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.

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. 

I can handle the most intrusive questions with a fair amount of grace, but I am way nicer when I’ve had some chocolate or when I’ve been drinking. Aren’t we all? 

I have heard it all:

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 bitch to skyrocket to the surface: REAL.

Are they real brothers?”

What happened to their real parents?”

I try not to get wrapped around semantics. I know when people say “real” they mean biological.  And, the simple answers are:

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.” Stop and consider what they might think when people ask casual questions about their place in our family.  

My kids share a room. They share toys.  They share parental attention.  Sometimes, they share punishment.  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. 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. 

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.

My kids are real. My family is real. 

And, the “you’re a saint” comment never ceases to make me laugh.  I’ll bet my Friday night wine-swilling cuss fests would probably change a person’s mind about that real quick. 

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 ta ta’s 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. 


Jill writes about adoption, motherhood and midlife on her blog Ripped Jeans and Bifocals. She has a degree in social psychology that she uses to try and make sense out of the behavior of her husband and three children but it hasn't really helped so far. She enjoys dry humor and has a love/hate relationship with running. Her writing has also been featured on Huffington Post, Babble, Scary Mommy, In the Powder Room, and Mamalode. Jill is a BlogHer 2015 Voice of the Year and willingly answers any questions that end with “and would you like wine with that?” Hang out with Jill on Facebook. and Twitter.


  1. Jill, feel free to borrow my line when I hear about how “real women have x” – we are having a conversation therefore I’m not imaginary. I’m real. I’m not a unicorn. You are their real mom. Alternately I agree, ask them if those are their real boobs. Just as personal and inappropriate. Some people. congrats on your beautiful family!

  2. I get the Saint thing all time. I have a blended family. A mine yours and ours situation and at the end of it, I have 6 kids ranging in age from 21 to 1. I also run a day home. When we go out, I get the Wow! are they ALL yours? you must be busy! Or you are one amazing lady! What is so amazing about loving children regardless of their origins? These children are mine to help raise, to teach, to listen to their moody I hate you rants and to teach work ethic to by forcing them to take out the trash. Doesn’t even matter that some of them have other parents, we are working together to help guide these children into contributing happy members of society. And why must I explain to you that, this one, this one and this one are “mine” but this one and that one over there are day home kids? How is that your business?

  3. I recently read “Baby, We Were Meant For Each Other” by Scott Simon. He discusses exactly these issues regarding the adoption of his two precious daughters from China. I devoured the book. I am not (yet, anyway) a mother of an adopted child, but it amazes me that anyone could define parenthood as anything other than the years, love and gray hair that you and your children have given each other.

    I live in NYC, and I always think I can no longer be surprised by people’s thoughtless comments about our children. I am wrong, yet again.

    This was a lovely essay. Thanks for sharing it.

    • I struggle with the “meant to be.” There was so much loss and grief that happened before I entered these kids lives. I have trouble getting my head around that being “meant to happen.”

  4. I’ve never really been intrusive, but I’ll sure remember that boob-job advice. That’s a pretty sound litmus test, Jill! Wise, wise words indeed! ;-))

  5. Excellent bit of schooling here, Jill; I like that you know everyone means well…but then point out that meaning well can be clunky, awkward, even unwittingly cruel. A lot of us needed that reminder!

  6. One of my close friends is Chinese, but grew up in Brazil; she married a white guy from America and they have one son together. She and her son speak English and Portuguese (and usually a hybrid of the two – they dance in and out of both languages during the same sentence, it’s so cool to listen to, but I digress). Her husband finally started making up these elaborate and dramatic stories whenever he was approached in public, because people automatically assumed he adopted a baby from China. “Oh, he was the lone survivor after everyone in his village was eaten alive by a gang of rabid pandas. He somehow rolled out of the fray and lived. It must have been horrible, though – to this day, he’s terrified of anything that’s black and white. But we got one hell of a deal on him!”

    I think that many people who have no experience with adoption themselves (or haven’t been around those who are adopted) just can’t fathom that the emotional connection runs as deep as it would if genetics were shared. And that’s a shame.

    I can’t imagine having to deal with those conversations every week. If anything, though, at least people’s shitty questions have served as constant reminders to your sons that you are their mother, and you are all a family. You chose them – forever, and they are brothers – forever. They get to hear that affirmation from you on a regular basis. And that’s something, at least.

  7. Oh my stars, Jill, I love this whole piece and especially the ta-ta advice at the end. Such sage wisdom. From now on when people ask me “Are you his/her real mom? Or is your partner?” I might respond with something like this: “Let’s come back to that question in a minute, but first I have a question for you … is your plastic surgeon the father of THOSE?” Yes, that feels just about right:)

  8. Adored this beyond words! I adopted my baby daughter from Korea after having three bio sons. When she was five and I subsequently gave birth to another daughter, we all went for a walk. An acquaintance stopped us in the street, peered into the carriage and loudly remarked, “Congratulations! You finally got a real daughter!” Unfuckingbelievable. But here’s one that takes the cake. One week after I returned with my baby from Seoul, a friend visited. She looked at my daughter’s infant face, looked at mine, and made this statement: “But you’re not Asian! How will you ever understand her when she begins to talk??” Ugh!!!! Lol. Just loved your writing!

  9. Jill, I’m in my 40’s, and my brother and I still deal with strange looks and reactions when we’re with our dad. Loved the ta-ta’s advice. 😉 Hang in there!

  10. My mom was adopted, and when I was really young I asked her about her “real” parents, and she very nicely explained to my innocent childhood self that the parents who raised her were her “real” parents. It definitely stuck and I understood at a very young age what adoption meant, but still, I can’t imagine as an adult asking that question! It is a very insensitive thing to ask, especially in front of children. I can see how tiring that can be.

  11. ‘Use a boob job as a good frame of reference’….haha, Jill, I love your writing. It is honest, to the point, and even when your overall tone braces a sensitive and serious matter, you still manage to make me laugh and make me think. Thank-you for sharing this. This piece was exceptional.

  12. This brought tears to my eyes. I was raised in a blended family, and I am now raising an adopted daughter (my only child). In my darkest moments I wonder if I would/ could feel any more attached to a biological child than I do to my daughter whom I love beyond anything and anyone… I will never know, but I know that the love she and I share is abundant enough for both of us.

  13. I am AMAZED by people and how they work out in their mind that these types of questions are appropriate to ask.

  14. Yeah, Jill! What a wonderful post. I love the irony of your blunt response to other people’s rudely blunt questions. I hope you are able to set them straight in person with as much awesomeness as you did here!

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