When Your Adopted Child Wants Their “Real Mommy.”

Author of 5 books, podcaster, parent trainer, husband and father.

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Adoptive parents, it's going to happen. It's not a matter of "if," it's a matter of "when."

Sometimes it’s a jab. They are speaking from anger at you, or frustration over your parenting tactics. Other times, it’s honest questioning or truth seeking from painful or dark places. Regardless of where it comes from, or how innocent it can be, it’s shocking and difficult to hear, “I want my real mommy, or daddy.”

It’s happened to us many times over the past decade. I’ll never forget the first time one of our daughters said this to my wife. They were driving along in our mini-van when she began crying out from her carseat in the back, “I want my mommy.” My wife’s heart broke to hear this so she pulled over, and jumped into the backseat to comfort her. My daughter paused, looked my wife in the eye, and said, “Not you! My other mommy!” Ouch. My wife began to cry as well.

Understandably so. This was our first child. We held her and fed her just moments after she was born. We had watched her every step up until that point and we had never heard her say anything like that before. You can imagine the shock.

For those of you who are adoptive parents and have experienced this, you can probably feel the pain through reading our personal story. It is probably conjuring up memories of your adopted child saying that to you. Recently, I’ve fielded a few Facebook and email questions about this very subject. The question is mostly the same- “What do you do when this happens?” What do you say to your child when they blurt this dreaded statement out?

From our own personal experience with this issue I can tell you what we’ve learned, and that may help you decide how to best handle your own situation with your child.

First off, don’t panic! 

In fact, stay composed in front of your child, and then meltdown in private with your spouse or a friend. If this statement is meant to be a jab, your child is looking for a reaction. They are looking to see if they can get under your skin. The greatest power you have is composure and the appearance that you’re okay with them not being okay. If they are saying this or asking this from an honest heart, you panicking and falling apart will cause them to panic and fall apart. Stay calm and find another outlet to dump your emotions.

Second, remember that “real mothers and fathers” are the ones who put in the time. 

It’s easy to think, in your heart, “I’m a failure” because your child blurted out the words “I want my real mommy!” It’s easy to come to the conclusion that you’re really not their real parent when things are going wrong and it seems like you’re not getting through. But remember that you are the one who is there through thick and thin. You’re the person who is there to scoop them up when they fall of their bike. You’re the one who greets them at the door after school and tucks them into bed at night. You’re the one who wipes away their tears. And, that’s not going to change anytime soon. You are the one who is making the long-term investment and putting in the long hours. You are their “real” mommy or daddy.

Third, be willing to talk openly and honestly with your child about their feelings. 

Spend time finding out what’s happening in their heart and mind. If you’ve adopted them from a difficult place, it’s a guarantee that there are emotions going on inside of them that you may not fully understand. Open conversation and listening will go a long way in understanding where they’re coming from and will also help you to stay calm when you hear those dreaded words.

Fourth, seek out other adoptive parents for support. 

In a previous post, I wrote about the value of a great support system. I can’t emphasize this enough. You need to be in community with other adoptive parents who are going through a lot of what you are going through. This has changed our lives tremendously. In fact, we don’t know where we would be if it weren’t for our amazing support system. They are there for us when we are weak and they are a great sounding board for issues such as this one.

Bottom line: it’s painful when you hear your precious child spill out a poisonous statement at you like this. No amount of advice or perspective can take the pain away. I understand that. However, my hope is that you find a little bit of encouragement from our real-life experience. As hard as it is, this is one part of the adoption journey that takes some navigating.

Question: Are you an adoptive parent? Has your child every said this to you? What additional advice would you offer to adoptive parents? 

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Mike and Kristin Berry are the Co-Founders of The Honestly Adoption Company and have been parents for nearly two decades. They are the authors of six books, and the host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is the executive assistant to Mike and Kristin Berry. And she is the best in the land. In addition to providing a warm and friendly response to the many emails our company receives on a weekly basis, she also manages Mike and Kristin’s speaking and meeting schedules, and makes sure that team events go off without a hitch.

Nicole Goerges

Nicole Goerges is a Content Contributor & Special Consultant for The Honestly Adoption Company. She works with Mike and Kristin as a recurring co-host for the Honestly Adoption Podcast, and co-host of Kitchen Table Talks, exclusive video content for Oasis Community, along with Kristin. She is a fellow adoptive mom, and former foster parent.

Matt McCarrick

Matt McCarrick is the Content Production Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. If you’ve loved listening to our podcast, or enjoyed any of the videos trainings we’ve published, you have Matt to thank. He oversees all of our content production, from video edits, to making sure the tags are correct on YouTube, to uploading new videos to Oasis, to hitting publish on a podcast episode, he’s a content wonder!

Karen Anderson

Karen Anderson is the Community Engagement Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends the bulk of her time interacting with, and helping, people through our various social media channels, as well as providing support for Oasis Community members through chat support or Zoom calls. In the same spirit as Beaver, Karen is also passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and supported. Karen is also an FASD trainer and travels often, equipping and encouraging parents.

Beaver Trumble

Beaver Trumble is the Customer Care Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. Chances are, if you have been in need of technical support, or forgotten your password to one of our courses, you have interacted with Beaver. He is an absolute pro at customer care. In fact, he single-handedly revolutionized our customer care department last year. Beaver is passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and encouraged.

Kristin Berry

Kristin Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Content Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends most of her time researching and connecting with guests for our podcast, as well as direction, designing and publishing a lot of the content for our social media channels, blog and podcast. She loves to connect with fellow parents around the world, and share the message of hope with them.

Mike Berry

Mike Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Marketing Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. He spends the bulk of his time and energy designing and building many of the resources you see within our company, as well as social media and email campaigns. His goal is to use media as a means to encourage and equip parents around the world. He is also the co-host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.