Recently, and with gratitude to Paramount Pictures and Redbox for their sponsorship of the event, WACAP hosted an advanced screening of the new movie, “Instant Family.” If you haven’t yet heard of it, the movie is based on the adoption and foster care experience of writer/director Sean Anders.
I’m often asked to describe success stories from the work we do at WACAP. Honestly, most often people are expecting a happily-ever-after tale. I’m not such a fan of those stories, because there’s an implication that every sad emotion has left these adoptive families forever, with only happiness ahead. That’s simply not real. Grief is a permanent fixture in adoption, as is conflict and mistakes and failures. There’s also plenty of laugh-until-you-cry moments. “Instant Family” embraces this idea, finding inspiration in the process of how an idea to foster or adopt unspools through a muddled process that is both unpredictable and unremarkable.
Like most movies that touch on child welfare themes, my assumption was that it would be inspirational. It would surely spark conversations around the topic –an admirable outcome, for sure. It would likely, however, miss the mark on the realities of the life of foster parents and children who navigate the foster care system in America.
I was wrong.
I’ll hint at no spoilers here, but we at WACAP want to let you in on the sneak peek we enjoyed. First, let’s agree that no single film could fully encapsulate the experience of the entire adoption triad, including the adoptee, adoptive parents, and biological parents. Two hours couldn’t even scratch the surface of the complicated dynamics nor could they accurately represent the process, and “Instant Family” is no exception here. (One knowledgeable attendee wondered aloud about the missing scenes of this family completing volumes of paperwork.)
The movie pursued a higher goal, actually, and through the subtleties in many scenes, it captured so many of the complicated and contradictory emotions of foster care and adoption. I felt this most often through the fully painted, and quite complex characters. And, it should be said, the movie is really, really funny. Rather than becoming mired in tragedy, this movie generously provides comic relief.
From a couple’s tentative exploration of fostering children, through their preparation and placement, we watch as each of their assumptions fall away. Like them, we wonder how – or if – strangers might eventually feel like family, simply because children (and a teenager) moved in with two adults who were willing to let them. We watch as their early confidence gives way to a parade of emotions, confessions, breakthroughs, and failures one right after another.
There is one particular scene with which many foster and adoptive families will identify. In a public setting, our new parents struggle with extreme tantrums under the judgmental glare of passers-by and a “you asked for this” smirk from the eldest sibling. While most filmmakers would offer a quick and easy resolution, “Instant Family” allows the growing weight of this parental commitment to linger while this family’s support system begins to dwindle and question their sanity.
In this movie, no one is a savior, and no one is a scapegoat. The biology, heritage and culture of these children, rather than being swiftly erased, is a featured player. And at the end of the story, what you have observed is how the concept of family is negotiated and redefined into something quite different, but also entirely normal.
It is the story I wish were true for every child in foster care.
These are the types of stories that have inspired WACAP to begin recruiting temporary foster families as well as adoptive families for children in Washington State. When we hear of children who, once removed from biological family members for their safety, are then warehoused in hotel rooms or state offices because there aren’t enough qualified foster families in our state, we are compelled to act. Children, and siblings, and teenagers deserve a family to love and nurture and protect and celebrate them, whether for a short time or for a lifetime.
These are families worth celebrating, and these are stories worth telling.
“Instant Family” arrives in theaters on November 16, 2018.
About WACAP’s CEO, Greg Eubanks: Greg joined WACAP as CEO in December 2014. Serving children and families has been the focus and passion of his 20-year career in nonprofit executive leadership and business administration. With an extensive background in international adoption and foster care, Greg is committed to bringing hope to the children living without a family … and helping them home.