If you’re going to see the recently released movie “Lion,” expect to shed a tear or two. If you’re someone whose life has been affected by adoption, prepare for an emotional rollercoaster that may hit very close to home.
Based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, “Lion” follows a 5-year-old Indian boy who finds himself thousands of miles from his home and family after mistakenly boarding and being trapped on a train for days. Eventually adopted by an Australian couple, Saroo decides to search for his birth family and home 25 years later — using only Google Earth and a few distant memories.
It’s an emotional tale for anyone watching, but it also teaches several lessons about adoption and the affects it can have on those involved:
The Challenges of International Adoption
After living in a Bengali orphanage, Saroo is adopted by an Australian couple and brought to their home in Tasmania. Not only does Saroo have to adjust to a completely different country but, at the time of his adoption, he speaks little English and has little comprehension of the type of life and culture that his adoptive parents have.
It takes unending patience from his adoptive parents, including his mother (played by real-life adoptive mother Nicole Kidman) for him to adjust to his new home, language and culture. However, what highlights the challenges of international adoption even clearer is the couple’s adoption of another Bengali orphan, Mantosh.
Unlike Saroo, Mantosh encounters harrowing emotional issues with his adoption and adjusting to his new adoptive family. In a montage of scenes, the film shows the Brierleys attempting to calm down Mantosh, who reverts to hitting himself in times of stress and anxiety, and the emotional toll it takes on Sue Brierley, who copes with feelings of inadequacy as a mother. The language barrier between parents and child only makes it more challenging.
It’s an honest portrayal of how difficult international adoption can be, especially as an adoptive child and adoptive parents adjust to their new lives together.
How Adoptive Parents Can Support their Adopted Children
As Saroo grows older, he thinks more and more about the family that he left behind in India — wondering if they’re still there and waiting for him to return. The unanswered questions he has begin to consume his life as he tries to track down his origins, but he hides his search from his mother, afraid he will hurt her feelings by admitting what he is doing.
After his search begins to distance him from his mother, however, he tells her about his plan — and is surprised at the way his mother reacts. She understands his questions and, when he tells her he’s planning on returning to India to look for his birth mother, she says, “I hope you find her.”
The lessons from this scene can apply to anyone affected by adoption, whether it’s international or domestic. It’s normal for adopted children to wonder about their parents, their heritage and where they came from — and it’s important for adoptive parents to understand that this curiosity isn’t a reflection upon their own parenting ability. The best thing you can do for an adopted child wondering about their birth parents is to support them in their search (which is why an open adoption can help with any unanswered questions an adopted child has).
How Adopted Children Feel About their Birth Parents
Even though Saroo searches for his birth mother and eventually finds her, it doesn’t affect his relationship with his adoptive mother at all. In fact, it even strengthens it.
After reconnecting with his birth mother, he calls up his adoptive mother to remind her that nothing has changed. She’s still his mother, and he still loves her just as much as he did before he found his birth family. Seeing his birth mother again just gives him the chance to make sense of his childhood story, show his appreciation for her love for him and rediscover an important part of his cultural heritage.
Whether you’re an adoptive parent or an adopted child, you probably know that post-adoption issues are more common than others may think. Seeing them represented onscreen is not only a great way to validate them, but they’re a great conversation starter for discussing adoption with those who are unfamiliar.
Overall, “Lion” is a wonderful story about international adoption, discovering who you are and the love between parents and children. For anyone affected by or interested in adoption, it’s a must-see.
“Lion” is playing in limited theaters and rated PG-13. You can find Saroo’s memoir, “A Long Way Home,” here.