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Adoptive Parents: "You're Not My Real Mom!" (The 3 Buttons Your Child Will Push)

Posted by Guest Blogger

Editor’s Note: Today we welcome guest blogger Lori Holden, an adoptive mom who writes about parenting and living mindfully. In this excellent blog post, Lori discusses the top three buttons that get pushed for most adoptive parents — and how to deal with them.

Parenting is hard. But I can say from experience that parenting-via-adoption adds a layer of complexity.

For such small beings, children sure know how to push our buttons.  And we often come to parenting with extra buttons exposed, waiting to be poked by small, grimy fingers. Why do children push buttons? Because they feel powerless against us giants. And when they can’t get what they want through non-manipulative means, they will resort to whatever tool is available.

Enter our buttons. Here are the top three, in my opinion, for many adoptive parents:

1. The “Real” Button. This button becomes obvious to your child around age 7 and gets triggered thusly:

* You’re not my real mom!
* Or My real dad would let me!
* Or even I don’t have to be nice to him — he’s not my real brother.

These are often said from anger or frustration at a time when reason is out the window. And often, it’s received when your reason is out the window, too. Your child senses that these sentiments are inflammatory, and hopes to escalate a situation and gain power.

So what should you do when your child plays the “real” card? Want to know the secret response that will reduce the odds that your button keeps getting pushed?

You do nothing to your child. You work on yourself. You deactivate this button through your own reasoning.

What does it mean to be a “real mom” anyway? Are you fake? Did you really get up all those nights? Change all those diapers? Arrange all those play dates? Then you are real. You did real things. You were there, you have always been there. Nothing fake about you. You are legit. This button clearly can be neutralized in your own mind. Just because you’re not the only doesn’t mean you’re not real.

2. The Wondering Button. This one isn’t really a button, though it may seem like it. When you notice your child is wondering about his “what ifs,” his roads not taken, it can hurt. It can feel as if he thinks you’re not doing a good job, that you’re not enough, that you’ve failed to establish your legitimacy. Sometimes he will wonder about his birth parents privately and, if you’re lucky, sometimes he will allow you into his innermost thoughts and wonder aloud. He may wonder who his birth parents are or what it would be like to live with them. If there is a lack of information available, the wondering may turn to fantasy. Who can compare with fantasy? My advice is to give the information you have, age appropriately.

If you have a child who is prone to wondering, it will happen whether you are privy to it or not. Again, neutralize this button using your own reason so that you can be there for your child as he wonders, supporting him and giving space to integrate his two identities — that of biology and that of biography.

How to reason through this? Wondering about one’s genetic roots doesn’t take away anything from you. We fully expect that a parent can love more than one child. Can you also embrace the notion that your child may have feelings for/about his biological parents, feelings which have nothing to do with — much less threaten — his love and devotion to you?

3. The Running Away Button. This button is not unique to adoptive families, but it can sting when there is another parent or two “out there” who also has a claim on your child. After all, your child may actually have another parent-type to run away to. My daughter, then 9, once set out with her pink hat, trailing her pink suitcase stuffed with her pink bear, to somehow plead her case with Crystal, her birth mom, who would surely allow her to watch The Wizards of Waverly Place before doing homework. (Wrong!).

Again, we remove the button’s charge within us by realizing that our child is feeling stuck and has no other options at her disposal. If we remember to breathe and also remind our child to breathe, we can re-engage our reasoning faculties and make space for other, more appropriate responses.

One final note: Some of the best conversations I’ve had with my kids have begun with their attempts to push my buttons. From a place of rawness we find genuine connection devoid of artifice. We get real and we grow together.


Lori Holden, MA, writes regularly at about parenting and living mindfully. Her new book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole is available via Amazon, just in time for a Mothers or Fathers Day present. On Twitter she’s @LavLuz and you can also find her on Facebook.

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