You’re Not My Mother

Dawn Davenport


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.You're Not My Mother

I knew my daughter had a volatile nature and struggled with transitions under the best of circumstances, and 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.

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.

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. 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. As a result, 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” gauntlet has been thrown. 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.

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.

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: Jessica Polanco

16/09/2008 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 17 Comments

17 Responses to You’re Not My Mother

  1. Avatar sophie says:

    This blog was so helpfull. Yes, I’ve heard that and I thnk I gave it too much power. I turned it into an adoption issue and it helps to know that bio kids say and feel the same thing.

  2. Avatar red huff says:

    It would probably be good just to say “no, I’m not your mother but I chose to take care of you because your mother was not able to take care of you herself. I take that responsibility very seriously. Your mother and the whole world trusts that I will do everything a good mother is suppose to do for her child only I have to do it without the cape the crown or title. The last time I checked I had no say in who raised me either so as long as your living under my roof you’ll live by my rules love me or hate me you’re stuck with me and I’m glad to be raising you.

  3. Avatar san says:


  4. Avatar Emily E. says:

    I saw a link to this blog post and I can’t tell you how timely it is. I think I was meant to read this tonight. We had one of those fights that ended with my son screaming that “I wasn’t his real mother.” I felt like a truck had hit me, until I read your post. It still hurts that he said it, but your post helped me to not overanalyze it. THANK YOU for writing it and for sharing your own painful experience. I don’t feel so alone and I realize I might hear some variation on it even if my son had not been adopted.

  5. Avatar Dawn says:

    Oh good heavens, I don’t think I could manage to get more than one written each week. It funny, but I’m too self critical to turn them out quickly. I really want my blogs to be well written, so it takes time. I love it when everything clicks and it is really good. I know it doesn’t always happen, but it’s nice when it does. Also, I’m a lazy writer and I need the pressure of the weekly deadline to get my creative juices flowing. A daily deadline might kill me.

  6. Avatar Aretha says:

    I loved this blog and the comments. I like to read all the comments and I second the vote for daily blogs and radio shows.

  7. Avatar Irene says:

    Yes, I second the last comment in thanking you for your perspective. I love love love your blog and your show. Thanks for doing it. If you’re taking votes, I’d vote for daily blogs.

  8. Avatar Olivia says:

    It is not only parent who adopt that worry about this. I am both a step mother and a mother by donor egg, and I worry that bogh my stepson an son by donor egg will someday think I’m not their REAL mother. I know my stepson has a biological mother, but she’s not involved in his life. I know, but don’t like to think about, that my son by birth is not my genetic son. I don’t think it matters, but I worry that one day they will think that is does matter. Thanks for helping me put things in perspecitve.

  9. Avatar Georgette says:

    I listened to the Creating a Family show on open adoption this week and heard you mention this blog so I came and looked it up. Well said. I think we give too much power to these words and that doesn’t help our kids.

  10. Avatar Christina says:

    I read this blog after you mentioned it on the Creating a Family show on Open Adoption. I am just beginning to consider adoption and I was very afraid of open adoption until I listened to your show and then read this blog. I was afraid of hearing this comment from my child, but maybe it is unavoidable or at least not something to base my decision on.

  11. Avatar Gloria says:

    I just finished listening to your show on Nov. 12 on Open Adoption. Thank you for telling us about this post. I need to go back and read all of your blogs. I liked the show, but I really liked the talk about who is the real parent. My child is too young to throw this line at me, and I thought it wouldn’t happen until the teen years. It funny to me that only one of your kids has ever said it, and she was a biological kid. I hadn’t thought about the temperament of the child influencing this. If so, I’m in for trouble. Ha Ha. I like the thought that it is mostly about parental attitude about their role as the “real Mom”. Good show and blog. Thank you.

  12. Avatar Denise says:

    I just listened to your show on Open Adoption where you mentioned this post, so I came here to read it. I never thought of a biological child saying ‘I wish you weren’t my Mother”. It kind of takes the sting out of the words doesn’t it. AFter listening to the show and now reading this, I realized that I’ve given way too much power to those words. I hope it’s not too late to reverse it.

  13. Avatar Carol says:

    Hi, this was an excellent post–our adopted DD has used the “You’re not my parents” on us, it is extremely difficult to handle. But I can say that after hearing it several times, you can kind of steel yourself to it–I usually say something like “Well, call it what you want, you’re stuck with me/us anyhow”. One time she even grabbed the phone and told me she was calling child protection (she was adopted from foster care) to tell them she didn’t want to be our daughter any more–that was a tough day!!!! We called her bluff and when she saw that we would let her make that call (luckily we are on very good terms with the folks down at Family Services, so they would’ve understood), she decided that maybe she should wait a while before she did that 🙂
    She only tried that the one time.

    And I have to say, that I’ve been prepared for these kinds of comments since we first got her, but no matter how ready you are, oh how it hurts!!!!

  14. Avatar randi says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. This sums up how I feel and it is nice to know that other mothers have to deal with this issue. I think you are right that as a mother through adoption with one child and egg donor with another that I am overly sensitive to my kids thinking that I am not their “real” mother. I need to make sure that I don’t overreact to these statements when I hear them. My eldest has said one time, “I hate you”, and it almost broke my heart. It really helps to hear that it is normal. I’ll try to keep that in mind, but it isn’t easy.

  15. Avatar Dawn says:

    So true! I don’t know about you, but once we have all calmed down and I no longer want to inflict bodily injury on them, I usually talk about how their words can hurt my feelings. I try not to hurt their feelings by saying unkind things, and it seems only fair to expect the same in return. That usually works for when they aren’t mad, but as you say, when angry, all bets are off.

  16. Avatar Amy says:

    I am waiting for the day that my sweet 3 year old daughter (adopted from China) will say those words, “You are not my mother!” I know there will come a day when she will say it to me and I am definitely sure that it will hurt. I just hope I am calm and in control enough to respond lovingly and positively. My seven year old biological son has said to me however, “I hate you. You are the worst mother in the whole world!” And I managed to calmly reply, “Well if I am the worst mother in the whole world maybe we should call the Guinness Book of World Records and I could get my picture in the book.” It sort of made me laugh despite the fact that his comments really hurt my feelings. Realistically you know that your child is just acting out of frustration, but emotionally it hurts. The joys of motherhood!


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