Instant Family Review

Along with a number of other adoptive families, we had the chance to attend an advance screening of Instant Family followed by an audience Q&A with writer-director Sean Anders and his wife, Beth. I was a little anxious. I was confident the film would be funny. I wondered if it would be authentic. Mostly, I worried: would it be unkind? As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. In Anders, an adoptive parent of three, the foster adoption community has an excellent ambassador.

The film tells the story of Pete and Ellie (played by Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne), who adopt three siblings out of foster care. They try to do all the right things, but they are totally unprepared for how drastically their lives will change. I identified with this. By the time we pursued adoption from foster care, we already had a four year-old biological son. While we were hoping to be matched with siblings, I was not prepared for a one year-old and infant duo. I had no idea the extent of shifting and stretching our family would need to go through—and so quickly— to grow into our new family. I could not predict how heart-rendering and intense the transition would be. I wasn’t ready for the height of the highs or the depth of the lows. However, falling in love and watching our children get to know and love one another has been the greatest joy of my life.

I identified with how the film highlights the relationships with and support from extended family. Family and friends have done so much for us. I cannot imagine where we would be without their love and support. As for the awkward and occasionally even ignorant comments and questions Pete and Ellie face about their decision and their new family, I found this on point. Just as I have not spent every moment in this life as my best self, not everyone has always understood just how difficult this road has been, and not everyone has always been in possession of the right words at the right time. In our case, I am beyond certain everyone wanted us to find our way together, it was just profoundly new territory for them. Our village turned out to be larger and more significant than I imagined, and this experience has helped me become a little bit tougher and humbler.

Like the film, our foster to adopt experience has been intense and exhausting to the bone, and this vulnerability has led to our share of comedic lows. For example, there was the time I realized near the end of an evening I had been hosting dinner guests in my bathrobe. Another time, in a parking lot, I climbed into the wrong vehicle. It wasn’t until I looked at the dashboard, I realized the car I was sitting in wasn’t even the right make. Just today I was “that woman” at the market, the one with fighting and unruly kids. Someday the episode will be a piece of family lore, the story about the time I vowed with conviction and complete disregard for plausibility, that as long as I lived, I would never bring my child to the grocery store again.

Comedy has been at our side during some our highest points, too. Our adoption day was beautiful and stressful and packed full of love with a generous side of slapstick moments. In other words, it was real, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Like Pete and Ellie, we have had our share of dark lows too, when my spouse and I quietly wondered whether or not we were really strong enough to do this thing we so badly wanted to do, but that is also so difficult and isolating. There is nothing particularly special about my spouse or me; the most extraordinary thing about us may be that we tick all of the boxes generating a profile of extreme ordinary-ness. We happen to be a close-knit family who had room in our hearts and in our home for more. We believe our life is good, and that it’s worth sharing. We also believe adoptable children in foster care deserve families. We took one another’s hands and made a leap. It continues to blow my mind that these two strong, small, and perfect humans are my children. But it also continues to blow my mind that my biological son—who now at five is a bit less small but who is also strong and perfect—is mine, too. I love them all differently, and even before the paperwork was complete, I loved them all with abandon.

I will not spoil the parts in the film portraying the children’s birth family, but I do want to acknowledge that I appreciated how this was portrayed compassionately and in a way I would let my own kids see someday.

One particular aspect of our personal experience that was in contrast to the film: both of our adopted children came to us from foster families who gave them love, security, and a sense of belonging. There are some incredible foster parents out there, and there are not nearly enough of them. I am glad the adoption caseworkers were portrayed as dedicated, kind, and hardworking. This was our experience with the people we worked with too, but I do wish foster families had been given similar treatment. Just as I hope Instant Family helps more people find the path of adoption through foster care, I wish it could also help encourage more to consider fostering too. In my dreams, this is the storyline to the sequel: the kids head to college. Pete and Ellie realize they have parenting juice left in them and decide to foster. Heartache and hilarity ensue as they take on their toughest role yet.
The first time my daughter called me “Mommy”, I had not earned it. It was a casual, totally unprompted thing when I had only known her a handful of days. I had been hearing it for years from my son, but still, I was stunned. Blood pumped to my ears and my world stopped turning for a moment. Right then, I made a silent promise to spend the rest of my life trying to earn that name. By the time my youngest called me “Mommy” for the first time, I was as ready as could be. It doesn’t always go as we would like or as we think it should, but day by day, we all do our best by one another. As parents, we give our whole selves, but even we ordinary parents understand parenting isn’t about us at all.


About the Family

Melanie lives with her family in suburban Boston, where they try to keep it as simple as they can. 

2 thoughts on “Instant Family Review

  1. Beautiful story. My husband and I are adopting through foster care. Our five children are grown starting families of their own we have 13 beautiful grandchildren. But I always knew I would adopt someday somehow. We got involved with fostering our first set of 3 siblings went home after 8 months my heart was broken but at the same time happy for these three girls going back to their parents whom I knew loved them. I didn’t know if I could do it again but I read a story from s fostermom in a similar situation and basically she said she had to come to the realization it was not about her but about the children so true who cares if my heart was broken there were thousands of children who needed a safe loving home. It was time to put my big girl panties on. And we accepted our soon to be adopted son a month later another little boy and three months after that our sons biological newborn sister We have had a total of three other children after our daughter they went home pretty quickly. After them our first foster daughters returned after a year and a half of being back with their biological parents. it’s been almost 2 years since their return. We are now raising five children 6 years and younger. It has not been all wonderful in fact at times just like the above story we wondered if we could infact continue with all five. One of the girls has major behavioral issues we are working through and I’m happy to report making progress.
    Some of the social workers have been absolutely wonderful through everything others not so great. But we continue to advocate for our five as they have no choice in what’s happening. No rights. Birth parents rights outway the children’s. It’s been such a long ,happy, sad, exciting, emotional , loving journey yes all those words apply and others I’m sure. This month we will finalize the adoption of our son and daughter. Our son has come so far and is a wonderful almost six year old who has overcome so much and blossomed in our home. Seeing the change in his life it was all worth it. For him to have a chance to grow and learn in a loving safe family is everything. His sister never had to experience his trauma. Bit for the first year we had to fight to keep her in our home with her brother. I always knew she was OUR daughter and was willing to fight for her rights
    The three girls have been legally freed to adopt sometime this spring we will also adopt them giving them the permanency they deserve the love of a family they deserve a safe secure home forever
    The past three years have seen a lot of highs and Lows and everyday life with five children so close in age is not easy sometimes can be tough. But it is worth every hug. Every I love you mom, every smile on their faces.
    Someday I will write a book about our experience all the good and bad. I hope after this movie is seen by millions more families will consider fostering even if adoption is not an option for people you can still foster and not adopt. There are so many children in the system who need a loving caring foster home while they go through the toughest thing in their lives.
    If you have a big heart and are a caring person fostering could be just the thing for you

    Liked by 1 person

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