My two littlest children and I went to the movies last night to see Instant Family. They were super excited because the movie tells the story of 3 foster kids who get adopted and they ARE part of 3 foster kids my husband and I adopted!
Here is my honest review about what Instant Family got right and wrong about adopting from the foster care system! For sure I will be covering themes of adoption, but also trauma, loss and joy.
A couple of disclaimers… I sometimes have affiliate links in posts AND I showed my kids this post before I published it, they approve!
The Mom Bringing It Up Out Of The Blue
I don't know about the Mom in the movie, but I had always had a little thing in the back of my mind of adopting one foster kid when my husband and I couldn't have our own babies. I guess I sprung it on my husband the way she did and he had a pretty similar reaction!
His answer to adopting a child was, “that ship has sailed”. I thought, okay, let's get back to our life and go to Vegas then… but he slept on it, did a bunch of research online and woke up the next morning ready to adopt.
The Weird People In Foster Class
Once we decided to go for it we jumped right in and took the class. And DAMN, that one lady in there who had a picture of adopting the Blind Side movie boy didn't even touch how weird some of the people were.
The lady who came in wreaking of booze, sitting with her sunglasses on all day and asking lots of questions about how much money you can get for each kid comes to mind.
That was our first inkling that things were going to get stranger…
Baby Proofing The House
In my post about adopting older foster kids, I talked about getting the bed for our first potential boy WAY too soon. We jumped on the bandwagon and got our house ready about a year before any real kids showed up.
Having a baby proof house with no kids is heartbreaking on a daily level and something I am sure potential adopters AND couples who lose babies can understand.
Meeting The Kids At A Meet and Greet
We went to SO MANY of those awkward “meet the kids” events. That thing where you stand around, wondering how to approach a little child and start talking to them is so TRUE.
The thing is, no one I have ever talked to met their kids at one of them. When you start you think that is how it is going to happen, but it is actually the caseworkers who pair up the kids with potential families.
Two things stuck out to me about the timelines. First, that whole, “we have the kids in the back to adopt today” thing is how all potential adopters feel. You hear about how many children are in need and think you are going to get your kids in a couple of weeks not YEARS.
Second, it took us way longer to get kids than it did in the movie. We were in line to get two different boys at two different times and both fell through at the end. Yep, that feeling of heartbreak at losing a child is real, even if they were never really yours to begin with.
Showing The Kid's Pictures
That whole, “you're an asshole” for showing the kids pictures is TRUE! Funny story about this… we were at what we thought was our last meet and greet, having decided to take a break at hard core trying to adopt (it was just too heartbreaking).
And the caseworker we met asked us if we had ever thought about adopting 3 kids (nope!) She said for us to go home and think about it, and that she would send us some pictures and the back story of the kids.
Game over… our kids are honestly the most adorable children you have ever seen and we fell in love as soon as we saw them!
The First Meeting
Our first meeting was half and half like the movie. Our big girl, who was 15 at the time, sobbed the whole time because she loved the foster family she was living with (they were really good people who loved our kids) and I am sure had some weird feelings about potential adopters (more about this later).
The littles, who were 5 and 8, were super excited from day one about getting adopted and were adorable and funny.
They Don't Move In That Fast
Our kids had been in the foster system for quite a while and had had a failed placement before us, so the caseworkers were taking it super slow. We drove back and forth an hour away for about a month, taking the kids out on day trips and getting to know them.
Also there were other kids that were not in our sibling group that we met with and their foster parents. It was hard seeing how much our kids missed their brothers and I am sure that all the upheaval was hard on the foster families too!
No Garbage Bags
Our kids didn't come with garbage bags. Their foster Mom sent them with amazing bags and lots of things that had been lovingly bought, but when we got them they were loved.
That said, most foster kids are carrying around all their meager possessions in a garbage bag. There is an amazing charity that helps foster kids get real bags for their possessions, www.comfortcases.org.
When they sat down to dinner the first time and the kids all ate the food I called BULLSHIT!
Food is a huge issue for foster kids. We heard this would be a thing and even had a picture of our refrigerator full of food in the book we made to show our kids the house they would be living in. This is because most foster kids have been deprived of food at least sometime in their lives and our little guy still bears the scars of this.
The little girl eating only potato chips is also a thing. Our girls really only ate chicken nuggets at restaurants for YEARS because it was something they were used to eating. Also we eat “white people food” and they had come from a hispanic background. Spicy sauce on everything is still something our kids do today!
The Store Screaming Fit
Okay, this one is really heartbreaking so hold on. The movie made it seem like the littlest girl was having a normal toddler tantrum in the store, but didn't explain WHY she was having it.
Our middle girl had a fit like this over wearing a coat in winter. We had a half an hour screaming session outside on the back porch where she yelled and cried that if she wore a coat she would be too hot and she JUST COULDN'T WEAR A COAT.
Now the why…. luckily we had a great counselor at the time who explained to us that many neglected children get “comfortable” when they are in pain or unhealthy. Our girl had frequently not worn a coat in the dead of winter because no one cared enough to put one on her, so the idea of being warm and cared for freaked her out.
The little girl might have been having a moment when she realized that she had lost one of those dolls in a move, or that she never had one in the first place. A tantrum was usually the sign of something really wrong that had happened in the past and which was coming out in this crazy seeming way.
Talking To Anyone But Us
Whoa, this one gave me a bit of PTSD. That scene where Lizzie talked to the Mom's friends but not her is TRUE!
Our girls were not up for friendly, loving chats with me but, were more than happy to be darling little angels to people around us. For example, my mother in law spent hours making a Halloween costume for our third grader and I went to the school Halloween party thinking things were going to be great!
Sigh, of course not because, well, foster kids. My daughter took her outfit off, threw it in a heap in the corner and proceeded to completely ignore me the whole time we were there. Not subtly either, she was charming and cute, talking to any mother but me in the room.
This happens to this day. Our kids can be super reserved around us when out in public, to the point of pretending they don't have parents. I KNOW, kids go through this phase, but ours is semi-permanent and still is a downer from time to time.
There is no way of knowing WHY she hates Halloween so much, or why Christmas is so triggering or why they do most of the things they do, you just have to know those pitfalls are there and try to work around them!
The Big Kids Parenting The Little Kids
Our dynamic was a little different since our kids were so different in ages. Our big girl was not the “Mommy” but our middle girl was DEFINITELY in charge of the little one.
She had been his champion and protector for long that it has taken YEARS of “you are not his mom” talks to get anywhere close to a normal family relationship.
I had this growing up a latchkey kid taking care of my little brother so this is where I probably have the most compassion for the weird dynamics.
The Breakdown, What Have We Done Scene
SO TRUE! I can't tell you how many times my husband and I looked around after some sort of calamity had happened and thought, “what have we done.”
I don't know that anyone can be prepared for dealing with the trauma issues that foster kids face, but damn, no one told us it would be that hard for that many years in a row.
That said, now that we are past it I can see that ALL parents feel that way from time to time. My besty who has a baby who will never sleep feels that way and my friends with their own kids also feel this way.
The difference is how MUCH it happens when the kids have been through the hell of losing their first family and then spending years in the foster care system.
The 15 Minute Timeline To Being A Real Family
FALSE. The movie devotes about 15 minutes in the middle to the “becoming a family” part. The figuring out showers and mealtimes, school and hanging out.
When we went to the foster care classes they told us it would take about two years to feel like a real family. OF COURSE my husband and I, being high achievers all our lives thought for sure we would do it in half the time or even less.
It really did take about two years, but now we are for sure a rockstar, ride or die for us all FAMILY!
Communicating With The Birth Mom
The movie got this totally RIGHT!
Our big girl was super respectful and never got in touch with her birth Mom until after she turned 18. She now has a “talk every day” kind of relationship with her that I totally support. We have talked about having more than one Mom and the fact that I will never ask her to choose.
The littles never really knew her and are all in on my husband and I being Mom and Dad.
The scene where Lizzie is so happy and the littles are so sad to see the woman who is their “mother” is right on the money.
The Mom Coming Back In The Picture
One reason it took longer to adopt for us is that we only wanted kids who were already “released” for adoption. I am not the kind of person who could have kids for a little while and then give them back so we made that decision early on.
That said, the days of drama after seeing their family is a REAL.
When our kids saw their former foster Mom or visited their brothers, we were sure to have big drama for the next week or so. While that is something that is inevitable adopting kids with a past history, it is so hard to make those connections KNOWING what is in store when the meetings are over.
Being There Forever
The end where they talk to Lizzie about wanting her too… REAL!
Older foster kids are harder to love and connect with, and are so much more challenging than little tiny kids! Our littles are great, but both our big girl and we struggled early on to make a connection.
She could remember a different life that had a great Mom when she was little. She could remember being a family that included her other brothers who she adores.
But 5+ years on we are family too! We “make” her come to family functions now that she is on her own in her own condo. We are so thrilled to have the love and connection with her AND respect that she loves and connects with her old family too in a different way.
Now comes where I get a little teary… the caseworkers. REAL!
Our caseworkers were AWESOME! Brandi who found us went over and above, one time even “emergency” driving a form over so our big girl could get her drivers license when everything seemed lost. That was super important to her since most foster kids can't get a drivers license and she just wanted to be a normal teen.
And Tyler… so many feels for Tyler! He was the one caseworker who went through everything with our kids. He was there from the start and is still a friend they can count on today. One of my favorite pictures of him is on our stairs at our big girl's graduation party.
I can't even imagine how frustrating it must be to be a caseworker and having to help try and reunify a family when you kinda, sorta know that it isn't going to work out well for anyone in the end… you could SO see the birth mother in the movie wasn't going to make it.
Finally… The Kicking In The Balls Mom Scene
Okay, my husband and I never got into a fight with anyone, nor were we arrested… bummer!
But that feeling that no one is ever going to have the chance to harm our children ever again… that is real and probably stronger than in “normal” parents.
Normal parents are aware that there are bad things out there, but we know that they have already happened to our kids. They have had more hardship and loss in their little lives than I have had in 52 years and as much as I can I will keep that from happening ever again.
Instant Family Wrapup… The Pictures At The End
We sat and watched all of the pictures of happy families on adoption day at the end… here is ours!
…and my favorite picture that shows what we are really like as a family (my son being horrified is SO how it really is!)
The thing that I hope the most for the Instant Family movie is that by shining a light on how hard and wonderful adopting from foster care is, that even more children find their forever homes!