Angelina Jolie is a mother to six children. Three of them are adopted, and three are her biological kids. Her journey with them has been a fascinating one. But now the A-list actress has reached a turning point with her offspring: they’re starting to grow up and go to college. And any parent will tell you that such an experience can be difficult.
Jolie first became a mother back in 2002, when she brought home a little boy whom she named Maddox. She’d adopted him from an orphanage in Cambodia, and the process was long and complicated. Indeed, the individual who arranged the adoption ended up being convicted of money laundering and fraud, but the adoption itself was nonetheless ruled to be valid.
At the time, Jolie was married to actor Billy Bob Thornton. However, she actually adopted Maddox on her own. Thornton did have the option to adopt the child legally back in the U.S., but he ended up not doing so. Three months later, he and Jolie separated, so Jolie started to raise Maddox as a single mother.
After Maddox, Jolie decided to adopt another child. This was Zahara Marley, who was born in Ethiopia. Her adoption was even more heartrending than the last. At first, Jolie was informed that Zahara was an orphan whose parents had died of AIDs. However, it later turned out that her birth mother was still alive.
Moreover, Zahara’s birth mother, Mentwabe Dawit, had an awful story to tell. She’d become pregnant following a rape. After giving birth, she feared the child would die in infancy due to malnourishment. In 2007 Dawit told the Reuters news agency, “I was desperate and decided to run away, rather than see my child dying.”
Thinking that her daughter was dead, Dawit’s mother consequently offered the baby for adoption. Dawit later told the media that she was happy with how things had turned out. “My mother was not misled by anyone, as was alleged by some media outlets,” she said. “Her motive was to save the child from dying, which I fully understand.”
“I have never disputed the adoption of my baby by Angelina Jolie,” Dawit continued. “I think my daughter is a very fortunate human being to be adopted by a world-famous lady. I wish them both all the success they deserve.” Jolie and her new partner, Brad Pitt, took Zahara to the U.S. And in 2006 Pitt legally adopted both Zahara and Maddox.
Then, in May 2006 Jolie had a biological child, Shiloh, with Pitt. The Pitt-Jolie relationship had dominated the headlines so much – not least because Pitt had left his first wife, actress Jennifer Aniston, to be with Jolie – that the pair decided to go aboard for the birth. As a result, Shiloh was born in Swakopmund, Namibia.
And Jolie didn’t stop there. In 2007 the actress adopted another child, again as a single parent. That was because Pax, three, was adopted from Vietnam, where unmarried couples aren’t permitted to co-adopt. So Pitt had to wait till 2008 to become the legal adoptive father of Pax in the U.S. The child’s birth mother had reportedly left him at an orphanage when Pax was a baby.
Finally, Jolie had two more biological children with Pitt, twins Vivienne and Knox. She gave birth to them in 2008 in the midst of more intense media interest. The first photographs of the twins were bought by magazines Hello and People for an alleged $14 million, making them the costliest celeb photos of all time.
Jolie raised her famous family in as normal a way as possible under the circumstances. In 2013 she told Total Film magazine that she was happy to do the dirty work herself. “The great thing about having a bunch of kids is that they just remind you that you’re the person who takes them to go poop,” she said.
In the same interview, Jolie said she saw no difference between her biological children and her adopted ones. All her kids were “the child that’s been chosen for you.” She stated, “I suppose it’s like a child you give birth to, as you can’t have a say in it. I see that when I look at my kids. It just seems to be right. It’s hard to understand how it could unfold so beautifully.”
Jolie has often stated that she’s extremely lucky to be in her position as a mother. “I’m not a single mom with two jobs trying to get by every day,” she told the Daily News in 2014. “I have much more support than most people, most women in this world. And I have the financial means to have a home and health care and food.”
Her children are able to get a good education, too. In June 2016 Jolie spoke to the BBC show Woman’s Hour about that very subject. “I asked them what languages they wanted to learn and Shi is learning Khmai, which is a Cambodian language,” she said. “Pax is focusing on Vietnamese, Mad has taken to German and Russian, Z is speaking French, Vivienne really wanted to learn Arabic, and Knox is learning sign language.”
Despite Jolie and Pitt both being world-famous actors, though, Jolie claimed that none of her children had yet shown an interest in acting. “None of my kids want to be actors,” she admitted. “They are actually very interested in being musicians. I think they like the process of film from the outside. Mad is interested in editing. Pax loves music and deejaying.”
Everything seemed to be going well in the Pitt-Jolie home, but in September 2016 a bombshell was dropped: Jolie and Pitt were getting divorced. Entertainment website TMZ subsequently got hold of the couple’s divorce papers and reported that Jolie wanted custody of the children and for Pitt to be granted visitation rights.
According to TMZ, a conflict over their kids was the reason for the split. The website reported that “sources connected with the couple” had stated that “Angelina’s decision to file has to do with the way Brad was parenting the children… she was extremely upset with his methods.”
Rumors spread that the catalyst for the divorce was a loud argument between Pitt and oldest son Maddox while they were aboard the couple’s private jet. There were even some media reports that Pitt’s actions were being looked into by the Los Angeles Department of Child & Family Service and the FBI.
TMZ claimed that, according to their sources, what happened was that “Brad and Angelina began arguing and Maddox jumped up to verbally defend his mom. We’re told Brad then lunged at the boy and Angelina jumped in between them to block her husband. Brad connected in some fashion with his son.”
Pitt’s team firmly denied this account, however. A source informed People magazine that the incident “was a parent-child argument which was not handled in the right way and escalated more than it should have.” And they added that “[Pitt] is emphatic that it did not reach the level of physical abuse, that no one was physically harmed. He did not hit his child in the face in any way.”
But whatever had actually happened, the damage was done. Pitt was subsequently absolved of any child abuse in 2017. “I was really on my back and chained to a system when Child Services was called,” he told GQ Style magazine that year. “And you know, after that, we’ve been able to work together to sort this out.”
Jolie also gave an interview to Vanity Fair magazine in July 2017 about the divorce and how the kids were doing. She and the children had moved to a new home. “It’s just been the hardest time, and we’re just kind of coming up for air,” Jolie said. “[This house] is a big jump forward for us, and we’re all trying to do our best to heal our family.”
The interviewer asked Jolie about rumors that Pitt had wanted a more “normal” life for the kids. She replied, “[Our lifestyle] was not in any way a negative. That was not the problem. That is and will remain one of the wonderful opportunities we are able to give our children… They’re six very strong-minded, thoughtful, worldly individuals. I’m very proud of them.”
When Jolie was asked about how the children had dealt with the divorce, her words were cryptic. “They’ve been very brave. They were very brave… in times they needed to be,” she said. “We’re all just healing from the events that led to the filing… They’re not healing from divorce. They’re healing from some… from life, from things in life.”
In 2018 Jolie did an interview with People magazine and was accompanied by Maddox. Both he and his 13-year-old brother Pax had been helping their mother on her new Netflix film, First They Killed My Father. Maddox was even named as an executive producer of the movie.
Jolie talked to People about how she’d been coping since the divorce. “I have had my ups and downs. I guess I am a little bit stronger,” she said. “We all have our difficult times, but as a mother you also have a responsibility first and foremost towards the kids. They are going through their formative years and everything else comes second to that.”
Jolie said her kids had “all been a bit in lockdown” but that they were now “itching to get out in the world again.” And Maddox, as the oldest, was the first to leave home. In August 2019 Jolie waved the 18-year-old off at college. It wasn’t a nearby establishment either – he was attending Yonsei University in South Korea.
At the D23 Expo in California, Jolie told Entertainment Tonight what it had been like seeing her oldest child leave the nest. When it had happened, Jolie said, she’d sobbed. “[At the airport] I turned around six times,” Jolie added. “And he sweetly stayed and kept waving, knowing that I was going to keep turning around. You could feel he knew he couldn’t leave.”
“It’s nice to know how much he knows he’s loved,” Jolie continued. “What was very beautiful is the way everybody said goodbye. When it was time to take him to the airport, some jumped into the car to take him.”
While moving into university, Maddox himself also answered some interview questions. Reporters noticed that his adoptive father wasn’t there and asked if Pitt was likely to come at all. “I don’t know about that, what’s happening,” Maddox replied, according to the Evening Standard. Then someone asked if his relationship with Pitt was finished, and Maddox responded, “Whatever happens, happens.”
Maddox may have a strained relationship with his father, but he’s very close to his mother. “Angelina’s relationship with Maddox has never been stronger,” a source told the website HollywoodLife in 2018. “They’ve always had a special connection but since the divorce their bond has only strengthened.”
“They really rely on each other,” the anonymous continued. “He’s always been wise beyond his years, but since her split with Brad he’s proven his maturity and wisdom is much greater than that of the average 17-year-old. Maddox has gone above and beyond to help out with the younger kids.”
“He has Angelina’s blessing to do the teenage thing and take off with his friends, but instead he sticks around to be with her and his brothers and sisters,” the insider continued. “It’s amazing how selfless he is, he definitely isn’t the average teenager. He’s one of Angelina’s greatest sources of pride and strength. She lights up whenever she talks about him.”
Indeed, Jolie sings the praises of her children whenever she can. Her two youngest kids are now 11 years old – time has flown by. And in September 2019 she spoke to Hello! magazine about her brood, saying, “On Mother’s Day my children make me breakfast and pick me flowers – they treat me like a lady.”
“When I do take time for myself, I rediscover that softness I speak of,” Jolie continued. “I also realize I have more fight and resilience in me than I knew. But at my core I’m soft and vulnerable – it’s not my dream just to be strong. I want to be allowed to be soft and I don’t want to be harmed or feel unsupported when I am.”
Seeing Maddox go off to college, Jolie told Hello!, had given her a whole different perspective. “When your children are little, you feel more ‘mommy’. When they are teenagers, you start to remember yourself as a teenager,” she explained. “You see them going to punk clubs, and you wonder why you can’t go. I’m in this fun moment where I’m rediscovering myself.”
The interviewer asked Jolie what values she wanted her children to learn. “Kindness – to others and themselves,” Jolie answered. “It’s important to be humble – know the freedoms you have and what you’ve been blessed with and make sure you help others. And always remember your place – we’re all human and very flawed. We’re tiny pieces in a much bigger world.”
Jolie may be sad that her children are starting to leave home, but she’s proud of the people they are becoming. “As they grow up, I find my children are strong individuals but still open-minded,” she said. “I try to lead by example and be kind and gracious, as my mother was – and loving and tolerant. But when there’s a fight that needs to be had, get in there.”
“We need to prepare the next generation, because there’s so much happening in the world – they’re up against it,” Jolie added. “I’m working on a program for children with the BBC. We’re counting on our children, so we must give them the right knowledge and support.” Jolie seems to be in a good position to do that.
Above all, Jolie is relieved at the closeness of her family unit. While speaking to Entertainment Tonight at D23, she said, “When you know that your kids love each other and you see the way they all — without any kind of prompting or pushing — give each other notes, hug each other, take each other, support each other, then you feel like they’re going to be okay… They’re always going to have each other.”