“Who Is the Real Mom?”

It Wasn’t The First Time

It’s one of those perfect days.

Both of the boys are well-behaved as we weave through the aisles of the grocery store, collecting buns and hotdogs for our neighborhood picnic. The gathering is in two hours and we’re new to the neighborhood. This will be our debut! 

We’re both excited and nervous. That’s the way we feel in any new social situation. Parties, picnics, and churches always have a ribbon of anxiety tangled in the conversations. We inevitably get separated and then some well-meaning new friend will ask me, “So what does your husband do?” And it’s at this point where I take a fraction of a second to size them up and guess how they’ll respond. I’m ashamed to admit that sometimes I let them believe that I have a husband while I play the pronoun game and respond, “They stay home with our boys”.

We’re both excited and nervous. That’s the way we feel in any new social situation. Parties, picnics, and churches always have a ribbon of anxiety tangled in the conversations.

But at THIS neighborhood gathering, everyone knows we are a couple and that we are a family. Everyone knows my wife stays home with our boys while I go work in a busy ER. Everyone knows we drive a minivan and that I work every weekend to ensure that we are a full family of four all week long. Everyone knows! So the pressure is off. This gathering has a different kind of anxious energy…I think it’s hope. Hope that we will form some real friendships and that our children will play with their children. Hope that we’ve found a community.

We load the boys into their wagon and walk up the hill to the cul-de-sac. Tables are strewn and families have claimed their spots. We find a table near the back and settle in. The older kids are playing tag, running through the yards and hiding behind trees. The air is filled with shouts and laughter and honest-to-goodness adult conversation that doesn’t have to do with raising toddlers. We don’t get a lot of that, you see. My wife bounces our youngest on her hip while laying out our plates and I grab the cups to go fill them with punch.

I approach the table of drinks and see a woman that lives two doors down. We’ve only lived in the neighborhood for a month or so, and names never stick in my memory.  Unless it’s a dog’s name. And this woman is Chase’s mom. Chase is an adorable lab puppy that she is trying desperately to leash train.

We exchange hellos and some small talk.  She says, “I just love that you guys have moved to our neighborhood! It’s nice to have some culture here. Which one of you is the real mom?”

It is so abrupt and to the point and unintentionally rude that my breath catches in my throat.

I can’t think of a smart answer. I can’t think of a way not to lie. I can’t think of a way to educate. I can’t think of a way NOT to feel upset. I can feel my face start to redden when her husband comes up and interrupts the conversation with some kind of grill emergency.

“Excuse me”, she says, and walks away before I can start to stammer.

I feel a little numb. A little surprised. A little disappointed.

How It Looks At Home

They creep in between 5:30 and 6:00 every morning. They squeal and say, “It’s time to wake up! It’s time to wake up!”.  We take our vitamins and crawl out of bed. One of us heads straight to the kitchen and begins assembling peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. (Our boys have been on a PB&J kick for a couple of weeks, and I can’t even believe the amount of bread we go through in a day.)

Generally, this is how it goes:

  • She dresses them.
  • She checks the backpack for papers and makes sure he has what he needs.
  • She loads them into the van.
  • She drives him to school.
  • She comforts the little one while he naps.
  • She makes lunch.
  • She does laundry.
  • She plans dinner.
  • She bathes them.
  • She puts them to bed.

Of course, I’m there. I’m home to help with all of those things.  And we have a lot of fun in our house. There is much more laughter than there are tears or shouting. As a family, we play games and make crafts. She’ll be the first to tell you that I’m “the fun one”.

But I’m the Helper Mom. She hates it when I call myself this; however, you can see from my list that it is the truth.

Who is the Real Mom?

We Know What You Mean

We know that when people ask this innocent question, they are referring to the birth of our children. Asking who is the real mom is just a poorly worded way of asking who the birth mother was. We get that.

But lately I’ve been answering the question with another question; I smile and assume a gentle tone, then respond, “Why do you ask?”.  It catches people off guard and they begin to stammer. I can see their face turning red. This isn’t what I’m going for, so I explain that we get this question all of the time. We encounter this kind of curiosity in lines at the grocery store, the bank, the post office, and among co-workers and new friends.

I know the question isn’t meant to be offensive. I know the intention isn’t to hurt my feelings. While families like ours are getting more and more commonplace, we still stick out. Our boys have two moms, and more than likely they will be the only boys in their class with that kind of uniqueness. It is completely natural to have questions about anything out of the ordinary. And I simply cannot wait until our family is ordinary.

Help Us Get To Ordinary

A family is a family is a family. Grandparents raise their grandchildren. Families blend. Two moms, two dads, one each, one only. Adoption. Foster families. The point is that everyone has someone to love them and everyone has a safe place to fall, right? When in a social setting, it doesn’t really matter who gave birth or who has rights or who takes care of the yard versus taking care of the house, right?

So no need to ask. I know you’re curious. And I want you to think about why it matters to you.  What does it mean if I’m the birth mom? How will that change how you think of my family? Why does the science behind our family determine your perception of us?

We know you mean no harm. And we hope you will some day think of us as just another family that lives two doors down and loves each other with the warmth of a thousand suns.

See you at the next picnic!

One Year Ago: 5 Tips To Make Mealtime a Success for Your Picky Eater
Two Years Ago: So…THAT Happened: Epic Moments in Parenting
Five Years Ago: For the Love of Boys



  1. Hi. I am wondering if sometimes when this question is asked, especially by another mother if they are thinking it will give them something to discuss with you, or your wife? Maybe some people think this could be a way of having a connected conversation about pregnancy and birth. I don’t know because I have never asked this question but it makes me curious “why” as well. Just a thought.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.