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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.

 

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