As anyone who’s been adopted knows, processing all the emotions around one set of parents—let alone two—is never simple. There’s learning to trust the couple that adopts you, which is hard enough, but then there’s also that sinking feeling of having been abandoned or unwanted by one’s original set of parents. Not an easy feeling to shake.

Take Nicole Richie—everybody knows that her father is legendary singer Lionel Richie, but many people skip the small print and miss the fact that she was actually adopted. And it’s a unique story, at that—in part because when the adoption was finalized, she was nine years old—old enough to make sense of the world. 

For years, Richie understandably felt heartbroken that her biological parents had left her and she wanted nothing to do with them. One might even surmise that her past drug problems and arrests have stemmed in part from this first relationship, which left much to be desired. But those of us who are open to evolving—do.

So when Richie became pregnant with her first child in 2007, she circled back around to thinking about her biological parents (the circle of life, if you will) and decided she could make room for them in her life after all.

Nicole was adopted when her parents couldn’t take care of her

Nicole was born Nicole Camille Escovedo on September 21, 1981 to her biological mother, Karen Moss, and her father, Peter Michael Escovedo. Her father was a musician who toured briefly with Lionel Richie, and Prince collaborator Sheila E.’s brother, while her mother worked as an assistant to Sheila E. Only problem was, by the time Nicole was 2, her parents were reportedly having major relationship and money issues. Lionel saw Nicole for the first time at a Prince concert.

“There on the stage in the middle of the concert was this 2-year-old kid playing the tambourine,” he said. “So I went backstage and I knew the mother and I knew the father and, of course, they were having difficulties with their relationship. I said, ‘While you are having the difficulty, the kid is sitting out here in limbo so I’ll tell you what I’ll do, just put the kid in my house until the tour is over with and then we will sort this out later.’”

Knowing they couldn’t properly look after Nicole, her biological parents agreed to let her move in with Lionel.

About being adopted, Nicole has said, “My parents were friends with Lionel. They trusted that they would be better able to provide for me.” The rest was history.

It took about maybe a year for me to just fall in love [with Nicole]. Of course, by that time, I was ‘Dad’…that’s when I said, ‘Let’s adopt her.’

So, Lionel and his wife at the time, Brenda Harvey, who were legal guardians up until that point, made the adoption official when Nicole was 9, and she’s been Nicole Richie ever since.

Although Lionel and Brenda got divorced in 1993, and Lionel remarried, Nicole remains close with both of her adopted parents. It was her biological parents, the ones she started out with (the ones who put her on stage at a Prince concert when she was a toddler) who never quite made it into her family picture.

Growing up without her biological parents

In her 2014 memoir, Sheila E. wrote about the adoption from Moss’ perspective. “As a single working mom, Karen was extremely grateful, but very torn. If Nikki stayed where she was, living rent-free, then Karen could earn enough for their future without disrupting her child’s life.” 

Karen and Nicole weren’t on bad terms during Nicole’s adoption, and she remained in her daughter’s life in some capacity afterwards. She was also there (along with Richie’s adopted parents) when her daughter was arrested for heroin possession in 2003. 

Although Nicole has struggled very publicly in the past with substance abuse and eating disorders, today, she’s happy, healthy, and focused on her kids. While she might not have been born into the most stable of family situations, her daughter, Harlow, son, Sparrow, and husband, Good Charlotte frontman Joel Madden, keep her grounded and honest with herself.

How getting pregnant changed how she thought of her biological parents

Nicole’s daughter was born in 2008, and her son in 2009. When Nicole got pregnant for the first time, she has said that her pregnancy helped her bond with Moss, her biological mother, while also bringing her closer to her adopted father, Lionel Richie.

Even though she hadn’t been at all close to her birth parents (especially her father), she realized during this period that she didn’t want to keep resenting them, and that, in fact, she wanted them in her life.

When I found out that I was pregnant, there was just something inside of me that felt a responsibility to mend any issues that I’ve had with my parents in the past, because, listen, I’ve put them through a lot.

Nicole Richie in Chicago Tribune

Nicole has also described how being pregnant helped her bond with her now husband Joel Madden’s mother. There was something about the prospect of bringing new life into the world that made Nicole want to reach out to the previous generation—her birth parents included. By forging real bonds and making peace in this way, she was preparing herself to be the best mother she could be. That’s my take.

When she was pregnant with her daughter, Richie told Diane Sawyer, “I would really want to be someone my child would look up to.”

Fifteen years ago, fans and haters alike might never have predicted that she would be a great mom, but today, she is just that: stable, loving, honest with her kids about her past, and welcoming of her birth parents into their lives. Sounds like positive progression to me.

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