' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Again: Should children be identified as adopted on the Census?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Again: Should children be identified as adopted on the Census?

The below came last night as a comment from someone but it certainly is worth posting here rather than just as a "comment" to a previous blog, Census Controversy Over Query: Are the children adopted?  The writer makes several points about why telling the truth on a census form is the right thing to do, and how far back the adoption question on a census goes. This discussion began as it appears that numerous adoptive parents are not answering the question of their children's status as adopted or biological on the Census form, or find it offensive. Yet finding it offensive is offensive since it denies the truth of a child's origins, which colors and reflects the truth of their relationship with those children.

I repeat my point: those who would deny their children's true heritage--their adopted children's true heritage--will need a change of heart before they accept their adopted children as they are: born of someone else, with a history and culture that belong solely to them and is "other" than that of the adoptive family. Accepting one's children in honesty would be the way to begin a relationship based on truth and love of who that person really is, not whom the adoptive parent wishes him or her to be. And later, those adoptive parents dealing with this census question--are the children adopted?--as an "intrusion" will deny their children's need to know the truth of their origins. A truly loving parent would not deny a child's true heritage or "pretend" that it did not matter. To the child/adult about whom it concerns, it does matter. All else is false. --lorraine

From a reader, Virginia:
As someone who has done extensive genealogical research on my family (which I am able to do because I was not adopted, and therefore no institution or person is actively concealing my birth surname, country of origin, or ethnic history from me), I want to note that the Federal Censuses have differentiated adopted children from biological children from stepchildren for more than 100 years. In the 1900 Census alone, more than 101,000 adopted sons and daughters are identified as such (adopted), which is valuable information for genealogists and family researchers, particularly those who would seek membership in a patriarchal or matriarchal lineage-based organization, such as Daughters of the American Revolution. (Think there aren't many such heredity-based groups out there? Check out this list: http://www.hereditary.us/chrono.htm ), or those hoping to establish direct descent/blood-quantum for a Native Peoples' tribal affiliation.

Furthermore, older censuses collected even more data, such as place of birth of one's father, place of birth of one's mother, citizenship, year of immigration, year of naturalization. Without such data, I would never have been able to locate my paternal great-grandmother's Ellis Island documents, or be able to trace her back to her country of origin and reconnect with cousins there.

I wonder what importance, if any, adoptive parents place on the ability to do such a thing for themselves... or for their adopted children to be able to do so at some later point in their lives? Time and time again, I encounter adoptive parents who react negatively to any focus on the adopted status of their children, except that which is voiced and controlled by the adoptive parents themselves.
In my opinion, this speaks to a conscious, or perhaps subconscious, insecurity about what does and doesn't constitute a "legitimate" family ("legitimate" in the sense of "recognized" or "accepted," although there is a reason why that term persists). Such an insecurity seems to be reflected in the surrogacy scenarios of upstatemom's comment.

Census data which identifies specific individuals by name and physical location is not released until 72 years after the data is collected, which is why the latest data available is from 1930! Until 72 years have passed, only statistical/numerical data is available and that information is used not only in the election process but also for the establishment of public services. Many individuals who fear or distrust the census, seem to know precious little about its history, purpose, importance or mechanics, but seem more than willing to make claims about what it is or isn't, and what it should or shouldn't do.

I am trying to stick to the actual, initial topic, which addressed whether or not to identify an adopted child as such on the census. Several sound arguments for doing so were made, both in the original blogpost  (Random Thoughts on Adoption at the Easter Table)  and subsequent post concerning upstatemom's comment (Census Controversy Over Query: Are the children adopted?), but I do not find equally sound, supported arguments for NOT doing so in upstatemom's comment, other than her aversion to disclosing the data to the government because she, personally, does not see a purpose for providing it.
Note: In reviewing the comments here, I see that I inadvertently added a line from another individual to UpstateMomof3's (Edna Cohen) comment, and in the editing failed to note that it was from another person, who chose "anonymous" and identified herself as an adoptive mother in her comment. I simply had copied what the person said at the bottom of the blogger post, and then it merged with Upstate's comment and I failed to remember at that point (since it seemed to go with her thinking) that it was another person altogether. Her comment was submitted after Upstate's, and in support of her objection to the question about adoption on the census form.

I sincerely apologize to Mrs. Cohen for the error, and any grief it has caused her. But I will add that that comment was not by itself what sparked the initial topic, which was that some adoptive parents find offensive the question: are the children adopted or biological? on the census form, and that last comment that has caused so much drama was not the basis for the blog post. --lorraine


  1. I wonder if UpstateMomof3 teaches her adoptive children NOT TO LIE? Hmmmm....

    Again, I find it infuriating that once an adopted person becomes an adult, Uncle Sam insists that we either LIE or be psychic when answering the race question on the Census form. I want to know how the U.S. government expects millions of ADULT ADOPTEES WITH SEALED BIRTH RECORDS to truthfully and accurately answer this question.

  2. Carolina WhitefreezeApril 13, 2010 at 10:23 AM

    While I agree with much of what Virginia says regarding the census, I wanted to comment about what she characterized as adoptive parents' "tendency to react negatively to any focus on the adopted status of their children." I am adopted, and my parents never hid the fact that we were adopted. However, my father was definitely upset at times when we were portrayed as his "adopted children" rather than simply his "children." This WAS in part insecurity to be sure, but it was also his commitment to his family and his concern that his kids (us) would not feel like true family members if we were "merely" adopted into the family. Is this such a horrible thing, or something that can't be understood at least? I think that, on blogs like this, there is sometimes a tendency to demonize adoptive parents. But they have a tough row to hoe too, dealing with the issues that caused them to be adoptive parents and, especially in the era in which my parents adopted (the 50s and 60s), doing so with not only little information on how to do it but often with BAD information. If they didn't always have the insight to make the right choice, where were they supposed to get that insight? This was not an open subject then, like it is now. It's definitely good that we have outlets to discuss these things now, but let's be careful not to paint with too broad a brush.

    Just my two cents...

  3. The word "adoptive" is part of who my daughter is. That word is "just" a part of her, but a very big part of her and our family.

    I am a AP, and really have been puzzled by the strong 'reactions' that i've heard about the census. This is a great post, Lorraine, and i'll share it.

  4. Oh wow, Issy...thanks for being you. Your children are fortunate.

  5. Anonymous 9.39 wondered if UpstateMomof3 teaches her adoptive children not to lie.
    I totally agree that census forms should be answered truthfully. I do not understand why anyone would have a good reason not to, and think omitting requested information (unless genuinely not known, of course) is lying by omission, which is not a good model for children.

    However, Upstatemomof3 didn't recommend lying outright. Her angle was more lying by omission.
    The problem was that when Lorraine was quoting Upsatemomof3 she added this:
    "I wouldn't worry about being honest on a census form..(Ed: lovely)"
    and it looked as if Upstatemomof 3's said that, with Lorraine commenting in brackets.
    In fact all those words were Lorraine's.

    That is why she apologized, although not specifically.

  6. EXCELLENT comment! And I am sorry I missed it. I assumed as much too, that this is not about picking the children out as much as it is adoptive MOTHERS being picked out and being made to feel less legitimate than other mothers by having to differentiate that their children are not theirs biologically.

    Carolina, I understand where you are coming from. I feel a little sting too when I feel that Adoptive Parents have been over-generalized or stereotyped because I love my Adoptive Parents. However, research has shown that the pain of infertility (80% of couples have adopted because of infertility) that has gone unresolved where Adoptive Parents choose adoption to resolve infertility, can cause Adoptive Parents to enter into a relationship with an adopted child unprepared or with misguided expectations. It can also cause them to place an unethical demand on the adoption industry. Like it or not, it has to be somewhat their responsibility to work out their issues BEFORE adopting. It should not have been my job to make their pain go away--yet it was. It should not have been my job to make up for children that could not be had--yet it was. It is not fair to do that to children who have lost so much already (yes, even infants have a traumatic loss being seperated). As an Adult Adoptee and a woman who has struggled off and on with infertility and reproductive issues, I get also get a little "stinging" feeling inside when people remind me to be sensitive to the couples who had issues when they adopted. Adulthood and parenthood is about doing what's best for the kids--not just after the adoption is finalized but BEFORE too. It's not OK that kids are adopted to resolve grief--that needs to be worked out before an adoption takes place. I've spent my life being sensitive to infertility and my mother's insecurity about not birthing a child herself....when does it get to be about the child? When does it get to be about me?

  7. The census collecting info on adoption and adopted children is a good thing. Some of this info may actually be used to construct helpful data on families with some or all adopted children. What the heck is wrong with that? So yes, that question has to be asked. It is not being asked out of impertinence.

  8. Lying by omission a.k.a. withholding the truth is: LYING.

  9. Anonymous 7.23 pm said "Lying by omission is LYING."
    That point has already been made:
    "Omitting requested information (unless genuinely not known, of course) is LYING BY OMISSION"
    Just not in upper case letters.



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