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?