A familiar saying states art imitates life. Real-life people, however, often imitate individuals who are performing artists. They will do as the stars do, whether it is sporting a specific hairstyle, wearing a particular clothing brand, or even adopting. Because of their high profile, celebrities have the power to influence public perceptions, including embracing adoption or a specific type of adoption. What lessons have adoptions by celebrities taught us?
1. Adoption is an acceptable way to expand one’s family
Today adoption is a mainstream, politically correct topic. But widespread acceptance of that method to expand one’s family has not always existed. During the first two decades of the 1900s, formalized adoptions in the United States were uncommon. But the end of World War II saw a rapid growth of embracing adoption as an avenue to build a family.
Leading the way by example for family expansion through adoption were stars of the silver screen. American film star Joan Crawford, whose career spanned six decades, adopted a total of five children. Life magazine’s first “Queen of the Movies” adopted her daughter Christina in 1940. Two sons were subsequently adopted followed by twins Cynthia and Cathy in 1947.
Power couple June Allyson and Dick Powell also turned to adoption to add to their family. The leading lady, who starred in some 40 films during the ‘40s and ‘50s, and her husband adopted a daughter, Pamela Allyson Powell, in 1948.
The public took notice of these adoptions, and the number of adoptions soared between 1945 and the early 1970s. A threefold rise in illegitimate births after the end of World War II along with more liberal sexual mores contributed to the birth of what has been called the “Baby Scoop Era.” Media reports of adoptions by celebrities undoubtedly encouraged fans to follow in the stars’ footsteps.
2. Adoption can be transracial
When it comes to adoption, parents and their children may have different skin color. Nevertheless, people of different races are bound together by love to form a family regardless of physical dissimilarities.
Transracial adoption is front and center on television, think NBC’s hit show This Is Us, as well as in the real lives of celebrities. Parenting a child of a different race has been undertaken by a number of celebrities.
Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron has no biological children, but she always wanted to adopt. She explains that adoption was her “first option” and not a backup plan for becoming a mom. Through adoption, Theron, who is Caucasian, is now parenting two black girls. Daughter Jackson joined the family in March 2012, and daughter August joined her three years later.
Australian singer Sia is also a white woman raising two black children. Unlike Charlize Theron, though, Sia is parenting two boys. Raising black children has, according to Sia, raised her consciousness about what it means to be a black male in this society. From them, she notes, she has learned about white privilege.
Joining Theron and Sia in raising children of another race is actress Sandra Bullock who is parenting a black son and a black daughter. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman also adopted a son while they were married and is another example of a transracial adoption. Madonna is Caucasian, but the four children she adopted from Malawi are black.
3. Children can be adopted from other countries
Adopting a child from here in the United States is not the only option available to prospective adoptive parents. There’s a big wide world out there, and international adoptions provide another resource for locating a child in need of a forever family. Celebrities have turned to foreign countries to expand their families in some instances—sending the message to their fans that an international adoption has been given a thumbs up.
The best-selling female singer of all time, Madonna, is a prime example of adopting internationally. She has utilized that option not once, not twice, not even three times. Four children from Malawi are members of her family.
In 2006 the “Material Girl” cofounded the charity Raising Malawi to provide health services to Malawian orphans and children. Not only was Madonna raising Malawi, but she began raising her son David Banda whom she adopted in 2006. David had been placed in an orphanage, Home of Hope, after his biological mother died following his birth in 2005. When he was adopted, David was in a perilous medical condition; he was suffering from pneumonia, a leading cause of child mortality.
David gained a sister in 2009 when Madonna adopted Mercy James. David’s new sibling had been born in the village of Zaone to a 14-year-old girl who died from complications eight days after her baby’s birth. A few years later, in 2017, Madonna adopted 4-year-old twins, Esther and Stella. Like their brother, David, the twins spent time in the Home of Hope Orphanage; they reportedly spent two years there. The singer’s four African children call her “Mambo,” giving the family a further foreign flair.
Another famous celebrity with a record of international adoptions is Angelina Jolie. The actress has adopted three children from three different countries. In 2002 Jolie adopted Maddox Chivan from the Battambang Orphanage in Cambodia when he was 7 months old. She expressed a desire to adopt from Cambodia because it was the country that made her aware of refugees. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, in which Jolie starred, was filmed in war-torn Cambodia. As a result of what she saw while in country filming, the actress became involved with refugee work and was named a Goodwill Ambassador for the High Commission on Refugees in August 2001.
In 2005, Jolie adopted daughter Zahara Marley from Ethiopia when the child was 6 months old. Zahara was residing in the Wide Horizons For Children orphanage in Addis Ababa prior to her adoption. Jolie’s third child, Pax Thien, was age 3 at the time of his adoption from Vietnam. Pax came from the Tam Binh orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City.
4. An adoptive parent isn’t necessarily young
Life, it is said, begins at 40. For some celebrity adoptive parents, life as a parent did not start until years after they had turned 40. If they can deal with babies and toddlers at that age, why can’t the average Joe? These stars serve as models for gray power in parenting.
Hoda Kotb is a familiar face on television where she previously worked as a correspondent for “Dateline NBC” and has served as a cohost of NBC’s Today show since 2018. This successful media personality was not able to conceive biological children as a result of her battle with breast cancer. Undaunted, she began working with a licensed New York adoption agency to make her parenting dreams come true.
Through adoption, Kotb became a first-time mom to a baby girl born on Valentine’s Day in 2017. At this point in her life, she was not only past 40 but past the half-century mark of 50 as well. Kotb could have easily been a grandmother at this point. Instead, she opted to begin raising a newborn from the hospital as the infant’s mother.
Adopting daughter Hayley Joy Kotb brought the TV celebrity such joy that she pursued a second adoptive placement. Hayley became a big sister to Hope Catherine Kotb in April 2019 when the second-time mom was age 54.
Another later in life first-time mom is actress Sandra Bullock. She adopted her first child, a son, in 2010 when she was age 48. A daughter joined the family through adoption in 2015 when Bullock was already past age 50.
5. Adoptees aren’t always babies or children
Say the word adoption and most people will think of bouncing bundles of joy or cute toddlers. But infants and young children are not the only ones in need of forever families. Teenagers in foster care crave a stable and loving home.
According to the National Foster Youth Institute, over 23,000 children will age out of the U.S. foster system annually. Of those who age out, 20% will instantly become homeless. These teenagers need not only a stable home, but also the encouragement and support of parents.
The plight of such teens could be resolved through adoption. But how does the word get out about this concerning situation? Having a celebrity adopt a teenager from foster care is one sure way to get media attention.
Australian singer Sia, known for hiding her face under elaborate headgear such as hats and bows and cropped wigs, made big news for something other than singing. The nine-time Grammy Award nominated singer and songwriter adopted two teenage boys in 2019 who were aging out of the foster care system. Both boys, 18 at the time of the adoption, had spent considerable time as foster children. Their new mom revealed her sons had lived in 18 different locations over the course of 18 years.
Becoming a first-time mother to 18-year-old boys may seem daunting, but it was a wonderful experience for Sia. She characterized their adoption as “a blessing for me” in an interview for Good Morning America. Reflecting on this life-altering step, she concluded that “I think they saved me…” With such a positive review of taking such action, perhaps others will be inspired to follow in Sia’s footsteps and consider making a teenager a new family member through adoption.
6. All adoptees don’t come from hospitals or orphanages
Babies being adopted are typically placed in the adoptive home upon discharge from the hospital. Children being adopted from a foreign country are usually placed for adoption out of an orphanage. But from where do older children in the United States available for adoption come? That source would be foster care.
According to the North American Council on Adoptable Children, approximately 60,000 children were adopted out of foster care in 2017. That figure represents 24% of children leaving foster care.
Sia’s teenage sons were adopted out of foster care and so was Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock’s daughter, Laila. The Miss Congeniality star adopted Laila out of foster care in Louisiana when Laila was 3 ½. Laila joined big brother, Louis Bardo Bullock, who was adopted as an infant from New Orleans in 2010.
How high-profile was Laila’s adoption? Bullock appeared on the cover of People magazine with her two children in late 2015. Adoption professionals were thrilled with the publicity generated by Bullock’s adoption of Laila. It successfully sent a message to the public that kids in foster care need permanent homes. Bullock expressly voiced this need when interviewed by Today show cohost Hoda Kotb in 2018. She noted, “There are hundreds of thousands of children that are ready to be your child.”
7. Adoption isn’t just for couples
It may take a man and a woman to create a baby, but a forever family can be created with just one parent. Singles as well as married couples are adopting. Among those singles are high-profile celebrities.
Today show cohost Hoda Kotb has adopted both of her daughters while single. Although Kotb is now engaged to New York City financier, Joel Schiffman, who is helping her to parent, Kotb is the legal and single parent of the children. Charlize Theron, Sia, Angelina Jolie, Madonna, and Sandra Bullock have also adopted while single.
8. Adoption doesn’t guarantee a happily ever after
The placement of a baby or child in an adoptive home is not the end of the story where everyone lives happily ever after. The story is just beginning when a new family is created through adoption. There are adjustments to be made, bonding to be accomplished, milestones to celebrate, and experiences to be shared. Even if the new family member is a biological offspring, there is never a guarantee of a happily ever after.
Joan Crawford would be the poster child for the adoptive parent whose adoption journey was not a bed of roses. Her first adopted child, daughter Christina, wrote Mommie Dearest, as an expose’ about her abusive and alcoholic mother. The book was later turned into a movie starring Faye Dunaway, making it plain as day to those who flocked to the theaters to see it that there was no happily ever after, or anything close to it, in that family.
Comedian, actress, and TV personality Rosie O’Donnell didn’t experience a happily ever after either. She adopted daughter Chelsea as a baby in 1997. At age 17, Chelsea ran away from home and was reported missing by her mother. Found a week later with her then boyfriend, Chelsea was home only a short time before leaving to live with her birth mother when she turned 18. Rosie’s daughter struggled with depression and anxiety and had a strained relationship with her mother for years.
Celebrities are high-profile people whose almost every move is covered by the media. As a result, their involvement in adoption brings the topic to the public’s conscious and impacts their view of and actions taken towards adoption. Celebrity adoptive parents have made clear to those following them that adoption is an acceptable way to expand a family, children can be adopted from overseas, older children are available for adoption as well as infants and toddlers, foster care is where there are many kids in need of forever homes, members of a forever family do not have to have the same color skin, single individuals are capable of parenting a child, and adopting a child doesn’t guarantee a happily ever after. Hooray for those lessons, Hollywood!