Love is thicker than water

Collette is a young adopted woman with four siblings, born to her adoptive parents both before and after she joined the family. Are her sisters and brothers closer to each other than to her because they share the same blood? Here she explains why she thinks it’s a rather irrelevant question…

As I sat down on the sofa after a long drive home from university, my brother Joseph threw himself on top of me, closely followed by my sister Jessica, and next my sister Emily, dragging the latest addition to our family, our baby brother Isaac, to the top of the pile. “Squish! We’re like a brother and sister pie!” laughed Joseph. We snuggled and huddled together, thrilled to be reunited after what seemed
like an eternity. Despite our time apart, there was no awkwardness.

Picture of Collette graduating
Collette and her siblings on her graduation day

That’s the beauty of being siblings: you are straight back in there with a loving embrace, quickly descending into chaos, and ending predictably with Mum’s infamous line, “It’ll all end in tears!” Quite possibly, we are at our most relaxed when we’re with each other: we have a shared history and know each other intimately, including each other’s weak points, which we frequently exploit during rounds of Cluedo! We all know that we are unconditionally loved and accepted for who we are. “Well, of course,” I hear you say, “You’re siblings”. But would you change your mind if I now told you that I am adopted?

I have been asked by people on more than one occasion whether my sisters are closer to each other than they are to me because they are ‘real’ sisters. My usual response is a look of utter disgust, which tends to have the desired effect of making them feel just as uncomfortable as I do. Imagine having the audacity to call into question my relationship with my brothers and sisters! I’m partly fascinated that some people can be so superficial about blood and love, and partly horrified. However, these questions have necessarily made me look into what my sibling relationships are based on, because, genetically, we share nothing.

Picture of Collette and her siblings
Joseph, Emily, Jessica and Collette (from left to right)

I read magazine articles all the time in which people are wondering whether they will love their stepchildren, or adoptive and foster children, as much as they do their birth family. I often wish I could say to them that it’s not a matter of whether you will love them as much, it’s whether you will choose to. Hopefully, nobody is shallow enough not to love a member of their family because they don’t have the same hair colour, or they haven’t inherited Dad’s nose. ‘Blood’ really has no relevance to my sibling relationships. Yes, OK, the other four vaguely look like each other, and have some features that they have inherited from our parents – skinny arms, a good bit of height (of which I am jealous!) – but none of these superficial elements have made us who we really are.

What has shaped and carved out our relationships is our shared set of experiences. Upon realising for himself that I was adopted, my seven-year-old brother Joseph responded, “Oh is that it – you just weren’t in Mummy’s tummy?” He was visibly unperturbed by the conversation – to him, and all of us, it does not matter one iota where I was born, what matters to us is the here and now: us and our shared experiences. Only my sisters and I know why, one year for my birthday, my sister Emily bought me a pack of Kandoo wipes, or remember that time when Emily and I sailed too far out to sea and Dad nearly had a heart attack! Only we are permitted to affectionately tease Jessica for sticking chewing gum behind her ear and trying to make us get it out before Mum and Dad saw! Only we remember the time when Joseph locked himself in my university room and we had to call out security at 11pm at night, or the time when… or the time when… it goes on indefinitely.

We have a bank of memories into which we have all invested, and which inevitably forms part of our identity. It belongs to us, was created by us, is treasured by us, and will be carried by all of us through our entire lives. Bits will be added, but nothing will be taken away. Our sibling relationships are no different to anyone else’s – we love each other, value each other, tease each other, bicker with each other, get far too giddy with each other, and cherish each other! For some, blood will always connect them to their siblings, but for us, love is thicker than water.

Collette Isabel Bentley

Originally published in the Be My Parent newspaper in May 2008.

This article is published with the kind permission of the people involved. You may download it for your own reference but if you wish to use it for any other purpose, please contact Be My Parent for authorisation: Be My Parent, BAAF, Saffron House, 6-10 Kirby Street, London EC1N 8TS. Telephone: 020 7421 2666/5/4.

Last updated: 04 May 10

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