Q: Our three-year-old has been through several foster placements and calls nearly every woman she comes in contact with “Mommy.” Now that we are in the process of adopting her, should I discourage that? If so, how?
A: Adopting your daughter is an exciting milestone. Given her multiple foster homes and age, it makes sense that she would categorically identify women as mommies. While hearing her call other women “Mommy” concerns, and may even upset, you as you take on the role of becoming her mother, you can be assured that she will come to understand that your relationship is special and that you are her mommy. Through the consistent, reliable, parent-child interactions you have with each other on a daily basis, she will come to understand that you are her mommy, and begin to reserve the title “Mommy” only for you. Thus, you might want to let the transition happen naturally.
In the meantime, if you find yourselves in a particularly awkward social moment when your daughter calls another woman “Mommy,” always deal with her feelings first, rather than the other woman’s. Gently and privately tell her, “I am (insert your daughter’s name)’s mommy. That woman is named Susan, and she is someone else’s mommy. I am your mommy.” She may or may not get it, but just say it once. It will sink in over time, and you don’t want to turn it into an “issue” about which she will have memories or feelings. As a three-year-old, once she transitions she is unlikely to even recall calling other women “Mommy.” You will also need to help her understand her foster history, but this is a separate parental task, and it won’t be about the title “Mommy.”
If she is still confused after a year or so, you can discuss this with a therapist. I don’t think there is need for concern at this time, however, as she is just beginning the transition to your family.