Monday, March 30, 2009

Responding to "You're not my REAL mom!"

In the February 2009 C.A.S.E. eNewsletter, there's this letter and response from social worker Ellen Singer:
Dear Ellen,
The other day, my 10 year old son was angry at me because I set a limit on his screen time. He said to me, "I don't have to listen to you. You’re not my real mother." I was devastated and didn't know what to do."

Ah, what a clever ten year old boy that is. He figured out a “button” that most adoptive parents have and pushed it. Most adoptive parents fear the time that their child will say, “You are not my REAL mother/father.” It is such a loaded statement.

It embodies adoptive parents’ often unspoken worries about whether their adopted child will somehow feel less authentically connected to them, attached to them, love them once they begin to understand what it means to being raised by parents who did not give birth to them.

The fact is, in most situations, while the statement may certainly reflect something related to an adopted child’s making sense of what it means to be adopted, it almost NEVER reflects an adopted child’s sense
of love and attachment to their adoptive parent(s).

Instead, said in anger, it is meant to convey just that – anger – and is likely intended to be hurtful in order for the child/teen to thwart a parent’s directive, win an argument, or gain power. It is therefore a powerful statement, meant to distract the parent from the content of the interaction – in this case, limit setting around screen time. Understanding this, adoptive parents are advised to respond by saying, “We are not talking about adoption right now. We are talking about screen time privileges (or (your room being cleaned, use of the car, etc.). If you want to talk about our relationship or adoption, we can do that at another time.”

To find out what feelings may be behind your son’s statement and to initiate a dialogue, parents are advised to approach their child at some later point in time, when there is calm – not during the moment of conflict – and ask, “When you said …. was there something you are wanting to say about adoption, about your birth parents, about our relationship, etc.?”


Zoe has said, "You're not my real mom," but not in anger (actually, it's Maya, with all her sweetness and empathy who is most likely to say it in anger -- she was mad at me the other day and said I was "too fat!" She definitely has a tendency to lash out when she's mad). But I've always thought that if it was said in anger, I'd answer exactly as suggested here! One day I suppose I'll see if I can maintain that cool in the heat of battle.

The same way role-play helps my girls respond to comments others make about race or adoption, etc., role-play helps me, too. That's why I'm obsessed with digging out every snippet of "adoption talk" I can find! That way, I can be ready for future scenarios and practice responses -- how anal is that?!

Actually, I don't really think the "not my real mom" statement would be a problem, even in "the heat of battle." The REAL mom thing is only a loaded statement if you haven't already "unloaded" it! By acknowledging that my kids have two real moms, by "dropping out" of the competition to be the only mom, there's little sting in the statement. I guess my kids will have to come up with something else to push my buttons!

2 comments:

Spring said...

The REAL mom thing is only a loaded statement if you haven't already "unloaded" it! By acknowledging that my kids have two real moms, by "dropping out" of the competition to be the only mom, there's little sting in the statement.

Exactly. Couldn't agree more.

Wendy said...

I agree, if you realize that you are not the "only" mother it will take out the sting and really unload the statement when you hear it.