Q: This past Mother’s Day, my six-year-old started asking new questions about his birth mother. (Due to safety reasons, he hasn’t seen her since he was placed with us at one month old, though I’d support him in contacting her when he’s an adult.) He asked if she was alive. I told him, yes, and he said he wished he could see her to say “Hi” and give her a hug. The next day he brought her up again, said he felt sad, and made a point of telling me and my husband separately that he loves her more than us because she brought him into the world. A day or two later when we were talking, he held his hands up and said he loves me “this much,” then spread his hands wide and said, “But I love my birth mom all the way to here.” In all of these conversations, I told him that it’s OK to be sad and that he can always talk to me, and that I love her for bringing him into the world too—and hope I was able to hide the fact that it stung a bit. How should we be responding? How can I handle my feelings about his comparisons of the love he feels for me vs. his birth mother?
A: Take a deep breath. This is all normal. Your son is exploring adoption in a new way due to his developmental age. Most children adopted as infants have new questions about adoption between the ages of six and 10, when they realize that they had a birth parent
Does your have any idea why he was placed? You might explain that to him in a non-judgmental way. Mention that his birth mother couldn’t fix her problem and would want him to be adopted. Many children think that, if their parents hadn’t adopted them, they would be with their birth family. You might explicitly say that, if you hadn’t adopted him, another family would have because his birth family couldn’t take care of him.
Do you have a picture of her? If so, you might want to give him a framed copy for his room, as well as one of your family. It is hard for children to understand they can love two mothers (A Place in My Heart does well with that). You might also do something to honor her on Mother’s Day or the day before, which many celebrate as Birth Mother’s Day. I know families who release balloons with messages to the birth mom, plant a bush or tree to commemorate her, or, depending on your family, pray for her, or light a candle for her, and so on.
As far as saying he loves her more, I wouldn’t worry about it. He has no real concept of how he hurt your feelings. He may be testing to see if you say something like, “Then we won’t keep you and you can return to your birth mother.” I would tell him that he was adopted, that he will always be your son and his birth mother will always be his birth mother, and that he can love both of you, and that both of you will always love and remember him.
The more open and accepting you are the better. You can even say things like, “Wow, you are getting big! Your birth mother would sure be surprised” or “You are such a good kid. Your birth mother would be proud.” Sooner or later he will figure out that he has a birth father and entire birth family, too, and the questions will keep coming.
Two storybooks that can help are A Place in My Heart, by Mary Grossnickle, and Porcupette Finds a Family, by Vanita Oelschlager. Even if he can read, read them with him, so you can help him process the stories and his reactions. I wrote a series of workbooks/coloring books/journals that might help. The first is called Let’s Learn About About Adoption. To help you understand him better you might want to read “The Seven Core Issues of Adoption” and Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew, by Sherrie Eldridge, or other books that explore adoptees’ feelings.