Honestly, there aren’t too many instances where I leave the movie theatre with a warm and fuzzy feeling. But that is exactly how I felt a couple of weeks ago when I saw the film ‘Instant Family.’
Starring Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne, the movie depicts the experience of a couple who have the intention of fostering one child, but end up fostering three siblings. Based on a true story, it is laugh-out-loud funny, and yet injects just the right amount of sentiment too (my husband cried – I have never seen him cry before in a movie!). And although I have not fostered myself, it seemed to showcase more of the reality involved in fostering – both for carers and for the kids.
While the movie left me feeling good, the facts themselves aren’t so great. The last couple of weeks have seen news articles around the country about the need for more foster carers, and staggering statistics about how few kids in the system actually get adopted. The Canberra Times reported that in three years in the ACT, only nine children were adopted by their carers, of the 835 in care.
My husband and I have looked into fostering, and there’s no doubt that the process is complicated enough to deter. There are also many reasons that people are choosing not to adopt – as WFA’s research on adoption shows, these include the broader acceptance of single parents, more access to welfare support and to abortion, and the costs and time involved.
Not to mention; why should couples think to foster, when the stereotypes we see in popular culture form such a bleak picture? Often we are shown low socio-economic families who are fostering for the benefits they can get; who don’t give their foster kids much time, love or attention. We are shown kids who are angry and distant, and difficult to love.
I’m sure that kids in foster care would be testing at times, and what I like about ‘Instant Family’ is that it goes deeper into this. It raises awareness of real needs that we don’t give thought to – these are just kids who are yearning for stability and love; who have been through tough times and have put up walls to prevent being hurt some more.
The movie certainly doesn’t gloss over the difficulties of foster parenting. From a life very much in control for the couple, almost everything became inconvenient. They had moments that were awkward, moments that were painful, and moments of trying to explain to their families why they even bothered. There was swearing, attempts to protect their teenage foster daughter from sexts, and a new understanding of the word ‘exhaustion’. However, it also conveyed how love conquered in the end – after all, nothing good comes easy.
Parenting is a tough gig, and surely even more so when it’s someone else’s child under your care. My hope is that films like this one encourage more effective, user-friendly policies, and inspire families to open their homes to children in need, whether via fostering or adoption – adoption, with its stability, security and permanency, being the ideal situation.
Tamara El-Rahi is a full-time mother of two and freelance writer from Sydney.