Sunday, September 8, 2013

Are they Real Siblings?

This is one of the most common questions I get about Seth and Lizzie...whether they are real siblings or not.  I've posted about this before, but I still really and truly don't understand why there is such a pressing need to know this particular fact of biology.  The response I would like to give, when someone asks me this, is very simply to ask that person "why do you ask?" but I've only actually ever had the courage to say this twice.  I'm not accustomed enough to putting other people on the spot, even though they seem to feel free to do this with me.  It's a very effective response, however, and I hope I use it more frequently in the future, because it meets a number of my requirements for how to answer the curious questions about Seth and Lizzie:  It is an answer that can be delivered with a friendly and open expression on my face; it gives voice to a genuine desire to know why this question is important to the person asking; and it forces people to actually think and then come up with an answer (which puts them into the same awkward feeling that they have put me into)...which, inevitably leads them to conclude that the question is either none of their business or that they really don't have a good reason for asking in the first place.

At any rate, it's a very, very common question and so I was glad to read the article below on the subject.  I would probably add that our situation is a wee bit more complicated than the author's situation, because we also have a biological child to consider when answering....and believe me, he is listening to the question and my answer with as much interest as his (real) siblings.  It is offensive to Matthew to be excluded from the 'are they siblings?' question because he is also the real sibling to both Seth and Lizzie, but this is never taken into account by the strangers asking the question.  In fact, if I answer (as I often do) that my children are "all real siblings," that's never yet been a good enough answer - the person asking the question always pushes further by pointing to Seth and Lizzie and explaining that s/he was asking about those two specific children.  (As if I didn't understand in the first place that this is what s/he meant!)  I'm sometimes stymied on how to bring an end to the conversation at this point, but I usually say something to the effect that "well, they are all my children and yes, indeed, they are siblings."  The stranger inevitably looks frustrated and thinks about whether to try again (and some just two days ago)

I don't actually care a lot about whether people know about Seth's and Lizzie's biological status (it's not something that we keep private), but I honestly just get so tired of invasive questions and people's assumption that they have a right to know this information, and I'm so sick of answering the same darn question over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over.  Did you get tired of reading all of those 'over and over' words?  If so, then you're starting to see how I might feel...of course, in your case you could just bypass all of the annoying bits and get to the next sentence, whereas in my case there's not much chance of bypassing anything at all.

Anyway, here's the link and a copy of the article on this subject...I thought was pretty good.

Are they Real Siblings?

What i want you to know: my daughters are "real" sisters

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, 
in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story 
to this series, click here. Today’s guest posts is by Rachel Garlinghouse.

My girls are real sisters.


Both of my children came to my husband and me through domestic, transracial, open adoption. (Whew! What a mouthful!) 
We chose to adopt because at 24, I was diagnosed with an incurable disease: type I diabetes. It’s manageable, but it’s here 
for good. My disease requires 24/7/365 attention. That’s a lot of attention. I use an insulin pump, I check my blood sugar 
eight to ten times a day (yep, that is a lot of needles), I count, weigh, and calculate all the carbohydrates I consume, I 
exercise, and I deal with a lot of ups and downs (and ups and downs and more ups and downs).

Adoption was the best choice for our family. Type I diabetics can have dangerously complicated pregnancies that can 
harm the mother and her unborn child. I wasn’t willing to risk my life or the life of my child for the sake of biology.

Our first daughter came to us after fourteen months of waiting. Two years later, we decided to start our adoption process 
again, knowing we could likely wait many months. WRONG. (Insert God laughing at any plans we mortals make). We 
were chosen on day ONE (yes, O-N-E) of waiting. Gulp.

We had become used to comments, questions, and stares after parenting a brown baby for two years. I could fire back a 
response (or a look) with confidence and with a gentle balance of education and “mind your own business” with ease. 
But I wasn’t prepared for the main question I would get with two babies, the question that plagues my heart with sadness, 
frustration, and defensiveness:

“Are they REAL sisters?”

The assumption is that my family isn’t “real” (authentic, true, acceptable, equal) for three possible reasons. One, we’re an 
adoptive family and biology in our society trumps adoption, a seemingly unnatural, bizarre, taboo family makeup. Two, 
our family is transracial. Three, how many sets of parents did it take to make this family?!?

The girls and I stopped at a neighbor’s house to check out their yard sale a few months about our youngest was born. As 
we were purchasing our hodge-podge of Little People, the neighbor says, “Oh, you have a new baby.” Pause. Here it 
comes. “Are the girls real sisters?” This was the first time I was asked this question, and I’m pretty sure I mumbled 
something unintelligent before walking away.

We were boarding an airplane last summer, headed home from a one-week beach vacation. We were tired, frazzled, and 
sweaty. My husband and I, each lugging a child and multiple pieces of luggage, were stopped by a flight attendant. 
“Are they real sisters?” she asks, blinking in expectation. Cue Angry and Hot Mama. “Yes,” I fired back. “But are they 
REALLY real sisters?” she persists. “YES!” I spat as I scoot past here carrying what feels like 1,000 pounds of weight.

My husband and I long ago decided that the correct response to the “real” question is without a doubt, without hesitation, 
YES. We are a real family with real kids. We are real parents. Our girls really are sisters. Oh yeah, and their birth parents, 
whom we have open relationships with, are real, too.

Fast forward to this past fall. We head to the social security office to obtain a social security card for our youngest. After 
thirty minutes of going around-and-around with the attendant, assuring her that we were the REAL parents (want fifteen 
documents to prove it?) and our youngest was officially our baby, the attendant asks if our girls are……oh here it 
comes….real sisters. I looked her right in the eyes and said, “They are now.” I could tell she was fuming. We didn’t give 
her what she wanted---details. The nitty-gritty on what’s up with this black-white-adoptive family standing at the window 
trying to pass themselves off as a real family.

What I want you to know is that my family is as real as it gets. My girls wrestle, pull one another’s afros, high five, hug, 
cuddle, tug on the same toy, laugh, whisper----they do everything “real” sisters do for better or for worse. The fact that 
our family tree has branches going every which direction, is a blessing, not a curse.

Adoption is messy, complicated, bittersweet. But it’s also beautiful, life-altering, and oh, so very real.

Check out Rachel's book on transracial adoption called Come Rain or Come Shine.


  1. As I was reading I was thinking how hard it could be for Matthew when the "real siblings" question is asked. And then, what is it like for Seth and Lizzie. All sorts of thoughts. Then all of a sudden I thought "wait a minute!!! This is the single most asked question we have had since getting a referral - and our kids are not even home yet!" The second most frequent comment or question is about the ages of our children being accurate and then commenting and comparing to the one other family(who used to live in our small community) with children adopted from Ethiopia who believed their children might be older than stated. I find those comments difficult as well because our children are not the same, we are not the same, we just happen to have children born in the same country...

    So much to think about and prepare for. I prepare in my head what I might say if asked a boundary crossing question but I am prone to freezing up when uncomfortable. Lots to learn.

  2. Yes, the challenge is to prepare in such a way that you can see yourself actually saying the words when a stranger confronts you on an's hard! You may have slightly fewer questions b/c your kids are a little older (and the assumption by strangers will be that they speak English and can 'fend for themselves') but still....the questions will come.

    Welcome to the complicated world of adoption Allison!! :)