The “REAL” Issue

real parents

“Who are your real parents?” “Do you have real siblings?”

If you have any adopted children or adults in your life, or if you yourself are adopted, chances are you’ve heard some version of these questions before. Let’s take a step back for a moment. What exactly do people mean when they refer to “real” parents? When did using the word “real” to describe family members become acceptable?

According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of the word “real” is “actually existing or happening; not imaginary.” By asking someone about his or her “real” parents, it can be implied that there are “unreal” or “imaginary” parents, too, even if that’s not the intention of the question.

What if we replaced the word “real” with “imaginary” and repeated those same questions:

“Who are your imaginary parents?” “Do you have imaginary siblings?”

Seems a bit silly, don’t you think? We do!

At BPAR, we believe that everyone is “real”: birth families and adoptive families. Every person matters and plays a role, which is different and unique for each individual adoptee. By taking this perspective, we hope that the focus will shift from a debate about who is real to a more open-minded approach where we can understand how each individual views his or her family.

You are the expert of your own family. If someone asks about real parents, take it as an opportunity to educate him or her about birth parents, adopted parents, and how there are all different kinds of families that are real.

By Katie McCarthy
Boston Post Adoption Resources


“Real.” Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 7 Nov. 2013. <>

About Katie Gorczyca, MA, Expressive Therapist

Katie Gorczyca, MA, Expressive Therapist, is a former clinician at Boston Post Adoption Resources. She began her career with BPAR as an intern.