How to handle hearing “You’re not my real mom.”

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It’s been a long time since I’ve written a real, raw, bare my soul adoption post. Some of you might think this blog has gotten a little bit “commercial.” A little bit less “real.” Today is real. We're talking about how to handle hearing “You're not my real mom.”

The truth is, adoption isn’t the center of our everyday reality very often anymore. I write about the trips we take, about the things my kids like to do and about the dinners I make that don’t elicit gagging noises and comments like “What is that slimy thing in my soup?”

It’s a mushroom, by the way.

How to handle “You’re not my real mom.”

I write about life as it is unfolding, the same way I once wrote real, raw, bare my soul adoption posts. Life is just unfolding…well, differently right now. Things are quiet and tame. I don’t often think about the fact that my kids are adopted. I think about the fact that I have to drive them to a bazillion places every week and that I’ve probably forgotten to sign something or to send money for something or to answer an email.

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Adoption was once the center of everything. Now it is just a part of our family’s makeup. Something that makes us us.

And the truth? Sometimes I censor my writing as of late. As I take on more sponsored content on this blog, I overanalyze each “damn” and “hell” and even mostly benign phrases like “this really sucks” way more than I used to. Way back when I started writing about adoption, this blog was my lifeline and a creative outlet. I never saw it becoming a job. I used to wake up at 4:30 a.m. and start typing. I’d go to sleep organizing my thoughts about what I’d write the next day knowing that the writing would serve as a release.

I am thankful this little slice of the internet has helped contribute to our family's income. It helps me to be able to stay home with our kids and it gives us some neat opportunities and has connected us to a lot of amazing people.

Over time, the blog evolved into an ordinary “mom blog” and then into more of a travel and lifestyle blog. Interestingly, as we were going through some of our crazy, dark times as we settled into our particularly traumatic second adoption, we were traveling like crazy because that’s what my family does. I just never wrote it down.

When adoption started not to be the focus of the blog because it started not to be the focus of life in general, I turned to more travel writing. It seemed like that was a good fit and a good transition to take Ripped Jeans and Bifocals into this next phase of life after adoption.

And that’s all good stuff.

But five little words recently knocked me back into the reality that my family is put together a little differently and that from time to time, those differences are going to be that “most important thing.”

As my kids get older, I am more intentional about the things I share about their lives. I am more cognizant of the fact that they may someday have thoughts and feelings about the things I write and share publicly and that those thoughts and feelings are not always going to be “My mom is so awesome.”

I’ve written a lot on the stupid things people say and ask about our adoptions.

“What happened to their real mom?”

“Can’t you have any kids of your own?”

Those kinds of comments are ignorant and make me want to roll my eyes so hard that I can see the stuff behind me but honestly, I don’t feel any less real or any less bonded to my two adopted kids just because they don’t share my DNA. I’ve wiped up their snot and poop. I’ve been peed on, barfed on and woken up in the middle of the night and ridiculously early on a Saturday to deal with such nonsense like “that sweatshirt folded up on the shelf that looks like a creepy monster.” I could not make that stuff up, people.

In the back of my mind, I knew that one day, one day far in the future, that one of my kids would lash out at me and tell me I’m not “the real mom.” I imagined this moment would come in a moment of teen angst and door slamming. I imagined being bulletproof and shrugging those words off. Sticks and stones, right?

But, the day that I heard “You’re not my real mom” came way sooner than I expected it to. It came from a seven-year-old’s mouth in a moment of seven-year-old temper tantrum over something not going his way. I don’t even remember what, isn’t that funny?

I do remember the pouting, sulking, back-talking behavior that lands kids a trip to their room in our house. We’re big fans of talking and reasoning but when those things fail and the behavior is unproductive and disruptive, we send the kids to their room. If it’s later in the evening, we just call it a day and send them to bed early.

It was my last-ditch effort to smooth my little bird’s ruffled feathers and make peace. He was sitting cross-legged on his bed and I held my hand out to him and said “Let’s talk about this, ok?”

He glared at me with the fires of a thousand suns in his eyes and said “Go away. You’re not my real mom.”

I left. I didn’t try to engage or reason. I didn’t assure him that I was indeed his real mom and that I always would be, no matter how much of a little butthead he chose to be.

I left. I avoided.

The situation dissipated and my little offender apologized for whatever behavior had landed him in the hot seat in the first place. Looking back, it seems so funny that I can’t even remember that. We hugged. I assured him that I loved him no matter what.

But, I didn’t reaffirm that I was his “real mom.” I don’t know if I need to. I don’t know if I know how to properly circle back on that conversation. Honestly? I didn’t expect that little jab to be thrown out so soon and through my hugs and reassurances that all was well, I was still reeling from those words. I am bracing myself for the next time I hear those words.

We’ve been dealing with more hard questions about birth families and why the birth families made the decisions they did. Because we adopted from China, we don’t have very many pieces of the puzzle and although it’s hard, we’ve been very honest with our kids about what we don’t know.

They are old enough to understand that their dad and I aren’t their biological parents. There are times when they romanticize their biological parents. Kids have a way of filling in the gaps for themselves when they have limited information and we’ve so far been fine with them doing that. It’s a lot for them to process. We encourage them to be open and ask questions but our ability to hand out answers that will satisfy them is pretty limited.

Will there be a repeat of “you’re not my real mom?” Will I get it from both of my adopted sons at different points in their growing years? I don’t know. I hope not, but in talking to my fellow adoptive parents and stepparents, it’s something that kids say. Maybe those words are said to test us or just to push our buttons. Maybe it’s a way to lash out and say “hey, I’m really frustrated/angry/hurt and I don’t know how else to express it.” I can relate to that. I’ve said mean things in moments of anger that I later regret. We all have.

So, the title of this post is “How to handle ‘You’re not my real mom.’” I guess I should have picked something else to call this because I really don’t know how you handle it. You just do. I don’t have words of wisdom or a magical parenting technique that will make it all better.

How to handle "you're not my real mom."|Ripped Jeans and Bifocals

I’m just winging it and hoping that I’ll get things right in the end. I’m not sure how us moms handle the things that we do. Coffee. Wine. Hiding in the bathroom with our chocolate covered blueberries. Talking to friends who get it and making us feel less alone in all of this.

That last thing. I might not have it together most of the time (or…pretty much ever) but I know the value of community and sharing our stories of mothering…no matter how we arrived at mothering.

Thanks for being here, friends.

If you have a suggestion or a story that goes along with “How you handle ‘You’re not my real mom’” then drop it in the comments or message me privately. If there’s enough interest, I may put together a resource for other parents, keeping your name and privacy intact, of course.

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  1. Hello and thank you. I’d like to keep this anonymous, please.

    First, I’m not a mom, I’m a dad. But I still enjoy your articles. Second, I have no magic formula for You’re not my real dad, anyway”. I try to keep in mind, that as hurtful as that is, that doesn’t mean they don’t love you (necessarily), it probably just means they’re not getting their way and this is a button they can always push. Kind of like the Staples “Easy” button. It always gets a reaction, and makes you feel less than. I also try to remind them that I get that they’re angry (or whatever) and try to get them to open up, and let them know that I’m here for them. At least with my son, I usually get a hug for trying.

  2. We adopted a little boy from China as well, right now only 3.5 years old so everyday is pretty much Disney World…but I expect this will happen to me at some point. I hope to not take it personally, as I can imagine most experience this, but yes it may sting. As you stated, we just handle it. I enjoyed your writing and shall dig up some more of your blogs. Your family is beautiful.

  3. Just came across your blog for the first time today. Am looking forward to reading more. (I certainly can appreciate the bifocals – or in my case progressives or contacts with readers!!)

    Our two dots, both from China, were each 9 mo at adoption and are now 14-1/2 yrs and 7 yrs.

    Recently I was reading our little one “Star of the Week” by Darlene Freedman (for the umpteenth time) and near the end, as the little girl talks about her birth parents, she refers to being born to them. Miss 7 interrupted me to say that sometimes she forgets she’s not born to us. I didn’t know if that should make me happy or sad.

    But I’ve been preparing for the “you’re not my real mom” comment for years and have yet to hear it. Here’s my prepared response: “You’re right, I’m not your first mom, but if she were here with me right now, she would be agreeing with me on this one.” I hope those words do spring to my lips if I ever need them!