“Are they real siblings?”
This question is one we’ve been asked a hundred times over the course of our parenting journey. By strangers in the cereal aisle at the store, by fellow parents watching over their kids at the park, by the cashier scanning our milk and shampoo. They see four children, each with various shades of brown skin, different hair styles and textures, and features that do not resemble one another. And they see two parents who look nothing like each other or the children. So they ask, without pause or apology.
Eight years ago, we adopted our first child, a little girl. Her chocolate brown skin, deep coffee colored eyes, and curly brown cotton candy hair contrasted against our creamy arms. The fact that we adopted our daughter was obvious, but it wasn’t until we added another child to our family that the “real siblings” questions began.
We were used to questions. Questions like, “How old are her real parents?” “Isn’t adoption really expensive?” “Why didn’t you have your own children?” “Oh! They are so cute! What country are they from?” We also heard, “Wow! Your child is so lucky to have you as her parents.” And, “There are so many kids who need a loving home.” We had scripted answers to these predictable questions and statements. Our responses were even, honest, and protective of our children’s right to privacy.
We thought we were seasoned in our adoption journey when our second child came along, but the “real siblings” question caught us off guard. We knew that askers, mostly strangers, were inquiring as to whether or not our daughters were biological sisters, but the word “real” got under our skin. The fact that someone we had just met five seconds ago felt the need to know how “real” our family was in order to draw conclusions was unnerving. With each child we added to our family, the “real” question came up again and again and again.
What is real?
Real is when my oldest daughter helps change her newborn sister’s diaper. Real is when my son rushes to his big sister’s side when she’s crying after a fall off her bike. Real is the living room wrestling matches and kitchen dance parties. Real is the popcorn and movie nights the kids have together, wearing their mismatched pajamas and snuggling in sleeping bags. Real is the four children’s stockings on the mantle at Christmas. Real is the way they bicker over who gets to pick the bedtime story. Real is the way they play secret games and talk in secret languages, excluding mom and dad because sometimes parents aren’t cool. Real is the way they name each other, and their grandmas and grandpas and cousins and aunts and uncles, and their birth families---all during very long, and detailed bedtime prayers. Real is the way they eagerly wait for another hot pancake made by their dad on Saturday mornings, comparing the size of each pancake, down to the centimeter, as only siblings do. Real is the way they countdown to each other’s birthdays, because birthdays are a really big deal.
Real: the kisses, the arguments, the tattling, the cuddles, the laughter.
Real: the hundreds of selfies, our faces all barely fitting in because there are six of us.
Real: the way none of my kids know the actual words to “Baby Got Back” but insist on singing it at top-volume, every day, while in public---in unison.
Strangers wonder and worry and judge the real-ness, but they need to know that words carry weight. Words speak volumes. Words can heal, but they can also hurt.
Thus why every time someone asks, are my children real siblings, the answer is always yes.
Because every single emotion, memory, action, bond, and affection: it’s all real. Real love has made us family.
This post was shared in November 2016 in honor of National Adoption Month. More than 120,000 children in the United States are waiting to be adopted out of the foster care system and into a forever family.