In her first TV interview, Chelsea O’Donnell, the 18-year-old adopted daughter of comedian Rosie O’Donnell, is speaking out against her mother, claiming Rosie kicked her out of their home and saying that while she cares about the famous talk show host, she doesn’t love her.
In an interview with Inside Edition that airs Monday night, Chelsea explains, “I care about [Rosie], and I hope she’s doing well. But love is a big word, and I wouldn’t really use that.” She also claims that despite Rosie’s reports earlier this year that her daughter ran away from home and went missing, the reality is that Chelsea was kicked out. “She got upset with me because I wouldn’t talk to her,” Chelsea says in the interview, claiming that Rosie told her “to take my dog and ‘have a nice life.’”
Rosie O’Donnell and her daughter Chelsea O’Donnell. (Photo: Instagram/Rosie O’Donnell)
Soon after Rosie reported Chelsea missing in August, the teenager was found living with a man in New Jersey. She was returned home, but as soon as she turned 18 later that month, Chelsea moved out, this time for good, she says. “I miss the rest of my family a lot, but I think there is some much-needed space between me and Rosie. It’s been nice having that,” she tells Inside Edition.
When Inside Edition contacted Rosie about the interview, she had no comment. Earlier this month, after Chelsea spoke to the Daily Mail, accusing Rosie of frequently smoking pot and having a short fuse, the comedian called the story “heartbreaking on every level.”
Patty Cogen, a child development specialist, adoption expert, and author of Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child, says that while Chelsea’s latest interview might be upsetting for Rosie, it’s not especially surprising — for either an adopted teenager or one who is part of such a famous family. “The fact that this is a girl whose mom is Rosie O’Donnell, she is following in the family tradition of being outspoken and making her life public,” Cogen tells Yahoo Parenting. “Still, what she is saying is incredibly common, and I would say it is more likely to happen with adopted children because adopted kids struggle at this age with separation and independence, both because of adoption issues and because, developmentally and emotionally, that’s where teenagers are at 18. All teenagers say, ‘I hate you,’ or, ‘I don’t like you,’ as part of their separation and as part of defining themselves.”
Cogen points out that she has never treated either Rosie or Chelsea, so she doesn’t know what happened behind closed doors; whether Chelsea ran away or Rosie kicked her out is unclear. But it’s possible, Cogen says, that Rosie started encouraging her daughter to think about moving out — a normal step for an 18-year-old — and that Chelsea took it hard. “For every adopted child that has been ‘let go,’ or whatever nice words you want to use to explain it, no matter how knowledgeable they are intellectually about adoption, in the mind and heart of that child they feel they were abandoned and rejected,” says Cogen, who has an adopted child herself. “So when a parent says, ‘It’s time to move out,’ that will evoke different feelings for an adopted child than for a child who was birthed into a family. Even if Rosie had a nice way of saying, ‘It’s time to get your own apartment, I’ll help you,’ Chelsea would still feel abandoned.”
When it comes to most developmental milestones, Cogen says, adopted kids often respond more intensely and with greater extremes. “There is evidence that because adopted children’s development was interrupted early on — the disruption when going from birth mom to adopted parents — the brain’s development and ability to emotionally and physiologically regulate itself is affected,” she says. “The way that plays out is that when developmental stages like young adulthood are emerging, the response is more extreme on the part of adopted kids.”
But all hope is not lost for Rosie and Chelsea, Cogen says. “The next step would be for the two of them to sit down together and say, ‘What happened here?’” Cogen says. “It’s often hard for parents of young adults to let go. They’ve been parenting for 18 years, and now they have an emerging adult with independent skills trying to tell them what is best for them. This young woman is practicing being an independent person, and Rosie needs to honor that. Those are things they need to talk about, and it’s hard to do. There is work to be done on both sides.”
For parents of adopted teenagers who may find themselves on the receiving end of similar outbursts — although likely in a less public forum — the most effective way to respond is to be “both casual and serious,” Cogen says. “Casual in that this is not the end of the world, but serious in the fact that your child who you’ve adopted is sharing intimately how challenging it is to have two mothers, a biological one and an adoptive one, and that is different and harder than the experience of kids who were birthed into their families.”
As for Chelsea’s comment that she doesn’t love Rosie, Cogen says it’s not as harsh as some parents might believe. “Love is a very confusing concept for adopted kids, because often they are told that their first mother — their birth mother — gave them up for adoption because she loved them. What could be more confusing about love than a mother abandoning a child to a stranger, from a child’s perspective?” Cogen says. “So I don’t see these words as harsh, but as self-reflective. She doesn’t know what love is. That’s not a criticism of Rosie or anybody in her life, but love is a big concept, and a complicated topic for anyone who is adopted.”