What The Jungle Book Teaches Us About Adoption

I love Mowgli. It might be because our little boy (all grown up now) was just as adorable, just a brown, and just as wild (well . . . almost). Or it might be because Mowgli has a fighting spirit and that’s something everyone admires. Or it just could be because the jungle animals show more humanity than many humans do. Whatever the reason, the new version of The Jungle Book says oodles about adoption.

For starters, Bagheera saw a need and acted immediately. He knew the perfect family to raise Mowgli and, in fact, knew that the wolves wouldn’t care what the man-cub looked like or how long it would take him to assimilate into their pack. They would love him no matter what. It was Bagheera’s compassion that helped match the child and the family. That’s a trait that exceeds organizational skills, knowledge of the system, and intelligence. Isn’t it great when a social worker carries Bagheera’s compassion as they work toward placing adoptable children in their best matching family?!

The obvious adoption comparison is the complete acceptance of the entire jungle community, and especially the wolf pack, of Mowgli. He was just one of the cubs, and although he grew more slowly, the expectations of his parents that he would reach his potential and adapt to not just survive, but also to thrive, were a strong motivator for Mowgli. When other animals gathered near the peace rock to drink from the scant water supply, although many had never seen a man-cub before, when they saw how he was accepted by his family, they, too, forgot prejudice and allowed him into the group. How an adoptive family treats a child bleeds over not just into the community and extended family, but also to strangers.

And let’s not forget Mowgli, the adoptee. The wolves became his family, his parents, and his siblings. The jungle became his home. He became comfortable in his adoptive atmosphere and couldn’t imagine another life. Yet when he came to know his roots, he understood more about himself and he embraced the “man” in him. Interestingly, finding his roots didn’t take away from his love for his adoptive home and family. As a rule, that’s how it works in the real adoption world as well. Exploring roots, finding birth families, understanding heritage—it all goes into building an adoptee and empowering him. It doesn’t steal the adopted child away from his family and it doesn’t diminish him. It makes him stronger.

Additionally, the adversity Mowgli experienced served to create a strength and a resolve within him. Yes, he left because that was what was best for his family and home. But he also returned. And when he returned, he did so with strength and with an understanding much deeper than he would have ever had if life would have continued to be easy.

Everything in mortality can be a metaphor for living a rich life, even a Disney movie. The Jungle Book is great entertainment. But it’s also a feel-good, be-inspired movie that can touch everyone and help us all to be better, live more kindly, and embrace who we really are.