Difficult Mother Daughter Relationships

Having been able to obtain my mother’s adoption file, I know how over the moon happy her adoptive mother was when my mom was a baby and a toddler.  Having seen a photo of my mom’s original mother holding her, I also know where our big boned skeletons came from.

When I was growing up, I knew my mom had a difficult relationship with her adoptive mother.  What changed ?  I believe my adoptive grandmother was very hard on my mom due to her body size – not that she was fat.  Later in life, she may have been overweight and she struggled with that and was always dieting, but she was never obese.

I believe part of the explanation is the common issue that many adoptees struggle with – not feeling like they are good enough.  From my mom, I know that she described her adoptive mother as a perfectionist.  Since I knew this woman from childhood, I understand.  She was a perfectionist.  And she was extraordinarily accomplished at a lot of things.

My mom struggled with body image issues.  My grandmother’s own mother and sister were portly.  My grandmother was clearly determined to remain thin her whole life.  I remember when I was in England with her and sitting in a restaurant in our upscale hotel, The Dorchester across the street from Hyde Park in London.  In public view, she loudly admonished me for eating a dinner roll with butter.  I was so humiliated and angry at her that I wouldn’t speak to her until the next morning.  I was decidedly not fat at that age.  My grandmother feared I would become fat.

Mostly, I had a good relationship with my mom.  We had our moments but it would be remarkable if there had been none.  She really wasn’t wrong in those moments.  The issues were my privacy (she opened one of my personal letters) and a disagreement about a choice I made which she would not have (letting my daughter go and live with her father and step-mother when I could not support her financially and he refused to pay child support).

Yet, my mom had a terrible relationship with my youngest sister that came back to haunt me after my mom died and I had to assume control of my birth family’s finances.  My sister transferred those feelings onto me, once accusing me of hating her.  It is painful even now to consider that, for when this sister was homeless and when she was going through an unwed pregnancy, I was the only family member steadfastly at her side (and mostly, that was her choice).

I don’t have any answers to these situations but I do see how, even though they really were “good enough” parents, with both of my parents being adoptees, that a result was what I now describe as having been “weirdly detached”.

Guardianship vs Adoption

Within adoption reform movements, guardianship is seen as a better alternative for the potential adoptee than the formal process of adoption as it has been practiced over decades.

Guardianship preserves the identity of the child and gives the parents an opportunity to make changes and get any help they might need to be in a better position to parent the child.

What is needed is a complete restructuring of the system (and of the public’s understanding of the system) to get people thinking in a new way.  For many years, the public has been encouraged to think of foster care=temporary and adoption=permanent.

It has been difficult to get couples to accept guardianship. This alternative means the child doesn’t feel like it’s fully theirs. So many prospective adopters want an “all in” method and to them adoption finalizes the transfer of a child from one parent set to another, making that child “theirs”.

Guardianship may feel as though it puts the hopeful adoptive couple in a worrisome space of fulfilling a “temporary” role.  Not what many of them are seeking when they chose to adopt.

Telling The Story

If at any age your child asks you about their adoption and they want to know why –
they deserve the absolute truth. It should be age appropriate.

At a very young age, “Mommy couldn’t take care of you.”, may be enough.

Kids know when their parents don’t want them. They don’t need to be told; they’ve felt it from the beginning. Babies can feel rejection in the womb and it affects their attachments.

The majority of adoptees feel unwanted – whether it is a one time thing, or episodic, or lifelong – the question is how accurate is that perception ?

A parent should not evade an adoptee’s question but they should be sensitive and gentle in their response.

Not answering with the real reason when they ask, can lead them to feel like they aren’t good enough to be told the truth. Or that what they want doesn’t matter. Or that they aren’t smart enough to understand it. Or that they ought to just be happy with whatever answer they are given. And that they should stop bringing it up because the parent doesn’t want to talk about it.

A competent, caring, informed Adoptive Parent can manage to put the child’s feelings first and provide an answer that meets that child where they are developmentally, emotionally and intellectually.

But never lie. There are many subliminal messages that get sent to adoptees.  Children often see themselves as the problem. The Adoptive Parent may not really know the whole truth. It may be very complex.

My dad’s original mother had a love affair with a married man. My dad was with his mother for some months after birth. Even so, she may have come to feel that adoption was her only solution to what may have been primarily a financial problem in the 1930s.

My mom’s story was complex. Her mother didn’t intend to lose her. She was exploited by a woman who was stealing and selling babies. My grandparents were married when my mom was conceived. It is not possible to know the whole story now about why they were separated. They are both dead and the descendants don’t seem to know the details accurately enough to convey them.

Parents should know that their children are incredibly resilient. Whatever the adoptees story is, they deserve to have their history told to them honestly.

Naturally Reducing The Population

At the end of Real Time with Bill Maher for April 12, 2019, his rant is about population pressures in general and the over population compared to available resources which often drives migration.  Maher noted that 18 to 35 year olds are having less sex than previous cohorts.  That is a good thing.  He advised masturbate don’t procreate.

He noted that more young people remain in their parental homes longer now.  That is not a bad thing either.  I have no expectation regarding my sons leaving our home.  As I approached my senior year in high school, I simply knew my parents expected me to leave and had I not married a month before I graduated, I already had plans to share an apartment with a friend.

When I was in high school, my concern was not getting pregnant out of wedlock and I will admit that I simply got lucky.  Having learned my adoptee parents’ origins stories and realizing my mother was pregnant with me out of wedlock and yet she was not sent off to a home to have and give me up, I got lucky then as well.

Another factor in young people having less physical sex may be the easy availability of pornography on the internet which I have read is more stimulating than the real thing and thus the real thing can prove disappointing.

Whatever the reasons, the current population uses 1.7 times more, almost twice the available resources that the planet has to sustain us long term.  I don’t recommend wantonly killing off large segments of the population (though some elites and political types seem to favor such a solution) but if a lower birth rate could produce less stress upon the planet, I do believe that would be a good thing.

One final thought – many adoptees wish their original mothers had aborted them instead of giving them up.  There is that much trauma associated with the practice.  Considering that the planet is already overpopulated and some of those lives that the pro-life folks have preserved wish they had not been, maybe we all should drop arguments against the availability of safe and medically appropriate abortions.  Just saying . . . one should think about it more deeply.

No Familial Support

Often the main drivers to a loss of custody for a mother is the lack of support from her own parents to keep and raise her child.  They often prefer to release responsibility to a stranger than face the uncertainty of how long that support might be required of them.

In an adoptees group I am part of, it was noted that adoptees would have rather been raised by maternal grandmothers with the mother nearby and somewhat involved.  Not every girl that conceives a child is ready to raise it.  It may even be necessary in some cases for there to be a period of time when she lacks access to her child while she tries to stabilize her own life.

In my family, though my parents were good parents, they were both also adoptees.  To deny adoption as a solution might have been similar to denying the rightness of their own lives.  I don’t know.

What I do know is they had this attitude that once they raised us to adulthood and we had married and started having children of our own, we were pretty much on our own financially.  They might grudgingly hand us a $20 or something along that order.

They were quick to encourage my sister to give up her daughter to adoption.  Adoptees noted that when the grandparents give up pressuring their child to give up that grandbaby, they quickly fall in love with the child once it exists.

Something like that might have happened with my disappointed, maternal, adoptive grandparents after I was born, having been conceived out of wedlock.

However, as a cautionary note, based solely on my own observations, within my own family’s dynamics, a paternal grandmother who dislikes the mother and gets custody of her grandson is not a good outcome . . .

Children Playing

As with your shadow I with these did play

~ Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse

I was thinking about what to write today as I read the words above.  And it came to my mind, my childhood.

I thought about how my grandparents were 100% my grandparents when I was a child.  In reality they were not my original grandparents.  But as a child I didn’t know any difference.

To their credit, they did treat us as though we were, even though they knew the secret that we were not.  I do not know in what ways they didn’t wholeheartedly feel that we were theirs.  They were my grandparents because of adoption – both of my parents having been adopted in the first year of their life.

I think about how we simply accepted them as what they were called – Granny and Granddaddy and Grandmother.  We played as children at their feet and minded them with all the same authority.  We could not know how it might have been different because it was not.


Do We Ever Really Know Our Mothers


A writer who’s blog I follow wrote –

Quite a few publishers have wanted to see more of the missing mother in my story, yet I wasn’t willing to do that. It would have unraveled the very premise of my novel, which was, how do we cope when the center holding everything together falls apart? When that upon which we most depend disappears?

I wanted the mother to be part of the puzzle, not a presence herself, but that “absent” presence we feel, even yearn for, but cannot quite pin down, and never really know for certain.

Do any of us ever, really, know our mothers? Don’t we only know them through our own often faulty and incomplete perceptions of them? What they’ve allowed us to see, or what we choose to believe? All knowledge is partial and open to revision. We may know the facts that lay before us. But do facts a person make?

~ Deborah Brasket
from “Endings & Beginnings, A Writer’s Life”

You can follow her blog here –

My mom yearned to know her mother.  I know a lot more about her now but she remains slightly vague.  I did find one male cousin who referred to her as Aunt Lou and said she was kind.  I feel I know my dad’s mother better because an aunt and two cousins have given me some insights.  I tried to “know” my grandmothers by writing as though I was them.  I gave up the contrivance.  So what Deborah wrote here just really resonated with me.