It’s no surprise at all that the man behind the mouse ears, the princesses and The Happiest Place on Earth was a fun-loving father who enjoyed spending time with his family. However, many people are shocked to learn that Walt and Lillian Disney’s second daughter, Sharon Mae Disney, was adopted as an infant.
Lillian reportedly suffered several miscarriages before and after the birth of their eldest daughter, Diane Marie Disney, in 1933. The Disneys were advised not to attempt pregnancy again, but the couple desperately wanted more children, so they turned to adoption.
Sharon was born on December 21, 1936 and was adopted by the Disneys around two weeks later. The Disneys were reportedly open about the adoption with family but preferred to keep the information out of the press.
The reason? In his biography about Disney, How to be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life, Pat Williams states that the Disneys didn’t want Sharon to be referred to as “the adopted daughter of Walt Disney.” The Disneys were completely enamored with their daughter, and they didn’t want her to grow up feeling as though she wasn’t a part of their family.
A Common Misconception
At the time of Sharon’s birth, adoption was often viewed as somewhat taboo, and outsiders perceived adopted children as illegitimate or strange. A great emphasis was placed on lineage, and adopting a child was considered an unnatural act because it did not extend your familial blood line.
Subsequently, there were very few couples willing to adopt – and those who did, like the Disneys, preferred to keep the adoptions quiet to protect their children from ridicule. Fortunately, perceptions and laws have changed to be more accepting of adoption. Adopted children today are seen as no different from their non-adopted counterparts. They are not seen as social outcasts and they are happily – and legally – accepted into their adoptive families and the surrounding communities.
The positive portrayal of adoption in movies has no doubt contributed to this growing acceptance and understanding. As Walt Disney was an adoptive parent himself, it’s only natural that his company has produced several movies over the years that have featured adoption, such as:
- Meet the Robinsons
- Pete’s Dragon
- The Rescuers
- The Jungle Book
- Lilo and Stitch
- The Tigger Movie
For the Disneys, it wasn’t shame that caused them to hide the adoption of their daughter; it was the desire to protect her from a world that wasn’t ready to accept her. What the Disneys knew that most of society didn’t was that love, not blood, makes a family.