With television shows like Modern Family and This Is Us becoming more popular, a much-needed spotlight is being shone on the topic of adoption. We can see it everywhere. Something that used to be somewhat secretive is now very public and celebrated. It makes us realize how common adoption is. We can see magazine headlines of celebrities welcoming new members into their forever families, social media posts about blended and adoptive families, and now even movies and shows that are completely about adoption.  

With all the increased entertainment inclusion within the last ten+ years, has pop culture really changed how the world sees adoption? Has there been enough exposure to influence the opinions of people unfamiliar with adoption? Multiple studies have shown that nearly one hundred million Americans are connected to adoption in their immediate family. Has the media and the entertainment industry influenced pop culture enough to contribute to that extraordinary number? When learning the effects of media on human behavior, it is a very logical conclusion to assume that the answer is yes. 

What Does Adoption in Pop Culture Look Like?

Pop culture is defined as modern popular culture transmitted via the mass media and aimed particularly at younger people. Delivering awareness through media technologies gives more of an opportunity to reach a larger audience. For example, on a hit show like This Is Us, millions of people have been introduced to a transracial family of adoption. Not only is it highlighting the love story of parents bonding with their adopted child, but it also highlights the struggle of siblings adapting, cultural identity, and—of course—the challenges that a transracial family experiences. Something that we ordinarily might have been unaware of was brought to our attention by writers, a production company, and a major network. Some people may think that it is only for dramatic appeal, but among the adoption community, we know these are real issues. 

The entertainment industry has a long history of assisting in changing the opinions of the general population. Ground-breaking moves such as women wearing blue jeans in public in shows of the 1960s or pushing the beds together in a show like I Love Lucy has helped us adapt to the changing times. We saw racism was addressed in shows like All in the Family and The Jeffersons. Such a sensitive topic was presented in a way that made people acknowledge that it was a real problem. These soft introductions help familiarize the reality of what is actually happening and hopefully lead to positive changes that are necessary.

The technology movement and the evolution of the internet have changed the way people look for information. Accessibility has never been easier—especially through the avenues of social media. Social media platforms have really increased the options of how people can gather and share information. For example, you can now simply follow a hashtag on Instagram that can lead you to numerous resources and adoption stories. Adoption-related topics are now at our fingertips. Most people reading this right now found Adoption.com on a Google search. The internet is a big part of our lives at this moment and, fortunately for many, has played a pivotal role in family placement. As much as people complain about the amount of time spent on phones and other devices, it can be quite beneficial. 

How Has Adoption In Pop Culture Affected Us?

When I decided to introduce my son to the world via social media I was somewhat nervous. I did not know much about adoption at the time and was a little uncertain how people would react. I think I underestimated my friends and family because I was met with such a positive and congratulatory tone and an enormous amount of support. I then realized this is not the big family secret era that I had grown up in. It is such a relief to know that we are living in a day and time that we can be open and honest about how we decide to grow our families. I am a firm believer in living a transparent life. There is not much about me that I am not willing to share with people, and telling the story of how my original crew of two became a team of three is one of my favorite things to do. I love telling people how everything was a surprise and also fell right into place. This was not something we planned for but it turned out to be exactly what we wanted. 

I can not help but think that the entertainment industry and social media’s influence on the normalization of adoption contributed to the overwhelming support our new little family received. We, as a culture, are adapting so much by seeing and hearing about adoption. Families of adoption are just regular families and the reasons why families choose adoption no longer have to be an assumption that people are afraid to ask or address. The tone in conversations about adoptions has changed and families can freely tell their stories of adoption. Women no longer have to hide their infertility issues. We can openly talk about miscarriages, failed in-vitro fertilization, embryo transfers, surrogates, or even silent births without feeling alone and isolated. We can also talk about not wanting to even explore those routes and go straight to adoption. Infertility does not even have to be an issue. Families can adopt just because they want to whether it be from an agency or foster care. The discussions about adoption are endless and there is a constantly growing community of support for just about every adoption scenario you can think of. Again, a benefit of social media is that there are groups you can join that meet your specific demographic. 

It might sound like a bit of a cliche, but being a part of a group that understands your concerns provides an immeasurable amount of comfort. Not to discredit the support given by my loved ones, but there were things that they just would not understand about my feelings in certain situations. Specifically, I had no idea how I wanted to move forward with contact between my son’s biological mother and myself. It was an extremely difficult subject for me to navigate through because she is a family member of mine and I was unsure of how to set boundaries that I was comfortable with. I must admit, I was pretty closed-minded at first until I joined a Facebook group. Listening to the different perspectives pertaining to birth mother relationships and relationships with biological siblings has made a huge impact on my previous personal ideas. It was a huge relief to me when I found out that my concerns were common and certainly valid. Learning of different ways people established boundaries was so helpful. Had I not joined a Facebook group I would have remained absolutely clueless. It also gave me a place to feel safe to voice my thoughts and questions.

Adoption Awareness in Pop Culture

Social media has also given me the opportunity to bring adoption awareness to my family and friends. I like to give them the chance to ask questions about our experience. They are free to ask about our home study, cost, bonding, and whatever else crosses their minds. The month of November is National Adoption Awareness Month and is perfect for having an open forum to discuss these topics. Even if they have no interest in adding to their family through adoption, the knowledge of the process and other aspects might help them or someone they know in the future.

As we continue to advance the ideas and understanding of adoption, the ones that truly benefit the most are the children. The progression of adoption awareness will provide these kids the security and comfort they need. While the much appreciated given exposure from the mass media sources, such as the entertainment industry, greatly promotes a positive adoption view. We have to pursue adoption awareness as well. Promoting adoption awareness beyond the month of November will help maintain the progression of normalization. Normalization will ultimately lead to better lives for all the families of adoption and, most importantly, the adoptees. 

Now, we talk about the adoption of our son fairly often. It is not something we shy away from. I used to be a little sensitive and defensive when I would mention it. Our son looks noticeably different from my husband and me. I was always wondering what kind of reaction people would have and I would always have a snarky response tucked away just in case. I slowly started to realize that most people were genuinely happy to hear that he was adopted. Watching complete strangers’ faces light up helped me learn how to lower my guard. That is when I really recognized how comfortable people have become with adoption.

The Importance of Adoption in Pop Culture

It is human nature to become comfortable with things we are familiar with. This is why it is important to continue to highlight adoption on every platform possible—including our homes. The more we familiarize adults and even children, the easier it will be. Educating everyone should be a priority. Mentioning it in conservations and explaining it helps everyone understand that the only difference between families of adoption and theirs is genetics. 

It is so important to make sure kids are being taught about adoption at home to ensure that the progression of adoption awareness continues. Even if there is not adoption in their family, teaching kids about adoption helps familiarize them. It is our job, as parents, to make sure they develop an inclusive attitude. This helps them understand that not all families are made with the same genetic links and that it does not make them any less of a family. There is a good chance a present or future classmate or family member of your child’s will be a part of an adoption story. So, introducing them to the subject could create a welcoming atmosphere.

I remember when I was growing up, a common joke was telling a child they were adopted as an insult. If someone did not quite fit or have the same traits as their siblings or parents, they were automatically labeled as “adopted”. Assigning this type of rejection never made sense to me; it just seemed so cruel especially because I did not look like my siblings and was often on the receiving end of those remarks. I think that is what contributed to my defensive attitude when we adopted our son. I never wanted my son to feel like he was rejected at birth because. Thankfully, things are significantly different now.  

We have come a long way with the education and awareness of adoption; however, there is still a lot of ground to cover. Increased knowledge of positive adoption language is something I hope to see by the time my son is old enough to understand everything. Positive adoption language is something that is surprisingly lacking in people’s vocabulary. I find it hard to believe that we can advance as a society in so many ways but neglect to address phrases like “real mom/dad” or “drug baby”. One of my biggest fears, that I am forever trying to overcome, is the possibility of my son hearing those phrases and questioning himself or the validity of our family. Continuous promotion of positive adoption language is the only way we will be able to see that transition.

It is so hard to retrain people’s vocabulary, but I feel the more it is addressed the more people can be aware of the changes that are necessary. Over the years I have learned to not respond in a defensive manner but try to educate instead. Not everyone is instinctively aware of the right words to say. If we continue to use our platforms to spread education, we can be a part of the growth we are hoping for. 

Overall, watching how much the perception of adoption has changed over the few years has been amazing. I love seeing adoption announcements posted on social media, links about which companies are best to work for in support of adoption, and all the positive reinforcement in the entertainment industry. My expectations for the future of adoption awareness are incredibly high and I look forward to seeing the next stages of progression.

Considering adoption? Let us help you on your journey to creating your forever family. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98. Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Not sure what to do next? First, know that you are not alone. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to speak to one of our Options Counselors to get compassionate, nonjudgmental support. We are here to assist you in any way we can.