Do you enjoy laughing? Crying? Laughing so hard you cry? I have got the movie for you: Instant Family

The movie Instant Family is now five years old; I know that. I’m aware that to most people, it’s probably old news. However, it’s worth remembering. I have yet to see a movie that so beautifully and hilariously shows the world of foster care adoption as Instant Family. It doesn’t sugar coat it. It doesn’t even really exaggerate it. Most adoptive families I know could relate to most–if not all–of the scenes the film portrays.

  • A little girl throwing a fit because she is being fed something besides potato chips? Check!
  • A little girl having a meltdown in the store and everyone stares? Check!
  • A teen acting as the household’s de facto parent before being in foster care? Check!
  • A teen resenting her adoptive parents for taking a parental role? Check!
  • Adoption support group humor? Check! 
  • An adoptive parent foolishly bragging about their “perfect children” only to have it blow up in their faces? Check!
  • A teen getting into difficult situations because she thinks she is mature enough to handle them, leading to things getting way out of hand? Check!
  • Adoptive parents wondering what on earth they’ve gotten themselves into? Check! 
  • Adoptive parents feeling afraid they’ve not only ruined their own lives but the lives of innocent children with their naive idea of what adoption looks like? Check, check, checkity-check! 

What I’m saying is that the film was a balm for my weary soul to see that someone gets it. The people that wrote the movie actually understood the frustrations, excitement, disappointment, confusion, and chaos that is foster care adoption. My husband and I laughed so hard, we cried through much of it and bawled when it got very, very real. So, if you haven’t seen it or haven’t seen it in a while, go search it out and make a movie night out of it. There is something very validating about seeing someone else struggle with what you’ve struggled with. Sometimes, that is all it takes to feel like you aren’t a complete failure as a parent. That is where this movie succeeds. It’s an excellent representation of what life as a foster and adoptive family is like. 

What is Instant Family about?

Instant Family starts with a couple who flip houses for a living. Their brother-in-law comes over to help and teases them while asking why they need such a huge house if they’re never having kids. That gets the couple thinking about having kids, and they decide they want to adopt. They go to a “meet the adoptees” picnic. The couple has a loud-ish conversation about how they probably wouldn’t want to adopt a teen because of how hard teens are to handle. A girl comes over, tells the couple that everyone can hear, and makes fun of them for what they were saying. 

Struck by this teen girl’s spunk, the couple decides they like her and talk to their caseworker about adopting her. 

While discussing that possibility with their caseworker, they realize the teen has a younger brother and sister and they make the decision to foster all three. Hijinks ensue. 

Cue the chaos! Lots of emotions. Lots of drama. All the tears and giggles and more tears. They eventually do adopt the kids, even after a moment of fear that maybe they couldn’t. It is exceptionally sweet. It is also very, very real. 

What does Instant Family do well?

I appreciated how much this movie did not hold back the hard stuff. They discussed the push and pull of wanting to support the biological family but also feeling frustrated at the way things are going for the kids. The film shows what it is like to go through foster care with the hopes of adopting: feeling like you know everything you need to know only to have that knowledge become absolutely useless in the face of real life. 

I also appreciated that they showed the adoptive parents going out of their comfort zone for the sake of their kids. The kids are Hispanic and speak fluent Spanish, but the adoptive home is run by two white people who did not know any Spanish. Towards the end of the movie, the audience learns that the adoptive parents are making the effort to learn more about their children’s culture by learning to speak Spanish. That is such an important component to me. Too often, a child’s heritage is unintentionally erased by adoptive families.

If I have any complaint about the film, it is this: there is a situation where police become involved and the children are temporarily removed to another foster home. The kids end up coming back and getting adopted, but, from my experience, that probably wouldn’t happen in real life. CPS does not play games with disrupting foster placements. If you lose their trust, it could be lost for good. Though I appreciated the cinematic value of that, it felt disingenuous when everything else has been so perfectly portrayed.

Who can benefit from watching Instant Family?

All in all, check out Instant Family. It is funny and informative and if you are a foster or adoptive parent who hasn’t seen it yet, just give it a chance. You will feel so seen. Oh, and as an added bonus, during the credits, they used real pictures of actual adoptive families. I cried happy tears. 

This movie would also be great to show to a family member or friend interested in foster care and adoption. Sometimes, it is difficult to explain what the experience can look like. Sit your friend down with some popcorn, explain that the film is pretty realistic, and if they don’t think they can handle what’s shown in the movie, then foster care adoption might not be for them. Sometimes, seeing things is easier than having someone tell you about the same things. I know that’s true, at least for me. Seeing people struggle on-screen with real-life issues makes a difference.