Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Find My Family" as Sensationalist Trash or Springboard for Discussion

Martha Osborne, adopted person and adoptive parent, and the founder of the Rainbow Kids website, has given some good advice in reaction to the upcoming ABC series Find My Family, a reality show about search and reunion.

She suggests that younger kids NOT watch the show (duh!), but that upper-elementary and/or middle school students would benefit from a direct approach, since they may get intrusive questions in reaction to the series, if it is widely watched:

This is a wonderful age to start letting your child know that birth families, even if we have never met them, or may never have the opportunity, are part of our families. A welcome part. Whether to search or not in the future is your child's choice and has absolutely no relation to the way your child loves you. I should know, I'm adopted. My parents (and yes, I mean my adoptive parents) are my parents and I love them in a way I could love no one else. Searching for my birth family is about me, my identity. Let your child know when they are still young that you do not feel threatened, and you may receive the gift of open-communication throughout their teens.

Discuss the media, specifically as it applies to the marketing of ideas, forming of opinions, and exploiting of people for their own profit. It may also be pertinent to discuss the entire idea of people agreeing to have the most private, personal parts of their lives, filmed and put on television for the purpose of entertainment.

Let your child know that it is okay to have mixed feelings and changing emotions about any topic, including adoption. It's not a rejection of the adoptive family to wonder about birthparents, or life in another country.

If this series becomes widely-viewed, your child will receive very intrusive and personal questions. The show is meant to cast all adoptees as longing-for-their-lost-life. Practice, roll-play, be ready.

I think she puts this discussion too late at upper-elementary. Most kids start thinking of birth parents between age 7-12 (obviously, "most" isn't all -- some reach this stage earlier, some later). Still, I think overall she makes some good suggestions. I also think the article reads a bit too dismissive of the need to search for birth parents, felt deeply by many adopted persons. Watching the show with an older child might be a good springboard for discussion.

I don't know yet whether the series will be positive in showing the centrality of birth parents to adoptees' identities, or whether it will be sensationalized and exploitative. I can't say I'm holding out much hope for a sensitive approach, given how awful most of these shows have been. But done well, it could help with open records and cast birth parents in a positive light. But how confident am I that it will be done right? Somehow, aerodynamic pigs come to mind. . . .

In her conclusion, Martha also seems doubtful that the show will get it right:
Search and reunion of adoptees and birth families is part of adoption, and always will be. All adoptive families and birth families are connected through our children, whether we accept that idea or not. Our children bind us. It is a precious, priceless connection. This show cheapens and sensationalizes what is sacred. ABC, your show is an insult, and hopefully a flop.
If you watch the show Monday, let us know what you think.

1 comment:

Wendy said...

After receiving this information via email I went to the the shows previews on ABC. I am not seeing what she is claiming about showing AP's in a bad light, the switch to making AP's the "bad" guys--just because you don't feature AP's or include them in the search does not mean you are condemning them. I also agree with you that she has children thinking of their first families way later than they really do.
I do see sensationalism--it is "reality" tv, which we all know is loosely based on reality, sensational, and edited to the max. Obviously I haven't seen the show and I am sure there will be many stories that are not done well, will play more to the moment of finding then to the real connection these families will struggle to make, but it is what it is. Not that I will say I "approve" of the show or not, but I don't see a problem with showing adoptees, first parents, siblings etc actually WANTING to see one another again--not a bad thing! I would hope it would lead to further discussion and a change in public perception--currently we are seen as saints who rescued children from those who didn't care or had serious issues--yes, sometimes true, but I dare say not the majority.
I am not a fan of Extreme Makeover, never have been so I don't know if this show will mirror that over-the-top "saving" of those in need by overdoing it for one family instead of providing for many, but I do not see the shows premise as negative.
As a side note I do know someone who found their first family through the show "The Locator"--nothing but good has come from it and NO ONE was belittled or dismissed as not important her ap's or first family.
I don't plan to watch as these type of shows are not my thing, but I think the show should be viewed before condemned however, if it is horrible then it will go by the wayside; if offensive it won't be the first to be--just as I find those annual foster adopt shows as similar to "adopt a pet" programs--children should never be advertised, but I don't see a call to stop those; if good then maybe the public at large will see adoptees and their families as real people who have needs, questions, and deserve a right to answers--you never know, it may even open the door for opening of records.

just my 2 cents.