This photo of a young woman looking pensive illustrates how adoptees and foster kids might be perplexed about their painful past. Sherrie offers a fresh perspective on suffering and choice.

Why Some Adoptees See Their Mom As An Enemy

I’ve wondered for years why I saw Retha, my Mom through adoption, as my enemy. Why did I love getting under her skin? Why did I seek other Moms for advice, giving her a cold shoulder? Why did I delight in making her mad? Why did I hate her? Was it me? Was it because basically I’m a bad person?

No-I was a deeply wounded adopted child who needed help and healing from the loss of Elizabeth, my First Mother…and my first love. After all, I’m the apple that didn’t fall far from her tree. I look like her and my voice is just like hers. Nothing, nothing can compare to her, even though her backstory is incredibly sad.

However, even though many adoptees deeply love their First Mothers, some are mad as hell at them for going on with life without them. I remember seeing the first photos of Elizabeth with her family after relinquishing me. She went on with life as if nothing happened. The photo showed them with two smiling kids in front of a Christmas tree. I felt like a chilled-to-the-bone young child standing outside a picture window in the dead of night.

When I reunited with Elizabeth, prior to our first conversation, the social worker in charge said that my voice sounded just like hers. This made my heart sing. It wouldn’t matter if she welcomed me into her world or not. At least that’s why I believed at the time.  That dormant sense of belonging was ignited, like a brand new candle burning inside a darkened room. There were many other similarities, right down to the greeting card design she chose for her first letter. Red geraniums in a clay pot. Water color. Artistic.

The day after my first conversation with Elizabeth, I went to Retha’s gravesite. Why did I do this? Could I be missing Retha’s non-abandoning heart? Did I want her approval before going forward with the reunion? While gazing at the headstone, I wondered what Retha would think about me meeting Elizabeth. There were many things left unsaid before her untimely death about how she’d feel if I ever got to meet Elizabeth. If only she would have said, “Maybe someday you’ll get to meet your First Mother, I would be happy for both of you, but I would also be protective of you, and shelter you under my wing.” Maybe Retha didn’t talk about a possible reunion someday because she felt threatened? Would I end up liking and loving Elizabeth over her? Would I go and live with Elizabeth and forget her? 


  • Distorted Perceptions

Author and pastor, Ronald J. Nydam, Ph.D. sheds light on this mother/child relationship: “Yes, adoptees may consider an adoptive Mother an enemy of sorts. But, what also comes to mind has to do with distortion. This is to say that as the process of being parented unfolds, the adoptee distorts the adoptive mom’s into images of the rejecting birthmother. This distortion is interesting, first because it speaks to the great inaccuracy of the perception, but also because it may be driven by a powerful wish to hurt the First Mother back. So, unfairly, adoptive moms take the hit that the birth mother may deserve as far as the adoptee sees it.”

  • DNA Bond

There is a certain bond with her that can’t be broken, even by abuse. I remember the story of a mother who put her baby in a fry pan. After intervention and the baby’s placement in the children’s hospital, the mom went to visit. And, what did the baby do? Squealing with delight, she raised her welcoming arms.

  • Childlike Chronological Understanding

Erika Erikson, Mom of twins, says that cognitive development has much to do with the adopted child’s perspective.: “As we snuggled, she told me that she just wanted to go home. When I told her that we were home, she stated, No, to my other mother’s home.’ Then, several years later, she asked me why I love my bracelet that says #1 Mom so much. When I told her it was because it was a gift from her bio siblings and that it made me feel special to think I was the best mom to them, her reply was, But you are #2 Mom because Tina was first!”’ Concrete lateral thinking. She was first, and I was second. Her First Mother will always be first! That doesn’t mean that she will be most important, but she will always be  their First Mother.”

  • Fear of Hurting Adoptive Parents

“The most amazing thing was when our son asked if loving us would  mean he didn’t love his first parents.” Cindy Coisterson

  • Yearning for First Mom“…my child perceives my continued expressions of love as threatening to the natural bond with the woman in whom they were created. Thus, it’s not me so much as the fact that I’M NOT HER – even though I’m giving my all to do everything she would/should/could be doing in the role and purpose of a mother.“ Rebecca A. Fabricas
  • Child Fears Being Disloyal to First Family“I think for the child, there is confusion in their identity that can’t even be put into words. It is as if there is a  betrayal of the biological family if they allow themselves to love the adoptive family.” Wendy Fitzgerald
  • Self-Hate Projected on Mom

This is how I (Sherrie) discovered self-hate. One morning when I was pulling clothes from my closet for the day, I noticed the amazing pedicure I got from the day before. Immediately, I thought, “If I get in a wreck or fall over dead, at least my nails will look pretty.”Where did that crazy thought come from? When I shared this with my husband, we agreed that it was an echo of Retha’s fears about taking Mike to work at the bank…in her bathrobe. After all, what would the people think if she got in a wreck in her bathrobe? These comments were like porcupine quills, jabbing me without warning. Why did she have to verbalize this repeatedly to this kid who wanted a mom who was more concerned about my welfare than her own? 

Then, in my mind’s eye I saw something strange. There was a mother and daughter. The mother was immobile but the hunched-over child, dressed in ragged clothes and beat-up red skiffs, was wiping never-ending snot from her nose…without a hankie. I concluded, “What an ugly kid. I’m glad I don’t have to have anything to do with her.”

Later, while trying to process this experience, I wondered if the mom could be Retha. Nope, no resemblance. Okay, was I the mom? Not a chance, for my daughters were never disheveled. Then…oh, no. Could I be that child? If you could see the real me, would this be accurate? Then  came the thought: “Will you parent this kid whom you hate?” Will you love her back to life?

I now understand why I saw Retha as an enemy, and I hope this also will be helpful to you in your relationship with your adopted child.

Gaining Perspective

 Amy Snyder: “My children’s lives (now 22 and 19) are so much better than if they had remained in their birth country on the streets. Our family is not what we had expected and hoped for, but God is bringing something beautiful out of the brokenness. Despite many years of their  screaming, crying, suicidal thoughts, cutting, pulling a knife on my husband, drugs, court appearances, dropping out of high school, premarital sex….even through all this, we can still smile at each other and say, ‘I love you,’ and mean it. We have taught them that love doesn’t mean you run away when the going gets tough. Love doesn’t mean you are only there for people only when you like their choices. The love of God the Father is unconditional for us, even when we flip Him off and go our own way. Our love for our children is the same. Even when they are at their most ugly, we can’t stop loving them, just   as God doesn’t stop loving us. We have told them repeatedly that no matter what they do, we are not going away and we still love them. We are family, forever.”

  •  Identity Confusion“I think for the child, there is confusion in their identity that can’t even be put into words. It is as if there is a  betrayal of the biological family if they allow themselves to love the adoptive family.” Wendy Fitzgerald


  • I trust my intuition
  • I am capable of amazing things.
  • I am brave and courageous.
  • I will make the most of today.
  • I am loved.
  • God is powerful beyond measure.
  • Everything is exactly the way it needs to be in order to learn the lessons I need the most.
  • I am the exact parent my child needs to blossom.
  • Today, I will love fiercely, laugh freely and live courageously. I can never bring today back.
  • One bad day doesn’t make me a bad mom. It makes me human.
  • Happiness is a choice.
  • Today and every day, I am enough.
  • My fears of tomorrow are simply melting away.


  • My life is not a mistake.
  • There is an awesome life purpose that will unfold for me.
  • I can find beauty in the ashes of my anger.
  • I seek to see myself as God sees me.
  • I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
  • My anger isn’t a life sentence–I can heal.
  • There’s nothing wrong with anger. I have a right to be angry.
  • Hate is wrong–it destroys me and others.

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