Dear DMV, Stop Treating Adopted Kids Differently (UPDATED)

I have a kid who just passed her driver’s permit test! WOOHOO!

So, before I get grumbly, I just want to say,

You did GREAT.
You studied hard.
You were motivated.
You were determined.
You were brave.
You breathed in and you breathed out.
Whether you’d passed or failed, I am, as always, proud to be your mama.
But I’m sure excited that you passed!
And I cannot wait to go driving with you. <— True story.

And now, I’m going to get grumbly, friends. For real. I just want to say, before I start, that this is a tone I rarely take here or anywhere. Except late at night when I’m both caffeine- and sleep-deprived and the mountain of laundry is insurmountable and I just laid my hand in a fresh blob of toothpaste on my bathroom counter which was left there as a gift by the Toothpaste Fairy who’s a thousand times more reliable than the Tooth Fairy and the dog starts barking at the air right after the last kid falls asleep because LOOK! AIR! LOOK! AIR! AIR! AIR! AIR! AIR! … then I lose my poo.

This is a Lose My Poo post, is what I’m saying. Now you’re warned.

Abby and I went to the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) today, armed with coffee, paperwork, excitement and nerves — oh, the nerves! — for her driver’s permit test. We did all the things you usually do at the DMV. Tried to walk quietly on the laminate tile floor. Smiled sympathetically at the mama with the young kids who were doing their best but failing miserably at sitting still. Watched as numbers were called and people shuffled from Window 10 to Window 7 and finally to the Holy Grail of Windows — Window 1 — the final stop where pictures are taken and licenses are handed out and teenagers beam.

Our wait was short. The employees were efficient and friendly. The people-watching was middling; nothing great like the time I got to see a brawl.

And we filled out the driver’s permit application, which required me to tick a box stating whether I am Abby’s biological or adoptive parent.

photo (73)-001

Truthfully, as soon as I saw it, the box bothered me, mostly because I’m not sure why the DMV needs this information. The doctor’s office, yes; they need to know that my family medical history isn’t relevant when it comes to treating Abby. But the Department of Motor Vehicles? I’ve thought and thought, and I just can’t figure out any reason to differentiate biological and adoptive parents in this scenario. We’re all required to provide the same things, after all: proof of legal presence in the country, state residency, age, full name, address, parent or legal guardian’s signature, application, fee. Frankly, it’s archaic and insensitive to have a biological box and an adoptive box, but this is a government form and these things are slow to change so I sat in my seat and checked the box and moved on. Both Abby and I are strong enough to take the emotional hiccup silly boxes can bring, and, while I don’t support the small ways adoptees and dozens of other groups are separated every day, I also can’t fight every battle. This seemed like a small one.




Until we turned our form in and paid our fee and Abby passed the test and I cheered and cheered (but quietly because mom!) and we went to the window to pay the next fee and the form was stamped and we turned to move on to Window 1 and were stopped.

“Wait,” said the woman at Window 7, studying the form in greater detail. “Are you her biological mother?”

My stomach flipped upside down. I gave Abby my WTF face, and Abby shrugged, like, don’t ask me.

“No. I’m her adoptive mother,” I said. “Of course, I prefer to just say ‘mother.'”

And the woman stared at the form for a while.

“OK,” she said slowly. “We may need additional documentation that proves you’re her adoptive parent.”

“I’m sorry; what?” I asked, confused.

“We may need some more paperwork that shows you’re her adoptive parent,” she said.


“We just may need to do that.”

I took a deep breath and tried to be kind. She was obviously trying to do her job and do it well, and, let’s be honest, it can’t be easy to work at the DMV.

“I brought everything required on the list,” I said. “Her United States passport, proof of school enrollment, my driver’s license, the completed form and the fee. She passed all of the tests. She’s a resident of Oregon along with the rest of our family. There was no mention anywhere that I have to provide adoption documentation.”

“Well, I’m just not sure,” she said. “You may need to provide that. I should probably ask someone. Legal guardians have to provide proof.”

I took a deep breath.

“Yes,” I replied. “I think you should ask someone. In fact, I think you should go get a supervisor right now. To be clear, adoption means that I am her mother. Not that I am her legal guardian. I am her legal parent. This affords my daughter all of the same legal rights as if she was my biological daughter and me all of the same legal rights as if I was her biological mother. Please do ask a supervisor because I don’t think any adoptive family should have to have this conversation.”

She thought a while longer. “Alright,” she said eventually. “You can go to Window 1. Have a good day.”

And I said, “Thank you” because I was still trying to be kind.

As we walked away, though, Abby said, “You seem angry.”

I was angry. I am angry.

And I spent a little while feeling stupid for feeling angry about a tiny box and the can of worms it opened, but screw that.

Here’s the thing: On a day we should be only celebrating a right of passage, high-fiving and waving that permit in the air, whooping and hollering for her success, I had to defend my right to act as my daughter’s mother. And Abby had to watch. And while Abby doesn’t feel fragile about adoption, many kids at the formative age of 15 do. Subjecting them and their parents to suggestions that they must prove they’re a family? That’s harmful. It just is. And it’s not OK.

The form at the DMV has to change. It’s a tiny thing, that little box I tried to overlook, but it has to change because it’s a breeding ground for confusion and for hurt.

I guess it’s my battle, after all.

Saddling up,


P.S.  I’m at the beginning of navigating what to do about this situation, so I’m all ears if you have suggestions for next steps.



I contacted the Oregon DMV administrator’s office this morning. He was out of the office, so I spoke with his assistant who was warm, friendly, and helpful. She is forwarding my 2 questions (1. How can we change this form? 2. If we can’t, WHY is this a necessary differentiation?) to their policy analysts and form writers, and promised a call back. Here’s hoping for some information and CHANGE.


And the DMV responded! Here’s the post about it.


ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
  1. As an adult adoptee living in Oregon, I want to tell you Thank You for standing up for adoptees’ rights!

  2. Um, so, I think what they REALLY need are boxes for sperm donor, gestational surrogate, egg donor, assisted reproduction, embryo adoption, foster adoption, and family adoption. Because, you know, this is REALLY important for the DMV to know. Perhaps they need biological and adoptive family trees too. Let’s not hold back, now.

  3. Congratulations Abby!

  4. My 15 year old adopted daughter also earned her permit this year. I vaguely remember that there was a box for me to mark that I am her “adoptive” parent. The way DMV handles it may vary by branches because when we turned the form in the staff on Powell didn’t say anything about additional documentation. I’m glad you did something about this — thank you!

  5. I just had a very similar experience at the DMV in Greenville, South Carolina last Friday. I was enraged. I need to follow up and work on this. Thanks for the encouragement and motivation to do so.

  6. I can take any kid off the street in and say yep! That is my biological kid. If they want proof then they need to ask EVERYONE for proof. What do they want??? DNA??? I am angry already..My daughter is so sensitive to this crap and I would be furious. I have a birth certificate that says she is mine! And that should be enough. I had to dump all that adoption paperwork on the courts to prove it so that I could get that birth certificate. I am angry. Where is the lawyer that wants to get “change” and equality for our children. Sign me up!!!!!!!

  7. The employee was not very bright. People who are not very bright get flummoxed easily, and when something out of the ordinary happens, they don’t know what to do. Put another way, she was too dim to deal with the fact that you and your daughter don’t “look like” mother and daughter. Feel sorry for her.

    The form, OTOH, is another matter. It needs to be changed. But also: It sounds like DMV needs to do some employee education. Some people just need to be told about adoption. This is for the people who don’t read very much, who aren’t well-informed about what is going on in the world, and are who are bewildered when everyone else’s life isn’t just like theirs. People who deal with the public need to know how to treat others with respect.

  8. I have three children, all of whom were adopted. They are 6, 7, & 8 right now (yes, I lost my sanity years ago!). I can only hope and pray that in 8 years when my oldest is ready to get his license, this check box issue will be a thing of the past. I can’t say for sure if this check box even exists in WA State, but I can only hope that in 8 years it won’t be anywhere on the form. Good for you for saying what you did. We are already starting to have to deal with “blood related” issues that ignorant people have said to us and our children. I don’t ever want my children to feel less like my children just because we don’t share blood. Although, with the amount of cuts and scrapes my children get, it’s very possible that their blood has seeped into mine by now………

  9. Love is biological. That’s science.

    (You’ve received a lot of advice and I can’t add anything new but I know I would be floored and saddened and enraged if someone wanted proof of my parentage to my children. Maybe with the next kid, bring a photo of you cleaning up their vomit or getting gum out of their hair.)

  10. So happy for Abby!!!!
    She is fortunate to have you as her mother. I hope that when I am faced with situations that require me to stand up for my girls, I will be as strong and poised as you.

  11. Congratulations Abby!!!

    It’s been a year or two (okay 24) since I got my DL here in Illinois but I don’t recall my mother having to sign/check off anything for me to get my permit or my DL. We got our permits after finishing our Drivers Ed class and anyone could have taken me to get my DL if I had my permit card and my ID. Maybe it’s changed now but that was how it was for me.

    Though I have no advise on what to do, something should be done! Good Luck!

  12. I think it was a good thing they verify your identity. Do you know how many children are abducted every day? And at ages that they are not able to remember who the biological parents were!! This extra step could help in these circumstances. Just saying perhaps you should think about all the possible circumstances before becoming critical of someone trying to do their job. It does seem scary to me that she backed down without getting a supervisor.

    1. Shawn, have you thought through all the possible circumstances before criticizing this DVM worker for not getting her supervisor? 😉 My take is that the criticism is directed at a SYSTEM in which adoptive parents are made to feel less than biological parents. The post is titled “Dear DMV…” not “Dear Lady at the DMV…” And regarding the verification of identity, sure! As long as it’s not based on which checkbox you check. Because those kidnappers? Yeah, they’re going to be TOTALLY honest as they fill out forms at the DMV to get their victim a driver’s permit. Wait. What? =)

    2. They were not verifying identity; that had already been established. They were wondering about the need to verify the title of parent. If Beth had checked the biological box, it appears she would not have been questioned. The question is/was why should certain parents (but not others) have to prove their status as parents? And Jeff is correct, a person who would abduct a child would seem to exhibit enough dishonesty to think nothing of checking the “biological parent” box!

  13. Well I can sympathize with you ladies on a whole different level! I myself am adopted from Bulgaria and adopted at a young age. It really is a pain because every time I apply for college FAFSA or other scholarships they require that I prove I’m a citizen even at age 24! Mind you, I was adopted when i was 9…that’s a little crazy to be still going through stuff like this! Right now my college won’t disperse my financial aid until I come down in person and show them either my passport or birth certificate. I went to the social security office and I had to show them my passport in order for them to fix the problem. But even then, the school still wants me to prove my citizenship to them!!! How many people do I need to prove myself to before they give me a break???!!!! So believe me..I feel your pain!!

    1. Snezhana, I’m sorry you have to deal with that. I agree–how long will you have to prove yourself? This seems especially annoying if you are actually a citizen of this country. It’s not as if you came here last year. Alas, I wish you the best.

  14. How frustrating. It also makes no sense to me. You are here parent, period. I don’t think I agree that they should change the form because it’s supposed to be an exciting day for a new driver, though. It’s a legal form that documents things for future reference and records. However, I don’t at all understand why it should matter–there’s a world of difference between being an adoptive parent and being a legal guardian since you are, in fact, the parent. Good for you, taking action!

  15. Hooray for Abby! (fingers crossed for *many* years of safe and uneventful driving!!!)

    I’m another one who’s mad with you Beth. My mom is my bio mom, but my dad adopted me. So if he had taken me to get my license, would we have had to deal with that crap? It doesn’t matter if you’re related by blood or related by love, if you are the parent, you are the PARENT. The end. I hope you get that changed.

  16. I have a friend who bought a house in South Dakota some years back. At the time she was a single, professional woman. The house loan application mandated that she check one of the following boxes …

    single / married / divorced / widowed / spinster

    Spinster? She thought that was a word last used by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She was single, she was not divorced or widowed. But was she a “spinster”? She had never been married, but being in her 30’s had she crossed the time and become a “spinster” without knowing it? Life is full of these kinds of little jumbles. Like the old song says, “Little boxes, littles boxes.” Google it if you’re not old enough to remember.

    1. I got married in Fiji 9 years ago, and when filling out the paperwork, had to choose the option of spinster (my husband had bachelor on his), widowed or divorced

  17. I forwarded a link to

    Best of luck!

  18. Hmm. It seems to me that, first of all, the boxes should be “legal parent” and “legal guardian.” (Someone smart I know says if they want two boxes at all, it should be “parent listed on birth certificate” and “parent not listed on birth certificate,” but of course that only matters if we are having to prove our relationship, as I outline below.)

    If what the DMV wants is for the adult to prove his or her relationship, then that should be laid out in advance, similar to what it takes to get a passport for a minor. (There is a big difference, of course, between a passport and a driver’s license, as you can use the former to leave the country but not the latter. Proof of parentage during the application for the passport helps prevent child abduction.) I looked on the DMV website and there was nothing listed there about proving the relationship.

    Of course, if that is what the DMV wants, it should apply to all parents and guardians.

    1. Also I think you should unleash the awesome power of twitter. Here’s what I tweeted to @govkitz: (terrible attempt at html forthcoming)

      @govkitz Why is an adoptive parent different at the DMV? Isn't a parent a parent ?— Davida B (@shelleysmuse) August 13, 2013

  19. Congrats to your new driver! I gotta say, I’m in awe of how well you handled the situation – calm, kind and yet a strong advocate for your family. You did really great! I think starting at local DMV and then moving up the food chain is the way to go. That way, you potentially get change happening from within the DMV.

    I think we need a movement. A big fat loud and strong web presence. Your situation at the DMV, other gov’t paperwork that needlessly demands proof that you’re a family (my daughter’s passport application in the country of her birth), employment/benefits. When our newborn daughter came home, I called the university where I taught, to ask when to expect my first cheque (when you have a baby, the university provides top-up payments to 90% of your salary for the first 4 months of your leave). I was told that since my child was adopted, my leave would be unpaid (this meant $20,000 over the next four months, that we’d expected, but were denied on account of adopting, not giving birth). We were euphoric about our girl, and suddenly thrust into debt.

    So yup, I think we all fight our own battles separately (I lost the unpaid leave battle), but a movement – a campaign to make people aware that we’re frequently and quietly discriminated against on the basis of being adoptive families. That might go a long way. I have no mad internet/media skills…so have no idea how to make this happen.

  20. It’s because of 9/11 and the Patriot Act, it’s not some kind of personal attack against adoptive families. Adoption paperwork creates certain opportunities for those who would like to commit identity theft and fraud. It’s a bother, yes. But there are reasons, and you are taking it far too personally. It’s not that adoptive families are being treated like second class citizens, it’s that their circumstances happen to put them in this group that’s possibly subject to further scrutiny under the Patriot Act. The question of whether or not the Patriot Act is too far-reaching is a totally different (and long!) discussion, but my point here isn’t to defend the Patriot Act, just to state that it is what it is, and IT’S why you had this experience. It’s really no different than the fact that I can’t open a checking account for my 17yo son without a CA driver’s license, military ID, CA ID card or passport. I could complain about how we’re being discriminated against and forced to submit to government tracking schemes, or I can just accept that this is the world we live in now and be glad that the worst consequences I’m ever likely to suffer as a result of 9/11 are some bureaucratic hassles.

    1. April, with all due respect, I disagree. Lumping it all under the Patriot Act doesn’t make it OK. No one said that the INTENTION of the form was offensive, yet that is the result. Yes, everyone fully understands that there was no bogey man in a smoky room plotting against adoptive families. Yet this experience (even if unintentionally) clearly communicated that adoptive relationships are somehow less than biological relationships. And this is not simply over-sensitivity, as you claim. I’m glad you brought up opening a checking account with your son. The whole point is that you could look up the requirements and trust when you showed up that you had the correct documents. In THIS case, they met all the published requirements, and were then told that they didn’t qualify BECAUSE OF adoptive status. Sorry, but that feels exactly like a “personal attack against adoptive families”. When you say “It’s really no different”, you are simply wrong. It’s the exact opposite. Further, to say that their “circumstances” (being an adoptive family) make them “subject to further scrutiny under the Patriot Act,” this is in fact making them second class citizens. It is a different level of scrutiny and a different set of requirements for a different class of citizen. And it is not OK. Finally, I disagree with the implication that adoptive families somehow owe it to America (in light of 9/11) to “accept the world we live in”. I say the opposite; we have an obligation to each other to strive for progress.

  21. Congrats on passing! Two quick points, asking to prove adoptive status is wrong and I don’t see any need for it. My guess is the DMV person has no idea why this is on the form so they took the all two frequent overly cautious route. Here in Massachusetts your driver’s license shows whether you are an organ donor, is it possible this has anything to do with that box being there? The non-biological aspect somehow (although I’m not sure how) being important? Other than that, could it be there for the sake of validating why, possibly the applicant and the signor “may” have different last names?

  22. “Subjecting them and their parents to suggestions that they must prove they’re a family?” — I am so sorry for this. It makes me ill. This particular sentence struck a chord. I hear it all the time with my gay friends who have kids. They are wonderful, loving parents, and their kids adore them and are thriving, but somehow so many people don’t respect or value them as a family, and they can’t get the same rights as “normal” families.

  23. Cross posted on FB.
    I believe that the reason they differentiate between biological and adoptive parents is to indicate variances in Proof of residency and identity. Most biological children would simply have a u.s. birth certificate whereas adopted children would have an amended birth certificate or birth certificate plus adoption decree to support a name change. Proof of parentage, since they have to sign for a minor to get their permit, is the usually provided birth certificate.
    Now further training would not be amiss since only legal guardanshop requires proof. She may have been flustered by the passport plus adoption check box but she did the right thing in the end and at least she was paying attention.
    Congratulations to Abby and to you on raising an amazing daughtercand keeping your poo contained until you got to a safe place!

  24. I wonder if this box is new, because I do not recall it when I took my three in 6, 10 and 12ish years ago. I think I would have noticed because I am technically ‘only’ the step-parent to two of the three, and the “real mom” designation rankles me. I raised them, and have not had to share as the first mom is out of the picture entirely. With the middle child we had to go back to school to get proof of attendance- it was the first year that was required. But I don’t recall any box or otherwise a need to prove I was the parent. My point is- if this is new, why on earth is it there?! I cannot imagine a purpose, and am totally on board with any letter writing campaign or petition to get it corrected.

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