Category Archives: Guest Post

10 Movies & the Messages They Give About Adoption

I’ve long admired Addison Cooper for the way he makes me think about adoption more expansively, as well as for his  helpful posts about adoption movies (really, if you’re considering a movie for/with your kids, check out Adoption at the Movies first).

Addison and I recently teamed up for an interview that will be published in a magazine soon  — we’ll point you there when available. In the meantime, I think more people should know Addison and the tools he brings to adoptive parenting, so I’ve asked him to treat readers to a guest post. Below he shares how to use movies to open up conversations about adoption, a technique called “dropping pebbles,” covered by Holly van Gulden and Lisa M. Bartels-Rabb in Real Parents, Real Children: Parenting the Adopted Child and introduced to me by Judy M Miller.

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adoption at the moviesHi! My name is Addison. I’m a social worker and therapist in the world of foster care and adoption, and I review movies for foster and adoptive families on my site, Adoption at the Movies. I started the site with the intention of helping foster and adoptive families use film to enter into important conversations about adoption, believing that the movies would be easily-accessible avenues into otherwise hard-to-start conversations.

Many films don’t directly address adoption, but still have relevance to adoption-related issues. For example, in Frozen, Elsa and Anna feel the weight of familial secrecy. In other films, adoption is present but tangential to the main story, such as in the Star Wars series. Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia were each adopted; they reunify later in life prior to Luke’s tumultuous but eventually redemptive reunion with his birth father.

In yet other films, adoption isn’t part of the main plot but it plays a huge role in the story. Despicable Me is about a super-villain changing his ways, but along the way he adopts three sisters from an orphanage. And then there are some films in which adoption is inextricable from the plot, such as The Blind Side.

Movies as Prompters of Adoption Conversations

Movies are helpful to start conversations, but like humans, they’re not blank states. When adoption is part of a film’s storyline, the film does say something about adoption, whether implicitly or explicitly.

Openness in adoption is a topic that’s particularly important to me, and that’s probably part of why I enjoy talking with Lori . I’ve written and trained on openness in adoption, and I’ve enjoyed reading Lori’s book on the same. Openness, or the pain of a closed adoption, or the desire to open a closed relationship — these are all prominent themes in several films. I thought it might be interesting to crystallize what the films below say about openness, or at least, what the each film’s presuppositions are. Some of the messages are healthy, a couple not so much — the point is you should know before you walk into the theater or queue up the movie on your screen.

Adoption Messages in 10 Feature Films

Here are 10 movies and their crystallized adoption messages. Click each link for my full commentary.

1. Admission: “Birth parents never forget their children.”

2. Antwone Fisher: “Finding your birth family can help you understand yourself. The process might be painful at times and wonderful at other times, but it is important.”

3. The Big Wedding: “We keep secrets because we’re ashamed and we fear what others will think of us. But others have issues, too, and might be more understanding than we expect.”

4. Closure: “Opening relationships can provide healing and answers for everyone involved.”

5. Delivery Man: “Even if you aren’t thinking about your birth children, they are thinking about you, and it would be good if you got to know them.”

6. Identity Thief: “We draw direction and identity from our history. Without history, we can feel lost.”

7. Meet the Robinsons: “Leave the past in the past, and look towards the future instead.”

8. Philomena: “Your birth parents have never forgotten you. They still miss you.”

9. Tangled: “Your birth parents have never forgotten you. But your adoptive parent might have kidnapped you.”

10. The Tigger Movie: “Sometimes you want people in your life who aren’t available for some reason. It’s OK to be upset, and you can still find a sense of belonging with the people in your life who love you.”

I often think of openness as involving either contact or the free exchange of information (or both!). Lori wrote about openness as a heartset –- the healthiest adoptive families are those who open to openness. A spirit of openness in the home can make it possible for adoptive parents and their children to talk about emotionally-heavy adoption-related issues. Films can help parents and adoptees access those conversations and can be excellent tools to create a more open atmosphere in your adoption.

What films have you seen that have reminded you or your kids (directly or indirectly) about adoption?

How have those experiences been? I invite you to share any adoption conversations that have been opened between you and your kids due to films.

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Addison Cooper, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and the founder of Adoption at the Movies, where he has reviewed over a hundred films for foster and adoptive families. He has also written for Adoptive Families, Foster Focus, Focus on Adoption, Fostering Families Today, The New Social Worker, and Adoption Today magazines. Addison is a supervising social worker for a foster care – adoption agency, and lives in Southern California. Find him on Facebook and on Twitter @AddisonCooper.

Christmas Box: Unlocking the Pain of Separation

Three years ago, my friend Linda Schellentrager released her son into the care of someone else. She wrote this post about how this experience gave her a new sense of empathy for another mother who also experienced such a pain of separation.

My Own Christmas Box

I am an adoptive mom. An oh-so-proud adoptive mom … I feel like a mom in every way to my only child Eric, who is almost 20 years old. My love for him spills over and oozes sometimes so much that I am regularly teased about it from co-workers at Adoption Network Cleveland — and my family, too. And, Eric just smiles when I get mushy with him. He knows his mom. He knows my appreciation that I am his mom.

This holiday season has been a challenging one and it has brought forward feelings that I’ve never had before … and has brought to the surface some feelings that have been long locked in a box.

christmas box

On November 14th, Eric left for 13 weeks of Marine boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina. We’ll have no phone or email conversations until we see him in Parris Island for graduation in February. We’ve shared amazing letters back and forth, but we’re only halfway through this first extended time apart.

This separation from him has been enlightening to me. It’s brought his birth mother to my heart in a new and deeper way. We’ve all known her these 20 years with our open adoption, and I’ve known and felt her sadness, yet I didn’t feel the magnitude of it until now. This separation is hard stuff. It rips at the soul. It doesn’t feel right. Something is wrong with the universe. Families should at least be together at the holidays.

Yet, I’ve been doing a good job keeping these feelings shoved down and locked into a box. To have them out in the open is too hard. Tears might come. Or worse. I often have wondered all these years why his birth mom hadn’t joined a group of other birth moms to talk about her feelings. Now, I know. That involves going to that box and opening it.

On Christmas Eve, something surprising happened. I was with a relative who is experiencing infertility and when I started to talk to her about knowing the feeling of facing another holiday without a baby, the tears came. It’s the first time since November 14th that I have allowed myself to do that. I was catapulted back to 1990 when I was in depths of infertility sadness. Then immediately, I snapped back to the present day, thinking, “My God, it’s Christmas and I can’t see or talk to or hug my baby.” What the heck? I am healed from infertility! And, I thought I’d been doing so well with Eric away. (Writing him daily has helped keep me sane.) So where are these tears coming from?

Then it dawned on me: I’ve been healed from infertility but I am not healed from knowing how to deal with separation. And, here I was in front of an open box. At least, while I was with that relative, I felt safe. Together, we shared tears. I cried for her facing another holiday without a baby and she for me, facing my first holiday in 20 years without my boy.

When Eric’s birth mom and I have talked about him joining the Marines and being away from both of us, I shared with her how her years of separation from him is affecting me in a whole new way. I said that I have a new appreciation for how hard it’s been on her. Her response surprised me. She said, “You’re not used to being separated from him. It’ll be harder on you.” Whew.

Then I imagined how hard it will be when we both see him in February for just a few short days and again, will have to say goodbye for a while. These next four years of his Marine commitment will have many hellos and goodbyes – much like the countless hellos and goodbyes his birth mom has endured with him over these 20 years in our open adoption.

This revelation has brought big emotions to me this holiday season. Sure, I expected for it to be hard for these first 13 weeks of separation, but I didn’t expect the feelings to go so far and deep –- and to have any connection to my adoption journey. I didn’t expect to approach those feelings long locked away.

Opening the box is good for healing, but for now, back inside you go.

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adoption separation guest postLinda Schellentrager is an adoptive mom who was among those who embraced open adoption early in the movement, in the 1990s. Her son, Eric, is now 23. Reach Linda directly via openadoptmom@gmail.com.

Linda is also Communications Manager for Adoption Network Cleveland. This post was first published on Adoption Network Cleveland (c), with permission to reprint.

Box image courtesy artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image of Linda courtesy Adoption Network Cleveland.

#flipthescript — What’s an Adoptive Parent to Do?

I am drawn to the writings of articulate, gentle-yet-incisive people. Barbara Freedgood guest posts today about the impact the #flipthescript movement had on her as an adoptive mom and therapist. She addresses the question that many readers may have had last month as they read the not-so-secret thoughts of adult adoptees:

So now that I KNOW, what do I DO?

Please welcome Barbara Freedgood into this space.

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barbara freedgoodNovember was National Adoption Awareness Month. The blog posts flowed in on my email. I found myself overwhelmed with input from all the voices being raised during this time in which adoption draws more of the spotlight.

Among the many things that came across my desk were generous offers from authors of greatly reduced prices on their books written about adoption to share their experience and hopefully help others. There were workshops offered on attachment and trauma. Adoptive Parents Committee held its annual conference, as it always does in this month of adoption awareness. And here in this space, Lori hosted “flipthescript” in which adoptees took the floor to offer their views.

Many adoptees raised their voices, claiming more space for their stories, not just those of adoptive parents and professionals. And many of their stories were tough to hear, especially as an adoptive parent. They expressed hurt and anger at the foreclosure on their grief in adoptions where their parents could not or did not know to discuss and understand their losses. They vented outrage at the expectation that they be grateful for being adopted. After all, they did not choose it and it would seem that adoption causes as much hurt as healing.  Adoptees mourned deep feelings of loss of birth family and birth countries and cultures.

flipthescript what's adoptive parent to do

It struck me that as adoptive parents, it is our job to hear and understand these feelings while at the same time feeling our own sad losses. How sad to have a child who suffers so. Unfortunately, in this outpouring of voices, adoptive parents as a faceless whole are sometimes painted as selfish people who just wanted a baby at any cost to others involved. No doubt there are people who fit this description. There are many, though, who simply followed advice that was given to everyone who adopted at that time, did the best that they could, and did not know a thing about what they were getting into. “On the job” learning is tough — one makes mistakes.

Fast forward to adoption in the 21st century. As a result of the great efforts of reform-minded adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents to define better practices in adoption, things are changing. Thanks to this, openness is the order of the day and newly adopting parents are being counseled far differently than parents of the past who adopted under a system that encouraged closed adoption, closed records, closed connections, closed expression.

New adopting parents are now encouraged to do open adoptions so that adoptees do not lose their identities and biological connection. They are encouraged to talk about adoption with their children, not keep it in the closet as a secret, or brush over the differences that evoke questions and cause intrusions both external and internal from the outside world.

This is all good and important change. It is my hope that this will allow us all to have more nuanced stories about our adoption experiences. In the past adoption has traumatized all involved. Birth parents lost children forever. Adoptees lost birth families forever. And adoptive parents entered parenthood completely uncomprehending of the damage this would do to all, unwittingly putting themselves on the front lines with trauma they had no understanding of or preparation for managing.

There will always be good parents and not so good parents, whether adoptive or biological. There will always be issues of fit and compatibility. Adoption will always be fertile ground for fantasies of lives not lived, of grief for and idealization of parents or children that did not happen. However, if it is practiced with greater consciousness and room for everyone’s feelings we stand to have a lot less trauma in this way of making families, a great thing for all involved!

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Barbara Freedgood, LCSW is the mother of two children adopted at birth in the United States and psychotherapist in private practice in New York City. She is the author of the article: “Loss and Resiliency Form a Family: A Relational Story of Adoption” available through her website. She runs post adoption support groups for adoptive parents of children of all ages.