioned before that I completed the certification to be a foster parent while doing my adoptive homestudy. I have also mentioned that we considered pursuing foster-adoption but decided that the situation wasn’t right at the time. This statement pretty much encapsulates why we didn’t feel that the situation was right. And, I suspect, it is also why some people are so anxious to see a day when all adoptions are done through CPS.

From the very first meeting we went to when we were looking into foster-adoption, it was openly stated that the primary objective was to maintain biological ties. To keep a child with its “real” family (even if that included placing the child with family members that it had never previously met). Every attempt would be made to “fix” the problem adults in the situation. If that couldn’t be done (and the adults had a year and a half, which did not have to be consecutive time) the child should be placed with extended family, if at all possible (and even if this meant putting the child in the same situation that originally contributed to the issues that shaped the parent’s problems–I have seen this happen first-hand). Adoption outside of biological ties was the absolute last resource. Because, after all, those aren’t “real” families.

The fact that this particular CPS worker was openly stating that this particular situation would have been handled differently if it were a biological parent absolutely made my blood boil. But it didn’t surprise me (well, it surprised me that he would admit it so clearly for national consumption). Why does DNA allow for such a double standard? Does a child, taken from the only parents it knows, feel less pain if the biological tie is absent? Is abuse somehow not as bad if delivered by a “real” parent?

So many children languish in foster care. So many will age out without ever finding a permanent family to guide them through life. And the fact is, the older a child is, the more likely he or she will meet this fate. I’m not saying that some families don’t deserve a second chance–people can and do change. But there comes a point where adults are allowed too many chances, and the children are being hurt on too many levels. Physically, emotionally, and hurt in their chances of permanency. The longer it is allowed to go on, the more damage is inflicted and the less chance that it will ever be overcome (this applies to ANY abusive parent, biological or adoptive–there are screw-ups everywhere).

I once helped a family in a last-ditch effort to keep their little girl from being removed from the home (another child had already been taken out). Seven and a half years later, every time I hear any updates on that child (who, at twelve-years-old has already attempted suicide), I am overcome with the knowledge that, though well-meaning, we did something wrong. I truly believe that she has been permanently damaged by her circumstances–circumstances that I helped to keep her in. It is a devastating thought.

So, is biology what makes a “real” family? I don’t think so. Of course, maybe that isn’t even the most important question. Truthfully, this is an issue that goes far beyond the realms of adoption. Over half of my nieces and nephews are being raised in divorce situations. They all have “biology.” And, in some cases, things are mostly ok. But, even with biology, some of them have a serious lack of stability from one parent or the other. And, much like the kids under the care of CPS, I just don’t think that the most important thing for them is “biology.” Stability rates way higher.

I guess what it comes down to, for me, isn’t how “real” the parents are, just how real their parenting ends up being.


Filed under adoption, I think my head might explode, Soap Box

11 responses to “What Makes a "Real" Family

  1. The bias against adoptive families is insidious, which is why addressing it in every way we can … this post, for example, does a good job of that.

    The focus on keeping “families in tact” has become such a knee-jerk reaction that children are far too often sacrificed on the bio alter, condemned by their genetic connections.

    Why is that people so often forget that parent is a verb?

  2. That should read: The bias against adoptive families is insidious, which is why addressing it in every way we can … this post, for example, does a good job of that … is vital.

  3. LK

    So, is biology what makes a “real” family? I don’t think so.

    Of course not. But if it was your biological child you were talking about, you’d probably feel differently.

  4. KellyMigoya

    Great post. After sitting on the board for a non-profit group home/foster family services and having both biological and adopted children I could not agree more.
    I really enjoy reading your blog and appreciate your insight.

  5. Mixed Nuts


    I’ve never encountered you before, so I’m not sure if you have read any of the rest of my blog. I am, in fact, a biological parent, as well as an adoptive one. We adopted our oldest after four years of fertility problems (and being told there was “no way” that we would ever conceive without major intervention). As I sit here, I am seven months pregnant with the third bio kid (no intervention–I’m not someone who felt “unfullfilled” by adoption and went on a quest for “real” kids–all of them are just happy accidents).

    One of the reasons I feel qualified to speak to issues like this is that I can see it from both sides. I’ve become a parent both ways. And I assure you, I would NOT feel differently in the case of my bio kids. Nor do I feel differently about my bio nieces and nephew and their crackpot of a bio mother. A person shouldn’t be given repeated opportunities to screw up their kids’ lives, no matter if their DNA matches or not.

  6. Mixed Nuts


    I did allow your comment–it was posted under my “About” page.

  7. I’ve never heard of that show. So is it some kind of “reality” thing? That wasn’t some stupid scripted line? Well, you know how I feel about that kind of idiocy.

  8. Mixed Nuts


    I went and checked out your blog. I wish that I could find some information on you inparticular, or on what prompted your passion regarding CPS. While I do not agree with the blanket statement that a child is safer in an abusive home than in foster care, I will not argue that there are MANY problems with the system. The story I related, I thought, was a stellar example of that. And, as I said before, it was the problems that we saw in the system that prevented us from using it (as it does many potential adoptive parents).

    People are, at times, accused falsely. Horrible foster parents do exist. But I don’t think that leaving kids in tragic circumstances with abusive biological (or adoptive) parents is the answer. I’m not a big fan of big government, but the fact is that countless children are traumatized daily, and we can’t turn our heads and hope that it all sorts itself out. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be serious repercussions when the system itself causes damage.

  9. Mixed Nuts

    Of course you haven’t seen it, Elaine. You need more than *basic* cable to get the Discovery Health Channel. Dr G. is the head medical examiner in Orange County, FL. Each episode follows her through two or three unexplained deaths as she autopsies bodies and finds what killed people (this one, obviously, was a little unusual in that no one actually died).

    I really don’t think that it was a scripted line. Just a complete idiot.

    Is everyone done puking?

  10. Get it straight, it’s *limited* cable. I’m never going to read your blog again if you are that misinformed about such important issues!

    Ha, ha. Just kidding, obviously.

    No puking since yesterday, but still grumpy malaise.

  11. Mixed Nuts

    Oh, good heavens, you’re right! Basic cable is a step *up* from where you guys are. That must be so frustrating for the new TV…All those fun features, and it can only show off its capabilities on 16 channels of PBS.

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