Once Upon a Birthmother

Have you ever noticed how many movies involve children without parents, kids in foster care and adopted children? Before our kids came to us, I noticed.

The themes made me yearn for a time when we’d have our own adopted littles.

Spawned fond ideas of happy endings, possibly after a short time of adjustment.

Let’s take a moment and smile at the memory of my innocence. 

Okay, moment of silence over. The dissonance between my dreams and my reality isn’t our topic today.

Since we’ve had the kids, both Hubby and I started noticing the plethora of movies centered around loss and adoption.

Take a minute and make a list of the movies—especially children’s movies—that do NOT have at least one missing parent.

How’s it going?

If you make a list of movies involving a loss, I believe you’ll have an easier time.

Disney movies in particular thrive on the “bio parent has disappeared; brand new mummy is horrid” idea. I am no activist (at least, not against Disney) but I do have concerns about the messages inherent in Mickey’s versions of the fairy tales.

Until Frozen, almost every Disney story involved a fairly young girl being rescued by an older guy, often against her guardian’s better judgement.

I understand that child marriage is not frowned upon in ALL countries, but in general, who thinks this is okay?

16 year-old girl rebels against protective (and fairly reasonable) father. She has no mother figure and seeks out a woman recognized by EVERYONE as a bad influence. This woman encourages her to use “body language” to go after a man who is old enough to hold a job governing a country (probably late 20’s, early 30’s, since his dad appears to be about 70). The girl runs away from home, ends up naked, finds the guy and moves in with his family. They know nothing about each other and marry within weeks.

We all recognize The Little Mermaid, of course. Sweet movie.

In real life, no one in his or her right mind thinks it’s okay for a 16 year old to marry a complete stranger twice her age. That’s a recipe for domestic abuse.

Disney isn’t the only storyteller utilizing the Hero’s Journey, in which the protagonist follows a path which often involves great loss (e.g., parents) and overcomes.

It’s a great story line, truly.

Real life, as we know, does not always follow the Journey path.

Our kids experienced loss.

Loss of biological family.

Loss of familiar surroundings.

Loss of stability (such as it was).

Loss of connection.

Loss of everything they’ve ever known.

And watching stories helps them learn to rewrite their own.

As I’ve mentioned previously, they became obsessed with the Despicable Me series. In case you’ve been living in the Amazon (rainforest, not corporation) with no electricity, you’re probably familiar with the storyline:

Three girls in foster care move in with a villain who has selfish reasons for the adoption. The girls win him over and he fights to protect and keep them. Later, he marries his adorable spy counterpart, giving them a mother. The Happy End. 

Some movies with adoption themes are helpful. They address points that we might not be comfortable bringing up (or show us ideas in our kids’ minds of which we may not be aware until they talk about the movie).

Despicable Me actually helped them form a more healthy view of family life.

However, we’ve learned that careful curation is important.

As you may know, neither Hubby or I are keen on allowing hours of screen time (the Electronic Nanny, as it were). Aside from the many negative aspects of screen time for “regular” kids (a soapbox I’ll be happy to mount another day), our kids easily pick up attitudes about adoption—both positive AND negative.

Recently, we’ve been a bit less guarded with our daughter. She’s now in her very early teens and we can’t force her to watch rated G movies forever (although that would be great…yes, you’re right…I should Let it Go, Let it Goooooo).

The three of us began watching Once Upon a Time. As a fairy tale lover (Grimm, not Disney), the retold stories make me grin. Most of the characters, especially Rumpelstiltskin, are fabulously rendered. Beginning with the first episode, we became a little addicted (okay, Hubby not so much…but the girl and I loved it).

And then we noticed a subtle change in our girl.

She began to lose some of her recent progress, sliding back into an attitude of…something difficult to describe. Derision. Passive-aggressive opposition.

She drew us into conversations about whether we were really related. About her roots. About the lack of a “blood” connection with us. She began expressing a concern that she really didn’t care about us that much, although she felt she should care more.

*I would like to take a moment to mention here that Hubby missed his calling as a child psychologist. He accurately diagnosed the problem: what I saw as a fun retelling of a story, our daughter was internalizing.

In Once Upon a Time, Emma Swan is an oblivious, non-magical person living in Boston until her birth son, Henry, tracks her down and brings her to Storybrooke, where he’s been adopted by none other than the Evil Queen (adversary of Snow White). Henry believes Emma is the fulfillment of a prophecy that Snow White and Prince Charming’s daughter will save all the happy endings.

Adoptive mother = Evil Queen (unrepentant, selfish and, well, Evil)

Birth mother = Savior (sorry she ever gave up her baby and determined to make it up to him by bringing happiness to an entire town)

I assume you see where this is going. 

Usually I’m a little quicker on the uptake, but this time I was blindsided. Could not figure out what in the world had happened to flip the switch in our now-generally-happy kid.

She started talking about memories of the past, about her biological parents (as if they were possibly very good people who made a mistake).

And began pushing me away.

The harder I worked to fix whatever “this” was, the further we slipped apart.

One day we had a conversation about Papa, Hubby’s father. When he passed away, we were all devastated, especially Hubby.

Our girl calmly informed me that she didn’t think she’d be that upset when Hubby and I passed on; she assumed Hubby felt the loss so much because of his blood connection. 

We discussed how people can be close with or without blood connection, but she didn’t seem to get it.

When Hubby arrived home, I was worn out. Once he found out about our conversation, the three of us sat down and he faced off with our girl.

You’ve been watching a lot of Once Upon a Time. Do you realize it’s affecting how you see Mom and me?

At first, she didn’t. Half an hour later, following discussions of the different characters and how they might relate to our situation, she voluntarily took Once Upon a Time off her viewing list. She has refused to watch it ever since, saying she didn’t like what it did to her thoughts.

I’m not suggesting we all make OUAT off-limits (it contains some great messages, actually), nor do I think we all need to trash our televisions.

Here’s what I do suggest:

  • Keep a close eye on program themes and watch to see how they affect your kids
  • Discuss problematic themes with your children
  • Don’t assume your children aren’t internalizing and relating to the content
  • Be willing to remove problematic programming if they’re not able to make that choice themselves
  • Keep open, honest discussion a priority
  • Remember: helping them draw their own conclusions works much better than simply telling them how it is

The battle for their minds is more difficult than I sometimes realize. They are bombarded on all fronts at this age—TV, radio, magazines, online media, friends and enemies…everything around them helps form their opinions and attitudes.

Jen Oshman makes a great point on her blog:

The only antidote for a mind that is tempted to believe what’s false is to renew it with what’s true.  Paul knew this and tells us, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

Pouring positive influence into the minds and hearts of the children in our lives—especially for adopted kids, who may never completely shake the feelings of loss and abandonment—is one of our most important jobs.

Take a moment today to have a conversation with a kid in your life. Hearing a new perspective might be just what they need.


About Casey

Adoption = my life. I'm determined to give my kids the chance they deserve. Adoption isn't always easy. I promise, you're not alone in this. Join me at Hypervigilant.org - we're in this together.

Posted on March 22, 2018, in Adoption, Foster Care and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. I liked Annie and oddly had no idea why. I was in foster care for a short time but movies have really nothing to do with the shaping of who I am because of adoption. It was the reactions and denial of family that later emotionally disowned me for moving away at 18.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As an adoptee and having a very difficult time growing up as an adoptee, I can tell you all the emotions and actions your daughter is undeniably going to go through, they’re normal. They’re hurtful but normal. My parents and I became estranged unfortunately and although I wanted a relationship they weren’t willing to allow me my space but acknowledge the pain and promise to be there no matter what. It caused me to mistrust (they were abusive emotionally and physically when I was young) and it’s just horrific to me that they couldn’t acknowledge what I might have been feeling and didn’t want anyone to know our family wasn’t Perfect like they wanted. But I can say the only thing you can do, as we adoptees can trick anyone into thinking pretty much anything (hey it’s a gift. Lol) just to keep our well being somewhat intact. It’s not you it’s from birth and one cannot help it but knowing they’re are adoptive parents out here that are acknowledging that their children are hurting has helped in my healing. At 40 I’ve never been so devastated to know I have no family at all but I’m glad that I’m out of the fog and just wish they’d been able to go through the journey with me instead of hating me even more for it. Blessings to your family and xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

    • My heart breaks for you and for so many other adoptees who feel the same way. I know there are many factors, but I believe expectations are a huge problem. So many people 1950-1970’s (and even now) were swayed by external ideals and advertising. There was even a campaign of “get a baby for Christmas!” Unbelievable. Rather than seeing adoption as a way to provide a family for a child who’d been through loss, adoption was an avenue to work around infertility, “round out” the family or as an option to “replace” a child who’d died. Adoption was almost seen as a service to the parent, rather than a way to provide what a child needs. When the kids were not “perfect angels” as advertised/expected, unmet expectations caused huge problems. It’s really unfortunate. I’m working on the outline of a book about foster/adoption and the REAL reasons we should do it (and all the reasons that people need to jettison). I’d be interested in your thoughts. (If you want, write a post about the right way to foster, and I’ll feature it on my blog.)


  3. May I recommend Punky Brewster? I bought both seasons on amazon and watched them with our youngest daughter. Although yours might be too old now. We were also big Sabrina the Teenage Witch fans. It showcases a sort of open kinship guardianship situation. I do NOT recommend Finding Dory!! Good luck.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s so funny–we watched Punky, too! (One of my favorites from when I was a kid, so I went looking for it…I’d actually forgotten the part about her mother leaving her at the mall. We had some fallout after the episode where that was discussed, but they enjoyed the rest of it.

      FINDING DORY SUCKED!!! We went to see it in theaters, not realizing the full content. I was so angry with Disney that day…

      Liked by 1 person

      • We found Punky to be a good conversation piece about someone else’s situation. It sort of gave us an opening for talking about our children’s situation.
        Finding Dory was the WORRRST!!!! Arg (head slap) I can’t even believe that we fell into that trap. Sigh


  4. Fairytales do share some odd messages, some values we don’t necessarily share these days. Good for your daughter for taking herself away from the programme. I hope things will improve for you guys.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The damage suffered by adopted and fostered children is very unaccepted and unknown in society I feel.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. When I have a moment to sit down (haha) I want to see if there’s any research following foster/adopted kids with trauma and what ACTUALLY works to help them. If you get around to that first, let me know what you find out…


      • I will. I found a book called ‘How to talk so kids listen, how to listen so kids talk’ it helps but it doesn’t work all the time.
        Thing is these kids are so damaged.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I actually emailed an author once…I was so distraught, he called me back. His response was, “this is why I advise people not to adopt older kids.” Not kidding.

          Liked by 1 person

          • The thing is that I would go further than this, adoption is very tough and for the government it’s a way off offloading a problem onto someone else.
            from my experience adoption shouldn’t exist, and instead fostering these kids to keep the proper support mechanisms for them .

            Liked by 1 person

            • I think you’re correct; there should be more supports for keeping kids in the home and helping bio parents learn to parent if that is possible.

              I do believe that adoption is necessary in cases such as ours, in which our kids might not still be alive if they still lived with the birth family.

              And yes, I believe there should be a plethora of supports available for adoptive parents, foster parents and biological parents. Most of those supports do not exist.

              Unfortunately, when supports are available, they are often left unpromoted and the people who need them most are unaware.


    • 💯 right about that. It’s such a profound and unbelievable pain once accepted as an adoptee and no one can describe it but other adoptees. If anyone has ever read the primal wound it lays it out in ways you’ve probably known but can put a reason behind the actions. I always tell people talk to the experts about adoption : adoptees themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly. You have the experience; adoptive parents should listen. While every kid is different, we can all learn something that may help our kiddos–or someone else’s.


  6. Wow! Yay to your wise Hubby for seeing the connection.
    Great post for yes we do need to be aware! Thanks for sharing and I am impressed that your daughter voluntarily gave the show up. Good for her!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m not a parent yet think unparenting is adding to the Childs stress level. Social media is worst. Why does a 9 year old need a phone, because her friends have one. Parents are tired when they get home and want to chill. Kids watch tv, play on social media or free range on the internet. The pressure kids have these days is crazy, that’s why parenting your children is critical to what they hear or see what unnecessary messages are thrown at kids. They don’t have the knowledge to separate reality from not. For me anyone that contacts me is not how they say the are. Kids will believe anything unless trained by parents.
    I went off the subject but you know my intentions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I fully agree with you!! Lately we’ve been allowing the girl to watch the Netflix Lemony Snicket series. I was a little concerned because I thought she might be depressed seeing the kids in tough situations but I think it’s actually helping her think through her own life and (even though it’s fiction) realize that there ARE other kids who have been through even worse circumstances and manage to triumph through resiliency. That’s pretty much her only access to a screen (other than her math curriculum, which is on CDs). There are just so many studies about the negative effects of screen time.
      LOL I think I went off the subject as well. No worries at all!! Thanks, as always, for being supportive and for sharing your great thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

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