Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Love is Not a Commodity

REAL Q: I adopted my daughter as an infant and to this day, 16 years later, she still resists everything I offer. I ask her to empty the dishwasher and she resists. Everything turns into a blow up--she tells me that I am not her "real" mom and that her birth mom would make a "way better mother." She doesn't know her birth mom so it's as if she says this because she knows it hurts me.

A: This is a common issue for adoptive parents, as well as foster parents, stepparents, and grandparents raising their grandchildren. As parents, one of our roles is to acknowledge our children's emotional struggles yet

at the same time, teach them to function in daily life. Finding the balance between the two with a child who refuses our help can prove to be beyond difficult.

Let's discuss what your daughter might be feeling. She gets upset, refuses to take responsibility and blames you, and then she offers the dagger of all daggers: "You're not my real mom!"

I know this is frustrating, not to mention hurtful. The only way to work with statements such as this is to take your daughter's perspective and put yourself into her reality. Through the lenses of her abandonment, she is right...you are not her mother. Children have an internal bond with their biological mothers that I believe will and can not ever be severed. It is a deep primal connection that transcends all other experiences in the child's world.

A biological mother carries the baby for the first nine months of its life. The baby fetus knows her mother's heartbeat, the sound of her mother's voice, and the smell of her mother's skin. This is what is familiar to this baby and once she is born, if she is removed from the mother (even for loving reasons), everything is lost for this baby. EVERYTHING. At that moment, as a vulnerable baby with no coping skills, nothing is familiar and nothing feels safe.

The nine months in the biological mother's womb is a time where a bond greater than any other bond known to mankind is created. It cannot be broken nor does it need to be for this child, even if you are her "real" mom now.

As a mother (or father) to a child who is not biologically connected to you, you have to be able to think outside the box. The traditional belief that a child has "one and only one" mother (or father) for life needs to be questioned. As parents, we get rigid in our thinking; we feel the need to say (or think), "I'm your mother now," implying that the relationship with the biological mother needs to be severed.

Love is not a commodity. There is plenty of it to go around. There is enough room in your daughter's heart to have two mothers. Being her adoptive mother does not make you second best. It simply means you are on this part of her journey with her. Embracing this concept will allow space for her to feel like she can also embrace two mothers without betraying her biological mother.

Will your connection to your daughter ever be as strong as the primal connection she has with her biological mother? Maybe yes but maybe no. It depends on a child's internal make-up and her personality. One is not right or wrong. Love looks different sometimes.

Additionally, many adopted children fantasize about their biological families. Your daughter is probably doing this, as well. Even though she does not know her biological mother and never has, she still feels a deep internal connection. It can be as if her birth family (and her biological mother, especially) is the only one to whom she can be loyal. She is caught between two mothers--wanting and needing you, yet feeling as if she will betray her biological mother in the process. Your daughter makes negative statements to you, not to hurt you, but to give expression to the loyalty she feels towards her biological mother.

Giving your daughter permission to have two mothers is the key to returning your home back from chaos to peace and to helping your daughter heal a very deep wound.

In your heart, can you find acceptance and room for your daughter to have two mommies? Do some self-analysis and self-reflection to see what resistance comes up from within you. Does this concept make you feel "less" of a mother or even inadequate as a mother? Let the traditional idea of "only one mother for life" be gone. You are perfectly her mother now and any statements she makes to you that contradict your role in her life now, are simply expressions of her internal struggle. They are NOT about you personally.

In the heat of the moment next time, dance with her statements. When she says, "You're not my real mom," reply, "You're right. I'm not." Affirm your daughter. Ask for more and let her know you want to understand how much it hurts that she is not with her biological mother right now. Let her know that you are sad that her biological mother was not able to care for her and that she feels you do not meet the standards she holds true for her mom. Allow her the space to express her feelings towards her mom and towards you. Open the space for the building of a relationship instead of fighting the relationship.

Once she can express her true feelings and thoughts with you, it is certainly appropriate and a part of your responsibility as a good parent to set boundaries. Disrespecting you and making hurtful statements needs to be changed. Stress that your home is a place of emotional safety for everyone, always. Explain that comments she has been making are negative, hurtful, and inappropriate. You will notice, however, that by giving her permission to have two mothers along with permission to express her fears and sadness, the negativity and disrespect will actually dissipate on its own.

It is our job, as parents, to ensure there is balance within the home and within our relationship with our children. We need to allow our children the space to be "bound" to their biological parents. Yet we also must reinforce that we are here, in the present, right here and now and that to make a family functional, we must all work lovingly together. For some it may look like just coming to an agreement that the child will respect the parent as their caregiver and for others it may be the child breaking down and finally allowing the parent to be in charge, fully.

Love simply allows each child his or her own process.

Press on,

Heather T. Forbes, LCSW
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2, and Dare to Love

Please note, Contributions to this newsletter were given by Ruby, an adult adoptee. To access her blog for more amazing insights, click here: http://traumatotreasure.wordpress.com/

P.S. Check out my Ask the Expert Interview with Sherrie Eldridge, as she speaks out adoption, adopted children and how their parents are drawn closer. http://www.asktheexpertinterviews.com

1 comment:

Christie M said...

We have found this to be quite true. Our girls were all adopted at older ages, (between 5 and 11)
Our youngest has struggled the most. She is the one who was adopted at 11 after and a trip over the pond from Russia and 2 disruptions.

She told me this once and that is exactly how I responded.
"You know what? You are so right! I am your fourth mama." "I am so sorry that had to happen, but I love you so very much."
We rocked a little and then had a talk about why it wasn't ok to be disrespectful.
She then went on to do what she had been asked.
Some would say that is not obedience, because she didn't do it when asked, but I celebrate each time she allows me to get a little closer to her heart.
She is 14 now.