Ask AF: My Four-Year-Old Told Me “You’re Not My Mom.” Is This Normal?

A mother shares that her four-year-old has said, "You're not my mom!" when angry. Fellow parents assure her this is normal and suggest different ways to respond.

Q: My four-year-old son recently told me, “You’re not my mom.” He was mad at my when he said it. In similar situations in the past, he has said, “I don’t like you,” but nothing like this. When it happened, I was surprised and jokingly asked, “And who is your mama?” He said, “Grandma!” I thought this was funny and didn’t think I should make a big deal out of it. In general, he is a sweet, happy boy who is just beginning to understand adoption. Is it normal for adopted children this age to say things like this? I Googled it and only found information about teenagers who say this, so got worried.

Members of respond:

“Super normal. Kids this age find different statements to express anger, hurt, or frustration. From my four-and-a-half-year-old, I get ‘You can’t come to my birthday party!’ ”

“Very normal (even from biological kids)! Likely, it meant a lot more to you than it did to him, but it’s still hard to hear. Also, kids quickly learn how to push our buttons, so, chances are, at some point you will hear this again! Other classics are: I wish I had a different mom/dad; I wish you never adopted me; you’re not my REAL mom/dad; I wish I still lived with my real mom/dad; I’m going to run away and find my real mom/dad; and of course, I hate you! You did the right things—just stay calm, reassure him that he is loved, and don’t feed into it.”

“It may also depend on the child. My oldest, who is now eight, never did this. My daughter, who is six, will exclaim in a rage over anything, ‘I am going to a new family’ or ‘I am going to another house.’ Sometimes I think she is testing us, or maybe she is trying to work out her story of starting with one family and ending up with another,… or maybe she just hopes someone out there would let her eat butter straight out of the container. I think you handled it well. I use my daughter’s statements as an opportunity to remind all three of our kids (all adopted from birth) that we are a family and that cannot be changed. I tell them that we were a family from the day we brought them home, and then we went to court and the judge banged the gavel and made it official.”

“This is one of the many things that fills my tummy with dread. I know there will come a time when my daughter says this. She is only two, but she is already so strong willed and sassy. I think you handled it well. I hope I can, too, because inside it will break my heart.”

“My 12-year-old has said a few times that I am not her real mom. I think the first time she was six or so. It has always been when she is angry that I won’t let her do something (or am making her do something). The first time it stung! But I usually say that her birth parents would probably not let her do (or make her do) the same thing. I don’t react emotionally to it and it blows over pretty quickly. I know that, when I am upset I lash out and sometimes say things I regret; kids are no different.”

“My daughter did a similar thing at age four. When she was upset or in trouble, she’d say, ‘I want to go home’—meaning her ‘real’ home with her birth parents. After hearing this a few times, I finally sat her down and told her that, although she was born to her birth parents, she has never lived with them (we brought her home from the hospital). She seemed so relieved to know we had always been her home. I think the big thing at that age is not fully understanding their own story—the different parts and the moves they’ve made. I feel like, at age four they start to comprehend this, but aren’t old enough to ask the right questions or necessarily come to the right conclusions. My daughter is 12 now, and the questions and issues keep getting harder, but I know I love her, I know she loves me, I know she feels safe in our family, I know her birth parents support us and love her too. As an aside, there was one hilarious interaction during her ‘I want to go home’ period. I was trying to get her to take a bite of the fish I had made for dinner, and finally said, ‘Even if you lived with your birth parents, they would make you take a bite too.’ She looked at me, confused, and said through tears, ‘They’re having the same thing?! That’s…weird.’ We still laugh about that one with her birth parents!”


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