“You’re Not My Real Mother”

Dawn Davenport


Adoptive parenting- You're not my real mom

My then sixth grade daughter was invited to a sleep-over party at a hotel with an indoor pool. The divorced dad, who was flying in for the occasion, was giving the party. My daughter and I were both new to middle school.

I didn’t know the child or the parents; I couldn’t get good information about how many adults would stay the night and how the adult and kids rooms would be situated. I yearned for the familiarity of elementary school where I knew most of the families of my child’s friends, or knew someone who did.

My daughter was not the most social of kids, so I didn’t take saying “no” lightly. In the end, I decided to compromise (another word for displeasing everyone equally): she could stay until 10:00, when the pool closed, but then I would pick her up.

My daughter had(s) a volatile nature and struggled with transitions under the best of circumstances; leaving mid-party was close to the worst of circumstances. We talked before hand about how hard it might be to leave, and I clearly stated my expectations for her behavior–no begging, no renegotiating, and no tantrums. The evening, as you would imagine, went the way of other famous best-laid plans.

I showed up at 9:30 and waved my 30-minute warning. She ignored it and me.

As the pool closed and the kids were running wild, she started to beg, negotiate and cry. I was sympathetic, but firm. As we entered the elevator, which in my memory was packed with respectable, calm folks who I’m sure were perfect parents, my daughter lost it and started screaming. “I hate you. I wish you weren’t my mother. Any other mother in the whole world would be better than you.”

It was a long elevator ride for all concerned.

The Power of “You’re Not My Real Mom”

Hearing “You’re not my parent” flung at you in anger is a universal fear of adoptive parents or parents that conceive through donor egg, sperm, or embryo. I think it underlies many decisions, including deciding on a closed adoption or deciding not to tell a child they were conceived through donor gamete. And look, I’m here to tell you that it is not a pleasant experience. That evening in the elevator, I was hurt, embarrassed, and furious—in about equal measures.

But as much as this is a universal parental fear, it is also a universal feeling at times amongst kids—all kids. The daughter in the above story is my biological child. Of my four children, she is the only one who had ever said this, but I have no doubt the other three have felt it or will feel it. All kids at some point wish they had another mother. The more intense the child, the more likely they’ll give voice to this sentiment. The difference is that biological kids add “I wish” to “you’re not my mother”, but trust me, it does nothing to lessen the sting.

Truth be told, most parents have harbored similar thought about their darling progeny every once in awhile. I know I have, including that night in the elevator.

Playing the “You’re Not My Real Mom” Card

The existence of another mother, a first mother, no doubt complicates things, but I suspect it complicates it as much, if not more, for us parents as for our children. Being told that we aren’t their mother plays to our secret fear that we really aren’t their real mother, and sadness that we have to deal with this fact. However, I’ve noticed that adoptive parents or parents through donor gametes give more power to this statement than it deserves.

I have seen parents change their position or get sidetracked into an adoption talk once the “you’re not my mother” card has been played. The statement gains power each time this happens, and thus, is whipped out more and more.

Sometimes, of course, this statement is a true reflection of unresolved adoption issues or grief, but in my experience, it is more often a reflection of the typical run-of-the-mill child/parent struggles. No one likes hearing “no”, and every child worth his salt would love to have a weapon to prevent it.

How To Handle “You’re Not My Real Mother”

There is probably no perfect answer to this statement, because expression of frustration and anger don’t really need a response. If you can muster up the energy to lie in the heat of the moment, you could say, “Well, I’m certainly glad I’m your mother.” The best I’ve been able to do is, “That may be true, but it doesn’t change the fact that you are still grounded, or leaving the party, or _______.”

One friend responded to her teen daughter, “Look behind me honey, I don’t see a line of other mothers waiting to take my place.” Another more politically correct friend responded, ‘That’s funny, I sure feel like your mother.” (One can only guess that the irony was lost on her son.)

And all of these mothers, including me, are now very close with the children involved, and as far as I know, all of these children are now quite glad they’ve got the mothers they have.

Parenting is Not a Popularity Contest

I don’t have any amazing words of wisdom to help you avoid your child wishing they had another mother, other than to say it is almost always temporary. Parenting is not a popularity contest. I said this once to my thirteen-year-old son, and I over heard him mutter as he walked away: “Damn good thing too since you’d be losing big time.” He could just as easily have muttered “you’re not my real mother.” Maybe it is deep felt adoption angst, but more likely it is just an angry kid trying to strike back. We both survived, and so will you.

Image credit: Gabriela and Philippe

14/03/2016 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 40 Comments

40 Responses to “You’re Not My Real Mother”

  1. Avatar Jessie Huffey says:

    Wow, I am so glad I came across this post. I currently have a sibling group of 4 foster children (that I am willing to adopt ages 2-7) The birth mom continually reminds them I am not their real mom and this is reiterated to me on various occasions by the children who have weekly visits (which hurts considering real mom is in her late 20s and has no teeth due to chronic meth use and dad was recently arrested for domestic violence against a 5 year old). Anyway, I have not responded to the “Real Mom” comment to date but it hurts a lot every time I hear it, especially considering even bio grandparents hope kids dont go back to bio mom and dad. I am really struggling with the kids glorification of the bio parents who have abused them, neglected them, etc.

  2. Avatar Casey Alexander says:

    Just before we adopted our daughter (via foster care), she yelled at me, “You’re not my real mom!”

    Hubby, nearby, coolly replied, “Well, yeah, and you’re not our real daughter.”

    Her jaw dropped. Arms folded, he asked, “Did you like hearing that?” She shook her head. “Good,” he said, “and I didn’t like saying it, but you needed to know how it feels. We’re building a family together. We don’t try to hurt each other.”

    In the three following years, she’s never repeated it.

  3. Avatar Fran says:

    When my daughter was about 7 years old she was sitting trying to do some homework. She didn’t like doing homework and was very angry with me for having her sit and do the work after school while I made supper. Her complaining and frustration escalated till she turned to me and said “your not my real mom and I don’t have to listen to you” . I looked at her and calming said ” I am as real as it gets. And I have never told you that you are not my real daughter”. I turned and continued to prepare dinner. I felt a tap on my back and when I turned she was standing there with tears in her eyes and asked for a hug.. And I hugged her as hard as I could to let her know that she will always be my daughter no matter what!

  4. Avatar Janelle says:

    My daughter was 7 at the time of adoption and is now 11. I will get the “Your not my real mum” when she is angry, often because I’ve said no to something like downloading non age appropriate apps that her friends have. I usually respond. “I’m not your birth mum but I am your mum. Sometimes I need to make decisions to keep you safe” She will often sulk after this…. but then later on in calm modes she will reflect and say things. “I’m sorry I said that, I was just angry” or “It’s just because you want to keep me safe, isn’t it. Can I get it (app) when I’m 13?”

  5. Avatar Jan Egozi says:

    My adopted daughter, who is now 17, used to tell me that I wasn’t her real mom. I said ” That may be the case, but I am your forever mom and I will always be here”. That was my standard response and she did stop saying it. I haven’t herad her say it in years! Lol!

  6. Avatar Von says:

    While I agree all kids need firm boundaries and parents who know what they’re doing and stick to what they say for the sake of security for kids I am not able to agree that “The existence of another mother, a first mother, no doubt complicates things, but I suspect it complicates it as much, if not more, for us parents than for our children.” How do we measure that and how do we know? You know how it is for you and when your kids are grown up and have the perspective they may be able to say how it was for them and how it is.I’ll say no more here but have picked up this very interesting statement and will run with it on my own blog.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Von, I agree with you completely. I can only speak from an adoptive mom’s perspective. More to the point, I can only speak from MY perspective as an adoptive mom. Other adoptive mom’s would view things quite differently. Ditto with adopted persons. I look forward to reading your blog on this topic.

  7. Avatar Ann-Marie Kennedy says:

    I would still have done it, and even if I would have birthed, I would still be dealing with this.

  8. Avatar Ann-Marie Kennedy says:

    I did tell her that I would not kill her. (I think she needed to hear that.) And I was also clear that being mouthy was still not acceptable.

  9. Avatar Elaine Makiej says:

    @Ann-Marie – Just read the story. A. The kids were bio. B. The mother was planning killing herself next. So you could also tell Miss Drama pants that “Nah, I have no interest in offin’ myself. So sorry.”

  10. Avatar Suzy Brackeen Gidden says:

    No- not about the better mom part. Today she left screaming at me about the fact that I put her orange chicken in a thermos and asked her not to bang on it to get it opened (she has ruined 2 thermoses). We went through the hate-love cycle before 7. As she was leaving, she screamed “I LOVE YOU” in her most hateful tone. I didn’t feel honored for atleast 30 minutes after she left.

  11. Avatar Elaine Makiej says:

    @Ann-Marie ~ I’d be so tempted to say. “Gee, if I killed people for being mouthy, I’d be a mass murderer.” But seriously, I’ve got a drama mama at my house (actually a drama king) who says all the evil button pushing things. When I’m collected and in a good place mentally, I can manage the best response which is something like

    *Big deep sigh*

    “I’m so sorry that you feel that way honey. Le’ts talk about in our next family therapy session.”

    He doesn’t really like family therapy much because the therapist is pretty good and lets each of the kids know that on the whole, Hubby and I are doing what GOOD responsible caring parents do.

  12. Avatar Ann-Marie Kennedy says:

    It has been a tough time lately. And after a discussion we were having, she saw on the news about the woman who tragically killed her two teens for “being mouthy,” and she turned to me and said in a sober manner, “Are you going to do that to me?”

  13. Avatar Ann-Marie Kennedy says:

    My daughter is currently convinced that she would be happier with her birth mother. She is convinced that her birth mother would let her do anything she wants.

  14. Avatar Suzy Brackeen Gidden says:

    My oldest says it. When she says it, what I hear is “Do you love me enough to fight with me like a real mom?” I know she just needs a safe place to vent and I feel honored to be her safe place. (At the time, not so much)

  15. Avatar Elaine Makiej says:

    The term “real” hasn’t come up with my youngest three. We say 1st mom in regards to the bio mom who lost custody due to neglect. It is ignorant folks who have said “Where is his/her “REAL” mom?

  16. Avatar Kerri Vandiver says:

    Our home is like Malina’s. My older daughter has two moms and my younger has three since we also include her foster mom. All moms are referred to simply as mom. Neither of my duaghters have said the real mom thing to me in anger but my older daughter and I have talked about it in length when the subject first came up from a classmate a couple of years ago.

  17. Avatar Elaine Makiej says:

    My concept of “real mother” is if I have to be the one dealing with all sorts of bodily fluids of a child, then I am as real as can be. Beiing a “mom” means cradling a sick child in your arms when you know that there is a 99 percent chance that you’ll be puked on.

  18. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I think you are a true parent! Most parents these days want to be friends with their teens. Your children have friends, so they really do just need parents. We live in a society where children think they are entitled and don’t have to earn privileges. Parents need to grow up and take responsibility if they expect to bring up mature kids. Parenting is not an easy task, and some times it may appear to be a thankless job, but in the end, true, responsible parenting will bring it’s

  19. Avatar Lori McMullen says:

    What about an older adopted child …. 4 years old. Taken because of a court order, not because of an abusive home. Taken from parents she knew, bonded with and loved. When she says I want to see my real Daddy or Mommy, what do you do. Medicate her, put her into counseling, lock the door or restrict the phone use. When they learn how to goggle at school and she starts searching and time out doesn’t work …. Can you spank the heck out of them and not get into trouble. A family member just won the mother lode! A domestic adoption … Woohoo for them! Because this little child will remember.

    • Lori, I’m not exactly sure of your question. A child grieving the loss of her parents should be treated with compassion, and certainly not locked up, timed out, nor spanked. “Mother” is a title that you earn and to this child her new adoptive mother is not her real mother. She will always have two moms and they are both “real”. It sounds like the whole family needs to see a counselor trained in adoption, and in the meantime, call your case worker for help.

  20. Avatar K says:

    You know….I read these responses and they sound pretty dang good from my perspective. Growing up with a checked out mom…I would have loved if she just fought back. And yes all those stupid attachment labels apply to my earlier life. And I use to wish they’d given me up. (In a very real, profoundly sad way).

    So. I say everyone of you parenting through these tantrums is doing a pretty dang good job. Just my two cents.

  21. Avatar Mrs. Gamgee says:

    Great post. I know that I whipped out the ‘you’re not my real mom’ line on my dad’s second wife a few times when I was in middle school. It really is just a statement of anger and teen-ager-ness.

    I just hope I can remember that a few years from now. 🙂


  22. I had to laugh out loud at what your son muttered about the popularity contest. Our younger son, who is adopted, has more of a volatile personality, and I can see this coming out of his mouth one day. But you are correct in that I could just as easily hear another form of it from my older (biological) son. You are so right about not giving those words any power. Being prepared for them and knowing they are most likely used in the heat of the moment is key. Thanks for a great post!

  23. The “real mother” thing is pretty much a non-issue with my kids. From the beginning, I’ve told them they have two “real mothers,” with each of us playing a different role in their lives. Now they have to find a new thing to shout at me in anger!

  24. Malinda: The key, I suspect, is that you don’t give the statement undue power. I tell people to change it in the head to “I hate you.” Same sentiment, but without the adoption or donor gamete baggage. Makes it easier to deal with the issue without the added luggage.

    • Avatar Cathy says:

      And most of the time it’s not even really “I hate you”. It’s “At this very moment I am totally pissed off at you and want you to change your mind!”

      • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

        Yep, exactly. I don’t think it’s appropriate to scream “I hate you” to anyone, and would have “a serious talking to” once the heat of the moment passes, but the point is to not take it personally.

  25. Elaine: And a 99% chance that you’ll catch whatever it is that your kid has got.

  26. Suzy: You’re a better mom than I if you can pull off the “feeling honored” part. 🙂 While standing in the elevator with my screaming daughter, all I felt was an intense desire to murder her.

    Ann-Marie: Sounds like you’ve got a feisty one. Just don’t give the statement any more power than “I’m mad as heck at you and right now I wish I had another mother.”

  27. Kerri: I think whether the “You’re Not My Real Mom” statement is used in anger has a lot to do with the personality of the child and how well that statement “works” when said.

  28. Avatar Kristin says:

    What a great post. My kids have said similar things to me and I think my response was something along the lines of “Well, I love you but I don’t like the way you are acting right now.”

  29. Why didn’t someone tell us that parenting was such hard work.
    The funny thing is that we would have become parents anyway. The daughter I wrote about in the blog is now a young adult and one of my closest friends.

  30. Avatar Cathy G. says:

    Great post Dawn! I often get “You’re a MEAN MAMA!” from my 7-year-old (adopted) daughter, and it has about the same effect on me as the other examples above – I just take it as an expression of her opposition to whatever limit I just set on her behavior or wishes at the moment, which is what it always is, and I respond accordingly, usually something like “Well, I’m sorry to hear that. You still need to do ___”. It doesn’t wound me or make me feel vulnerable or guilty. However, it IS frustrating, especially when this happens only minutes after we may have finished one or more activities that I specifically did for her – such as playing a game with her, reading to her, taking her out for ice cream, etc. THAT is what tends to get me frustrated, that in your child’s mind, you’re only as nice as your very most recent decision with which they disagree! Sometimes I do respond by saying something like “Oh really? I didn’t know that mean mamas played games with their kids and took them to the library and helped them find their missing blankies!”

    I have to make peace with the fact that the hard work of parenting (and I am a single parent too) is not always, or even usually, appreciated. I just enjoy the good times and feel good about the wonderful, strong, feisty, extremely bright and funny and playful little person that my daughter is, even though she has (like every kid) her less adorable qualities and behavioral moments.

  31. Hey Dawn – I really appreciated this post…
    I haven’t heard the words yet but I’m sure they’ll be coming. I have an 11 year old biological daughter and 5 & 4 yr old egg donor/surrogate children. But I so remember spitting those words out to my own mom… ‘the I wish’ version. Every child gets angry at their parents and it’s hard for them to find words to express that anger – words that will get a rise out of their parents. The ‘real mom’ thing certainly will strike a chord in many of us.. but you’re right – it’s the power we give those words that will matter to our children. Not the words themselves.

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