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.