Summer’s here, and a favorite activity is enjoying a movie while indulging in some buttered popcorn and an ice-cold soda. Not only is watching a flick entertaining, but sometimes a movie can also provide understanding and enlightenment for a prospective adoptive parent on an adoption journey. What lessons can we learn about adoption from well-known films? Let’s see!

The Ten Commandments

In 1956, Cecile B. DeMille produced the epic religious drama The Ten Commandments which dramatized the life of Moses. Charlton Heston played Moses opposite Yul Brynner as Pharaoh Rameses I. As the story unfolds, Moses leads the Hebrews out of Egypt where they were enslaved. During the exodus, he ascends Mount Sinai where he receives two stone tablets from God, the Ten Commandments, which detail the laws by which God’s people were expected to abide.

What could this biblical story thousands of years old possibly have to do with adoption today? Surprisingly, the film is the basis for two important points about the legal process we know in modern times as adoption. 

First, The Ten Commandments makes it clear adoption is not a new development. Moses himself was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter after he was plucked from the Nile River where he was floating in a basket. She named the baby Moses and raised him in Pharaoh’s palace as her own child. While Moses’ adoption may not have involved a home study, official court proceedings, or an amended birth certificate, it did allow a child who was not a biological offspring to be raised by someone who was recognized as his parent and deemed to be a family member of a non-biological related family.

The second takeaway about adoption from The Ten Commandments is that life must be conducted according to laws. God gave His people a basic framework for how to live to ensure order in society; there was to be no killing, stealing, or lying, for example. While adoption is not a part of everyday life, it still must be handled according to law.

Adoption is, in fact, a creature of statute; adoption exists because laws have been enacted to set up the process. These laws control who may adopt, the required steps for adoption, and the legal effect of adoption. In the United States, each state has passed its own set of laws governing adoption, and significant differences in the process can exist from state to state. Unlike the Ten Commandments, no one set of laws are in place to cover adoption across the country. 

Current adoption laws are not written on stone tablets like the Ten Commandments were. Today, these laws are freely accessible to anyone via the internet. In Florida, for instance, searching “Online Sunshine,” leads to the official state site where the Florida statutes may be viewed. Anyone interested in learning about how the Sunshine State handles adoptions can review Chapter 63 of the Florida Statutes for themselves to find out the details.

Field of Dreams

The plot of the 1989 sports fantasy drama, Field of Dreams, which starred Kevin Costner has nothing to do with adoption. But a life lesson, as well as a lesson about adoption, can be gleaned from the film’s story.

In Field of Dreams, Costner plays Ray Kinsella, a man who had a difficult relationship with his late father who was an avid baseball fan. Ray is worried life is passing him by and that he may not end up achieving anything. He is spurred to take action one night while walking through his cornfield and hearing a voice tell him, “If you build it, he will come.” Ray envisions a baseball diamond in his cornfield with baseball great “Shoeless Joe” Jackson standing there. Risking financial hardship, he plows under part of his cornfield and builds a ballfield. At the end of the movie, hundreds of people are seen approaching the field to watch a ball game.

What could a sports movie reveal about the adoption process? Both Ray’s experience and that of a prospective adoptive parent involve pursuing a dream. While Ray strove to build a baseball field, prospective adoptive parents strive to build a forever family. The building of both a ballfield and building a forever family through adoption are expensive endeavors. But to achieve one’s dream, whether that be a ballfield or a forever family, risks must be taken, money must be expended, and hard work must be done. Additionally, arriving at the dream destination may take some time.

When Ray built the ballpark, it could have turned out that no baseball fans showed up. Adoptive couples may pursue adoption and yet fail to receive a placement. But if no risk is taken, then the result of no field or no forever family is a given. Risk is an inevitable part of pursuing one’s dream.

Pursuing a dream also involves effort and hard work. A baseball field does not build itself. Manual labor will be required. Although the work may not be as sweaty, completing myriads of forms and a slew of paperwork for adoption is still challenging and hard work. 

Ray did not dream about a ballfield and complete the site the next day. Planning and building the field took time. Similarly, prospective adoptive parents must plan their adoption journey and work to make themselves and their home ready for placement. What adoption resource will they utilize? Who will conduct their home study? How will the adoption costs be covered? Parenting classes may be required. Their home must be modified to accommodate a new family member. All these determinations and efforts take time as does the excruciating and seemingly interminable wait to have a child placed for adoption with them. 

The Paper Chase

Moviegoers got an inside peek at the law school experience with the 1973 comedy-drama The Paper Chase. This fictional account of a Harvard Law School student earned John Houseman a Best Supporting Actor award for his role as the brilliant but imposing contract law teacher, Professor Charles Kingsfield. 

The movie, based on a novel of the same name, is aptly called The Paper Chase, a phrase meaning an attempt to gain academic qualifications, especially a law degree. While prospective adoptive parents do not have to obtain a law degree in order to adopt, they do have to proceed within the guidelines of the law to achieve a legally recognized new member of the family. Becoming more familiar with the requirements of the applicable adoption law will help those on an adoption journey to make more informed decisions along the way.

A second dictionary definition for “paper chase” undeniably captures the reality of what occurs during the adoption process. An informal meaning of the phrase is the processing of forms and other paperwork, particularly when deemed excessive. Everyone can agree that adoption is a paper-intensive journey. It might be a toss-up as to whether the baby or the paperwork completed to adopt him weighs more.        

Three Men and a Baby    ]

The biggest box office hit of 1987 was Three Men and a Baby, a comedy about three carefree bachelor roommates who are unexpectedly required to care for a baby who is left outside their apartment door. A note with the baby claims that one of the men, Jack (played by Ted Danson), is the baby’s father. The roommates are forced to adapt their lives to the reality of being de facto dads to this little bundle of joy with hilarious results. 

Unexpected babies are a common scenario leading to an adoptive placement. Just as the lives of the three bachelors in Three Men and a Baby are thrown into turmoil by the unanticipated arrival of a baby, birth parents often face tumult in their lives as a result of an unplanned pregnancy. Becoming a parent at that point in their lives was not on the agenda, and they are not prepared for it. Hard decisions must be made. 

On the screen, three men were parenting a baby who arrived on their doorstep with no warning. In real life, more than one man may be involved in an adoption scenario in a father role. With baby placements, these men are not actually providing hands-on parenting; the contribution issue is who was involved in the conception of the child. While the identity of the birth mother is clear since she is pregnant and delivers the baby, the identity of the biological father is not always clear-cut. The question of the child’s paternity must be addressed since adoption can only be achieved by first terminating the parental rights of the biological parents.   

Gone with the Wind

Who hasn’t seen the epic 1939 film, Gone with the Wind? Based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell and winner of a Best Picture Academy Award, the epic historical romance is set in the Deep South during America’s Civil War and the following Reconstruction. The plot focuses on the dashing Rhett and the selfish, strong-willed Scarlett.

Slavery and war are not issues in adoptions, but a couple of well-known quotes from Gone with the Wind provide some insight into adoption situations. 

The sparks fly between Rhett and Scarlett, but she informs him, “Sir, you are no gentleman.” And, unfortunately, many babies placed for adoption do not result from a great love story involving an attentive gentleman; the truth is that the backstory may be very dark. A child could have been conceived as the result of a rape, from trading drugs for sex, or from a casual drunken encounter. While there is no way to change the beginning of the story, adoption provides a means to ensure a happy ending. A placement offers the option to a woman unexpectedly pregnant as a result of such an encounter the way to give her child a good life, one she may not be in a position to provide. It also allows her to bless prospective adoptive parents who greatly desire to parent a child. 

Rhett’s most memorable quote from Gone with the Wind is undoubtedly, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” That attitude is often seen in adoption situations where the birth father denies paternity of a child or wants nothing to do with raising his offspring. He washes his hands of the situation and does not care how the birth mother deals with her circumstances. Left with the specter of having to be a single parent, a birth mother may find an adoptive placement to be a more viable alternative. 

Having to face difficult circumstances is no fun for anyone, including Scarlett O’Hara. Faced with the loss of Rhett, Scarlett cannot deal with this reality initially. She decides, “I’ll worry about that tomorrow.” Avoidance is a common coping mechanism, and it is one that birth mothers frequently employ. Overwhelmed with their circumstances, they turn into ostriches and stick their heads in the sand; they will decide what to do “tomorrow”. Each day brings another tomorrow. The day of reckoning will, however, come at some point. In some instances, that day of reckoning is when the baby is born. Decisions can no longer be put off. When these cases occur, a “stork drop” may happen where an adoption resource receives a call about a very last-minute placement decision.

Watching a movie can provide not only entertainment but also enlightenment about adoption in some cases.  The lesson might be an obvious one, such as the fact adoption has been practiced since ancient times as demonstrated by Moses’ adoption by Pharaoh’s daughter in The Ten Commandments. In other instances, a nugget about adoption must be gleaned from the movie’s storyline. The Paper Chase, for example, indicates that achieving one’s goal may involve having to learn about the law. Similarly, Field of Dreams illustrates that taking risks is often required to realize one’s dream. Stories end when famous films are over, but the ideas and concepts generated from watching such a movie live on may provide valuable insight into an adoption journey.

Are you ready to take the next steps on your adoption journey? Visit The Gladney Center for Adoption to learn more.