Adoption storylines have always been very popular in the movies and on TV. The recent release of Disney's Annie is just a current example. It's actually rather amazing how often an adoption theme works its way into movies - even cartoons aimed at the toddler crowd.
Sadly, jokes about being adopted are prevalent. In 2012’s blockbuster, The Avengers, for example, Black Widow says about Thor’s brother, Loki, “He killed 80 people in two days.” Thor quips, “He’s adopted.” The audience is supposed to laugh.
When a storyline in an otherwise lighthearted cartoon movie touches on something so fundamental to your family as adoption, it can catch a parent off guard. And if the message is inaccurate or outrageously misleading, it can leave you in shock. How could anyone portray adoption in that light? Why did those characters use that awful language? It’s maddening for sure and may leave you feeling paralyzed – how do you react? What do you say to your child after seeing this? What do you do?
This is a great opportunity to create a teachable moment. These storylines can provide a great launching point to bring up adoption and check in with your child's understanding of the real fact versus the fiction portrayed in the movie. Whether your child asks you about it or not, they are likely to have questions about their adoption story and about their birth family. Even if they have a relationship with their birthparents, there is likely some aspect they have always wondered about. Talking about the families portrayed in the movie can open a discussion on a topic your son or daughter may be struggling with. You might start with “Wow, people really don’t understand how adoption works, do they?” A conversation about their specific story that contrasts to the movie's story may elicit more insights from them or more questions.
If adoption is something you discuss on a regular basis, this can be used as a way to continue your conversation, or reinforce concepts. Adoption storylines are often used in the movies to elicit feelings of belonging and security. Be sensitive to those topics. Watching the show together may bring out new feelings or just more questions.
How you talk about birthparents depends on your child’s particular situation and their developmental age. Remind them that their birthmom didn’t toss them away. She made a difficult, loving decision and a plan to make sure they were taken care of in a way she didn’t feel she could. Explain that adoption is a commitment of the heart that is also supported by the law. At the same time that their birthparents made a decision to make a plan for them, you made a commitment to open your hearts to them forever. And together, you made the commitment to your child’s future a legal action.
In the Community
As you likely have already discovered, being an adoptive parent can bring with it the opportunity to educate and advocate on the topic. Many people have myths and misperceptions about adoption. You can use these misguided storylines to further educate the people in your community, as well as your child’s teacher and classmates, with the facts.
Show them how adoption works in real life. Provide adoption education at school. If your child’s classmates have a better understanding of the realities of adoption, they may ask fewer questions.