Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom

Eleven-year-old Elizabeth realizes that she is an adoptee when a class project about blood type makes it obvious that she does not share genetics with her parents. She confronts her parents and asks why they lied to her, and ultimately runs away. Her mother Marion sets off to find her, and learns that Elizabeth now believes that the famous singer Dolly Parton is her birthmother. Marion struggles with Elizabeth’s desire to find her birthmother, and wonders aloud, “If I’m no one’s mother, who the hell am I?” However, she ultimately decides to take Elizabeth to a Dolly Parton concert. There, Elizabeth realizes who she wants to call “mom.”

The Adoption Connection

Elizabeth was adopted as an infant, and her parents kept the adoption a secret from her. Elizabeth learned about the adoption through a class project, and was enraged when she learned that her parents had lied to her. She sets off to meet Dolly Parton, who she believes to be her birthmother. Later, she learns that Dolly Parton is not her birthmother, and she clings to Marion.

Strong Points

Elizabeth’s desire to know her birthmother, and her hurt feelings at learning that she’d been lied to about adoption, are powerful. This film could encourage adoptive parents to speak openly about adoption with their kids.

Although Marion is initially threatened by Elizabeth’s desire to find her birthmother, she eventually supports Elizabeth, and this seems to be part of what heals her relationship with Elizabeth.
When Marion feels her identity as a mother threatened, someone wisely advises her, “You never stop being someone’s mother. Because Elizbaeth is adopted, how does that make you less her mother? You can’t be the one who brought her into the world, but you can be the one that guides her through it.” That’s some pretty sound advice.


Elizabeth confronts her parents and asks why they lied to her. Marion’s answer falls flat, “For your own good, to protect you.” It seems that Elizabeth’s parents do not agree about ow to handle the situation.

Elizabeth’s friends and classmates are insensitive. They call her a bastard, and her best friend stops spending time with her.

It’s painful when Elizabeth isn’t able to find out her birthparents’ names; her parents explain that they were “not allowed to have that information.” Elizbaeth deeply wants to know, “Who looks like me?”
Marion pushes Elizabeth, throws Elizabeth’s bike down a cliff, and says “I didn’t even want you. I didn’t want you, that’s the whole story. You made me into your mother. I’ve been afraid that you could unmake me, too.” Her fears are real, but Elizabeth is too young, and too hurt herself, to deal with her mother’s initial unwillingness to adopt her, her mother’s fears of not being a mom, and her mother’s startling act of throwing the bicycle down the cliff.  


The Year Dolly Parton was my Mom is a thought-provoking and well-made film. It doesn’t seem like it would interest most kids or teens, but it’s definitely worth seeing for adoptive parents and folks considering becoming adoptive parents. As you watch it, consider how you will talk to your kids about their adoption.

Questions for Discussion

Why did Elizabeth’s parents say they lied to her? Why do you think they actually did?

How might their family dynamics be different had they been open about the adoption from the beginning?

What might help Elizabeth as she continues to incorporate this aspect of her life story into her self-concept?

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