I was sitting near my 6-year-old grandson as he watched Peter Pan. Near the end of the show, when the lost boys leave Neverland and are adopted, there’s a real good feeling for all who watch it. But little Gage is a thinker. He wanted to know: What happened to their real parents? 

As adults, we know that real refers to every parent—birth parents, adoptive parents, foster parents, and even “surrogate” parents—those who step in and help without recognition by the state or anyone else. And I honestly cringe when I hear adults use the word real when referring to people. It’s actually surprising how often that happens. In fact, I just read an article about an adult who entered the foster system as a young teen and was eventually parented by a loving couple. The end of the article talked about her “real” parents. Eeeek. Adults need to get with the program—especially if they’re professionals writing articles. Ugh. But I digress.

Just how do we teach our kids appropriate adoption language? Especially in terms of the use and meaning of real? The obvious answer is that we model appropriate language. We check ourselves regularly and become careful parents as we speak. But often our children pick up words without really knowing what they mean. If we’ve eliminated the word “real” when talking about people, our kids won’t automatically know that all parents are real! It’s a discussion that needs to take place. Whether your children were adopted or not, the time may come when they watch Peter Pan and wonder about the lost boys and their birth families. (Or when they become adults and write articles . . . YIKES!)

So here’s a call to action: Become intentional about having regular sit-down discussions with your children. Talk about things that really matter. Invite them to talk and to ask questions. And at some point, talk to them about parents. All kinds of parents. Let them know that real is expressed from the heart and through actions. Help your kids know that love is real, and it’s that real love that makes a real parent.