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Ask Rene: My Daughter’s Teasing Has Backfired

Sad Teenage Girl

Dear Rene,

I have two daughters, Zoie 12 and Clarice 14.

The two girls look nothing alike. One has dark hair while the other is blond. Zoie is short and stout and Clarice is tall with a model’s body. And while they are both cute in their own way, Zoie has always wished she looked more like her sister, but more importantly she cannot understand why they look so different. It’s funny how genes work, Zoie looks a lot like my grandmother and Clarice looks a lot like me.

One day the girls were arguing – they fight all the time – and Clarice told Zoie the reason she doesn’t look like me or her father is because she is adopted.  Zoie is devastated and believes that we’ve been keeping this secret from her. I explained to my daughter that she’s not adopted and Clarice was just being mean but Zoie refuses to believe us. Clarice even confessed to the prank, but Zoie is still convinced that she is adopted.

Rene, how do I turn this bad joke around and convince Zoie that she is not adopted? And what should I say to my other daughter?


Patty, Miami

Hi Patty:

Oh I hate this, not the part about being adopted rather the fact that Clarice seized on something Zoie was already insecure about. Zoie knows she looks different from the rest of the family and even though logically she knows she’s your biological child, there’s an irrational side that probably takes hold every so often and makes her wonder. So here’s my recommendation:

HAVE FUN WITH SCIENCE: Time to crack the spine on those old science books because you need to brush up on genetics. Remember Gregor Mendel’s work with sweet peas that taught us about dominant and recessive traits? Refresh your memory because you’re going to have to go over that with Zoie. Look at the bright side; the work the two of you do now will give her a head start when she actually gets tested on the stuff in the coming years.

BREAK OUT THE FAMILY PHOTOS: After you’ve covered basic science, whip out the old family photo albums. You said yourself that Clarice looks like you and Zoie looks like your grandmother. That means that you, with your model-like build, also didn’t look like your grandmother, an important point to make to Zoie. This would be a perfect time to share with Zoie your own fears (if you had them) growing up looking like you didn’t belong. Kids think we cannot possibly relate to what they’re going through; show her you understand because you’ve been there.

TIME TO PUT THE HAMMER DOWN: Sit both of the girls down (I would do this together) and talk about how to fight fair. Notice I didn’t say how NOT to fight; they are 12 and 14-year-old siblings, that’s sort of a given. But there is a way to gently tease and then there’s going for the jugular. This teasing about being adopted was mean-spirited and meant to draw blood since Clarice was seizing on a subject that Zoie was already insecure about. That is not good.

Then I’d talk to the girls separately. To Zoie, I’d underscore the beauty and power of learning how to ignore people. Zoie needs to understand that Clarice says that stuff to get a rise out of her and as soon as it stops being effective (Zoie stops reacting) it won’t be “fun” for Clarice anymore and she’ll eventually quit.

For Clarice, I’d tell her through my clenched teeth, if she teased Zoie about being adopted EVER again, I’ll put her on lockdown until it’s time for her to go to college. Hey, you asked!

Good Luck mommy!

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  1. m.e. johnson

    May 18, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Gollygee, wouldn’t a birth certificate count for something?
    Hey, I’m an only and sometimes I wondered if I was adopted.
    My middle child looks and acts just like my grandma. My mom and I finally convinced him (had no picture).
    In just about every family on earth one sib will say that to another sib at least once. Rene’s advice is as good as you’ll get. Some adults wouldn’t be that nice about it.

  2. PassPorter Mom Sara

    May 18, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    You can only reassure her so much but you may consdier pointing out that if she were adopted, hopefully it wouldn’t have been something you hid from her because you would be proud of it. You might also want to point out that even if she WERE adopted, it wouldn’t make her any less a part of your family or any more your child. Helping to lessen the stigma of adoption gives the teasing less power. It also gives her the response, “Maybe I am! So what? That just means Mom chose me. You’re the one she got stuck with!” 😉

  3. Jennifer

    May 18, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    This is exactly what I’m dealing with right now. I have three kids (two sons, 14 and 12; daughter, 8) and although none of them have ever gone so far to say that dreaded ‘you’re adopted’ phrase, with all the teasing of each other and fighting, I have officially passed crazy two exits ago …

    I have no experience in the teasing a sibling arena because I was an only growing up. I suggest bringing out the birth certificate definitely and let her know that YOU CAN’T GET ANY BETTER PROOF than that. I agree with you Renee in telling the oldest, WITH CLENCHED TEETH, to not go there again. With all the stuff that I do deal with in having three children, I work VERY hard to explain the importance of ‘do unto others’ and ‘how would it make you feel if your sister or brother said that to you’ schtick. My last trick, which the kids DETEST is when they’ve been fighting or teasing or just being plain obnoxious to each other, I make them come together and face each other and hold hands and apologize to each other and don’t let them let go until they do. Just some suggestions! Hope they help!

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