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Elizabeth Jayne Liu on adoption

On Adoption: “When are your REAL parents coming back for you?”

By Elizabeth Jayne Liu

Even though I haven’t seen my friend Kelly in over 28 years, I still feel like securing a large piece of electrical tape over my mouth every time I think about her. Kelly was one of the first friends I made in Ms. Lefever’s kindergarten class after moving to the United States, and the first to invite me to her home for a playdate.

While playing with her impressive collection of stuffed animals, she assigned two of the larger stuffed raccoons as adoptive parents of a smaller koala bear. Eager to learn a new English word, I asked her to explain what “adoptive” meant.

“It’s when a baby grows in one lady’s stomach and then she lets another lady be the mom. I’m adopted too,” Kelly explained.

The concept of adoption seemed strange and possibly illegal to me, so I pried, “When is your real mom coming back for you?”

Even at the age of five, Kelly exhibited a level of patience I still lack at the age of 32. “No, silly, my mom is my real mom.”

I try to remember my past ignorance and Kelly’s grace when my own daughter is asked these kinds of questions. And just like my childhood friend, Cal answers from a place of confidence when others ask where her “real” father is or how it feels to have a man “pop up” in her life at the age of seven to be her dad. If Harv is around when people try to make sense of how our family came to be, Cal waves in his direction and says with ease, “That’s my real dad. He’s my only dad. He takes care of me and he loves me.” One time, I think I heard her add something about how she likes that her dad laughs at all of her mom’s jokes no matter what, but I just brushed it off. All of my jokes are funny. I must have misunderstood her.

And when my 13-year-old addresses the seven years she spent without a father, she simply says, “I had to wait for my dad. But it was worth it.”

It doesn’t seem to bother her that people poke at the validity of the bond she shares with her father. She recognizes that an absence of understanding in others doesn’t detract from the love she receives and gives to the man who will love her always, in all ways.

I’m tempted to write about the answers I’ve given in the past when people ask me when I’m going to have another baby so I can give my husband a “real” child of his own, but then it would be apparent that I don’t keep my own childhood ignorance in mind all of the time. Also, who needs that kind of profanity in a blog post about family love and commitment? Let’s just say I’ve learned to modulate the shrillness in my voice while I say as evenly as I can that Harv already has a child of his own and that he’s an amazing father to our daughter.

Elizabeth Jayne Liu on adoption

I understand now that where we start is our biology and the road we travel is our biography. And whether we gain the parents we have through biology or biography, the end result can be the same- a happy family.

When I think of all the Kellys and Cals, I feel a deep sense of sadness that some people will never accept this concept. To these people, a “real” family starts in only one way. Any other permutation is seen as a makeshift solution, a model plastered together with imperfect seams and ill-fitting pieces.

I guess they haven’t been lucky enough to experience love by choice, and not by chance.

Happy Father’s Day, Harv. Both Cal and I are lucky as hell to have you in our biography.

Published June 14, 2013. Last updated April 10, 2014.
About the Author

Elizabeth Jayne Liu

Elizabeth started her blog, Flourish in Progress, on her thirtieth birthday to chronicle a yearlong shopping ban. Surprisingly, she s...

Elizabeth started her blog, Flourish in Progress, on her thirtieth birthday to chronicle a yearlong shopping ban. Surprisingly, she survived, and now records a series of weekly challenges called Monday Dares. She fails a lot.

Elizabeth writes candidly about her former addictions, love of four-letter words, and her affinity for all things rap. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, whom she married after dating for just eighteen days, her 13-year-old daughter, and her complete collection of Yo! MTV Raps Trading Cards.

Connect with Elizabeth on The Huffington Post, Facebook, and Instagram (@flourishinprogress).

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  • Natasha

    June 14, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    Thank you!!!!! ‘Our’ oldest (she’s 9) is not biologically ‘his’. But boy oh boy don’t tell either one of them that! That is her daddy. One of his brother even tried to get Lu to call hubs step dad, and he got the talking to of his life 🙂 also, Cal sounds like the most awesome child ever so you are doing a great job!

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      June 15, 2013 at 1:35 pm

      I love this so much. Your husbands sounds like an amazing man. My personal belief (and maybe part of this come from my own experiences as well) is that a strong bond between father and daughter really makes a profound difference in what kind of woman that child grows up to be. 

  • Leigh Ann

    June 14, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    “I understand now that where we start is our biology and the road we travel is our biography.” That line totally blew me away.

    Lovely piece. My sister is a single mom and her daughter is just now starting to ask questions about her absent dad. I hope she’s able to find a man like Harv who will love her like his own someday.

    • Isabel


      June 14, 2013 at 6:46 pm


    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      June 15, 2013 at 1:38 pm

      Cal was so unfamiliar with the concept of a father, that when she started talking, she called my brother “daddy.” That was a hard one to explain, and it was even tougher later on when she asked how long she would have to wait to have her own dad. 

      I’ve heard lots of women say that there are no “good men” left, but I don’t think that’s true at all. I hope so much that your sister finds a man who loves her and her daughter in the way that they deserve. 

  • Candy

    June 14, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    In my years … many years, haha … of life on this earth, I’ve discovered that, oftentimes, children understand and process issues much more easily than we adults could ever begin to. I think it’s because they haven’t yet experienced much of life’s negative, hurtful, shameful, etc experiences which can pollute their emotions and decision making. They still possess unaltered, fresh, pure, young hearts and minds, capable of things far beyond that of an adult. At least, that’s my theory. 

    With all this said, I can so relate. My husband and I adopted a “child.” I put child in quotes as he was an 18 year old young man, but in calendar years, only. In many ways, he was still very much a confused, heartbroken little boy with an intense desire to be wanted, needed and loved by a family, all his own. We soon fell in love and our family provided him just that.

    We went through the legal adoption process, regardless his age. He was our son. The whispers, and not so whispered, comments abounded. One such comment stated, “You can’t possibly love him as much as your other children. I mean, (insert name here) would be foolish to ever think you could possibly love him as much as your others.” Yep … direct quote. Here’s the kicker, while I normally comment on Facebook, instead of the blog, I thought it best to refrain with this comment. You see, this was said to me by a high school “friend” for which I am still Facebook friends. Did I mention I can relate to your need to “modulate the shrillness in my voice while I say as evenly as I can?” Yeah … 

    Thank you for this heartfelt and lovely, piece.  Your statement … “I understand now that where we start is our biology and the road we travel is our biography. And whether we gain the parents we have through biology or biography, the end result can be the same- a happy family” … says it ALL, and beautifully so. Those not understanding this concept are truly missing out on  something very special. 

    Loads of love and respect to you … all three of you.

    Candy xoxo

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      June 15, 2013 at 1:58 pm

      Candy, I just totally had a “hand to heart” moment which is, like, so rare because some people have accused me of not having one (um, heart, not hand).

      Very recently, I was reading testimonials from foster kids and adopted kids, and the sadness and lack of hope was apparent in a lot of the older kids who were about to age out of foster care. Some had even been well-cared for in their foster homes, but they didn’t have a sense of belonging because they felt like they couldn’t call any one family their own. 

      I think it’s amazing that you adopted your son in the way you did. Everyone wins when you make room for more love. 

      That HS friend sounds like a hater. I’ve always had a problem with “needing” to talk back to haters, but as I grow older (not older and wiser, just older) I realize that haters do themselves in eventually because they aren’t receptive to goodness. 

      Clearly, you know goodness. 

      • Candy

        June 16, 2013 at 2:33 pm

        Thank you, so much, for your kind sentiments. They truly touched my heart. 

        • Isabel


          June 16, 2013 at 2:52 pm

          I just want to hug you and EJL, right now.

  • Anna

    June 14, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    Love this. It’s really fantastic you can remember this childhood story, and that your friend’s answer has stayed with you all these years. xo

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      June 15, 2013 at 2:02 pm

      Her grace has stayed with me. I want to be like her when I grow up.

  • mrsbourne

    June 14, 2013 at 8:19 pm

    Beautiful piece!!  Especially loved Cal’s answer about having to wait for her dad, but it being worth it.  So perfect!

    I was adopted as an infant 30-something years ago and grew up understanding this.  I remember some friends not “getting” it, but I never had issues with it myself.  What has been interesting to me is the process my own children have gone through trying to understand that I didn’t “grow in Nana’s tummy.”  They’re tweens now, but once the concept of adoption was introduced,  it took some time and many repeated discussions to understand that “Nana” is my “real” mom.  : )

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      June 15, 2013 at 2:25 pm

      I think it’s pretty awesome when kids (or anyone, really) approach adoption with a desire to understand more, and even awesomer (word? not a word?) when the adopted person already comes from a place of understanding. 

  • Chelsi Leigh

    June 14, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    I’ve got tons of friends who’ve adopted, and I find myself saying stupid stuff ALL THE TIME. So I really appreciate it when people, like you, take the time to educate awkward friends like me.

    As for Cal, that girl is pretty incredible.

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      June 15, 2013 at 2:28 pm

      It’s baller of you to admit that you make slip-ups. And BALLER (all caps is next level baller) to want to be educated. 

  • Dawn

    June 15, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    I love this SO much!

    • Isabel


      June 15, 2013 at 1:19 pm

      me too!

    • Isabel


      June 15, 2013 at 1:22 pm

      and thank you for the kind words. we always love to hear them. 😉

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      June 15, 2013 at 2:28 pm

      Thanks for the love, Dawn!

  • Michelle

    June 16, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    I truly love this post! Generally speaking, I don’t usually comment on the various blogs I read, but this is special – you see I’m 1 of 5 kids. 2 of my sisters and I are the ‘Cals’ in our family.
    We were blessed with and amazing step-father, though noone would ever know he is anything but our dad. I say blessed because without him my sisters and I would not have been complete.
    He is my daddy. He is who I cried to he first time I was dumped. He is who walked me down the aisle. He is the first person (after hubbie) that I told when I was pregnant with my first LO.
    He has never EVER refered to me as anything but his daughter 🙂

    Moms are always praised for their rolls in the family, wether nuclear, blended or otherwise, and for how we keep the family together, but my family wouldn’t be a family without my dad.

    Cal is an extremely lucky young lady – I would know 🙂

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      June 16, 2013 at 2:29 pm

      Oh man, I wish I hadn’t put on liquid eyeliner right before reading this. 

      Your dad sounds like an incredible man. Thank you for sharing your experience with me. I know that one day, when Cal is a grown-up, she will be able to say the same things about her dad. 

  • Kat

    June 18, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    Such a great post. I was adopted by a generous and loving aunt and uncle when it was apparent that my biological father was no longer able to raise me. They mean the world to me, and treat me just like a daughter, despite taking me in a little later (16). They are now my son’s favorite people, and the only grandparents he knows from my family. Thanks to their love and support, I now have a happy little family of my own, and am so proud to call them my parents – it’s not always who “had you”, it’s who raised you 🙂

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      June 23, 2013 at 12:46 pm

      My husband grew up in a loving home where he was “taught” at an early age what a family who loves and supports each other looks like. I (partly) credit his upbringing for his amazing skills as a dad. 

      It’s pretty awesome that your aunt and uncle helped perpetuate a cycle of good, so that you would know what a solid family looks like, and in turn, you could create the same for the family you have now. 

  • Kristin Shaw (Two Cannoli)

    July 8, 2013 at 12:31 am

    What a gorgeous post! So much love. My aunt was adopted by my grandparents when she was 5, and I’m so lucky that we have her in our family.

  • Víctor

    August 6, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    Reallly love it reading this lines again and again…