Being a foster and adoptive family can feel isolating. Even in the midst of community, it can feel like you are the only one facing the particular issue that you’re struggling with at the moment. It is a rare and welcome event to find a show that not only mentions but showcases the world of foster care and adoption. It is so gratifying to watch a show and see one’s own life reflected back from the screen.
Parenthood was the first show I ever felt that sense of “they get me.” The Bravermans are a fictional family that is close-knit, but they have an array of parenting and personal issues/situations that almost anyone can relate to on some level. There is a single mom, foster/adoptive parents that struggled with infertility, parents who learn their child is autistic, and a carefree single man who finds himself parenting a child he didn’t know existed. The whole family is both as normal as any other family and also a hot mess.
Through the magic of television, I was able to find kinship with several characters that were facing similar situations to my own. It was beautiful watching a new foster mom stay parked in her car at the elementary school so her foster son knew she never left him as she promised she would not do. My stomach clenched as the parents of a precocious little boy learned he was autistic and planned how to help him. I laughed, cried, and hoped along with the fictitious family as I watched them stumble through on-screen parts of my real life. When people say representation matters, it is no joke. There is great power in seeing someone like yourself on a screen and feeling “I’m not alone”.
This is Us
This is Us just wrapped its last season recently. This is another show with an ensemble cast of parents and siblings. It is absurd how many times I cried over this fictional family with their trials and tribulations. There were a truly embarrassing number of times I ugly cried because of an imaginary person and their struggles. The show follows the lives of a set of triplets and their parents and children throughout their lives. The Pearsons are so real it seems borderline tragic I couldn’t go meet them in person. There is an adoptive family parented by an adoptee. We, as the audience, were walked through the feelings of grief and confusion an adoptive parent might feel when thinking about biological parents. We are shown the back story of the biological father and saw him go from a “deadbeat drug addict” to a respectable loving father. It showed why he made the choices he made. It was beautiful as it was convicting. It showed how just a few choices can irreparably alter the course of a life. If you enjoy family-focused drama, you should definitely check out this one.
Anne With an E
Anne With an E is a highly criticized, but, to me, is an incredibly beautiful and accurate retelling of the classic LM Montgomery story of Anne of Green Gables. The actress playing Anne is adorable and emotive. The adoptive father Matthew Cutbirth is the picture of a besotted dad, as he is in the book. Marilla shines as a protective and highly critical mom. I laughed, cried, and giggled helplessly through Anne and her sweet friends traipse through the gorgeous Prince Edward Island on adventures.
The criticism of this show was because of the more adult nature of this particular adaptation. More specifically, while in the book and previous adaptations, we know that Anne was an orphan in an orphanage, we see her trauma playing out in this adaptation. A number of critics were outraged by Anne discussing adult topics. Realistically, however, an orphan in that time period would have faced multiple horrors with little to no repercussions. Anne would have faced abuse and neglect and been expected to suffer through it quietly. In that way, I think this adaptation, though not suited to younger children, is an excellent reenactment of one of my favorite stories.
Life Unexpected is slightly older, but it is worth mentioning. Instead of 15-year-old Lux who has grown up in foster care being emancipated, she is reunited with her birth parents. Her birth mother had her as a teenager and surrendered the baby for adoption because she had been led to believe it would be easy for the baby to be adopted. Unfortunately for everyone, Lux had an unknown heart condition that made it difficult for a family to consider adopting her. We are shown the myriad of emotions that both the birth parents and their daughter deal with. The 15-year-old Lux stays in touch with a friend who was in foster care with her. The girl is fostered by another family and is mostly used as a live-in babysitter. There is also a flashback to a former foster home where the children are abused. I don’t love that. However, the characters seem real. The unfortunate reality is that there are abusive foster parents.
No TV show or movie will be able to represent every party in the life of a foster/adopted child. However, these all show aspects that are truthful and respectful to the communities they represent. It seems like the writers and producers actually did some research before throwing something inaccurate up on the screen for entertainment. For that alone, I can appreciate these shows. If you’re hoping for a show that is exactly like your own family, I suspect none of these will do that. We don’t all, for example, have access and support to a large extended family. We don’t all work at jobs that can afford us to not blink when needing to repair a hundred-thousand-dollar car our teen foster child beats up with a baseball bat. We don’t all have the patience and calm of a pretend parent reading from a script. However, these shows are realistic enough that it is easy to overlook the unrealistic things and embrace the sameness of the realistic ones.