May 29, 2007

Review: "You're Not My Real Mother!"

I should have known not to pick up a book titled "You're Not My Real Mother!". But having read some positive reviews, I expected a sensitive look at the complex topic of transracial adoption.

The book opens with a dark-haired, brown-skinned little girl examining her face in a mirror. With a concerned expression, she remarks, "You know, Mom, you're not my real mother." Her blonde, white mother responds, "What do you mean, my darling?" If only she had stopped there.

Instead, she insists, "Of course I'm your real mother!" and proceeds to make her case by reminding her daughter of all the things she does for her. ("Does a real mother let you put twenty bandages on a bruised knee when you really only need one?" "Does a real mother teach you how to tie your shoes?")

When her monologue finally ends, the girl is able to ask her actual question: "I know you love me, Mom. But why don't you look like me?" Where the book could have affirmed the "realness" of first parents, it instead briefly mentions her birth mom:

"I don't look like you because I'm not your birth mother."

"Who's that?"

"Your birth mother is the mother who gave birth to you. She started your life, and I am thankful to her every day for that."


"Because I get to watch you grow!"

(There is a very tender illustration of the birth mother embracing the little girl as baby.)

The little girl then launches into her own litany of the wonderful things her adoptive mom does. ("You jump with me on the trampoline!") The mother-daughter bond sufficiently affirmed, the book concludes with a declaration that she truly is the "REAL MOTHER" (emphasis not mine).

This book strikes me as created more to reassure an insecure adoptive parent than to address the concerns of an adopted child. Indeed, the author wrote it after a similar real-life conversation with her internationally adopted daughter. "Realness" can be a painful issue in adoption. The first time I hear those words from Puppy I am sure my heart will twist into a trillion pieces, regardless of the context. But juxtaposing "birth mother" with "real mother" only diminishes first parents and adoptive parents. I am Puppy's real mom through-and-through, but so is K. Though we have very different roles in his life, we are equally real. It is good to affirm the truth that familial bonds can be about more than biology, but it does not need to happen at the expense of children's first families.

This book sorely misses the mark. But perhaps it does have a purpose--as a primer on How Not to Discuss Adoption with Your Child. (Lesson #1: Ask questions, but don't wait for answers. Lesson #2: Launch into a knee-jerk monologue. Lesson #3: No need to explore what is behind their statements and questions. Just make the conversation all about you!)

Ages 4-8 years.

(written by Molly Friedrich, illustrated by Christy Hale; Little, Brown & Co., 2004)


Suzanne said...

I haven't read the book, and I appreciate your take on it. We describe all the mothers and fathers as real.

You are probably dead-on when you state This book strikes me as created more to reassure an insecure adoptive parent than to address the concerns of an adopted child. I've noticed this in more than one 'children's book'.

Thanks for dropping by my blog.

M said...

I just linked over to your blog. We are in the first stages of adopting our foster daughter. We're trying to decide what level of openess we want. I'm really enjoying your blog, it's given me many answers and some new questions to ask.

The Hamilton's said...

Oh, wow, I haven't seen that book, but might need to get it. Our daughter is almost 8 and is Guatamalen (dark hair, dark skin) and I am blond with light it could easily fit our situation. She has had some questions regarding the differences, but not too many yet because there are some members of our family that have darker skin coloring. I will definitely have to check into it. Thanks for sharing.

Clementine said...

I can't stand that book, either. I agree with you completely that it's meant to reassure adoptive parents, not their kids.

I'm really emjoying your blog, by the way! Thanks for writing so honestly about your adoption experience.

Three Cats and a Baby said...

I've been reading your book reviews tonight and I feel silly that I never knew they existed. I probably would never have gone and written the book reviews I did if I had known you had already done them A LOT BETTER a couple years ago. I probably would have just linked to yours, haha. Just wanted to let you know I am reading and learning and appreciate that you took the time to write these.

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