You’re Not My Real Mom


An adoptive mom friend of mine just got her first, “You’re not my real mom anyway!” from her son and it upset her. We haven’t heard it yet in our house, but I expect we will soon. The closest we’ve come was once, when Tariku was super-pissed at me, he said, “You’re a mean mommy! I want a different mommy!”

It was horrible- not for me, for him. He heard his own words and it registered on his face as absolute terror. Three seconds later, he threw his arms around my neck and said, “I love you so much, Mommy.” I felt desperately sad for him right then because I could sense that he was bargaining with me. I don’t think it was conscious- he knows at this point that we are his family forever. We talk about it all the time. He no longer consciously thinks that when one of us goes out of town we might not be coming back. But I do think that there is still a corner of his heart that feels unsafe; that believes if he behaves badly enough or says the wrong thing, he may turn around to find that we’re gone.

I told him that I knew he loved me and that I loved him more than anything in the world. I told him he could never say or do anything that would ever make me go away. I will say the same thing when he tells me one day that I’m not his real mom. I’m not worried about it.

I have an unusual perspective on the issue because I’m also an adoptee, and I can remember the day I said it to my own mother. I was four-years-old and my family had just been through a terrible trauma. The nursery was still decorated in shades of pink and white, diapers still in the linen closet, baby bottle still in the kitchen cupboard. My mother hadn’t had the heart to clear it all out and put it in the garage, even though it had been months since my parents had gone to the hospital to pick up my new baby sister and had come home empty handed because the birth mother had changed her mind at the last minute. I can’t remember how they explained it to me, but I do remember being incredibly angry. I, who had been a dream child until then (really- ask my mom), suddenly started acting out: talking back, fighting with other kids, carelessly hurting myself all the time. One day my mother asked me to do something and I refused, on grounds that she wasn’t my real mother anyway. I remember the moment like I remember few other things from that time. I was wearing my Kermit the frog jumpsuit, sitting on the piano bench, not looking her in the eye.

My mother was devastated. She wept. My father had a big talk with me about it later. I never said it again. In fact, I was awash in guilt about it for years. I can still conjure a shimmer of guilt around the edges of the memory if I think about it hard enough.

I guess I’m particularly unconcerned about hearing those words because I have been on the other end of them and I can tell you without a doubt that they were never true. It was never an issue; there was never a question. Even when I don’t particularly like or understand her, even when we don’t talk for long stretches, my mother- the mother who wanted me and adopted me and raised me- was then and will always be my real mother.

I offer you this, adoptive mommies: don’t sweat it. They don’t mean it. They’re stuck with you. For real.

Happy Mother’s Day, all you beautiful mommies!


7 thoughts on “You’re Not My Real Mom

  1. I have adopted two children. Fifteen years ago, I caught my newborn baby, and his birthmother had me hold him first. He was my heart and my soul and my everything. He was an incredibly difficult child and I didn’t care. But when he was nine and a half, I adopted my second child, a three year old little boy with whom I also fell in love. And my older child broke.

    By the next year he had become so out of control and dangerously violent, to the point of fire-setting, I found myself having him admitted to a residential facility for very troubled kids. I’ve worked and worked with the therapists, but none of us seem to be able to get through to him. He just doesn’t want me anymore. He feels abandoned, betrayed, replaced. Oh there’s more than that underlying the additional of a sibling- in uterine drug and alcohol abuse, strong genetic tendencies towards severe mental illness….

    Whatever the reason, my older son tells me regularly that he doesn’t love me, doesn’t want me, and has already tried to run away in attempts to get to his unstable and sometimes homeless birthmom.

    I see the effects of all of this in my little guy- who has just turned nine and a half years old himself. My little guy sees that I “gave up” on my older son. I didn’t. I never will. But my little guy is so very afraid that I will also send him away if he is bad. It is torturous to hear him say those words, and to hear him question my love for him every day of our lives.

    I keep loving them both- the little one in my arms, the older one from afar- and hope that whatever I’m doing will somehow be enough.

    • It sounds as if your older son might not be diagnosed correctly. He sounds very much like a boy with pediatric bipolar. It is treatable. I wouldn’t give up just yet, but it’s challenging to find psychiatrists who are any good.

  2. Thank you, for the love that it takes to share the hard stuff with everyone, because it is cathartic, you bringing up this toughest of subjects, which has been on the lips of every person in the adoption triad, at one time or another,and like you said,(im paraphrasing)could still muster the deepest of reactions. I still cant bring my own 87 year old mother to talk about it, she has always been super insecure about the word “real” mother, but the rest of us have put it to bed.I know how much this means, to live in one’s own truth,even when hit hits home,and I applaud you for sharing with us some of the most vulnerable parts of the adoption life experience. Sending you all much love, Andre’

  3. I have read all of your posts. This post may be one of my favorites. Quick, not as poetic as others yet extremely relatable and real… as a mother I know the hardships; have dealt with the emotions and milestones and have realized that this is what unconditional love is all about. As an outsider looking at the photo attached to this post. There is no doubt that you are his REAL mother and that he is your REAL son. You have got this Mom thing in the bag!!!!!!

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