Movie Review: Instant Family

Last week, Nate and I saw Instant Family with my in-laws. The film has been getting rave reviews among acquaintances in the adoption community, but poor reviews from those pesky paid critics who may or may not have any exposure to foster care adoption. 

As for us, we all enjoyed and appreciated the movie overall. Considering the storyline was based on the personal foster care adoption journey of the director’s family, the overall plot of the movie was pretty true-to-life. A couple in their late 30s/early 40s who never had biological kids becomes aware of the need for foster parents. They take the classes and get matched with a sibling group of three who was removed from their first family due to issues with drugs. Shit hits the fan as they learn how to parent for the both the first time, and parent kids with trauma backgrounds. The case goes back and forth from pre-adoption to reunification, and all the while the parents go to support groups, school events, meetings with social workers, etc. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it’s worth a watch to see how it turns out.

The characters were very relatable. The movie gave enough screen time to getting to know the many sides of each character. The fears and anxieties of the parents were presented very honestly, which I appreciated, and there was even a hilarious dinner scene where extended family members expressed their “concerns” that had us smirking. The kids were three different ages and had unique ways of coping with challenges, which gave a well-rounded perspective on how trauma impacts children.

Some of the second-circle characters did not ring a bell, however. The social workers were very heavy handed, and the support groups came off as judgmental, which have not been our experiences. But the relationship between the two social workers was hilarious, and Tig Notaro’s delivery of the one-liners was on point. After the first few scenes, I chose to take off my “accuracy glasses” and just enjoy the humor for what it was. 

Overall thoughts: go see Instant Family while it’s still in theatres, or consider renting or buying it later. We will definitely be snagging the DVD when it comes out!


Resource Review: Strangers and Kin

As we’ve gone over before, the waiting times of foster care and adoption can leave you with a lot of energy and looking for somewhere to put it. With my extra time, I can’t seem to stop searching, buying, and checking out adoption books! If you ask Nate, I’m always asking to “just stop in this bookstore really quickly” or begging for just ONE MORE BOOK on Amazon.

Typically, I’m drawn more towards books that tell stories, like memoirs, or practical books to help prepare me for parenting children who have experienced trauma. But I came across Strangers and Kin: The American Way of Adoption by Barbara Melosh at the library and although it seemed more intellectual than conversational, I couldn’t resist reading a thorough history of adoption here in the United States.

Adoption Book Review_Strangers and Kin

In Strangers and Kin, Melosh seeks to integrate primary sources from the Children’s Bureau of Delaware into the grander scheme of what was happening in the adoption world at the time. Though I was skeptical at first of applying these examples of case files and social worker testimony from one agency too universally, the author did a nice job of strengthening each section with statistics and studies from other parts of the country and globe.

The book revolves around the theme of kin–What defines it? Who defines it? Does it have to look the same for everyone? Do kin have to look like each other, period? How has the idea of kin changed over the last century in the United States? I appreciated this angle, especially given what we believe around these parts: whether blood relation or not, just as you choose to come home to your partner each and every day, you choose your family. You choose it in your words, your actions, your love, your day in and day out commitments to one another. And yes, sometimes strangers become kin.

Certain sections were more riveting than others to me, surely because I come to the world of adoption and foster care books with the eye of a future adoptive mother, and therefore I was hoping for some pieces that applied directly to my life and identity. Chapter Two, “Families By Design,” examined the role of ‘fit’ in matching adoptive parents with children and was particularly intriguing to me. As we are currently in the home study process, our every answer to the many vulnerable questions asked by our social worker could ultimately be held up as justification for our ‘fit’ to be matched with a child. It turns out that a number of personal attributes we wouldn’t necessarily consider important today were examined very closely to determine ‘fit’ in the early-mid 20th century. Potential adoptive parents were judged on their physical appearance, projections of femininity, religion and religious intentions, perceived intellect, and more.

The mid-century approach of embracing adoption as “The Best Solution” for children born out of wedlock was detailed in Chapter Three, and it was very revealing. It made me uncomfortable at times, and grateful that we are adopting in today’s more progressive society. For example, as someone who did not come to adoption via the journey of infertility, I would likely not have been accepted as an adoptive parent by agencies in the 1950s. The quotation below details some of this bias.

“The Child Welfare League of America endorsed the policy of restricting adoption to infertile couples in 1952: ‘If they can have children and do not, their reason for adopting is highly questionable.’ Such attitudes reflected postwar pronatalism, directed with special intensity toward women.

In a discussion of agency requirements of infertility, a 1957 adoption manual explained, ‘This is not merely because there are not enough children to go around. It is also because the motive for adopting, if not based on an organic sterility that precludes having one’s own children, might be a neurotic one. No matter how desperately anxious for motherhood a woman claims to be, social workers know that a potentially good mother makes every effort to have her own child before she tries to adopt one.'”

p. 112, Strangers and Kin

Wow. There’s a lot to unpack there. Not only were professional organizations, adoption agencies, and even the government convinced that fertile couples (women in particular) were questionable, neurotic, or outright liars, but the language used directly in an agency adoption manual reflects how important it is that we now embrace adoption positive language. And that was written just over sixty years ago, a relatively short time in the history of our world (and adoption). If our agency stated in a manual that ‘a potentially good mother‘ should have exhausted her efforts to have ‘her own child‘ before attempting to adopt, I think I’d flip the table. How demeaning to potential mothers, and to the children in need of permanent families.

I could see this book being particularly informative for today’s social workers, as the direct quotations from workers of yesteryear were incredibly revealing of the myriad of ways adoption has changed in the United States, and the ways the role of the social worker has ebbed and flowed. Ultimately, the primary sources I doubted enjoying initially ended up being the most revealing parts of this book. I did find myself longing for more analysis from Melosh, who instead seemed to just state the facts and move on to the next point. It seems an effort to remain unbiased instead came across as dry in places.

I also would have appreciated more examination into the advent and growth of foster care adoption. Though foster care was mentioned throughout the book, it was more in passing. I recognize that Melosh was working primarily with about 400 case files from the CBD, and they were not focused on this type of adoption, I feel that permanency planning deserved its own section. Some additional research outside of the CBD could have really helped Strangers and Kin complete the ‘history’ aspect of this book by focusing on modern approaches to adoption and the diversity of the 21st century adoptive family.

Although it wasn’t my usual style of adoption-oriented book, I’m grateful to Melosh for putting this exposition together. I can be a better mother of adoption by being a good student of adoption, and having a historical perspective on the institution allows me to appreciate how far we’ve come. Hearing the stories of what other birth and adoptive mothers have experienced over the past century both broke my heart and empowered me on this journey.

Whether 1948 or 2018, to me, this adoptive mother life is a sisterhood. If it were easy, everyone would do it, but there are those of us who have chosen this harder path because we know there is something beautiful and scary, gentle and wild to be discovered. To get there, we have to break our hearts wide open again and again, hold our most vulnerable selves up for examination, and push things aside to make room for strangers to become true kin. It’s enough to make you question your sanity and worth.

“Recognizing their position on the unfavorable side of the supply-and-demand equation, adopters generally entered the home study with considerable apprehension. As one adoptive mother recalled wryly in a [1963] memoir, [receiving] an adopted babe depends on one’s worthiness to have him. It’s the profoundest difference there is between natural and adoptive parents.‘” (p. 207)

Are we worthy?


How to Use Adoption Positive Language

Language matters. But life is awkward, so it’s also hard to know what to say and when. Over the past few decades, the process of adoption has changed, and we have learned so much more about the lived experiences of members of the adoption community. When times change, our language should change too. So when discussing adoption, it’s important to use adoption positive language.

So, what is “Adoption Positive Language?”  It’s choosing words and phrases that communicate respect for the feelings and experiences of everyone in the adoption process, including the child, birth family, and foster or adoptive family. It celebrates the joys in the adoptive process, instead of focusing on the loss involved. It also honors the permanency of the adoption process while not erasing the past.

This quotation explains it quite directly:

Though in adoption parent and child are linked by love and by law, the fact that they are not connected by blood has often meant that some people are unwilling to acknowledge their relationship as genuine and permanent.

Thus, they use qualifiers (“This is Bill’s adopted son”) in situations where they would not dream of doing so in a non-adoptive family (“This is Bill’s birth-control-failure son” or “This is Mary’s caesarean-section daughter.”)

They tend not to assign a full and permanent relationship to persons related through adoption (“Do you have any children of your own?” or “Have you ever met your real mother?” or “Are they natural brothers and sisters?”)

They assume that adoptive relationships are tentative (“Will the agency take him back now that you know he’s handicapped?” or “What if his real parents want him back?”)

Patricia Irwin Johnston

By using adoption positive language, we affirm that there is no best way to make a family. We communicate to others that no type of family is any more or less valid than another. Making a conscious effort to adjust your vocabulary shows members of the adoption community, especially adoptees, that you care!

Read and share this infographic, & find more examples below!

Adoption Positive Language

Even more adoption positive language…

Give up/put up for adoption ⇒ Place for adoption, make an adoption plan

  • The decision to place a child for adoption is a challenging, emotional one with many facets. A birth parent is not “giving up” their child. They are making a plan that is in the best interest of the child.

Keep the child ⇒ Parent the child

  • Again, a child is not something to be exchanged through keeping or giving away. The decision to make an adoption plan likely means the birth parent recognizes they may not the best person to parent the child, for whatever reason.

Natural/own child ⇒ Biological child

  • Many people will ask an adopting couple, “Don’t you want to have your own children?” First, all children in a family are “our own children,” regardless of how they came to the family! Second, this implies that adopted children are somehow less a part of a family than biological children are or would be.

Reunite with birth family  Make contact with birth family

  • Calling something a reunion makes it seem like a child or family was not whole without a connection to the birth family. In many cases, making contact with a birth family is something that ADDS to an already full life of family and love. Furthermore, making contact doesn’t always result in regular communication, depending on the feelings of the individuals involved. Sometimes that’s all it is–making contact.

Foreign adoption ⇒ International adoption

  • In many ways, this one is just a reflection of society moving into the twenty-first century. “Foreign” can be translated as “strange.” What you really mean is the family adopted internationally, from outside their own country of origin (as opposed to domestically).

Foster kid ⇒ Child in foster care

  • Much like the is adopted/was adopted example above, calling a child a “foster kid” makes foster care a central part of their identity. They are so much more than that! They are complex humans with lots of feelings, interests, and experiences, and just ONE of those pieces is that they were or are in foster care. It’s up to each child how significant this part of their story is to them.

Broken/damaged child ⇒ Child who has experienced trauma

  • No child is broken or damaged, regardless of what has happened to them. Little ones who are coping with abuse or neglect are innocent children who have experienced trauma. We as parents are working to help them heal from this trauma and live as normal a life as possible. We believe they are beautiful, never broken.

We hope this has helped you get a grasp on what adoption positive language is and why it’s important. Practice using this new vocabulary and help others learn too!

-Laura & Nate



Have questions? Want to learn more about foster care & adoption?

Contact us here!

Don’t Waste the Waiting Days

What are a couple of childless parents to do while they wait to be assigned a social worker?


We never got the chance to take a honeymoon, and we don’t know that we ever will. Instead, we’ve decided to invest in the next few months as the best ever “staycation” we could dream up. We’re going to visit all the places in the Twin Cities we’ve always said we would someday go, like museums that kids would find boring, outdoor activities that might be too cold for them, places where they only serve grown up drinks…things like that.

But it’s not all fun and games at our house (okay, you all know it usually is). We are also using this time to intentionally prepare for the next chapter in our lives. Once our home study starts, we will be very focused on getting our physical environment ready for a child to arrive. Until then, we’re focused on our mental, emotional, and spiritual preparation.

“The best way I can describe waiting, for those who haven’t been here, is this: The scene in a movie, where the main character is standing nearly still as everything and everyone races past in special effect, fast-forward mode…

Don’t get me wrong, life goes on in the waiting! We don’t actually have time to stand still and watch life whirl by. But there’s part of our hearts that’s at a standstill – waiting for someone to give the word. And while our hearts are waiting, they’re growing, learning, breaking, healing, grieving, longing, and giving.”

Don’t Waste Your Wait: Embracing the Journey of Bringing Your Child Home by Naomi Quick

With biological children, the wait typically has a deadline. Pregnancy happens, and parents can usually set the countdown clock for 8-9 months. But once our home study is complete and we are licensed, we have no idea how long it will be until we are matched with our child…until they are in our home…until adoption is finalized..until we reach a sense of normalcy as our child settles into their new family. There is a lot of something-filled-nothing (phrase we just invented) happening in all of those ellipses.

Wondering what to do while you are waiting to foster or adopt? We’re attending workshops hosted by MNadopt, a statewide education and advocacy group. We’re reading a LOT of books and online articles, and we’re sharing the best ones on our Resources page. We’re getting to know each other in a new way, as future parents, and strengthening our bond as a team.

In many ways, this waiting is a blessing; God has granted us this time with a purpose, to prepare our hearts for this child.  It’s a test of our hope and patience. A time to lay our plans down and clear them from our sights so we can read the beautiful, imperfect story he is writing. A reminder to be fully present for the moment when our lives will intersect with the life of this little one who is hurting, so we can begin to heal together.

-Laura & Nate


Have questions? Want to learn more about foster care & adoption?

Contact us here!