Using Movies To Talk About Open Adoption

This guest post is by Addison Cooper at Adoption At The Movies.

Warner Grand TheaterOn February 24, we’ll know the winners of the 85th Academy Awards. Maybe you’re not enough of a movie buff to tune in to the Oscars, but you may have seen some of the Best Picture nominees. Or subscribed to Netflix. Or stopped by Redbox.

We watch films because they’re entertaining, because they create a sense of shared culture, and because they connect with our stories in powerful ways. We imagine ourselves into the story, and we’re able to do that because the characters reflect parts of ourselves and parts of our stories. Films can get people talking and thinking about important things.

Like adoption issues.

Families interested in open adoption are hoping to build a relationship with the first family of their children. They see how openly-shared relationships, information and stories can benefit to themselves, the first family, and the child. A family with an open adoption is pursuing honest and open communication as well as contact.

Movies can help start conversations about adoption

Attention is often given to maintaining open communication between both sets of parents, and between the child and the first parents, but there’s also value in open, adoption-centered communication between the adoptive parents and the child. Some families intend to have this communication but find it difficult to establish.

Questions like, “How do you feel about the relationship between your two sets of parents?” and “How does being adopted impact your identity?” might help a child identify and talk through feelings which they find confusing, but adoptive parents might find it difficult to ask those questions in a non-threatening way.

Movies can help start the conversations. Oscar Best Picture nominee Les Misérables shows the unconditional love that Jean Valjean has for both his adopted daughter Cosette and for Cosette’s mother, Fantine. A conversation about the love between adoptive parents and first parents could naturally flow from this movie.

Les Misérables also shows Valjean keeping his past hidden from Cosette; she may have understood her life more easily if she knew why he was always on the run. Parents watching this with their children could talk about family secrets and why we don’t keep secrets about adoption.

Dreamworks’ 2008 and 2011 films, Kung Fu Panda and Kung Fu Panda 2 tell the story of Po, a panda who was adopted by Mr. Ping, a bird. Over the two films, Mr. Ping tells Po the story of his adoption, Po dreams about his birth parents, and wrestles with the question of identity. Talking with your child about Po’s feelings might give you a window into their feelings.

Films can be helpful to people hoping to adopt

Films don’t have to have overt connections to adoption to be helpful. Best Picture nominee Life of Pi’s titular character identifies with elements of many different cultures, despite his family’s disapproval. Pi could be a particularly powerful character to children and teens navigating their feelings about being involved in an open, cross-cultural adoption.

Films can also be helpful to people hoping to adopt. Disney’s 2012 film, The Odd Life of Timothy Green shows a surprisingly decent exercise for grieving infertility, but also shows new (pseudo)adoptive parents trying to keep secrets about their new son.

Conversations on both topics can help prospective adopters plan and prepare for a healthy transition into adoptive parents. Parents considering foster adoption could use 2007’s The Martian Child as a tool to gauge their sensitivity to kids’ fears of abandonment.

The possibilities are endless; it just takes some imagination and application. Why not celebrate this year’s Awards with a productive family movie night! Make some popcorn, get comfortable, and start talking!

Addison Cooper, MSW, LCSW is an adoption-focused therapist at The Murney Clinic in Springfield, Missouri. He writes Adoption Movie Guides to help adoptive and pre-adoptive families use film to facilitate open communication. He tweets about adoption issues @AddisonCooper. Find Adoption At The Movies on Facebook!

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