One of the challenges for adoptive parents is how to tell their child’s adoption story in a way that makes the kid feel good about it. For this year’s National Adoption Month, I’d like to look at some powerful stories that are very much in the air this year: the super-heroics of super-adoptees Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Supergirl and Superman!
When it comes to superpowered adoptees, the first name on the list for nearly a century has been Clark Kent, aka Superman. It’s not only a classic hero story, but it’s an adoption story that plenty of kids can relate to: Superman’s birth parents made a loving and necessary decision to give him up, and his subsequent life had both a devoted set of adoptive parents (Jonathan and Martha Kent) and the distant but powerful figures of his birth family (Jor-El and Lara). Each family had a strong impact on the different aspects of Clark/Superman’s identity.
Kids who were adopted can find plenty of parallels between their stories and Superman’s (including international adoptees—Superman’s adoption was interplanetary!), but the comics, cartoons and movies won’t hit them over the head with it. The very fact that Superman’s adoption story gives him superpowers, along with a dedication to truth and justice, can be a great comfort to younger adoptees.
And with the debut of the new Supergirl series on CBS this year, there’s also a prominent super-adoption story with a female protagonist. Like her cousin, Supergirl was adopted by a family on Earth and must balance the two parts of her history. And in finding that balance, Supergirl becomes her truest, most heroic self.
Of course, there are two other major fictional adoptees in the spotlight this year: Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa, who are back in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Like Superman and Supergirl, Luke and Leia grow up in adoptive families and go on to live heroic lives.
But Luke and Leia as adoptive role models have different facets for adopted kids. First and foremost, they have a much more complicated relationship with one of their birth parents: Anakin Skywalker, who we all know better as the galaxy’s baddest bad guy, Darth Vader. And their adoptive families aren’t as stable as Superman’s and Supergirl’s—Luke is raised by an uncle and aunt who are murdered by Darth Vader’s Empire, and Leia’s adoptive family and planet are destroyed by the Death Star.
In other words, Luke and Leia’s adoptive story looms over their lives in a largely negative way. It’s something that could upset a child—but it could also give them a way to think through some very complex feelings.
For example, Luke and Leia essentially had a “closed” adoption (they did not know who their birth parents were), which had both positive and negative consequences—would it have been better for Luke if he’d known who his father was, or did it protect him for a long time? There were biological inheritances—specifically an unusual facility with The Force—that could not be trumped by their adoptive environment. And because of the secrecy surrounding their lineage, Luke and Leia are adults before they meet and learn that they have siblings.
Adoptive families generally don’t have to struggle with things as difficult as a connection to Darth Vader and the Empire, but the fact that Luke and Leia’s adoptive stories end up having both good and bad outcomes for them can feel very true to life as kids grow up and wrestle with their stories in larger ways.
And as our kids continue to grow and think more deeply about their adoption stories, there are many, many other fictional characters they can look to for guidance—or just the comfort of knowing there are plenty of big stories that started just like theirs. Buddy the Elf, Buddy the Dinosaur, Anne of Green Gables, Peter Parker (aka, Spider-Man), Annie, the kids from Despicable Me, and plenty more characters have adoption stories framing their narratives. None of these adoption stories are quite the same, but many of them can help kids think of their own origins as pretty super.