Yes, my kids are real brothers. Really.

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Yes, my kids are real brothers. Two out of three kids are adopted. At least that’s how it works in our family. We didn’t plan it that way… that’s just how it worked out.

Yes my kids are real brothers. Really they are.

People are curious when it comes to adoption, I get that. We’re naturally curious about families that look different or are put together a little bit differently.  I’ve made my peace with the curiosity although I don’t do very well with the old biddy asking me personal questions in the frozen food aisle (because shit always goes down in the frozen aisle, who knows why, really?).

My family has learned to handle staring, assumptions, stereotypes and prejudice. We adopted our boys because we wanted to be parents. However we have had to make an uneasy peace with our new role as the poster family for adoption.

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I have heard it all but yes, my kids are real brothers:

Why China and not an American kid?

Bless you, you’re such a saint.

How much did your adoption cost?

Oh, and if you’re that person who asked “how much did they cost” like my kids are some sort of good deal at the Farmer’s Market… best to take cover.  You were warned.

That said there is one word that raises my blood pressure and causes my inner crazy person to skyrocket to the surface: REAL.

Are they real brothers?”

What happened to their real parents?”

I know when people say “real brothers” they mean biological.  It’s still annoying AF. Here are the basics:

I try not to get wrapped around semantics but that’s hard.

No, my boys are not biologically related, and we have no idea what happened to their biological parents or why they chose not to parent these children. That knowledge isn’t part of our adoption story, and even if it were, we wouldn’t be sharing.

But, think about what it means for my kids to hear you ask if they’re “real brothers.” At the grocery store. At sporting events. At any place where we’re just trying to blend in versus stand out. Stop and consider what they might think when people ask casual questions about their place in our family.

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My kids share a room. They share toys.  They share parental attention.  Sometimes, they share punishment, AKA they both get blamed for the same thing that I can’t quite determine who is really responsible for. They are real brothers.

I comfort my children when they’re scared. I sit up all night and worry when they’re sick.  I laugh at them and with them.  They piss me off, make me feel old and keep me young.  I am their real mother.

You might think your questions are innocent…but consider how they’re received.

You might think your questions are innocent. You probably don’t think at all.  Maybe you thought my kids were cute and I accidentally smiled at you and opened the door for conversation and the “real brothers” question was the first thing that popped in to your head.

I get being curious but I wish you’d get where your questions lead our family.

My children love each other fiercely. Sometimes, this love is shown by teasing, punching, hair-pulling and messing with the other kid’s stuff, but the love is there.

I don’t love my adopted kids less or more than my kid that came in to this world via my own hoo-ha. You don’t need to be connected by DNA to love, people.  And while I “know what you mean” when someone asks if my sons are real brothers, it’s something I wish people wouldn’t say because the after-effects can hurt my children.

My kids are usually standing right next to me and hear the questions people ask. Not a week goes by where we don’t get asked a question about real brothers and real parents.  Constantly having my family’s authenticity questioned, even in a benign and well-meaning way, wears on me and opens the door to questions at home that I’d rather let happen organically.  I hate that our adoption talks are usually sparked by something said by a stranger.

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My kids are real brothers and we are a real family.

And, the “you’re a saint” comment never ceases to make me laugh.  I’m anything but that and you only need to spend five minutes with me to figure that out. 

I’ll end with a tip: use a boob job as a good frame of reference for nosy adoption questions, or any nosy questions:  if you wouldn’t walk up to me and ask me if my breasts were were real, then maybe you shouldn’t ask a similarly inappropriate question about my kids.  I think that’s pretty good advice.

You’re welcome.

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30 Comments

  1. Amen! My wife is Thai and my son’s half Caucasian and half Asian. Every time we leave the house someone asks who is his real mum or where is his daddy. Dreading the day when he can understand. Think we are going to be having some big conversations way earlier that I had planned

  2. Great advice and never seems to amaze me how people will just say whatever pops into their minds instead of thinking before they speak. So, truly loved your response here and you said it I think absolutely 110% perfectly!

  3. Seriously, people?! I asked my mom (who was adopted) a question about her “real” mom when I was a small child, because I was a child and too young to understand. I seriously cannot adults would ask something like this, and in particular in front of your boys. Yikes!

  4. Everything you say is absolutely true, but I disagree with your assumption on asking about boob jobs: people will ask. In today’s world, it seems like nothing is off-limits to ask. Which means you’ll keep getting that question, just like I’ll keep getting asked if I’m my girls’ grandma. 🙂

  5. People are so annoying. My brother has two adopted daughters and I sure hope they don’t get bugged with these stupid questions, but I’m sure they do.
    Speaking of which, my brother was adopted, which is a fact that slips my mind 99.9% of the time, unless I’m having a specific conversation about adoption. Families are families. Siblings are siblings.

  6. I get similar questions about my twins. They are twins – from my womb, I was there to see it – they were born one minute apart. But one is special needs and one is not. I hate when people say, “Well, it’s not like they’re really twins.” Ugh! And the boob thing, honestly, I have friends who’ve had work, ahem, done. and they’re asked about it ALL the time. There is no shame anymore – civility is gone.

    1. That is such a horrible thing to say – “not like they’re really twins.” That made me wince just reading it.

  7. “I don’t love my adopted kids less or more than m’y kid that came in to this world via my own hoo-ha. You don’t need to be connected by DNA to love, people.”

    Amen!

    I’m always blown away by the things people are comfortable saying to total strangers. You’re supposed to give them the benefit of the doubt, because they probably didn’t realize they were being rude or their intentions were good. Yeah, no, fuck you. Use some common sense.

  8. I’m married to an adoptee. I’m what some ppl call, ‘adoptee lite’ b/c I was raised by my bio mom, and her husband, but never had contact w/my bio dad.

    I’ve heard it ALL. I grew up w/3 brothers, and my mom and my dad. Period.

    My husband, however, fared worse, since he wasn’t the same heritage as his Mom. Of course, her introducing him as, “My ADOPTED son” didn’t help anything, either (she still does this. And yes, w/that emphasis).

    I’ve been asked if all my kids have the same Dad, in the grocery store. And that’s anyone’s business, HOW?!

    1. If someone ever asks me a question about my adopted kids, I’ll be forced to ask them about their vaginally birthed kids. That will be awkward.

  9. Well said! We have often been asked also if our boys are “real” brothers. One time after I was asked that question, another woman who knows a little bit of my boys’ stories said, “You didn’t answer right. She wanted to know if they were biological brothers.” That’s not the question I was asked, and it doesn’t really matter!

  10. Honestly, why do people think it’s OK to ask questions like that? My mother would have died if we asked things along those lines – and still would! She’d be mortified and wish the earth would swallow her. But I digress.
    I think the “boob job” rule is a good one for so many topics – a good social litmus test. I think I’ll keep that one!

  11. In this day and age, families are made in all different ways. I wonder if the people who equate “real” with “traditional” have been living under a rock for the last 40 years. It drove me crazy when I was little with my step family and it drives me crazy today with my adopted son. “Real” is what is in your heart.

  12. I am sure this is hugely frustrating and especially since as you said, it makes the kids ask questions. I think that’s the really hard part. And you’re right, people don’t mean it to be mean, but they should still be thinking of it. I think we should always be cognizant when kids can overhear things but of course some people are totally insensitive. I love your definitions of real. Will have to keep those in my back pocket for when these things happen to me! Thank you 🙂

  13. Maybe sometimes, people don’t actually realize how rude they are being, but the fact is, we need to choose words carefully when talking to an adoptive family.

  14. My daughter is adopted from China and I’ve heard it all. My best question to any of those questions is the same. “why do you ask?” It usually stops the conversation.

    thanks for sharing!

  15. I so agree with all of your statements and the responses that I get from other people. My husband and I adopted our daughter from Russia.. Now my daughter who is seven is starting to say things about her “real” parents. I have explained to her that she has two sets of parents– one who loved her enough to help her find a home where she could have a momma and daddy who could take care of her, and the parents who feel blessed to have her. I think hearing the “real” parents comments coming out of her month, hurt the most of all. That being said, she needs to be able to talk about her feelings concerning adoption and her beginnings. She was almost three when she came to us, so she definitely has memories of her time in Russia and I know talking about it helps her think out her feelings.

  16. I abhor the term “real”. What are people thinking? No, this is my fake child, fashioned from silicone in my free time. WTH! Real ranks up there with half and step…we love you all the same.

  17. Jill, I am an adoptee as are my two brothers. My mom found your article and sent it to all of us. Just wanted you to know we were cheering through out the entire thing. Really appreciate your ingenuity, honesty, and fearlessness. We’ve been through those scenarios and questions many times and it still shocks me. But I’m so thankful to know there are people speaking out and forcing others to understand and become more aware. Looking forward to hearing more!

  18. Giving you a virtual high five right now. Put those nosy strangers in their place! My father is German and my mom is Filipino. I remember the annoying, “She’s so cute…Is she yours?” questions to my Dad when I was young. I wish he responded with something witty to make them blush. Good point. Good read!

  19. Only once has someone “got it”. They asked where my girls were from (and we had one extra kid that day) and I said–these two are from Wisconsin and this one is visiting from California. (all 3 were born in China–I’m not Asian) For a brief moment she looked confused, then realization of what she had done, then totally got it and said how fun it was to have friends come visit and have a great time together. Generally we get, “no, you know what I mean”. Yup, I do! When I got the ‘real mom’ question I have asked, “Which real mom are you talking about, her birthmom, her foster mom, or me? We’re all real.” Now that my girls are older (college and high school) we get less questions and comments, although the first day of college we got several?!

  20. Probably people would ask if someone had a boob job, because people are that stupid. ? There are so many dumb things we people say to each other all the time and I have said many of them. I know people (like me!) are just curious, but thank you for sharing why these questions and comments are rude and hurtful.

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