adult adoptees help adopted parents-you're not my real mom

Most of us don’t go into parenting expecting undying gratitude, but we also don’t go in expecting to hear that you aren’t her real mother and that she would rather live with someone else. No parent wants to hear that, but it is especially hard for adoptive parents because the child is talking about another real live family rather than a hypothetical nicer, better family. Hearing “you’re not my real mom” and “I’d rather live with my birth family” hurts.

Case in point:

Help please- I am really hurting tonight and would like some words of wisdom for both me and my soon to be adoptive daughter. She has been with us for nearly 3 years and her adoption should be completed in 2017 after her parents appeals are through. Tonight at dinner she said that I wasn’t really her mommy. We’ve had this discussion before- but as we were talking about it more, she kept repeating it. As I was tucking her in tonight, I asked her more about it. At first she didn’t want to talk about it, but then she said she really wanted to go back to live with her birth family. None of her family were deemed suitable by DSS and the court. Both of her parents have been in and out of jail since she came into care, which is part of the reason their rights were terminated. I have so many things I want to say to her about that- but I know that they are not the right things to say. Please help me find the words to say to her.

Adoptive parents, adult adoptees, and even a few birth moms poured out their advice, but I especially want to share the wisdom of the real experts in adoption–the adult adoptees that have lived that experience. With their permission, I include it here.

Advice from Adult Adoptees


I don’t know if there are right words, but I will share some of the things my mom would say to me when similar situations came up. My mom was my mother’s best friend, and even though CPS was not involved there were times I felt like I wanted my old family.

My mom says for the first year I cried a lot. She says she used to calm me by telling me that even when things seem so scary and uncertain, she would always be there for me and I didn’t have to be afraid by myself.

I can remember times when she would say that she hoped one day my mother would get better, that she would be in a safe place and not be sick anymore (my mother is a hard core addict). But until that day she and I could pray together that my mother finds her way to that safe healthy place. – I actually remember these words very vividly because I used to draw safe, healthy places for my mother to find.

I went through a period where I didn’t call my mom “mom” (I was around 9 or 10). It wasn’t that I didn’t feel like I loved her or she loved me, I just was trying to reconcile some inner feelings, and I had a hard time getting through it when calling her mom. I’m an adult now so I can look back and realize that I was trying to wall myself off from being hurt. My adoption has been finalized for about a year, and my mother had made one of her random drop in visits.

Acknowledge your daughter’s feelings. My mom ALWAYS told me that it was OK to feel my feelings even if they were angry or they might make her feel sad. I was still allowed to always feel them, and she would always listen no matter what.

My mom also spent a lot of time talking about the good things she remembered about my mother – this helped me see her as a real person who wasn’t always struggling and this helped me a lot.

Maybe your daughter knows that adoption is coming and that scares her. It’s probably felt safe to have both families, and this feels like one is being taken away (even if it’s not). She probably can’t even articulate what she’s feeling let alone tell you what she needs. But even if she doesn’t say it mama she feels it.

I know that you said DSS claims no other family is suitable to care for her, but are there ways she can still stay connected? I wrote letters to my mother a lot growing up. She didn’t write back, but my mom always mailed them when she had an address or gave them to her on the rare occasions she showed up. I did have regular contact with an aunt and cousins during the summer – maybe just talking with someone related to her could alleviate her fears.

I hope you can find words to give her some peace. It’s so hard to be in her shoes. She didn’t do anything to deserve this. As adults we can look at it and say she is better off, but her heart loves her birth family, and no amount of logic is going to replace that. All you can do is be there no matter what.

The Adopted One also adds information about the confusing feelings of loyalty many adoptees feel.

Someone else here shared that “7 is when more complex thinking starts to kick in. Sounds like she’s processing all this on a deeper level. If she’s not sharing readily, she may be trying to protect you. Our kids go through so much.”

Loyalty, feeling like you can’t say how you feel about one side because it will hurt the other side and vice versa is a constant issue for many adoptees. If you are struggling to understand, you need to create a scenario in your head where you have two people that hold the same role, are losing one of them, and then figure out how to tell the other about your feelings for the other on top of the changes. The complex thinking stage is HARD because then you suddenly realize to have one you have to lose the other…not just that you love the one you are with, you will lose the other because that is what adoption means, no going back, regardless if there is openness, you lost them.

Libby, another adult adoptee shared:

I had these feelings with my parents too. While I know it’s hurtful for you I don’t think it’s uncommon. Continue to love her and talk with her. Honesty and communication will make all the difference. (By “parents” I mean my adoptive mom and dad, sorry that wasn’t very clear.)

And here’s yet more advice from Pat:

I’m an adopted child and have always regretted not knowing my biological family. I’m 72. Respect her feelings and accept the fact that even though she loves you, she may always have those feelings. There is no accounting for how someone feels. When she is “of age”, she can decide what she wants to do as I did. I now have a half-brother and a niece that I care about deeply. Otherwise, I have the rest of my “family”.

I hope these words of wisdom will help you if your child tells you that you aren’t their real mommy. Have you ever had your child say this? How did you handle it?

Image credit: dr@gon 'the clickr'