How many moms can one Sam handle?

Over at Moms of Hue today my post, “The best parenting strategy ever” will appear. In it I discuss how I have been the most enlightened parent ever, over and over again, and how perfect I am. Or at least how I appeared to have believed that  over the last millenium of my parenting.  Well, OK so it’s only been five years, but a lot of wisdom can be amassed in five years right?

Take Sammy for example. He’s an expert already in many things including but not limited to; ice cream truck locating, bike riding, skateboarding, Michael Jackson moves, potty talk, under the table little brother kicking, “air plane paper” launching, light saber swinging, vegetable consumption avoidance maneuvers, fishing pole casting in the living room, and how not to sleep in his own bed.  Oh, and writing his name, and writing the letters I L U next to the letters M O M at just the moment I am about to explode, or shortly after I make chocolate pudding and am about to rinse the bowl…

I am wondering if somehow he might need my permission to not be so good at having more than one mom.   I am talking about Sam’s integration of his birth story and birth family into his life.  I am talking about Sam’s lack of expertise in knowing how to tell me that enough is really enough, and it is time for me to let him have one mom for a bit. It is hard to skateboard, eat ice cream and fish off the back of the couch at the same time. That is what I feel like some of his behavior is telling me anyway, and that is not an easy place to be, for either of us.

Backing up: Mother’s Day 2010. We called Sam’s first mom (his idea) to leave a message for her. She didn’t call back. He acted out. I worried that I set him up for a loss of horrible magnitude again (he called and said I love you, and the mother who gave him up once, gives him up again metaphorically).  I worried that I set her up (was it too much for her to hear his voice? Did she need to let go more than I was letting her? Was she OK?). I had my own anger and frustration and grief come up again; Why can’t I just be the mom for once? And, where the hell does Marcel fit into all of this? How are his needs being met, or swept under the rug?  What could I have done differently in the prepping?  Like what if I had said; Yes we can call her, but let’s think of all the possibilities here. A)She could be very busy these days. B)Like me, should could have misplaced her phone! C)She could call us back right away, or in a few weeks. D) She could love to get our message, and not need to call us back. And so on…

Flash forward: the therapists office. I see a family therapist for a few session over a few weeks every six months or so for a tune up. It’s just me, for now, but since we focus almost exclusively on parenting/family matters I call her that. It makes me feel like I am less of a whack job, and an even more perfect parent that way.  In the middle of the story, I stop and ask her; “Is it possible that Sam really needs me to stop pushing his first mom into our lives so much?”

Talk about an ah-ha that bucks in the face of everything I thought I knew about best adoptive parent practice! What I realized talking to her, is that Sam is so othered all the time. He is Black and I am white. He does not have a dad or two live with him moms, or another parent where everyone else he knows does. He is adopted, and although there are several other adoptees at his school, the fact is, that it is not the norm, and when he enters kindergarten in the fall, the ratio of adopted kids to biological kids will probably be pretty low.

But what I am getting at is something even larger- when I really started talking about HIM and ME and the world he is inhabiting, I wondered if he may need a break from being asked to hold onto so much all the time. Have I done such a diligent job normalizing his birth family experience, that I have overlooked the normalcy of his day to day family experience too?  Could some of his acting out, and anger and over all disconnect at times be related to the fact that the kid just wants me to be his mom, his only mom for a while? In the same way his brother does?  Am I pushing the “open adoption” agenda too hard at times?  When is it OK to leave well enough alone, and let him initiate the next conversation, the next request?

Post script I have been working on this post for over a week. During this time three things have happened that I can’t separate out for data analysis purposes: a) Instead of going to school 5 days a week, he has been going to school two days a week as I am off for the summer.  b) One of those five days, his brother does go to school, so Sam and I can have an entire Mommy-Sammy day once a week for the summer. C) I have been very consciously shifting my own thinking, and allowing myself fully into my roll as his only mom. This may sound weird, and it definitely begs another post, but for today I’ll leave it there.  Result? Sam has been one chill dude of late. OK so he’s sleeping more, and playing more too (the real answer huh?) but the change is BIG. Our ease is palpable.


  1. It’s a tricky balance. If this were Madison (and it has been Madison), I’d ask her. I’ve said, “Are you so tired of having two moms sometimes? Do you just need a break?” She doesn’t act up around the same things (Pennie is pretty responsive to phone calls, god bless her) but she does sometimes need a break. And I try not to push, definitely. There’s an in-between that’s surely different for every kid about who brings up what and how often. Hang in there, keep the doors of communication and you’ll find Sam’s.

    • Dawn, Thanks for that reply. That simplicity is something I often forget–and although it doesn’t always work with Sam, it does more often than not. So appreciate your encouragement, and the time you took to stop by.

  2. I think the great thing is that Sam knows unequivocally that IF and WHEN he has any questions, concerns or thoughts regarding his unique situation, he KNOWS he can talk to you because you’re there to discuss it.

    That said, I think all of us, and especially kids, need large stretches of the life to be light and fun and “normal,” a place to be a kid or a person- a time to run and play and hang out and watch TV, a skateboard and just BE.

    You are a family. You are the mother of two boys, and you are all awesome! Have a great summer!

    • Well said! Yes, he does need large stretches of “normal”, and less incidences of me getting all down and serious! Today he said I was “boring” because we were cleaning the house. I’ll take boring too.
      Great reminders–all of them.

  3. At times, I have felt a little fish out of water here as a birth mom, and in that, sometimes I’ve left without saying things that I’d been thinking and wondering. Your post and all of the what ifs really brings in how much we all (lovers of children, mothers, fathers uncles et al) just want what’s best.

    Sometimes after playing Mad Libs and such with my eleven year old who I also homeschool I’ll make my way into the room of our oldest child wondering if he misses those times we once spent together. I sit beside him on his bed, and ask him about his day, his girfriend, his friends, his hobbies etc. And he says, “Mommmmmm, I’m fine”. He’s not hungry, he’s not lonely, he wants his privacy and he just wants me to “act normal”. Hmmm, maybe we do try too hard and the “othering” is in the trying rather than allowing the organic nature of growth and change to simply evolve. These uber-wise beings in small packages really can convey their needs and wants better than we’d ever imagine.

    I hope that doesn’t appear to simplify the complex nature of things, but simple is pretty awesome, and love believe it or not can be quite simple! I’m glad you’re having a swell couple of days, those are pretty nice, eh?

    • I am hearing a lot of “keep it simple” in your response, and a few others over the past few days. I am not wired that way, so it is even more important that I be reminded of it, because I want the boys to experience the entire spectrum of my imperfect parenting! Thank you for these words. Yes to uber-wise in small packages! And, yes to all of us just wanting what is best. Thanks again for your thoughtful words as always.

  4. I don’t know the answers to your many questions, but I have to believe Sam is with the right Mommy. I’d recommend you watch Off and Running when it comes on PBS in September. The story is different and involves a daughter, not a son, but I’m willing to bet you will take away a lot of lessons when you view it.

    One last thing. About those “vegetable consumption avoidance maneuvers.” We have a bad case of that over here!

  5. I think it may be expecting too much for Sam to leave a message for his birthmom and be “ok” if she doesn’t respond.

  6. Mattea really doesn’t want to hear that she has a birth mom out there somewhere. Granted, our situation is different because her birth mother is unknown and can never be known. I can only conjecture about this mom’s experience based on what is typical in China. Mattea does know she’s adopted and loves hearing about her adoption from the perspective of being wanted by me and my travelling to get her. Perhaps because that part of the story is about being welcomed and loved and embraced within a family. The other side is abandonment and repudiation. She has no interest in any part of her story that precedes me, doesn’t want to see pictures of the child welfare institute or foster mom or anything. I think the time will come when she wants information, and I’ll be able to offer what I have: her foster mom, the institute, the circumstances of her finding. In the meantime, she wants to feel like her sister (my birth child), and have only one mom.

  7. As a “potential” adoptive mom, it is so nice to read this. I have gone over and over in my head about how I will keep my child’s first parents’ in her life, in her heart. I also wondered, knowing children, if some days, maybe she would not want that “first life” spoken of, if it could be too much. So, thank you for writing this, and for all the comments. They have helped me wrap my head around this just a little bit more:). I am also not a “keep it simple” gal, so I feel you.

    BTW, I wrote about “her” because we have a potential match with the parents of a little baby girl:).

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