Thursday, July 9, 2015
Your child has uttered the dreaded words - "You're not my real mother". You are upset, horrified and a bit shell-shocked.
Let’s start at the beginning. You are your child’s parent. You are caring for their medical, nutritional, educational, psychological, social and recreational needs on a daily basis. You are the one that keeps them on a schedule, takes care of their boo-boos and soothes them when they are upset and unhappy. At the same time there is another mother out there. This is their birth mother, and regardless of what you call them (their birth mother, first mother, other mother, by their first name or another identifying word), when your child says ”real” mother - you know who your child is talking about.
In most situations when a child says “You’re not my real mother.” they had asked you for something that you are not willing to give them. With a very young child this may be an item, or to stay up later than normal or even something to eat. With an older child, it may be trying a new activity that their friends are doing or extending a curfew.
The steps outlined below, will help you deal with the impact of this statement and your reaction.
1. 1. TAKE A DEEP BREATH
The impact of this statement can be swift and gut wrenching. You have probably been in some sort of emotional discussion with your child, have not been able to soothe them by allowing them to do what they want and thus your child is saying something that is aimed to hurt the most. The first thing for you to do is not react, but to just stop and take a deep breath. Several deep breaths will allow you a few moments to focus.
2. 2. GAIN PERSPECTIVE – WHAT’S GOING ON
Quickly think back on what was happening before your child uttered this statement. What was it that they wanted? What was your reason for not allowing them to have it? Recognize that as a parent, you cannot give your child everything they want when they want it. Did you just say “No” or were you having a discussion? Were you providing any alternatives or giving your child time to think through another option?
3. 3. CONTROL AND MANUPULATION – THIS VARIES FROM AGE TO AGE -
TODDLERS vs ELEMENTARY SCHOOL AGE vs TEENAGER
Depending on the age of your child, their ability to reason through why they could not get what they want may be more limited. They may see a friend being allowed to have or do something and not understand why you will not let them do the same. A toddler or young elementary school child may simply wish that they had another mother who would allow them to do, have or eat something. They most likely, do not understand the impact of their statement. Rather they just wish that their life was different. An older elementary school child or teenager may use this statement as a manipulation, knowing it will have an emotional impact on you.
4. 4. WHAT TO DO AND SAY IN THE MOMENT
It is important not to overreact emotionally or with anger. You can simply state whether I am your real mother or your current mother, I am responsible for you and I do not feel that “___” is in your best interest.
5. 5. WHAT TO DO AND SAY WHEN YOU HAVE BOTH CALMED DOWN
You can tell your child that you want to discuss what happened. You can say that you know that they were upset, but using the phrase “you’re not my real mother” will not get them what they want. That you see yourself as their real mother and not a fake mother. You believe that they were talking about their birth mother and that there is no guarantee that she would’ve allowed them to do, have or eat whatever it was they wanted. You can go on to say that she entrusted their care to you because she knew that you would do what’s best for them. It would be a good idea to try and discuss with them a better way to get their point across when they don’t agree with you or are angry, and that that statement will not get them what they want.
It is important to create a safe and supportive environment where your child can talk about their birth family and adoption. It is also important to help your child develop a vocabulary when talking about birth family and history. How they use their adoption status and their birth family does not have to be a tug-of-war.
“Real mothers” will always be part of your child’s life. But if your child sees their birth mother as their “real” mother, then what are you, the “fake” mother? I don’t think so.
Kathy Ann Brodsky, LCSW is a New York and New Jersey licensed social worker, adoptive mom and advocate for ethical adoption practice. She has prepared thousands of adoption homestudies, counseled adoptive parents and parents-to-be, and has trained professionals to work with adoptive families. She was Director of the Ametz Adoption Program from March 1992 to March 2015. She is Head Writer for Adoption.net, member of the Adoption Advisory Board of Path2Parenthood and has a private practice in New York City. She was named an “Angel in Adoption” by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption in 2001. Follow or reach her at ADOPTION MAVEN BLOG or EMAIL.