As the holiday season returns, many of us are taking some time to cuddle up and watch those beloved Christmas movies with our children. One of the classics on the list is “Elf,” starring Will Ferrell. This iconic comedy follows the story of Buddy the Elf. Buddy grows up at the North Pole and is raised by elves. He learns as an adult that he is really a human, and goes on an adventure in search of his birth father.
Buddy captivates audiences with his compassion, enthusiasm, and pure love for Christmas. “Elf” has become one of the most popular holiday films among families, and it is easy to see why. From the moment Buddy travels “through the seven levels of the candy cane forest,” he takes us on a journey that is both heartwarming and hilarious.
Another reason to love “Elf” – particularly for adoptive families – is that it sheds some light on adoption. While this lighthearted tale is in no way based on real life, there are some important lessons to be learned from Buddy’s story. There are some teaching moments that come up, as you watch “Elf” with your child. Read on as we explore some of these adoption lessons and themes.
1. The Value of Professional Guidance with an Adoption Search
When Buddy grows up to learn that he is not “biologically” an elf, he is devastated. Papa Elf explains that Buddy snuck inside Santa’s bag while he was at the orphanage as a boy. That is how Buddy got to the North Pole. His mother had passed during childbirth and his father never knew of Buddy’s existence.
Buddy decides to set out to find his biological father. He is confident that the two will meet, instantly bond, and enjoy the Christmas season together. Before he leaves the North Pole, Santa warns Buddy that his father is on the “naughty list.” This is a huge blow for Buddy, but he is determined to spread the Christmas cheer to his birth father. So, he sets out for the Big City, hopeful and with high expectations.
Had Buddy encountered this situation in real life, he would have greatly benefited from the help of a qualified and experienced adoption agency. By having professional guidance, he would have been able to properly reflect, process the news, and prepare for his search. Most often with adoption searches, the person being sought is not expecting to be found. This is true for Buddy’s biological father, who did not know he had a son at all. As a result, Buddy’s arrival was shocking. If Buddy were to have had counseling ahead of time, he would have been better able to prepare for the potential reactions from his birth father – including rejection and denial. This would help alleviate the pain that Buddy felt at first.
A professional adoption agency can also help aid the search and reunion process. For example, Adoptions With Love keeps records on file to help reconnect with relatives, if and when they are ready. The value in taking the professional route is that the adoption agency can more easily access biological family, and act as a liaison between the two parties. Reunions between adopted children and their birth family are not always the storybook ending that one imagines. As Buddy learns first-hand, his father is not the most receptive man and not exactly thrilled to have an adult elf as a son. An adoption agency like Adoptions With Love could have been there to work with both parties and determine the best path or reunion for everyone. In our 33+ years of experience, we have found that the most lasting, successful relationships (and reunions) start with premeditated and mediated contact between all parties.
2. Open Adoption Helps Adoptees
When Buddy learns that he is a human who was raised by elves, his world is turned upside down. He has a real identity crisis, and wants to know where he fits into the world. That is one of the reasons he searches for his birth father. He longs to understand who he is, and where he is meant to be. This teaches a valuable lesson about an adoptee’s self-journey, and the benefit of open adoption.
Buddy the Elf technically had a closed adoption – he did not know of, or have contact with, his biological parents. Today, however, open adoption is the norm, because of the benefits it brings to adoptees.
An ongoing relationship between adoptive and birth families (i.e. open adoption) can help answer so many questions regarding self-identity for a young adoptee. By having this connection, adoptees have access to important information regarding who they are and where they came from. For example, they can better understand their:
- Family medical history
- Cultural background
- Birth parents’ choice
When adoptive families maintain an open adoption and keep in touch with their child’s birth parents, they are more easily able to answer a growing child’s questions regarding his or her background, which is key for self-discovery.
3. The Importance of Adoption Talk
Just as it can be beneficial to maintain an open relationship with your child’s birth family, it is incredibly important to keep an open and ongoing conversation about adoption with your child (and movies like “Elf” can help!).
From infancy, adoption can be explained as a positive act of love. Adoption is a selfless choice that a birth mother makes to give her baby the best possible life. A life of love and opportunity that she is not able to provide. Sharing that narrative with your child can help him understand that his adoption is a blessing. Openly discussing adoption will also help build trust in your child, since he will know that you are sharing as much (age-appropriate) information as you can.
In “Elf,” Buddy is in the dark about his adoptive status until he is 30 years old! If he had always known that he was adopted, he would not have experienced such shock and heartache. This is an important lesson to have open and honest communication with your child through life. With this, Buddy may have grown up with more confidence in his place in life, which he finally reaches at the end of the movie, understanding that he is simply “a human, raised by elves.”
4. Adoption Has Many Benefits
As we can see by the end of “Elf,” adoption is a positive choice for all of those touched by it. Buddy experiences both the human and elf world, and he learns that he has a whole new family to love. Had Buddy never snuck into Santa’s bag, he may not have been adopted. If he had not been at the orphanage to start, he certainly would not have grown up at the North Pole! He enjoyed a joyous childhood, filled with incredible memories and lots of love from his elf family. This is the great takeaway for adoptive families. Had your child – or future child – not been placed for adoption, he or she would not be with you. It is a special reminder that adoption is an amazing path for so many people.
5. Family is Not Defined by DNA
“Elf” showcases – and celebrates – the fact that family is not about DNA. A family is made from love. Buddy already loves his elf family. He has grown up with the elves and cares deeply about the important work he does at Santa’s workshop. This is his entire life. Once he learns he is adopted, he travels to New York to meet his birth family. After some time in the city, he meets Josie and falls in love.
Throughout this film, the story of building positive relationships and connections is paramount. By the end of the story, Buddy has gained not one but two families. He can visit Papa Elf with his new family that he starts with Josie, and still spend the holidays with his birth father, half-brother, and step-mother. This heartwarming tale leaves us all a little happier and appreciative of our own family and relationships.
Whether you have never seen “Elf” or you have watched it dozens of times, this special story is worth the watch this December. We hope you enjoy the time with your family this holiday season. If you would like to learn more about adoption, please feel free to contact Adoptions With Love any time of day, any day of the week. We have been working with adoptive families and birth mothers for more than 33 years. Call us at 1-800-722-7731 or visit us online. Happy holidays!