Instant Family, Hollywood’s Portrayal of Life as a Foster/Adoptive Parent, Rings True
December 4, 2018


Promotional image for Instant Family

Luckily for Sierra Forever Families, there is a new tool in town that can help tell our story of love and compassion, second chances and the trials and tribulations of adoption. It’s a recently released movie showing at theaters near you called Instant Family. The delightful romp follows a family through the foster- to-adoption process with a clear message: all kids need and deserve parents who love them.

The movie accurately portrays the diversity of children needing families and the diversity of families open to the possibilities of establishing an “instant” family. Yes, Hollywood takes license to skew a few facts for the sake of a laugh or to move the plot along, but overall, Instant Family captures the realistic struggles and the deep rewards of giving a permanent home to children who don’t have one.

Love to Give

As the opening credits roll, we meet Pete and Ellie, a busy couple who share a fix-it and flip-it housing business. While working on a large house with many bedrooms, they begin to visualize having a family, a part of life they’ve avoided due to ambivalence. Like many couples, this movie couple turns around one day and realizes they were older, and they do have love to give.

The plot thickens, as Ellie looks online with the idea that a good start for them would be to become foster parents willing to adopt. The sequence of scenes where the movie couple compare themselves to their stereotype of what a foster/adoptive parent looks like is particularly important to our efforts at Sierra Forever Families. Like what Pete and Ellie in the movie assumed, adoptive parents can be very special people, even saintly do-gooders. But most often, our parents, who come in all ages, sizes, colors, and configurations, are more like Pete and Ellie — couples (and singles) who just want to provide love, safety, and unconditional commitment to children who need it the most.

All Ages and Stages Looking for Families

We also love the segment involving the adoption selection process. Pete and Ellie attend a foster fair along with their cohort of potential parents from the agency. In a sequence that is poignant and hilarious, scenes of adults who at first are awkwardly sizing up children and weighing first impressions against what they thought they were looking for, gives way to genuine mingling and unexpected matches depicting what we already know:  an open heart trumps a preconceived laundry list of age, traits, etc.

And that is what happens to Pete and Ellie. They take an instant liking to a sassy teenager, Lizzie, but find out she has two younger siblings, Juan and Lita, who would have to come with her. At first reluctant, Pete and Ellie agree to take all three, but quickly find their hands full with the rambunctious kids.The audience rides along with the parents as they gain insight into the strengths of each of the children and why they act out in different ways. The context of what the siblings had been through (a mother who is addicted and neglectful) unfolds while the family tries to build a life together. The movie perfectly portrayed the resiliency and unique strengths each child has, and the growing empathy and determination to make this match work by the parents.

Like all Parenting, Every Day is Not a Picnic

Another funny scene is an arc in the movie where Pete and Ellie consider giving the children back and hate themselves for considering it.  The brief exchange is a device to sum up a realistic portrait of the tribulations of an instant family. No doubt about it, in real adoptive families, there are days when it can get tough.

And that message comes roaring through the movie as well. Lita only eats potato chips, Juan is a “fraidy cat,” and oldest Lizzie has a creepy boyfriend and only wants to be with “real” mom. The movie couple leans on their pillar of support, the social workers involved in the case, and the relationship they have with others in their support group.  And that message is the most important of all. There is a lot of support for instant families, as all of society wants foster/adoptive parents to succeed.

Universal Parental Strategies

As the movie couple takes advantage of services provided, they learn more and more about parenting techniques for their new family (parents in the audience come away with tips too). For instance, there is an exercise depicted in the movie that we can all use. It’s called the Three R’s. When a standoff occurs with one or all of the children, we learn the first step is to “regulate,” meaning check the breathing and calm down, the next “R” is to relate (e.g., if I were you, I would want to see my birth mother too) and finally, the third R is for reason. Reasoning or compromise takes place when all parties have input, and all understand a little bit better about each other.

Understanding is a central theme in the movie, and viewers come away with lots of interpretations of it. The ending of Instant Family, without giving it away, is classic Hollywood feel-good and, we hope, truly motivational to adults considering the joy of adopting a foster child.

The Myths and the Facts

It’s critical that we find more adults to step forward and adopt foster children, and to do that we need to bust some myths.  Nationwide, 46% of Americans believe children in foster care have entered the system because of juvenile delinquency. In fact, the 55,000 foster children in California enter the system as victims of neglect, abandonment or abuse, and through no fault of their own. Children waiting to be adopted are not damaged souls and are no less deserving of permanent families.

Youth who have experienced such traumatic hurt can heal with the right balance of structure, nurture, and the additional healing support from school, doctors, therapists or whomever they need. Like Lizzie, Juan, and Lita from the movie, we know many children who are now thriving because they feel safe, secure, loved, and wanted.

So please, take your friends to the theater and enjoy Instant Family. The more of us that see it, the more of us there will be who consider adopting a foster child.

Interested in adoption? Orientation for our Sacramento office is offered the second Monday of each month in a group setting. Individual and group orientations are held in our Grass Valley office on the first Wednesday of each month. Our Auburn orientations are held the third Thursday of each month. Please contact your local Sierra office to schedule an orientation.

Sacramento Office: (916) 368-5114

Auburn Office: (530) 887-9982

Grass Valley Office: (530) 478-0900