In October, I attended a screening of the foster care adoption movie, Instant Family. The movie is an unapologetic feel-good flick that aims to be real about the realities of foster care adoption in the United States.

How to become a family through foster care

The director of Instant Family, Sean Anders (also of Daddy’s Home franchise fame), joined us for the screening and hosted a Q & A afterwards. Hearing about his family (upon which the movie is loosely based) and how they worked so hard to craft honest characters and create truthful moments was a really cool experience.

I am treading lightly here because I don’t want to spoil the movie for any of you, and I definitely want you all to go see it. The message of Instant Family is that foster care adoption is a path that even regular (not “special”) people can take to build a family. The portrayals of the bumbling mistakes and “what were we thinking” moments of those regular people are relatable to all of us who’ve adopted. But I think that there are some important things to consider before you see it. Particularly if you plan to go see it as a family with foster or adopted kids.

Before I share the potential triggers that parents should bear in mind while viewing, here is my perspective on a few things that the movie got right.

5 Thumbs Up’s for Instant Family

1. Humor As A Coping Tool

I’ve not seen Mark Wahlberg in many comedy roles before this movie. Aside from the obvious “hunk factor” that he brings to the screen, I was very excited about the chemistry between him and Rose Byrne (who plays his wife) that kept the laughter rolling. They had a nice light-hearted manner of dealing with their many faux pas, and their cluelessness about those faux pas. The “blurt it out” snappy comebacks kept the dialogue real and engaging without getting too heavy. Add a healthy dose of Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro’s chemistry and scenes that make you cry will also make you laugh through your tears.

Humor is such an effective coping tool and one most of us use, or at least I hope we do. Who among us hasn’t felt that irrational bubble of laughter when our kid is in full-blown meltdown mode? Sometimes this laughter is just what we all need to break the feeling of despair and lighten the mood. (Please, tell me we all do this and it’s not just my maniacal sense of humor? Please?!)

2. In-person Support Groups

Man — that foster care support group was such a fantastic microcosm of so many of our adoption stories. They laughed, they teased, they cried, they cheered each other on. And they told each other the truth. Even when it was hard to hear.

We all need a village like that. Not everyone has the option for an in-person support group, but we all have the opportunity to build a community for ourselves and we need to. We speak often here about the value of support groups and of course, the Creating a Family online community is a lifeline for so many of us. But the movie really drove home for me how necessary it is to have my safe network to lean on.

3. Honest Foster Care Case-Workers

I mentioned earlier that the chemistry between Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro’s characters was fantastic. But it was also full of honesty, tough truths, and cautions for preparedness and stick-to-it-ness. They slid these little nuggets of truth in as straight lines to hilarious quips; but to me, it felt as if those nuggets shone like gold because of their delivery.

The value of a case-worker or social worker who is committed to preparing us well, walking through the landmines with us, and hanging in there for the good and the bad is not to be underestimated. They did a fantastic job of showing the heartbreak and the joy many case-workers carry daily.

Instant Family through Foster Care Adoption is Wonderful
The value of a case-worker or social worker who is committed to preparing us well, walking through the landmines with us, and hanging in there for the good and the bad is not to be underestimated.

4. Infertility Sub-Thread

The movie is focused on foster care adoption but the sister and brother-in-law of the main characters had their own real-life drama going on with their pursuit of pregnancy and muddling through infertility treatments. Hormones, emotions, grasping at alternative methods – it was all there. And all so real.

After all, about 80% of hopeful adoptive parents come to adoption by way of infertility.

This couple’s pain was real and their evolution through it was well done.

5. Extended Family’s Beliefs about Adoption

Finally, another thing I think the producer and director got down really well was the crazy things that many folks believe about foster care adoption and foster kids. I won’t spoil it for you, but the direct confrontation of those myths and their faults was both a cheer and tear-worthy moment. But I loved that it was also addressed continuously throughout the movie in on-going layers.

Just like real life. We can have those big moments where we specifically call out the ignorance (as in the uneducated or unaware type of ignorance). But there are also countless smaller moments where we educate in a more subtle way in the course of our daily life, and both types of education are necessary and a part of every adopted family’s life.

Extended family need to adjust to foster children too.
We can have those big moments where we call out the ignorance. But there are also countless smaller moments where we’re facing it and kindly educating in the course of daily life with those who don’t know what we’ve learned.

Some Potential Triggers to Consider

I’ve learned the hard way that there are many things inside a story that can trigger even the seemingly “well-adjusted” of hearts. No matter how well a story is crafted, the storyteller cannot account for every response. So parents, if you are taking your kids to see Instant Family, I highly recommend you consider their age and ability to process hard stories that might resonate with their own.

You will have to decide for your family culture and your child’s life experiences how to talk about these things. I share them as points to be alert to and ready to address with your kids. This is not an exhaustive list. Rather, it’s a brief summary of things that struck me most strongly and how I thought about them.

  • Parentification of the eldest sibling – in particular, her use of a different language to direct the behaviors of the younger children could be quite triggering for some kids.
  • Unresolved conversations with birth mom – both the ones leading to the sibling group’s placement and those resulting in the finalization of the adoption.
  • Feelings of re-abandonment by the birth mom – I’m hoping this isn’t a spoiler for you, as I already mentioned that it’s a feel-good movie about adoption.
  • Prospective parents’ “unicorns and rainbows” viewpoints – highlighted at various points in the film and while funny, could also be hurtful to a child who doesn’t understand how adoptive parents can and should prepare themselves to parent hurting kids.
  • Honeymoon period and subsequent crashing end of the honeymoon period – could be hard for some children to hear the parents’ conversations and struggles and was hard to watch for me when thinking of our own honeymoon periods.
  • Boundary testing by the teen – this might be triggering for you as a parent but could also be a strong point of potential painful connection to the character for your tween or teen.
  • Trauma behaviors in the younger two siblings – it was some good fodder for hilarity but it was also poignant and hard for me to remember similar behaviors in the early days of bringing home both of my daughters.
  • Fear of both temporary-ness and of permanence – this was on the part of both the parents and the kids. The director pulled it out very well as the “push-pull” that many foster kids feel when they’ve landed somewhere safe but they are afraid to trust it and tired in their spirits of not being able to trust.

Go – See the Movie in Theaters!

I’m no movie critic so I cannot speak to the intricacies of camera angles, lighting, character development or even casting. Though let’s be honest, box office megastars Mark Wahlberg and Octavia Spencer did not hinder the movie’s message at all! But I can tell you this heart-warming, honest “based on real life” movie does a fantastic job of showing the many highs and the lows of building a family by foster care adoption.

I will be honest though — I won’t be bringing my two adopted daughters with me to see it in the theater. Instead, I’ll wait until it’s available for home-viewing to share it with them. I believe that for them and for our family, they will need time to stop and start the movie and to process it together in the safety of our living room.

I hope this movie brings in great box office numbers, especially during National Adoption Month, when we are focusing on the need for permanent loving homes for the many youths waiting in foster care. I’ll be seeing it again in the theaters with my village of adoptive and foster mom-friends.

Do you plan to see Instant Family in the theaters? Will you bring your kids or will it be a night out with your spouse or friends for you?

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Image credit:, OCParks_CA,youngthing