The other day my son said something to me that stopped me in my tracks. He was mad at me for getting on to him about needing to clean his room when he said, “You’re not my real mom.” Whoa…I felt that gut-wrenching, knife in the heart, floor dropping out from under me twinge of pain. After he said it, I sat down next to him and looked at him. He had that look of confusion mixed in with a little sadness and anger.
I asked him, “Sweetie, what do you mean?” Nothing…nothing but staring off at the TV screen. “Honey, please help me understand what you mean. Do you mean that I’m not your real mom because I didn’t give birth to you like your birth mother did?” Silence. Then finally, he looked at me and said, “You are not my real mom because you tell me what to do and you always get me in trouble.” I have to admit that I was a little more relieved with his explanation, but still bothered. I told him that he gets in trouble when he disobeys, and my job as his mom is to tell him what to do sometimes. I also told him that we are his real parents and that we love him more than anything. He looked at me and said, “Okay, but you’re still not my real mom.” My mind was racing with how to handle this. I grabbed the basket of laundry and used it as an excuse to escape off to our room to silently and quickly allow myself to exhale, gather my thoughts, and hold back the tears that were wanting to escape.
I returned to the living room and noticed that he went on with his after-school routine of building Legos, drawing, and eating a snack. From time to time though, he looked at me and studied my face. I kept it all together. I acted as if nothing was wrong and that his words had not bothered me. We went on with the rest of the afternoon like usual. Later on in the evening, my son was quite clingy. He wanted me to hold him, lay by him on the couch, snuggle, etc. I took him up on the offer, and wondered if his words were still on his mind as well.
When I told my husband what was said, he responded “Caroline, you have to expect this. If he knows it bothers you, then he will use it in the future when he is mad about something. He was probably just testing you out to see how you would respond.” My husband was right. I do expect both of my children to refer to their birth parents as their “real” parents at some time during their lives. I expect them to have a lot of questions about their birth family histories, how they ended up in our home, and anything else that has to do with adoption. I guess I just didn’t expect it so soon, and I certainly didn’t expect it to hurt so much.
I don’t even know where my son got the term “real mom”, or why he would say this. I know he was mad at me, but he had never said anything like that to me before. Perhaps someone said something to him at school. Maybe he overheard someone else talking about this. Or perhaps, he is just starting to really process and learn how to navigate his own world of adoption. Maybe he has a fantasy version of his birth mother, and in that fantasy she would never “get on to him”, put him in time-out, or make him clean his room. I don’t know, but it reminded me that adoption is extremely complex and there are layers within it. One certainly needs to have “thick-skin”!
One thing though that has been laid on my heart since all of this took place is that my husband and I need to be mindful of the adoption language we use around the home and in the community. We need to be there to answer any and ALL questions our children have even if it makes us uncomfortable. We need to not perceive questions about birth parents as a threat to who were are and the relationship we have with our children.
And, we need to keep in mind that we are their real parents. We are a real family. We get on to each other. We discipline the kids when they are being disobedient. We lose our tempers at times. We get frustrated at times. We are not perfect. But, if we were perfect, didn’t lose our tempers, didn’t get frustrated, didn’t discipline, and didn’t get on to each other, then we would not be real at all.