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A Tale of Two Mothers
Rebbetzin Feige

A Tale of Two Mothers

Who do I honor more: my birth mother or my adoptive mother?


Dear Rebbetzin Twerski,

I was adopted. Which mother do I honor?

I have relationships with both mothers, but neither one really treats me like a daughter. My adopted mother has distanced herself from me since I “found” my birth mother, and this was 31 years ago. She had nothing to do with her grandchildren, neither then nor now.

My birth mother tells everyone I am her illegitimate daughter. I love both these women but have often wondered to whom is the honoring to go? For example, if they were both to become ill at the same time and I could only move one into my home, whom do I choose?

Thanks, TJ

Dear reader,

The question you raise is a very good one but doesn’t provide enough information for a definitive response. We can, however, discuss Torah criteria as they apply to our responsibilities to a birth mother and an adoptive mother. Clearly, each in their own right warrants respect, care and attention.

It is not clear from your question why your birth mother put you up for adoption. Reasons can range from an “illegitimate” pregnancy to various other factors, i.e., no partner to share the burden, no means of support, too young and inexperienced to health issues, physical, mental and psychological. It might also have been a move in the direction to provide a healthier and more secure environment for her child. The possibilities are endless.

Regardless, the incontrovertible fact is that your birth mother gave you life. To her credit, she did not resort to abortion. The ordeal of pregnancy entails risk, or at the very least, pain and discomfort. Most women would concede that it is well worth the price. But nonetheless, it does exact a price.

It is noteworthy that while we are all familiar with a woman’s natural maternal instincts, the Torah mitzvah to have children is not directed at women; it is a man’s obligation. One of the reasons cited is that since pregnancy and birth involve an element of risk to the woman, the Torah sought not to obligate her; it left it as an optional choice. For men it is a mitzvah; for women it is considered an act of sacrificial loving-kindness.

Your birth mother remains a force in your life that cannot be dismissed. Honor is mandated.

Additionally, many of the positive qualities and strengths, both physical, mental and psychological, are the result of having been nurtured for nine months in the birth mother’s womb. Another factor to take into account is that according to Torah perspective, there are three partners in the creation of human being: the mother, father and the Almighty. And if nothing else, at the very minimum, we owe parents honor because for a moment at the time of conception, they were partners with God. In honoring them, we honor God.

Therefore, for all of these reasons and many others, your birth mother remains a force in your life that cannot be dismissed. Honor and respect is therefore mandated.

Your adoptive mother did not give you physical life, nonetheless, and perhaps more significantly, she gave you “the art of living.” She raised you on a daily basis and taught you right from wrong. She gave you a roof over your head, a place of belonging. She nursed you through fevers, colds, and sleepless nights. She soothed you when you had nightmares and hugged you when you were frightened by the thunder and lighting. She kissed your skinned knees. She was there. She was with you through all the passages; the high, exhilarating moments and the disappointing lows that inevitably appear during our growing years. And hopefully, along with all that, she gave you love and caring.

The Talmud states that when a person mentors and teaches another person's child values to live by, it is considered as though they had given birth to that child. In support of this perspective, the Jewish Law provides that if a scenario should arise where both the biological parent and the mentor of this given individual were both taken hostage and the child had only enough money to rescue one of them, it would have to be the mentor, rather than the biological parent, (providing the parent had not served in the capacity of a role model). Clearly, there is huge value placed on those who impact our lives morally and spiritually by teaching us and giving us direction and guidance in finding our path.

Adoptive parents who take a child under their wing and provide the tools for living a productive, constructive, decent and ethical life would unquestionably qualify for this category and should be accorded the greatest of deference and respect.

You have an obligation to honor both of these women for their contribution to your life, each in their own way.

My dear reader, you have an obligation to honor both of these women for their contribution to your life, each in their own way. Honor according to Jewish law mandates seeing to it, to the best of your ability, that their needs are met, i.e. that they have food, clothing, shelter and the wherewithal to get where they need to go.

You mention that your adoptive mother had distanced herself from you since you found your birth mother. There isn’t enough information in your letter to comment intelligently on that situation. However, I would encourage you to attempt to make amends, to repair the relationship. At the very least, send a card every so often to tell her that you are thinking of her and the kindnesses that she extended to you.

Your birth mother has disappointed you by referring to you as “illegitimate: which obviously you cannot take personally as it is no fault of yours. Instead, take pride in the fact that you grew up and made a life for yourself. You have your own family and moreover, you have the moral sensitivity to make inquiries about what the right thing is to do and what your obligations are. Always remember Eleanor Roosevelt’s admonition that “nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.” There is absolutely no reason for you to give your consent.

Alternatively, remember that despite all, your birth mother gave you life and you therefore owe her respect. Again, to reiterate, this means that you should make every attempt to see to it that her needs are met. An occasional, caring inquiry by card email or phone, whichever is least painful for you, would be “going the extra mile.”

In the event that both mothers would become ill at the same time, a factor in the equation would be if either had another child who could step up to the plate and thus free you to care for the other one who perhaps has no one else. The question then would be: are you an only child to either one of them? The alternative of taking one of the two into your home is to make arrangements for the other to be cared for in an assisted living situation depending on what their condition requires. Their condition would be another determining factor in which one you could realistically care for in your home.

The bottom line is that anything that you do should be an expression of gratitude for the “gift of life” from your birth mother and the “art of living” from your adoptive mother. I wish you much success!

February 13, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 18

(17) Anonymous, December 21, 2010 4:34 PM

Agony of an Adoptive Parent

Our daughter, a foreign born adopted by family members who both passed away became ours at age seven. We gave her everything parents can possibly give any child: love, private education, quality home and amazing community relationships – it was a dream life, she was beautiful, happy child who turned into a heartbreaker. At seventeen our lives turned into a nightmare With no warning she ran away with a (violent) boyfriend, she lied, stole, physically hit me, dropped out of school, and cut herself off completely everyone. After two agonizing months, she called me, sounding like a caged animal, begging to be rescued from her boy friend and his parents who had allowed the truancy and her moving into their house. When we called the police, they threatened us and lied on her whereabouts. I ran to rescue her and was assaulted by her boyfriend who smashed the car windows and left me completely covered with glass. His father threatened me with his pit-bull dogs and threatened to kill us when his son was arrested for the assault. But two weeks later my daughter ran back to him and testified against me regarding his assault. Its been three years and she has refused to be in touch with us, and charged me with a restraining order when I found out where she works and wanted to tell her that I love her. Her behavior is shocking (she is not on drugs, nor mentally ill) but I cant stop thinking and worrying about her. I have been to therapists, Rabbis, sought help for myself, but I can’t get her off my mind – how do I go on?

(16) Linda, June 20, 2010 2:34 AM

adoptive mother should NOT be honored

The adoptive mother in this instance deserves no honor. As an adoptee, I am disgusted when I hear stories of adoptive parents "disowning" their adoptive children when they find their first families. Adoptees have 4 REAL parents, and each has a different role. It is NOT up to the adoptee to "make it all better" for ANY of our parents, especially when a parent acts in this despicable manner. You owe this woman NOTHING. She turned her back on you and your children because you wanted to know and love your first Mother. Most parents love more than one child, why is it seen as a crime when an adoptee wishes to know and love ALL of their parents? Oh, and first Moms who relinquish would have not chosen to abort, so please stop with the "be thankful she did not abort you" line. Do you say that to non-adoptees, too? It is an uninformed and ridiculous thing to say to an adoptee.

David L, May 13, 2011 9:15 AM

All Mothers should be honoured

I am not of the Jewish faith but I am an adoptee. Both Mothers deserve honour, but I am not talking of the religious aspects of this. Rather than throw the hurt back at the adoptive mother, for that is the root of this, one should try to bring understanding into the situation. "why is it seen as a crime when an adoptee wishes to know and love ALL of their parents?" If you do not understand that I am surprised since as an adoptee yourself you should understand that better than those who are not. This sounds more like selfishness on your part by lacking the understanding of the trauma for the adoptive parents. In the United Kingdom adoptive parents were told that the child would NEVER be able to find the birth parents, and many did not, or were not even told they were adopted. These adoptive parents were secure that this was 'their own' child and that could not be taken away from them. Then the child finds the birth mother, as I did. That is a big shock to older adoptive parents and you should also take into consideration the reasons why they adopted in the fist place. To dismiss their hurt as 'disgraceful' is a complete lack of any understanding on your part.

(15) Anonymous, February 23, 2010 5:26 PM

mother who adopted

This is an excellent article with great comments. One thing struck me in the comments, that G-d knows which adoptive parent can help the needy child. My son suffered, as many adopted children do, from Seperation Anxiety. But was misdiagnoised as ADHD, ODD. Raising him was a nightmare that lasted 19 years. Many people told me to give up, but my husband and I did not. He turned out OK and succesful, but all during the first ten or so years of his life I prayed to G-d about why did He send me this child. All we wanted was a family, a loving family not filled with daily trials and heartbreak. One day G-d answered my prayer and made me see that He gave us the child He did, for my son, not for us. I praise Him all of the time for the wonderful gift of my Asian child, who is now a Iraq vet, married and has given me the most delightful grandson a mother could ask for.

(14) Anonymous, February 16, 2010 5:44 PM

Fantasy Birth mother not the same as the reality one

After several foster homes i was adopted by a woman who worked for dcfs. The nightmare was about to begin i was locked in rooms, sexual , physical and major emotional abuse is what they gave me.My story of adoption was not the warm fuzzy variety. on the outside these people looked perfect like we were the perfect family, 6 bedroom house nice clothes life was topsy turvy and hell for years thanks to these sick twisted people. Fast forward about 20 years iam a mother to a 10 year boy Zachary i love him so much he has warmed my heart and helped me smile again. My life is starting to come full circle after years of therapy and hard work, the the phone rings; my brother has informwed me he has finally after many years of searching found our biological mother. This was the hole in my heart, which was becoming bigger the older i got. Biological mother is schizophrenic, spent time in crazy house, looked like a bag lady, lived on social security with her mexican boyfriend of 25yrs, they had a daughter together my 16yr old half sister. lived in filth and dirt. not standards i was accustomed to or surroundings i was familiar with. this was it here she was at 36 yrs old i was reunited with my biological mother and i struggle to deal with the raw reality of where exactly i did come from. this was not the fantasy lady in my head i had created as explanation of who my mother was. She is mentally il, not a glamour puss i fancied not wealthy, and classy with a fabulous career. if you saw her on the street you would think she was homeless, scary, nuts, stay away.but if you take your time to try to get to know the soul this person carried who gave me life, you find a heart of gold!!!!!!! even the best presentation can not make up for genuine love and kindness that this woman has tried to show me, in the short amount of time.Mother is a title wirth different meanings to the individual, iam too old for a mother now but never too old for another friend.

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