Ask AF: Roles and Titles in Kinship Adoption

"I adopted my grandson through a kinship adoption. He's now six and has recently begun calling me 'Mommy' and saying he was in my tummy. Is this OK, or do I need to reiterate that I'm his grandmother?"

Q: I have raised my grandson since he was two, and we adopted him last year. He is now six. My grandson knows that his daddy died, and that’s why he came to live with us. He never asks about his mother, even when I show him pictures (she has never really been in his life). He calls my husband “Grandpa” and knows that my daughter is his aunt—but, recently, he said he was in my tummy and has begun calling me “Mommy.” Quite frankly, I love the sound of this, but should I reiterate that I’m his grandmother? What should I say?

A: Many adopted children say they were born to their adoptive mothers. It is their way of checking out their story. It’s important to never lie to him. At the same time, I feel that his calling you “Mommy” is fine. You adopted him, so legally as well as psychologically you are his mother.

You could say something like, “No, you were in your birth mother’s tummy. I wish you were born to me, too, but you weren’t. I am your grandmother, but I am also your mommy now and do all the mommy things, like love you, take care of you, play with you. Grandpa does all the dad things since your dad died. You are staying with me and Grandpa until you are all grown up. You will be in our family until you are 100. You can call me ‘Mommy’ if you want and grandpa ‘Daddy.’ That doesn’t change your story.”

I wouldn’t worry about other labels, like calling your daughter “Aunt,” for now. He is a little young to understand all of that. It sounds like you are doing a good job with him. And also keep in mind that his interest in his birth parents will ebb and flow as his age and understanding change.

has been working with adoptive families and children for more than 35 years, and is currently a therapist at Adoption & Attachment Therapy Partners, in Broadview Heights, Ohio. She is a co-author of Parenting the Hurt Child: Helping Adoptive Families Heal and Grow, Adopting the Hurt Child: Hope for Families with Special-Needs Kids – A Guide for Parents and Professionals, and therapeutic workbook series The Adoption Club. Kupecky also co-authored The Mystery of the Multiple Mothers: A Cub County Caper, a mystery novel with an adoption theme, with her brother.

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