The long awaited sequel to 'Finding Nemo' is out. Our kids, both adopted, are lapping up the barrage of publicity around 'Finding Dory', Disney/Pixar's animated release of choice this Summer Holiday. They're excited to see it. Hooked by the marketing. The film's memes are ubiquitous throughout their world.
'What harm in taking them?' I thought when planning the Summer holidays.
Until I saw a message that has itself become a trend on both social media and the message boards of fostering and adoption websites.
Entitled 'WARNING! Before seeing Finding Dory, all foster/adoptive parents should preview the movie first!' it goes on to describe the experience of a family who took their adopted son to see the film.
It's warning that the story deals with 'multiple levels of abandonment and loss', and that the ending, in which inevitably Dory finds her parents, reveals the birth parents have been searching for Dory too and that their goal of eventually living 'happily ever after' is achieved.
The author of the warning presents eloquently the concern felt by so many adoptive parents that their children will grow to have unrealistic expectations of their birth families.
Much of the narrative around adoption in the media feeds into this.
Just the other night we came across one of the many 'reuniting families' shows so beloved of TV producers. Dealing with an unmarried mother forced to give her child up for adoption over 40 years ago, the middle aged daughter was assisted in tracing her now elderly mother who welcomed the approach with open arms, reveling in the family ripped from her by a judgmental, crueler age.
Our conversation turned to how the participants in these shows are getting older. For the last 30 years the cause of adoption has been very different. Children removed most often from homes and birth families that are at best neglectful and at worst abusive and dangerous.
The heartwarming, soft focus story of the daughter finding her birth mother, now a well-rounded, successful septuagenarian who had been forced by an unsympathetic, unkind society to relinquish her child at birth is unlikely to be repeated in the coming decades.
We met one of our children's birth mother. Before we brought them home.
Mary was a slight woman with light brown hair. Someone who appeared older than her actual age. The ravages of lifestyle choices already affecting her.
Mary asked us a little about ourselves. About our circumstances. Our families. Our backgrounds. Our plans for looking after her child. We answered calmly. Kindly. Guardedly.
While Mary's questioning was polite it was also pointed. Wiley even. When an answer didn't illicit the detail she wanted she would ask the same thing in a slightly different way.
What were our surnames? Oh yes, she had forgotten she had asked that before. Where did we live again? Not the address, just the area. What did we do? What kind of doctor was my husband? Where did he work? She might know someone there?
Each time we answered her question without giving her the information she was really seeking. We had been warned by the social workers to be guarded with our responses and we now understood why.
The slightest slip. The merest chink in our resolve would be exploited. Information gathered. Harvested and stored for who knew what future use.
Mary had a self-awareness that astounded us both.
She blamed no one but herself for her situation. She had sufficient insight to understand that her destiny was of her own making. The fact she talked openly, honestly about her circumstances and the events that led to her being in front of us that day touched us both.
Mary knew things could have been different. She knew she could have made different choices.
Most importantly, she knew those choices were hers. That impressed us immensely. This gave us a positive to tell our child when, (not if, but when) in later life they asked about their birth mother. We could tell them she had the courage and the honesty to own up to her own fallibility.
Our children have information about their birth families. They take the form of 'Life Story Books', age appropriate records of their lives. Provided initially by the Adoption Team and subsequently updated by us. They look at them often.
Our daughter skips passed the section about her birth family. Being less than 18 months old when we brought her home she has no recollection of them.
For our son it's different. He spent almost four years with his birth family.
For him it appears to be affirming. It reminds him of the journey. It reminds him too of that which he chooses to forget.
Upon reaching the part of the book that describes his birth family. With a well practiced move he expertly pulls those pages together between his thumb and forefinger. Flipping the group of pages over in one move he shakes his head sadly and says, "I don't want to know about them."
Even now, some seven years later, the memories are too strong. The pain is too deep.
A friend asked the other day why we made information about their histories accessible for the children. "Aren't you tempted to just let them forget the past?" She queried.
My answer was 'No'.
In being same sex parents we are different to other adopters in that it is clear the children cannot be ours biologically. Even if we wanted to pretend birth families didn't exist it would impossible to do so.
Much more importantly, we want to ensure our children know everything. That they never wonder about their past or their heritage. That when they reach maturity they never look back and feel information was kept from them. That they know their story.
Holding that information. Knowing it is their own. Controlling with whom it is shared. Understanding its implications. All this will, we hope, allow them to make informed decisions whether to seek out their birth families. Aware fully of what they may find.
The Disney Marketing juggernaut trundles on. Promoting a film that depicts, at least in part, an idealized version of our children's history. Reminders are everywhere for them. In the TV advertisements they watch. In the shops we visit. Even on the websites they access.
I will take our children to see 'Finding Dory'. Not to do so would be cruel in the face of the whirlwind of promotion with which modern life surrounds them.
I'll do so firm in the hope they will understand there is a difference between Dory's story and their own.
This summer The Huffington Post UK is spearheading an initiative helping families thrive, with a focus on parent wellbeing, the challenges facing stay-at-home and working parents, friendships and navigating the landscape of modern parenting beyond the 2.4. To kickstart the campaign, Jamie Oliver guest edited the site, bringing a focus on feeding healthy families.
We'll be sharing stories and blogs with the hashtag #ThrivingFamilies and we'd like you to do the same. If you'd like to use our blogging platform to share your story, email email@example.com to get involved.