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As If They Were Our Own

I was puzzled by the debate over adoption on the census. I couldn’t figure out why some people felt that checking off “adopted child” was demeaning to their child and why they equated this with adoptees being considered “less than.”  And then I asked myself this question:

What if the debate over having to check “biological child” or “adopted child” were reversed? What if people were upset about having to check off “biological child” because they thought their biological child might feel differentiated and less than?

Can you even imagine such a thing? Neither can I. Because to imagine such a thing, we would have to imagine a world where familial relations created through adoption were considered the “gold standard.” Pretty challenging to imagine such a world, isn’t it?

If you look at a certificate of adoption it will likely say something such as, “she shall be considered the daughter of the adopting parents, entitled to the same rights and privileges, and subject to the same duties and obligations as if the said person had been born in wedlock to the adoptive parents.” In every day language this is often shortened to the phrase “as if she/he were our own.” Used in this everyday way, “as if they were our own” is actually shorthand for “as if they were biologically related to us.”

“We love her as if she were our own.”

Is the acknowledgement of a child’s adoptive status on a census really the issue? Or it is it the fact that we live in a world where kinship through biology is considered the standard to which all other forms of kinship must be compared to? We don’t even have a language to talk about other forms of kinship, except by comparing them to biological kinship. Either you love this child “as if” you are biologically related, or you don’t “really” love this child.

Many adult adoptees know the experience of being asked a question about their “real family.” Who the “real family” is depends on the viewpoint of the speaker.

There are people who consider the biological family the “real family.” They feel that adoptive kinship can never be valued equally to biological kinship. Then there are people who consider the adoptive family the “real family.” They feel that the adoptive kinship replaces the biological kinship.

The outcome of “as if” kinship is that by definition there is not room for both families.

It’s time that we create room for all forms of kinship. It’s time that we have language for all forms of kinship. It’s time that families created in ways other than biology or only biology (adoptive families, blended families, etc.) be seen on their own terms, and judged and valued no differently. There is room for all our families.

I’m tired of “as if.”

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  Lani wrote @ April 11th, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Well said Livia. I just received an email this weekend from my birth brother (I’m an adoptee in reunion with my biological family) who expressed his frustration with our inadequate language around adoption and how it affects him. It surprised me a little. I know I get frustrated, I’m a late-discovery adoptee, I have issues! But so does he as an adult male who learned only 12 years ago he had an older sister. It is requiring a whole new language for us as we create family together. The love I have for my 3 older brothers in my adoptive family is no less “real” as what I hold for my brother and sister by birth. Different but both very, very real. I’d like to think my heart has room enough to embrace both.

  melissa wrote @ April 12th, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Great post, Livia. I love your insight. You really address the issues that are so often neglected in the adoption experience.

As an adoptee in post-reunion, family life has become even more complicated and confusing. I constantly have to clarify things for others, and even when I do so, I feel frustrated.

I am bothered when others refer to one set of parents as my “real parents.” All four of my parents are my real parents, and my American and Korean family members are all my real family. I have different relationships with each parent, obviously, just as a parent has different relationships with each of their children. The love is no less or no more, however.

Anyhow, I constantly feel divided and pulled in two, because of the lack of “room for all our families.”

Thank you again for posting this!

  michelle wrote @ April 13th, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Agreed that we need better language to define all types of kinship. But I see the question on the census as a way to empower adoptees and adoptive parents. It is a way to let our Congress know the numbers of us out there and to pay attention to our concerns whether it be a national putative father registry, open record bills, or other.

  Heather M. wrote @ April 13th, 2010 at 3:44 pm

I don’t see why only the biological family or the adoptive family has to be the “real” family. As Melissa, says, children’s biological families are just as “real” as adoptive families. I agree that language is just insufficient here. I am my children’s mother. Period. No modifying adjective necessary. We may have no way of ever contacting their biological parents, but my children still have two sets of 100% real parents.

I initially reacted with surprise to the “adopted child” spot on the census form, but I suppose it was just because I didn’t see why the distinction was necessary. I wasn’t so much worried about my children feeling marginalized, but was completely puzzed about why the government would even need that information. Michelle’s comment suggests some reasons that, as our adoptions were both international, I hadn’t thought of.

  Catherine wrote @ April 13th, 2010 at 3:46 pm

I am so connected to this discussion too. My first son, I adopted as a 36 hour old infant, and my second son I birthed, through what I like to call a demi-adoption, or donor assisted conception. I wrote an article last year for Adoptive Families Mag about the fact that my mothering was not determined by my uterus. A child becomes your child, when you become it’s parent, point blank. I do remember wondering if I would feel the “same” towards both children. As you can imagine, I did and didn’t. They are different people-so I love them for who they are. My feelings towards them in the blind parental adoration department is identical. Several adoptive parents contacted me after that story essentially to say; “I needed to hear that. Even though I knew it.” That memory came to me reading your post. For what it’s worth.

  Laurie Dumm wrote @ April 13th, 2010 at 9:52 pm

“she shall be considered the daughter of the adopting parents, entitled to the same rights and privileges, and subject to the same duties and obligations *as if* the said person had been born in wedlock to the adoptive parents.”

I agree with Livia, that the real upset is not in the counting. As Michelle points out, being counted gives us a voice in government. It’s about the “less than” or the “as if” judgments that go along with it.

In a country where white is the gold standard of color, then yes, families that parent children born to them are the gold standard of families. That is the reality of the culture we live in at the moment, and the “as if” legal language that forms adoptive families still defines us for the people looking in.

But things are changing. Not too long ago, birth mothers who separated from their children were shamed and did not speak out. Adoption was a dirty little secret kept from everyone. Even families formed with reproductive assistance were ‘passing’.

But just as Italians, Irish and Jews are now viewed as white (when once we weren’t), families are more likely to be viewed as just families regardless of how they are formed. Step-families, gay and lesbian families, interracial families, adoptive families, reunited birth families – as more of us teach our children and educate others that families are defined by the love we have for one another, the closer we will be to disregarding the ‘as if’ portion of the legality, and clinging more tightly to the part just before it.

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