Instant Family: One More Layer

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I went and saw Instant Family over the Winter Break. Overall I LOVED the film and already have it in my queue to purchase. It was a 118 minutes of warm and fuzzy feelings that had me in tears throughout the whole thing.

And while I am an international transracial adoptee, which is in someways the same and others is different, I still found myself relating closely to the children and the family dynamics in the film.

Let’s be honest: Adoption is a beautiful AND challenging thing.

But to start this blog let me provide some numbers for context of the foster care system here in the United States.

  • At any given time there can be any where from 400,00 – 700,000 million children in the U.S. foster care system and of this, only an abysmal 8% are adopted any given year.
  • 100% of these children have experienced some level of trauma be it physical, emotional, or mental trauma.
  • In 2017 the average age of children in the system was 8.4 years old.
  • An average of 20,000 children age out of the system each year.
  • In 2017, 44% of children in foster care were white followed by Black at 23% and Hispanic at 21%.
  • Of those children adopted, 53% are adopted by their foster families and 35% are adopted by other family members.

So, let’s just put it out there: these numbers break your heart. You want to go out and advocate for foster care and adoption and even perhaps consider it for yourself.

In the film, they encourage an idea and premise that anyone with means, an open heart and who are ready for the joys AND difficulties of fostering should should do so and hopefully have it conclude with adoption if all goes well.

I LOVE that premise. I encourage everyone to consider adoption whether or not you can have your own children. There are so many factors that go into deciding whether or not you can/should adopt that it’s really a case by case basis and should always be considered.

But I’d like to add one layer for everyone to consider while deciding if fostering and adoption is for you:

Do you have a pre-existing definition of a child’s identity and are ready for internal conflict with yourself if the child identifies differently or is there something that prevents you from wholly embracing and accepting a child as they develop authentically?

I propose this layer partly due to my experience and partly due to the work I do in my profession.

When you foster and adopt you can somewhat pick and choose the child(ren), for example the gender, age, siblings, etc.

But now let’s revisit that average age of children in the system statistic…8.4 years old. They are in the EARLY development stages of who they are and in some ways may be behind in their development due to the trauma they may have experienced. Even if you do select the child(ren) according to their identities they hold in the system, they are just beginning to develop themselves and further define their identities.

And so my ask to you is to consider whether you are ready and willing to hold and accept the child(ren) regardless of how they identify. My lens of this comes specifically in regard to gender identity and sexual orientation.

To foster/adopt children but either force them to conform to an identity or turn your back on them for identifying as an identity you do not support could do more harm than good.

In some ways it is intention vs. impact. To adopt is beautiful and well intentioned. But if you cannot support and accept their identity development into their authentic selves, the impact could be worse. To be rejected once is hard, so consider what it would be like to be the second set of parent(s) to reject a child.

Now some children will do whatever it takes to keep a foster family and will conform because from their experience, all they want is the Basic Needs of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which is food, water, shelter and safety.

Others will hunger for more going into the Psychological or Self-Fullfillment Needs of Maslow’s Hierarchy and, you should be ready to hold on to them and love and accept them for who they are and not who you want them to be or think they should be.

I have grappled with this all my life. As an adopted child or child of the foster/adoption system, there is a fundamental question we all must come to terms with: “Why did they (birth parent(s)) not want me?” Some of us find the answer, while others have to be alright with the unknown.

When I came out as gay and more recently married my husband and have one of my adopted parents turn their back to me, again I had to ask “Why?” It was a simpler answer the second time as I knew it was based on organized religion but it doesn’t erase the hurt of being left behind/rejected by two mothers. But in my case, I’ve been able to come to terms with this because I have the love, support and acceptance from my Chosen Family I’ve created and my profession and the work I do to reach an understanding. Not every child is that lucky to have a community to get them through a second round of “why.”

Now, I want more individuals to foster and adopt children. But at the same time, I want them not to be a second parent(s) to reject them if their identities are not what they expect or can support.

To me, when you foster and adopt you are saying that you love and accept the child for whomever they decide to be and however they identify. That your pre-conceived expectations for the child(ren) is to live a happy and authentic life and not who they love or which restroom they use. 

So please, hold this and let it be one of the things you consider while contemplating fostering and adopting. Is there an easy or simple answer to what I’m asking or to solving this? No. Because there are so many more children who need a family than families available. And in some ways I’d rather have a child adopted and have a chance at a better life with conflict than no chance at all. But for those who are able to factor this into your decision, please do. Or at the very least be ready to have conflict with your values and morals if you do have pre-existing expectations of identity than what the child(ren) are holding.

Thanks for reading through my whirling mind of thoughts on this, and definitely go see Instant Family!!!

Until next time!

Peace, Love and Pandas!



Instand Family Movie Website

US Adoption Statistics

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Published by Brian

I am currently the Assistant Director of Student Life for Registered Student Organizations and Late-Night Programming at Michigan State University. After earning my B.A. from the University of Michigan-Flint, I entered the Student Affairs profession. After a few years in the field, I returned to school and earned my M.A. in Educational Leadership-Higher Education Student Affairs from Eastern Michigan University. In my spare time I blog about my thoughts and musings on current issues in higher education, student affairs, digital worlds, identity development and general life inspirations and observations. I also volunteer a lot for my fraternity and multiple regional and national professional associations.

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