The untold truth of Madonna's many children

It's hard to imagine a music industry without Madonna. According to Parents, the star has racked up nearly 200 million worldwide album sales, three Grammy awards, 25 top 10 singles and even a Golden Globe. Despite her massive star power, the singer's biggest achievement might just be motherhood. In fact, she's kind of her own role model because of it.

"There are no living role models for me," she told Vogue in a 2019 interview. "Because nobody does what I do. And that's kind of scary. ...Being a single parent of six children, I continue to be creative and be an artist and be politically active, to have a voice, to do all the things that I do. So I mean, there isn't anybody in my position."

Madonna isn't just a single mother to a child. The singer has a brood of six children: her two biological kids, Lourdes Leon and Rocco Ritchie, and her adoptive children David Banda, Mercy James, and twins Estere and Stella Mwale. Of course, raising kids in the public eye isn't easy and the children have been subject to their fare share of scandals and controversy. This is the untold truth of Madonna's many kids.

Madonna is a notoriously strict parent

Madonna is known for pushing boundaries. The artist released a coffee table book full of erotic images and regularly wears a fashion eye patch (only Madge or Johnny Depp could possibly make the Captain Jack Sparrow look cool). Still, there is one area in her life where she's not all laissez faire: parenting. Madonna runs a tight ship for her kids, most likely to their dismay.

According to a 2005 interview with Newsweek (via USA Today's archives), the queen of pop didn't allow any of her children to watch TV or look at magazines (which is probably wise if you're the kind of parent who poses nude for cover stories). Madonna's brood was also not allowed to have milk and ice cream. Perhaps the whole family is lactose intolerant. Who knows?

Madge also revealed to Newsweek that she cracked the whip when it came to tidying up. The singer would confiscate all of her eldest daughter's clothing if she left dirty laundry on the floor. This resulted in Lourdes Leon wearing the same outfit to school until she, according to Madonna, "[learned] her lesson." According to Us Weekly, Leon wasn't allowed to dye her hair either — at least until she turned 14. This is clearly an example of do as I say, not as I do, as Madge is known for her bleach blonde locks.

Rocco Ritchie ran away from mama Madonna

Rocco Ritchie, Madonna's son with ex-husband Guy Ritchie, triggered a massive, highly dramatic custody battle when he reportedly left America and decided to move to London to live with his father. Rocco reportedly served as a backup dancer on his mom's MDNA tour, but by the time the Rebel Heart Tour rolled around, the singer admitted to Entertainment Weekly that her son wasn't really "interested in performing on stage" with her. "Your mom is not that cool when you're 14," she said.

Rocco really, really must have not been interested because, according to the Daily Mail, he ended up running away to the UK mid-tour after Madge confiscated his mobile phone. Seriously, mess with a privileged kid's Instagram time and that's it. According to People, Rocco went as far as refusing to come home for the holidays, and that's when Madge went to court where a judge allegedly ordered the teen's return to the US. Rocco, however, did not actually return, which sparked a custody battle between Madonna and Guy. 

The pair eventually settled their custody dispute sometime in 2016, according to People, but a "concerned" Madonna still flew to London to watch Rocco after Ritchie left him alone during a trip to LA. In all fairness, she probably wanted to prevent more paparazzi photos of her son smoking and drinking underneath a bridge like a teenage vagrant.

Madonna supported son Rocco through his drug arrest

Rocco undoubtedly went through a rebellious phase, coincidentally right after running away from Madonna's Rebel Heart Tour. Clearly, his rebel heart was passed down from his mother. In 2016, the same year Rocco was snapped smoking and drinking under a bridge, the kid was cuffed for cannabis possession. 

According to the Daily Mail, it all started with a complaint from neighbors who reportedly saw Rocco "smoking or doing drugs." The Sun reports that the teen was subsequently searched, but not before allegedly "tossing something away" as he was approached by law enforcement. Officers allegedly found "traces of cannabis" on his clothing and a small amount of marijuana in his bag. "Rocco has become a well-known figure in the neighborhood and not for the right reasons. He's been repeatedly seen acting suspiciously," an anonymous source told The Sun. 

Though Rocco did get cuffed, he was bailed out of jail and forced to attend a drug ed class, according to TMZMadge still supported her son despite the custody battle and the fact that he literally ditched her on tour. She told The Associated Press (via USA Today), "I love my son very much. I will do whatever I can to give him the support that he needs."

Madonna's adoption of David stemmed from tragedy

Madonna adopted David Banda in 2006, but the child's origin story is steeped in tragedy. According to The Guardian, the boy hails from Lipunga, a village of around 300 people in Western Malawi, Africa. His siblings — Garnet and Babel — both died before the age of three. The former succumbed to malaria when he was two years and eight months old. The latter had an "undetermined illness" that took his life when he was just 18 months.

David never really knew his mother, either. She died just six days after giving birth. This is what triggered his father, Yohane Banda, to give his son to an orphanage. At the time of his wife's death, Banda reportedly still owed around 10,000 Kwacha (about $765 USD) to his in-laws for her dowry, so they were not involved in taking care of their grandson. Yohane, who worked in his own onion and tomato garden, couldn't even afford milk. In order to protect his son from the same fate as his siblings, the father gave David to Home of Hope orphanage, where he'd have access to an on-site clinic if he fell ill. Yohane still rode a bicycle more than 50-miles to visit his son twice a week. "We were very close to my child," he told The Guardian. "Whenever I left the orphanage, David would cry."

At the time of writing, David appears to be happy and healthy. He's following in his adoptive mother's footsteps by taking up the piano.

Madonna may have bent the rules to adopt David, causing controversy

Madonna was met with a lot of controversy when she first adopted David from Malawi. According to The Guardian, the country has a law that foreigners seeking an adoption need to live in the country for 18 months before they're allowed to take a child home. During this time, welfare officials monitor whether or not the parents are suitable, but Madonna didn't actually have to go through this process. 

The pop star managed to skirt the country's strict adoption laws. Not only did she adopt a child with living relatives, which The Guardian reports is "very unusual," but she also didn't live in Malawi. A judge passed an "interim order" that gave the star permission to take David to America if his birth father consented to the adoption. After 18 months, she was required to go to a second hearing with then-husband Guy Ritchie, where the adoption would be officially approved at the discretion of welfare officials. The Guardian claims this ruling was technically legal but conflicted with Malawi's constitution. As a result, it was protested by human rights groups.

Madonna had a different point of view surrounding David's adoption controversy. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, she claimed, "There are no adoption laws in Malawi, and I was warned by my social worker that because there were no known laws in Malawi, they were more or less going to have to make them up as we went along."

Mercy James' uncle feels swindled after Madonna adopted her

Madonna adopted a second child from Malawi in the early aughts, but this time around, things were more difficult. According to People, the government would not approve Mercy James' adoption because the star was recently divorced. Mercy was suffering from malaria at the time, and Madge ended up hiring a "team of lawyers" who took the case all the way to the supreme court in order to secure the adoption. 

Apparently, not everyone was as psyched about the adoption as the queen of pop. According to the Daily Mail, Mercy's uncle Peter Banet spoke out against signing his niece over to Madge after he got wind that the pop star was looking to adopt a set of twins in 2017. The Mail reports that Banet was "under the impression" he'd stay in contact with Mercy and that she might "return home one day." Though the child was taken on "cultural" visits back to Malawi, her birth family was not informed.

"We are glad that she is getting a good education, of course. That is a positive thing," Peter said (via the Daily Mail). "But we are her birth family, her blood relatives, and we don't even know where she is. No one is listening to us. We have been very badly deceived." 

Mercy's grandmother took her pleas to the press

It's not just Mercy's uncle who reportedly isn't happy about his niece's adoption. Her biological grandmother, Lucy Chekechiwa, went to the press in 2016 to beg Madonna to let her see her granddaughter one last time. According to the Mirror, Chekechiwa's teenage daughter died just eight days after giving birth to Mercy. The only reason her grandmother gave her up was because she couldn't afford to take care of the newborn. Nonetheless, she believed Madonna was going to keep the pair in touch throughout Mercy's lifetime.

"Madonna has not been in communication with me and I cannot understand why. She brings Mercy to Malawi but not to see me," she told the Mirror. "Why won't she just come to see me? The pain is in my heart. I am old and ill and anything could happen. I want to see her before it is too late."

Though Madonna hasn't taken Mercy back to her biological family, Mirror reports that the pop star has donated about £7 million (around $8.5 million USD) to fund educational programs in Malawi.

Lourdes Leon was cyber bullied over her body hair

Lourdes Leon is practically her mother's mini-me, even if she's now a twentysomething. The celebrispawn, whose father is Madonna's former fitness trainer Carlos Leon, shares one peculiar grooming habit with her mom: she doesn't shave. Patriarchal beauty standards be darned.  

In an interview with Harper's Bazaar (via People), Madonna admitted that her unshaven underarms were a form of rebellion against how "popular girls had to behave to get the boys. ...I refused to shave. I had hairy armpits," she said. Leon's motivation is not so different. She's just fiercely herself. The star graces runways with unshaven legs and fearlessly poses in bikinis with hairy armpits, but she's also been subject to bullying because of her hair. Who knew body hair could be so controversial? 

According to Teen Vogue, the comments section in an Instagram post by the tabloid Just Jared became a cyber bullying frenzy when commentors accused the star of being a "gross feminist" or trying to "push away men" with her hair. Still, Leon probably didn't sweat it. In an interview with Vogue, the young star said, "I go through this struggle myself, [where] women's bodies have been made so public that everyone feels like they need to comment," adding, "I love when someone doesn't pretend to be someone they are not." You won't catch Leon faking anytime soon.

Lourdes helped out mama Madonna on MDNA

Leon not only follows in the footsteps of her mother, but the budding star regularly collaborates with her famous mom. In 1998, Madonna penned the hit "Little Star" for her firstborn, but followed up with an actual collaboration in 2012. "Superstar" from the album MDNA saw Leon lend her talents to some backup vocals. According to E! News, it's not the first time the pair have shared the spotlight.

Leon, who ultimately studied musical theater in college, would regularly be Madonna's date to A-list events like gallery openings and fashion shows as a child. Mirror reports that she took a gig in her mama's wardrobe department during tour and even dressed up all of the dancers (E! claims she was barely 13 years old at the time). The star also collaborated with her mom on a clothing line called Material Girl.

"I didn't know 25 years ago a song that I sang was going to turn into a clothing line that my daughter was the designer for," Madonna told CNN (via E! News). "It's pretty cool actually." Leon is pretty cool — but it's hard not to be when your mom is the reigning queen of pop. 

Madonna claims mobile phones ruined her relationship with her older kids

Teens are so addicted to their phones that, according to Wired, even teens worry that teens are addicted to their phones. It's not just a fear shared among baby boomers. Madonna, apparently, had the right to be worried. The minute she gave her kids cell phones, things apparently started going down hill with their relationship. We saw it when Rocco allegedly ran away from tour because his mom confiscated his mobile, but the pop star claims trouble was brewing years before then.

In an interview with Vogue, the queen of pop admits it was a total mistake to give her older children — Lourdes and Rocco — cell phones when they turned 13. She was holding off on allowing then-13-year-old David to have one so as to protect their precious bond, which is basically unheard of in an era where 3-year-olds know how to use YouTube.

"I'm going to stick that one out for as long as possible, because I made a mistake when I gave my older children phones when they were 13," she told Vogue. "It ended my relationship with them, really. Not completely, but it became a very, very big part of their lives. They became too inundated with imagery and started to compare themselves to other people, and that's really bad for self-growth."

Madonna feels closest to son David

Madonna has a large blended family brood of children who seem incredibly tight-knit thanks to her strict parenting. Yes, the star has had a complicated relationship with her only biological son, but she undeniably shares an extraordinarily close bond with her biological daughter. The pair seems like best friends and are constant collaborators. Strangely enough, Madge actually feels the most connected to one of her adoptive children rather than the ones she gave birth to herself.

In an interview with Vogue, the MDNA singer admitted that she feels most similar to David, which is definitely fodder for the nature vs. nurture debate. "What he has more than anything is focus and determination," Madonna said. "I'm pretty sure he got it from me. He's the one I have the most in common with. I feel like he gets me; he has more of my DNA than any of my children so far."

Nonetheless, Madonna still is impressed by her biological children. In fact, she told Vogue that she's "green with envy" over how talented Leon is at "everything she does." It seems like that trait was indeed passed down from mama.

Madonna's twin daughters, Stella and Estere, have a sense of humor about their mama's career

In 2017, Madonna adopted a set of twins, adding two more kiddos to her ever-growing brood. Like their adoptive siblings, Stella and Estere are also from Malawi. According to People, Madonna decided to adopt the pair after an epiphany where she realized so many kids don't have homes and wondered, "Why isn't my kitchen filled with dancing children?"

The twins seemed to adjust well to their mama's fame. They've been known to dress up in her wigs and rock a matching outfit. They even have the perfect response when people ask them about their famous mom. In an interview with Radio.com, Madonna admitted that her older children don't care at all about her fame, but the younger ones think it's funny. "Today my 6-year-old twins said to me, 'Mom, everyone's always asking us if Madonna's our mother. And we tell them, 'No, Madame X is our mother,'" Madonna admitted.

Madame X is Madonna's 14th studio album. Clearly, Stella and Estere know the importance of good branding on a music career.