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Parents Know Their Children

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A parent-child bond is strong enough that even in situations where the child is in disguise, is being impersonated by someone else, or is in the midst of a crowd of look-alikes, the parent can still identify him or her.

Commonly associated with mothers due to the maternal bond that's usually created through pregnancy, childbirth and the early years of child-rearing. However, this phenomenon isn't limited only to mothers, as fathers and other relatives can qualify for this as well.

Compare Something Only They Would Say, which is where a character who's in disguise or whose identity is uncertain makes himself known by saying or doing something that only they would normally do. May also overlap with Spot the Imposter in some cases, but it is NOT the same trope.

Also not to be confused with That Thing Is Not My Child!, where a person denies parental responsibility to a child because said child was born via cloning or other unnatural means.

Often the parental/familial method of beating a Twin Switch, especially when the Identical Twin ID Tag isn't in effect.

An inversion of this trope would be the child being able to identify his/her parents despite the specified conditions.

NOTE: To qualify for this trope, the persons MUST be related, whether by blood, adoption, or some other family-related clause. True Companions don't count, as while they may have the semblance of family ties, in the strictest sense of the word they are not family and generally haven't raised the child/children from birth or infancy.


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     Anime and Manga  

  • Tenchi Muyo!:
    • I'm the OVA, while Yosho's false persona of Katsuhito Masaki had been known fact for a while, his mother sees right though his disguise of being old, which was part of that persona, and asks him to take it off. No-one else knew about that.
    • In the movie Tenchi Muyo in Love, Achika recognizes Tenchi as her son, despite the facts that she is in high school, unmarried, not even dating, and Tenchi won't be born for another nine years.
  • In Dragonball Z an inversion of this occurs during the Namek saga. Captain Ginyu has switched bodies with Goku, planning to use this to his advantage when he meets Krillin and Goku's son, Gohan. Before Ginyu can even open his mouth, Gohan is quick to tell Krillin "That's not Dad!"
  • In Parasyte, mothers seem to have this. The parasite who took over Ryoko Tamiya had to kill her host's mother, who could somehow tell that she was an "imposter" and tried to call the police; the parasite is initally confused how she managed to figure this out. Likewise Shinichi's own mother realizes that something is wrong with him, despite the fact that he's (at least mostly) retained his normal personality.
  • Spirited Away:
    • Inverted when the protagonist's parents have been transformed into pigs; to rescue them, she must pick them out of a line-up of several dozen other pigs. She correctly determines that none of the pigs are her parents.
    • Subverted at another point in that Yubaba cannot recognize Boh transformed into a mouse.

     Fan Works  

  • Played with in the Jackie Chan Adventures fanfic The Ultimate Evil: when the canonical Living Statue of Lo Pei meets Valerie Payne, he believes her to be his daughter Lo Mei because she has the same crystal blue eyes. He also thinks the physical differences to be a result of magical concealment and lampshades this trope by saying that any father can know his beloved child anywhere. While the living terracotta is mistaken, Valerie is Lo Pei's descendant by 36 generations.
  • In the Miraculous Ladybug fanfic The True Villain, Marinette (the titular superhero) is shocked to discover her parents know about her heroics. Her mother admonishes her for this, saying "You insult me, Child. I can pinpoint your voice in a crowd of almost a hundred people. I'm pretty sure a little red mask is not enough to hide you from the gaze of your mother."
  • In Time Fixers: Nicktoons of the Future, Cindy reveals that she was able to recognize Maxwell as the future version of her infant son when her husband isn't.
  • Subverted in Boys Do Tankary. Nyra's mother gave her youngest child, Vincent, up for adoption, not even bothering to give him a name. Years later, when Nyra contacts Vincent, Nyra's mother assumes Vincent seduced Nyra, when Nyra's actual reason for calling Vincent was to reach out to him as his sister.

     Film — Animation  

  • In How to Train Your Dragon 2, Hiccup's mother recognizes him even though she last saw him as a baby over 20 years ago.
  • Tangled: Implied to be the reason Rapunzel's mother recognizes her in the end despite her trademark long blonde hair chopped and brown by the end of the film.
  • In Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie: Arnold finally reunites with his parents and they instantly recognize him despite the fact that Arnold was only about a year old the last they saw him. Though, to be fair, the unmistakable Arnold still had the same hairstyle since birth and was wearing the hat they gave him.

     Film — Live Action  

  • The Exorcist. Chris provides the page quote.
  • In Jett Jackson: The Movie, this is how Miz Coretta, Jett's great-grandmother, figured out that Jett had switched places with his TV role, Silverstone. When Silverstone asks her how she knew, she says that from the moment she first looked into the then-newborn Jett's eyes, she knew she would always be able to identify him. This information later becomes important in defeating the shape-shifting Big Bad in Silverstone's world when he makes himself look identical to both Jetts.
  • In the remake of The Parent Trap, the father looks each twin in the eye and declares which one is Hallie. We never find out if he's right though, since the twins keep playing up the charade and make him question his own judgment.
  • Stardust: Una and Yvaine are captured by the witches. Tristan, trying to rescue Yvaine, mistakes Una for one of the captors and is about to attack her when she identifies herself, having recognized him even though the last time she saw him was when he was an infant.
  • Changeling, a 2008 movie based on true events, is kick-started when a missing boy is returned to his mother—but she immediately realizes it's an imposter. She is committed to a mental institution when she refuses to acknowledge the boy as hers. It's a ploy by the kidnapping case's lead investigator to cover up the police department's incompetence and corruption.
  • Horribly subverted in the Korean film Horror Stories, where a Wicked Stepmother fails to recognize her daughter was killed and turned into pickled meat that she was eating. The heroine, who knew the truth, is appalled.
    And you call yourself a mom?


  • Finn Family Moomintroll has a case of this, where everyone is playing hide and seek, and Moomin decides to hide under a hat which nobody knows to be an artifact which randomly shapeshifts whatever is inside. Naturally, nobody recognizes him afterwards. In the end, he turns to his mother for help, she takes a look and says "Yes, that's Moomin". This also reverses the magic.
  • Subverted in Tree Castle Island by Jean Craighead George: after Jack discovers on a camping trip that he has a long-lost twin named Jake, and the two return to civilization, Jack's mother (adoptive mother, never knew he had a twin until now) insists that she recognizes the boy she's raised. She goes and stands in front of Jake, not realizing that the two had switched where they were standing when she wasn't watching.
  • Heckedy Peg, a children's picture-story book, provides a variation: an evil witch turns seven children into seven different types of food. Their mother tries to rescue them, but the witch says she will only change them back if she can guess which child is which food item. She guesses right.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Double Subverted by the twins Fred and George, who indignantly claim that their own mother can't tell them apart when she gets their names wrong... only to reveal that she got it right in the first place. And then there's their monogrammed Christmas sweaters, where they claim to be Gred and Forge.
    • This trope is brought up in Harry's internal narration in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, where he notes that Ron is avoiding looking into his father's eyes while under the Polyjuice Potion for fear of being recognized. However, considering Harry's earlier use of the potion had Luna Lovegood see straight through it because of his expression, it seems it's not just limited to parents.
  • Discworld Subverted by Moist von Lipwig, who is so nondescript (an invaluable skill for a conman) that his mother often ended up picking up the wrong kid from school.

     Live Action TV  

  • CSI episode "Split Decision"—identical quadruplets are involved in a killing conspiracy, even though one was a lot younger due to the in vitro fertilization aspect of the story. The mom of one of the four said she'd know him anywhere, but didn't know the other quadruplet who'd been ID'ed at the time.
  • In Fringe, during Season Four, although Peter is both out of his original timeline (making him unknown to everyone in the current one) and in the other universe, his mother Elizabeth still recognizes him as her son grown up.
  • Played with in Angel in which Illyria disguises herself as Fred in order to trick Fred's parents into believing that their daughter is still alive and well. They seem to fall for it... though as she's about to leave, Fred's mother wonders if there's something a bit "off" about her daughter, before shrugging it off.
  • Subverted in the SVU episode "Bullseye." A mother suffering from Capgras Syndrome insists her daughter is an imposter, though she does recognize her daughter's voice when she can't see her.


  • Krabat is a Sorbian legend about a beggar boy who is called into the "black mill" by an old evil magician/miller where he learns, along with other boys, how to perform magic. In one version of the legend, Krabat reads without permission in the magicians book. The magician then transforms all of the boys into ravens. Only Krabats mother is able to save him, because she can pick him out of all the other birds.
  • The German folk song "Hänschen Klein" is about a boy who walks the earth for seven years. He grows up and decides to come home, but nobody recognizes him anymore. Not until his mother saves the day by looking into his eyes.

     Video Games  

     Western Animation  

  • In the Family Guy DVD movie Stewie: The Untold Story, Future Lois is able to recognize her infant son when the rest of the family isn't.
  • In the pilot of She-Ra: Princess of Power:, it's established that Princess Adora was kidnapped as an infant. When Prince Adam brings the now-adult Adora into the throne room, King Randor and Queen Marlena immediately recognize her. Man-At-Arms also recognized her.
  • There are also several hints dropped in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983), most notably in "The Rainbow Warrior", that Queen Marlena knows Prince Adam's secret identity, but doesn't say anything.
    Prince Adam: I was wondering, when Skeletor had us all chained up, why did you free me instead of one of the others?
    Queen Marlena: Because you are my son, Adam. I didn't have time to free everyone. And I had a... feeling you would know what to do.
    Prince Adam: Mother, ah...
    Queen Marlena: Adam, a mother always knows her own son. And what he is capable of doing.
  • On The Cleveland Show, when Roberta is made to disguise herself as a fat girl as part of a school project, no one at school recognizes her and Junior ends up falling in love with her. When she agrees to go on a pity date with him and he introduces her to the rest of the family, they all somehow recognize her instantly.
  • Nasty subversion in Young Justice, where M'gann brings Sportsmaster and Cheshire into Artemis' mind to prove to them that Tigress is an enchanted disguise from a glamour charm and she isn't really dead. Cheshire, Artemis' sister, believes, but their emotionally abusive father doesn't. Artemis only convinces him by defeating him in a fight with a move he taught her.
    Cheshire: Come on, Crusher! Artemis is your daughter. Can't you feel her presence here?
    Sportsmaster: This is just some Martian mind game. Right now, I don't even feel your presence.
  • Happens in a roundabout, comedic, yet oddly heartwarming fashion in The Simpsons episode "The Principal and the Pauper", where it's revealed Principal Skinner isn't the real Seymour Skinner. The real one "died" and he kept up the charade after coming back from the Vietnam War because he couldn't stand to upset the real Seymour's mother. Still it's implied that she knew deep down he wasn't really her son; she has to tell him where "his" room is in the house after all.
    • Played for Laughs in an episode where Bart and Lisa went missing while on a field trip. While searching the area where they were last seen, they find something and Marge gasps—it's the plastic tip from Bart's shoelace! When the others give her a look, she simply says "A mother always knows."
  • Inverted in Star Wars: Clone Wars, where male Nelvaanians were being mutated into Super Soldiers. The women of the tribe are initially horrified when Anakin rescues them... until a young girl recognizes her father.
  • In an episode of Star Wars Rebels, Ephraim and Mira Bridger hear their son's voice in a rebel transmission. Ezra has been separated from his parents for nearly nine years, during which time he's grown from a kid to a teenager and his voice has broken, but they recognize him anyway. What also sold it were that specific words in the speech were exactly what Ezra's parents taught him.
  • Steven Universe: White Diamond is Pink Diamond's "mother", and instantly recognizes Steven as her the second he steps into the throne room, despite his gem being covered by his shirt. Even Blue Diamond and Yellow Diamond did not recognize Steven as Pink until he was able to project her aura during their fight in "Reunited".

     Real Life  
  • In many instances in the animal kingdom, a mother knows her offspring by their scent. The inverse is true as well, with animal babies identifying their mother the same way.
    • Some animal species accomplish this via sound.
  • Another example, which also appears under Flags of Our Fathers: The mother of one the Marines who raised the famed flag over Iwo Jima recognized her son in the picture - from the back. She knew her own child's back and buttocks well enough that she insisted it was him even though officially, it wasn't. Eventually, she turned out to be right.