Thursday, March 26, 2009

Best Moms

Zoe has been very affectionate this week, surprisingly so, since she's not really that cuddly. I've been getting lots of hugs and kisses and "I love you's." She doesn't seem particularly needy -- sometimes she needs to be cuddled, but this is more like she wants to give hugs and kisses rather than needing them in return. It might just be that she's missing me since she's been back in school after so much togetherness during spring break. You'd think I'd just accept it gratefully and move on. But no, not me!

I've been thinking something is up and have been giving her lots of opportunities to tell me if there's a problem or if something is upsetting her. She says no. I've asked if her teachers have been saying things about showing appreciation for your parents (that's happened before!). She says no. Oh well, whatever it is, I guess I can just sit back and enjoy the affection, right?!

Then, while we were driving home from gymnastics today, she says in a little voice, "OK, mama, there is something I want to tell you about why I've been giving lots of hugs and kisses." I'm thinking -- at last! I wonder what's wrong?

And then she says in a gleeful voice happy because she's fooled me, "It's because you're the best mom in the whole wide world!"

I'm saying something about how nice that is to hear, when she adds, "and so is my birth mom -- she's the second best mom in the whole wide world!"

One of my basic rules of adoption talk is NEVER COMPETE -- never, ever, try to compete with birth family. I think that's one of the things that make adopted kids feel divided loyalty, when adoptive parents insist they have to be number one in their kids' affections. "Love me best" comes across as "don't love them at all." And the truth is that we each -- adoptive parents and birth parents -- have very real and very important roles in our kids' lives, and that the role of birth parents should be honored, not ignored.

And for another thing, once you engage in competition with birth family, you lose. No way can you compare to the idealized fantasy version of birth family. It's kind of like kids of divorce, where the parent they don't live with is the bestest, nicest, most perfect parent. So I am always accepting of my kids' feelings of love for birth family, I avoid anything that sounds or looks like "what about me?" behavior when Zoe talks about how nice she thinks her birth parents are, how much she misses them, how much she loves them. I NEVER compete.

So while I won't say it to her, I will say it to all of you -- it was nice to be number one tonight! I'm sure the rankings will change the next time she's mad at me, or when she's feeling divided loyalty and a little guilty for loving me best. But tonight I'm the best mom in the whole wide world!


Anonymous said...

Take it while you can get it. One day soon she will be 14.

Mei-Ling said...

LOL @ Anonymous.

Seriously though, the "loyalty" thing is a huge, huge issue in adopto-land.

Sang-Shil said...

I think your "never compete" rule is an important one, but it still pains me to see that Zoe still felt that she had to choose ONE mom to be the "best".

Choosing who is "best" or "number one" is just like choosing who is "real"... and who isn't. I realize that Zoe *knows* you, and doesn't know her first mom, and that has a lot to do with it because it's hard to love someone that you don't know.

But wouldn't it be nice if you could be her "best American mom" and her first mom could be her "best Chinese mom"?

malinda said...

Well said, Sang-Shil. No child should be made to choose. I thought it was great that Zoe included her birth mom the the "best mother in the world," and I wish I had thought of your suggestion -- I could have said, "How about I be the best mom in America and your birth mom be the best mom in China?" A missed opportunity. Next time, I'll be ready!

Lynne said...

"How about I be the best mom in America and your birth mom be the best mom in China?" A missed opportunity. Next time, I'll be ready!"

I personally would just leave her thoughts as they are, instead of making it another educational moment.

As you rightly pointed out, her thoughts and feelings will change. I agree that she shouldn't have to "choose" a number one. But you ARE the only Mom she knows, and will possibly ever know. I'd just go with the flow on that one.
Just my opinion!

Sang-Shil said...

Here's the thing, Lynne. Unless parents actively demonstrate that their children *don't* have to choose, their children will frequently get the message that they *do*. Not necessarily from anything that adoptive parents (or anyone else) says directly, but from all of the subtle and indirect signals that adopted children grow up with.

Teachers, other parents, random strangers, the media, etc. may have very different ideas about choosing, gratitude, realness, etc. than what Malinda wants her daughters to believe. If she doesn't make her message loud and clear from an early age, then it could be lost among the other noise.

Adoptees have an uncanny way of knowing what the "right" answer is, and at ages even younger than Zoe's.