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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Who are my real parents?

December 31, 2013

I have no family. I don’t belong anywhere.

Last day of the year and I’m settling in with a bowl of raisin oatmeal and a mug of vanilla black tea (Thank you, Trader Joe’s, and could you please carry this stuff year round?) I’m ready to write a pithy blog about looking back at lessons learned in the old year and setting goals for the new, when I get this email from a 16 year old who just found out he was adopted:

“Everything I knew about my family is a lie. My sisters aren’t my siblings. My mom and dad aren’t my mom and dad. My real mom abandoned me in a public toilet when I was a week old and my real dad was a violent criminal. My real mom didn’t even want me! So where does that leave me? I look at these people I’ve been living with and I just see two adults and two kids. I don’t belong here. I have no family. I don’t belong anywhere. I don’t know what to do.” – What now??

Dear What now?

Woah, this is a terrible shock! You probably feel like your world’s exploded and all the pieces have suddenly vanished. No wonder you’re so upset right now. I totally get it.

Writing to me was a smart move. No way should you try to figure this out on your own. It’s way too much. I’m going to do my best to help you. Here goes:

First please stop everything and breathe. Seriously. Right here at the computer.  Take your hands off the keyboard and rest them lightly on your thighs. Relax your arms, your wrists, your fingers. Now inhale s-l-o-w-l-y and evenly through your nose. Then relax your jaw, let your mouth drop open and exhale s-l-o-w-l-y and evenly. Repeat this 4 or 5 times. In through your nose and out through your mouth. Slowly. (You can close your eyes if you like.) Breathing this way will help calm you down any time you need to de-stress and think more clearly. And right now you especially need it. So breathe.

OK. Ready for next steps?

Please answer this question: Before you found out you were adopted, what was your relationship your parents and your sisters like? If you’re not sure how to describe it, think about all the years you’ve had together and how you’ve felt being part of this family. Breathe while you remember times with your family… birthdays, holidays, school events, vacations, silly times, quiet times, times when you were sick, times when you were scared, times you were filled with excitement or needed comfort, etc. Let yourself remember.

In your email, you say your “real” mom didn’t want you. Sounds like you’re a bit confused between a biological mom and a real mom. They are not always the same thing. On the biological side, pretty much any dude and any woman can produce a baby. But being a real parent takes so much more. A real parent needs a loving and forgiving heart, infinite patience and a life-long unwavering commitment to a child. It’s a forever relationship where the parent’s #1 priority is the health and well-being of his or her child. There is nothing more “real” than that.

You say, “I don’t belong anywhere.” I understand why you’re feeling this way. You’re upset that you were lied to. You feel hurt and angry and you’re very confused about what all this means. But I’ve gotta disagree that you “don’t belong anywhere.” You belong just where you are, with your real parents in your real family. So, who are your “real” parents? The two people who went looking for you, found you, chose you then stepped up, made the commitment and have continued loving you and caring for you for sixteen years. That’s who I think earns the title of “My Real Parents.”

What do you think?

In friendship,


PS This is a really hard time for you and everyone in your family. Please talk to your parents about what you’re thinking and feeling about all of this. You have lots of questions and lots of emotions. There are things you need to know. So talk together and listen to each other. If it feels like you’re stuck, then reach out to a counselor at school or a family therapist in your community. You and your family can get through this. I know you can.

Filed under: Parenting,Teens — Tags: , , — Annie @ 4:43 pm


  1. What a good article, Annie. I especially appreciate your words “Sounds like you’re a bit confused between a biological mom and a real mom. They are not always the same thing.”

    You really know how to connect with kids.


    Comment by Jean Tracy, MSS — January 3, 2014 @ 2:57 pm

  2. Thanks for your kind words or praise, Jean. It’s all about doing your best to connect, heart and mind, right?

    Comment by Annie — January 3, 2014 @ 4:51 pm

  3. I wanted to reply including the tweet reply I left on your account “a real parent fits both the birth parents and the adoptive parents let’s not forget that birth families are real”.

    This young man’s world has been rocked we can all agree, but none of know the details of his adoption placement and why the family he is being raised with never shared the details of his adoption.

    Real people make real decision for the right and wrong reasons, let’s not give this young man any reason to hate those who made him as he tries and discover his identity now that it has changed from what he has only known.

    My husband and I are parents to two daughters entrusted to us at birth by real people in open adoptions. I am as real to my girls as their birth moms and birth families are.

    Comment by Mommysquared — January 3, 2014 @ 7:17 pm

  4. Thank you so much for posting your comment. I totally agree that ‘real people make real decisions for the right and wrong reasons…” Unlike your two beautiful daughters’ birth parents choice to “entrust them to you at birth” (which sounds like a lovely and ideal situation for children and parents) this young man’s mother abandoned him in a public toilet. And of course she had her reasons… But her choice was irresponsible and fortunately he was found and brought up by the only family he has known… one who loves and cares for him. There was no “birth family” as you reference. Different circumstances entirely.

    Comment by Annie — January 4, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

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