This article contains spoilers.
The other night I had a wild night on the town. By that I mean my husband watched our two foster kids while I went to the movie theater alone and ate a salad while watching “Finding Dory.” It was a wonderful film. I laughed out loud several times and enjoyed every minute of being child-free while watching a kid’s movie.
I will not, however, let my foster children see this movie, and if you are a foster or adoptive parent I highly recommend you have a frank discussion with your children about some important topics broached in the movie.
Throughout the movie, Dory has flashbacks to her childhood. These memories are filled with smiles, hugs, and important life lessons. In her vivid memories of her childhood, her parents call her “Cupcake” and work diligently to help her cope with and adapt to her short-term memory loss. They reassure her of how much they love her, and there is constant affection.
This aspect of the film can be difficult for those of us who are parenting children who have experienced trauma and have witnessed terrible things in their short little lives. They might wonder “Why don’t I have memories like that?” or “Do my parents love me?” Sadly, these are things most children in foster care either cannot or will never have.
These kids have been neglected, abandoned, or abused by the very people who are supposed to give them unconditional love. For them, thoughts of mom, dad, and home can trigger intense feelings of fear, confusion, and anger. Their “normal” is tragic, and reminding them of that only makes it worse.
It May Be Dory’s Fault, But It’s Not Yours
Another major issue with the film is that Dory’s separation from her birth parents is portrayed as her fault—technically, the fault of her condition of short-term memory loss. Dory repeatedly says the phrase “I lost my family,” and later in the film expresses fear about seeing her parents again because she assumes they are angry at her for losing them.
Foster parents go to great lengths to make it clear to the children in our care that it is in no way their fault that they are in foster care. We never, ever want these children to feel as if it is their fault that they were removed from their homes and biological parents. The film repeatedly blames Dory for the fact that she has been separated from her parents, which would destroy the hard work we put into dismissing that narrative in the minds of our foster and adoptive children.
All children inhabit their own little worlds, of which they are the absolute center. When bad things happen to them, they aren’t capable of understanding that it’s not their fault. When terrible things happen to them and their families, this feeling only intensifies.
For Some Kids, Home and Parents Are Not Safe
At the end of the film we find Dory’s birth parents were physically, emotionally, and mentally stable and actively seeking to find her. When reunited, they immediately drop what they are doing and rush to embrace Dory. They tell her how they have stayed in the same spot and laid out shells leading to their home all these years (shown throughout the flashbacks to help her find her way home) hoping that she would return to them.
This perfect reunion filled with affection and joy is far too often not the case for most children in the foster-care system. This fairy-tale image risks harming the fragile mental state of children who have been neglected or abandoned by their birth parents. Many of their birth parents are not looking for them, and a movie like “Finding Dory” can create a dangerously false image in the hearts and minds of the sweet children in our care.
Once they are all reunited, Dory and her parents travel back to Nemo and Marlin’s home, where they all live together happily ever after. For a foster or adoptive child, this ending can be terribly confusing in two ways. First, it could give them the false hope that such an ending could happen for them, when it is often not the case. Second, it can cause them further anxiety and worry by telling them their current home may not be permanent either.
The biggest issue I had with the film for my foster children, and why I won’t be taking them to see the film, is the overarching theme that when you decide you want to go home you can, and that home is where your biological parents are. These are the main themes running throughout the film, and because of Dory’s short-term memory loss they are repeated constantly. For my two foster children, they can’t go home merely because they want to. It’s something they know, but not something we talk about all the time. Home for them right now is not where their biological parents are, and it won’t be for some time. And that’s what is best for them.
If You Don’t Have Kids Like Mine, Go!
With all that said, I highly recommend that those who are not in my position of being a foster or adoptive parent go see this movie with their children. It has most of the beloved characters from the original film, plus some sweet and hilarious new ones. It shows that parents’ love for their child can know no bounds, and will make you laugh out loud several times.
There are few things nicer as a parent than knowing what you are getting when you walk into the movie theater with your children: you know the characters, you know it’s appropriate, and you know you will have a great movie-going experience. All of the aforementioned things are true about “Finding Dory.”
It’s no surprise that this is the family-friendly movie of the summer. It deserves to be. If you’ve got biological kids, take them to see it. You’ll laugh more than your kids will.
I am also a Disney fanatic (not an exaggeration) and cannot wait to see “Finding Dory” again, but it’s not appropriate for all kids, especially some of the most vulnerable. I simply cannot risk confusing or hurting my sweet foster babies in any way. I don’t get to keep them forever, but I get to protect them for now. Not all things are for everyone.
If you are a foster or adoptive parent and decide to take your kids to see this film anyway, I recommend addressing these topics in an age-appropriate way beforehand to protect your tender-hearted foster children (as we always do) from the things that would bring up any past hurts or trauma. It’s just what we do.