As an adoptive family, the media provides unexpected, unique challenges for us that other families might never notice. There are so many examples of words or situations in the media that could be hurtful to foster or adopted children and their families.
I’ve become fascinated with language.
I majored in English as an undergraduate and love to read. As a kid, I never noticed some of the language in Judy Bloom’s Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing. I loved all of her books. In fact, I couldn’t wait to read them with my own kids. I read them with my oldest son, our biological son, and didn’t notice anything. Then I read them with my youngest son, who happens to be adopted and I noticed many things.
“My mother’s the meanest mother in the whole world! She loves Fudge more than me. She doesn’t even love me anymore. She doesn’t even like me. I’m not her real son… Nobody needs me around here… that’s for sure!” Peter—Chapter 4, pg. 42
Now, this wasn’t the first time I had to substitute words when reading to my kids. As a two-mom family, I had done my fair share of substituting mom and dad for parents. But this was the first time I remember substituting real parents for birth family. I had read this book at least three times, including once to a child, and I never noticed the language that was used.
Boss Baby was another tough one for our family.
We were totally surprised when we saw it in the theater. The premise of the movie is that Tim, who is seven and a half, needs to make way for his new brother because there is only so much love to go around. I remember making an audible gasp when we this was said. My oldest son has probably felt this. In some insecure parenting moments, I’ve felt this.
Tim goes on to ask Boss Baby, “You missed childhood? You never had someone to love you?” For kids in foster care or who have been adopted, this could strike a nerve. Even though our youngest son was placed with us at birth, it took well over six years to finalize his adoption. And when we told him we were adopting him, he cuddled up next to me and said, “I didn’t think you wanted me because it was taking so long.” Typing these words make me catch my breath. We’d been fighting for him his whole life, but he still felt unwanted.
Music is a media that helps us on our journey as a family.
Music speaks to our family. We like to rock out in the car, shower, house, basically anywhere. There are so many songs that speak to the emotions of adoption. Some of the capture the fears of saying good-bye to a foster-child, like “Will You Remember Me?” by Sarah McLachlan, “I Won’t Give Up” by Jason Mraz and “God Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts. Other songs capture the pure joy of meeting your child like “Forever and For Always” by Shania Twain or “You’ll be in my Heart” by Phil Collins. Sometimes songs can capture what we struggle to find words to say. Every once in a while a song will surprise me by showing me some hidden emotion. I am grateful for this media that speaks so positively to our experience.
Bottom line, the media must do better job in how they describe families.
But in the meantime, the most helpful thing we’ve found is when a friend or family member gives us a heads up, a warning, about something in the media. A simple warning can change our plans. We might avoid a show or a book. It might mean we see the movie first as adults or we skip it altogether. We also use websites like Adoption at the Movies, Common Sense Media, and A Family for Every Child, but word of mouth is extremely helpful for us.
Help other families out: share with your friends and family anything about a book, movie, or anything else in the media that could be challenging for a foster or adoptive family. Like any parent, I’d rather have five people warn me about something that might be hard for my family than be blindsided and left to pick up emotional pieces.