Ask AF: Birth Mother Confusion

"Real mom" can feel like a barb to the heart. How to explain to a child that mommy is different from birth mother.

Q: I adopted my six-year-old daughter from foster care at age two. I agreed to continue seeing her birth mother, whom we call Mommy Marilyn, about four times a year. My daughter says things that make me a little insecure, like, “I love you as much as I love Mommy Marilyn,” or “Mommy Marilyn is my real mom.” How should I respond? I’m considering reducing the number of visits each year — am I being selfish?


A: You can respond to your daughter’s statements by saying, “I’m your real mom, and Marilyn is your birth mother.” A real mom is the one you live with and who does real things with you every day, like playing with you and taking you to school. Saying this should also help you feel less insecure. You might want to drop the Mommy Marilyn name at this point, since it seems to be causing confusion. A birth mom is different from a mommy, and giving yourself and Marilyn different names will help make it clear who is who.

As for the visits, take some time to think about the purpose they serve. Do they help your daughter feel more secure? Does her behavior change prior to or after visits? Are they working for everyone? If they are productive in some way, that’s great, but I suggest that you not lock yourself into a set number per year. If they seem to be continued only out of a sense of obligation, it’s your right as the parent to scale them back.

Copyright © 1999-2024 Adoptive Families Magazine®. All rights reserved. For personal use only. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

More articles like this

Adoption Experts answer your questions.