Mother’s Day is exciting for moms and kids. Little ones make gifts and love notes for the woman who has been with them from their first breath. Moms look forward to being appreciated, or even catered to, by partners and their precious offspring.

For adoptive moms, like me, Mother’s Day can bring with it the feeling that you have “arrived” – that you are officially part of a special club whose membership includes stepmoms, birth moms, and grandmoms. Your dream of receiving homemade clay trinkets or tiny handprints drawings has manifested, and you may be filled with strong emotions: elation, anticipation, satisfaction . . . and, yes, guilt. Some adoptive moms experience a restrained joy, knowing that there is a biological mother out there who is missing her child.

In my house, as Mother’s Day approaches, I ask my kids if they would like to write a note or draw a picture for their birth mother. Their adoption is closed – so I do not know her whereabouts –  but I offer to save whatever they’ve created. I promise that when the time is right, they can give it to her.

So far, neither child has taken me up on the idea, but I continue to extend that invitation each year. It is important that they know that I know that I am not their only mother. Though I may be the only mother they’ve ever known, I do not want them to feel that I am trying to completely replace her.

Mother’s Day for families with an open adoption may include a joint celebration or children splitting time between their biological and adoptive homes. That level of interaction takes a lot of maturity and may not be possible or even optimal. Decisions on how and who to celebrate should be determined thoughtfully and deliberately because Mother’s Day will forever be shared.

By virtue of adoption, we agreed to love a child we did not birth or even know. We chose to soothe feelings of loss and abandonment and learned not to respond negatively –  even if our child chooses Mother’s Day to react negatively toward us. Children, especially young ones, may not have language to express themselves and their big feelings at holiday times. They may feel sad or guilty for celebrating you and not their birth mom. Through it all, adoptive mothers must use the love that encouraged us to adopt in the first place to sustain us through Mother’s Day. Our job is to reassure our child that her heart is big enough for both of her mothers.

If you sense that your child feels torn or anxious, do not minimize their feelings. Be creative and come up with your own special day. You could celebrate the day before or the day after. Little kids love to role play, and you could pretend to be the birth mother and give your child a chance to express what’s on their mind. Or, you could ask your kids how they’d like to spend Mother’s Day. Remember, just as there is not one “right way” to be a mother, there’s no right way to do Mother’s Day, either.

Here are a few articles about adoption and Mother’s Day that I enjoyed. You might find them helpful, too:


About Nefertiti Austin

Nefertiti Austin is a certified PS-MAPP trainer who co-leads classes for adoptive and foster parents. She blogs about adoption at, and writes about adopting as a single woman of color. Austin lives with her children in Los Angeles.

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