Nailed It: This Is Us and Foster Care

Warning: Spoiler Alert!!! If you haven’t watched all the way through “Number Three”, this post will contain spoilers!

Have any of you been watching This Is Us? Theo and I have been watching it from the beginning and with each episode I love it more and more. I am so interested in the implications that it has in our culture. From the beginning, I loved the show because of it’s storyline in transracial adoption- not the white savior mentality our culture is so used to, but the real, nitty gritty of adoption. I wasn’t sure why everyone else was so into it because to me that was the point that hooked me in. However, as I continue to watch the show, it has brought to light the experiences of SO MANY people. Recently, as This Is Us weaves foster care into the story, I have had a lot of questions on whether or not the show is accurate in their portrayal of foster care.

Although a TV show is simply actors reciting a script, I am completely blown away by how accurate their portrayal is of foster care. In foster care Facebook groups I’m in, so many foster parents are saying “how did they get a peek into my actual life right now?”

This post may have the tendency to be long, but I wanted to really write out my thoughts and feelings (and because after the latest episode I think I need some therapy!)

 

  1. Preparation and Placement. Randall and Beth begin their journey into foster care with a lot of disagreements. Baby or older child? White or black? They begin the journey very inward focused- what is best for them/their family? How can they be better people, make a difference, feel good about themselves. Would taking in an older child be too hard? Would they come with too much baggage and cause harm to the family? I found this to be so incredibly accurate. Most people going into foster care think they know it will be hard. There are some absolutely terrifying unknowns and decisions to be made. I had to chuckle during the scenes with Randall waiting for the phone call. This was so accurate. It was also so realistic that there was about two hours between the phone call and the child walking in the door. Then the social worker leaves and that is it. Welcome to parenting someone else’s child. OVERWHELMING.
  2. First days and adjusting; the war to gain trust. I loved how This Is Us portrayed Deja’s first days in the home. Randall, the overeager Dad (that’s me!), Beth the practical and firm parent (that’s Theo!), and Deja the girl with a strong front because inside she is terrified (that’s every kid in foster care ever!). I loved how Beth built trust with Deja by explaining her hair problem to her, and how Beth singlehandedly and unknowingly destroyed that trust by sharing the information with Randall. I love how Deja’s act of rebellion in cutting her hair was portrayed. She felt hurt, angry, her trust was ruined, and she needed to gain control of the situation. So she cut her hair. So many times we as foster parents or our culture see foster kids with these “acts of rebellion” and think the child is hopeless and belongs in juvie. On the contrary, they are facing immense pain and brokenness and are often simply trying to gain control of something in their lives when everything seems like is is spinning out of control.
  3. Visitation. You guys. With the exception of visiting in jail, the entire scene with visitation is EXACTLY how it goes in our situation- every.single.week. The child is thrilled, excited, hopeful, dressed up and ready. And the parent doesn’t show. Again. The child is devastated, crushed, and they put up another wall. And the foster parent takes them back home, dealing with the fallout of those extreme emotions. If you bawled in that scene, that is what almost every Wednesday evening in our home looks like. Later, we find out that Mom had a reason for being flakey and not showing up for the visit. This exact same thing has happened to us, down to the black eye. In the moment, we are left with our foster kid, trying desperately to find a balance between telling the truth (“Your Mom didn’t make it to the visit) and providing comfort (“You know, I’m not sure why she wasn’t there, but let’s assume she had a good reason without worrying about her”). Visitation is one of the hardest parts about foster care for me. And yet it’s completely necessary because it’s how the child maintains a relationship with their primary family.
  4. Relationship with the primary family/biological Mom. I did have a hard time with Randall in the scene where he returns to the jail and points lots of fingers at Deja’s Mom. That move burned lots of bridges, but at the same time, it was so endearing to me because I cannot tell you how many times I have wanted to march myself up to the birth family and give them a piece of my mind. I think every single foster parent can relate. It’s such a delicate balance, having a relationship with the primary family/birth Mom. Obviously, the parent has made a mistake. Sometimes, this mistake was just plain old dumb, but most of the time, life has dealt them a crappy hand. I loved the strength that Deja’s Mom had in talking to Randall and claiming her place in life as a mother to Deja. I’ve only had two foster placements, but in each of those placements, I have been humbled by the deep and fierce love that the mothers have for their children. Later in the episode, Randall and Beth find out that Deja is going back to her Mom. At first, they are ready to fight. They will stand and be an advocate for the child. I loved this, because that is what makes a good foster parent- loving the child so much that they are willing to fight for what is best for the child. Randall then drives to where Deja’s Mom lives and observes her for about two minutes. He has a complete change of heart because he realizes that Deja “has a whole world before she came to live with us”. This scene hit me right in the feels because it was so, so accurate. There is this huge divide in my heart as I want to keep Heavenly from her past situations that have hurt her, but at the same time I know that she belongs with her Mom.
  5. “Foster Dad” – In the final episode, one thing I noticed and loved was the relationship between Randall and Deja. Perhaps it’s portrayed this way since Randall is the main character, but I felt like it was a purposeful portrayal. The relationship between Beth and Deja seems more like a treasured aunt, a second Mom. But Deja’s relationship with Randall is completely different. I know it’s a fictional show, but if this was real life I can almost guarantee that Randall is the first healthy adult male Deja has ever been in contact with. I WEPT at the part in the episode where Deja gives her presentation. Randall and Beth are both there (because that’s what good foster parents do- they show up), and Deja says in front of the class “My foster Dad taught me this”. For a child in foster care to speak of their foster parent with pride is something rare and beautiful. Most times older children in foster care are not necessarily embarrassed about the people who are fostering them, but they are embarrassed that they are being fostered. Heavenly really doesn’t want anyone at her school to know that she is foster care, and that makes perfect sense to me. I always make sure to ask her if she wants me to come to the school as her parent figure because when her peers see me, they know I am obviously not her biological Mom. Back to the relationship with a healthy male- this is something that I have observed with Theo and Heavenly. Heavenly acts completely different around Theo, and it’s because she loves the healthy attention from a healthy male. This Is Us did such a great job of portraying this, especially in the goodbye scene
  6. Saying goodbye. Did anyone not cry in the goodbye scene? The whole thing was SO accurate. There are precious few seconds to communicate everything. The parent is standing there waiting, with eager expectation because this is one of the best days of their lives. And yet your heart is just about to go driving off in that car. I loved Deja’s line: “Just because I want to be with my Mom doesn’t mean I don’t want to be with you”. It sums it all up perfectly. It’s the most bittersweet moment I have ever been apart of. I pray daily that it will happen for Heavenly, and yet I hold onto her as tightly as I can while she is with us.
  7. After Goodbye. YOU GUYS. I don’t know if the show did this intentionally, but the ten minutes of the show after Beth and Randall and the girls said goodbye to Deja were the most poignant part of the show. Randall and Beth go back inside and are numbly grieving. They just lost a child. They just lost someone that they poured their lives and hearts into. No doubt they are worried about her, worried about their girls…and just so sad. And then they get a phone call about Kate. And then Kevin knocks on the door. And everybody needs Randall. Everybody needs him to be there for them, to be the glue and to be the one who holds them together. But who is holding Randall and Beth together? They have also lost greatly, and yet somehow it’s not treated of as great of a loss. This hit me right in the feels because so often when foster parents lose a foster child, the world unknowingly expects them to just move on. Take another placement, have another child, get over it because it’s what you signed up for. I cannot express how hard it is to lose a foster child. Worth it? Oh, yes. Expected? Yep. And yet I have not experienced much rallying or grief support, and I think that this needs to change.

I’m so interested to see where the show takes us next.

One comment

  1. Rachael Kolker says:

    I’ve been wanting to watch this show! And reading this post was probably a bad choice at work, don’t mind me trying to discreetly wipe away the tears in my open office setting…

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