Nov 22

“Instant Family”: Humor in Foster Family Adoption

I think when people hear the words ‘foster care’ it brings to mind a lot of negativity and fear, and what I found in my travels through the system, over and over again, is that you meet the kids, and you go “Oh, they’re just kids. They’re just kids, and they need families and they need love, and they have love to give, just like any other kids.” Sean Anders, director of Instant Family (Harvard Crimson)

Film director Sean Anders reportedly hopes that not only will audiences have fun watching Instant Family they’ll also learn something about foster care adoption. A “comedy with good intentions” (The New York Times), Instant Family is based on the real-life experiences of Anders and his wife, who adopted three siblings from the foster care system.

From the official Instant Family description (on Rotten Tomatoes): “When Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) decide to start a family, they stumble into the world of foster care adoption. They hope to take in one small child but when they meet three siblings, including a rebellious 15 year old girl (Isabela Moner), they find themselves speeding from zero to three kids overnight.”

An added bonus is the special team of social workers, played by Tig Notaro and Octavia Spencer, helping the couple.

The trailer might be enough to interest you in helping some needy kids—or maybe not:

Anders has described his personal experiences with adoption in a Time essay:

In 2012 we got three siblings: an 18-month-old, a three-year-old and a six-year-old. We were told they’d been removed from their mother because she had a drug problem. I wasn’t worried. I thought, ‘Oh, I can do this. I’m going to be great at this.’ Then they showed up and it was like: ‘We’ve made a horrible, horrible mistake.’ The first few months were really rough. We would lie in bed at night and just try to figure out some way that we could get them out of our house. They were completely ruining all of our fun. When you get three at once you don’t have time to get your sea legs. It was kind of like babysitting someone else’s kids, but forever.

Having a sense of humor is a key asset, Anders told Peter T. Chattaway (Patheos). While those families in the know will probably appreciate the comedy involved in the film, others may carry some skepticism: “‘Oh, are they going to make fun of kids in foster care?’ And of course, that’s not what we’re doing at all,” states Anders.

Realistic events like social worker-led foster parent training classes as well as adoption picnics, at which interested parties get to meet foster kids, are depicted in Instant Family. Also, of course, the effort to keep siblings together.

Additionally, there’s a significant reason behind Anders making one of the adopted kids in Instant Family a teenager. Per Refinery29, “older children are less likely to become adopted. Within 18 months of ‘aging out’ of the system at age 18, 40-50% of teens are likely to become homeless.”