Julie Kynaston is a heart mama to 3 gorgeous kids, Ilan, Kira and Judah and the author of Heart Mama Blog. She's a vocal proponent for adoption and we're sharing her thoughts on how a TV show is actually getting all the emotions and complications of adoption right.
Tears people, tears. This show is so beautiful in so many ways, but if adoption is part of your life you should really have a box of tissues ready. ‘This Is Us’ follows siblings Kate, Kevin and Randall as their lives intertwine.
Kate and Kevin were originally part of a triplet pregnancy but their biological brother was stillborn. Their parents, Jack and Rebecca, intent on bringing home three babies, decide to adopt another newborn (Randall), a child who was born on the same day and brought to the same hospital after his biological father left him at a fire station because he was unable to care for him himself.
This comedy-drama series portrays an incredible insight into the complexities of adoption in a way that no other mainstream media has succeeded to do until now. I’m so excited because this popular show featuring the likes of Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia and Sterling K Brown has the potential to change society’s opinion of adoption.
Episodes move between the stories of the past and present of the characters and the themes of transracial adoption, reunification with birth family and racism are explored with clarity and empathy.
Watch the trailer and then scroll down to read more:
Here are five lessons that I’m taking to heart from ‘This Is Us’, although I could share many more than five:
1. Adoptive parents, tell your kids everything that you know about their story
Adoptive parents: ‘Suck up your own feelings about him (or her) having birth parents out there’ and keep your child’s birth parents part of the story. Because your child’s story didn’t start with adoption.
Yes, you want to be enough for your child, but love isn’t enough and kids all need to know where they come from so that they can build their own identity. Don’t keep secrets, but tell your child what you know in an age appropriate way and be proactive on a fact gathering mission if you don’t know much.
Although open adoption isn’t as common in South Africa as it is in the States, there are other ways to keep birth parents part of the story. In a flashback scene, young Randall goes in search of black adults who can curl their tongues as he can in the hope of finding his birth parents – this unsuccessful mission of his wouldn’t have been so important to him if he’d been shown a photo of his birth father, been told his name and reassured that he could meet him at some point.
Note: I know not all adoptive parents have access to information, let alone a photo, but if you do know something then pass that info along. Adoptive parents who don’t have much info may want to maintain contact with their child’s safety parents or baby home.
2. If you plan to adopt transracially, you’ve go to be prepared to do the work
Adoptive parents, don’t whitewash your child’s childhood. Don’t move in such white circles that they feel the need to count the number of black people they know on a little notepad, as young Randall did. This leads me to my next point..
3. Racial mirrors are so important
You need to make a plan to put racial mirrors in place for your black kids. Black role models will show your son or daughter who he or she might grow into some day.
In this series, Randall’s father Jack takes him to karate and finds a community of black men and their sons who welcome Randall into the fold and perfom a moving initiation ceremony for him. This is one of my favourite scenes because I love the idea of a coming of age ceremony and hope to do something similar for my son one day.
Back to the scene, Jack is asked to lie down as if doing a push up and then Randall is invited to lie on his back. Jack responds yes to each of these questions as he does push ups with the extra weight of his son on his back:
‘Are you willing to hold him up whatever comes his way?’
‘Are you willing to raise this young boy to a strong man.’
‘Are you willing to push this young man to be the best he can be?’
‘Are you willing to lift him to greater heights even if it hurts?’
I dare you not to cry.
4. Blended families are beautiful and complicated
Diverse and colourful families are beautiful, but a family with both bio kids and adopted kids can add an extra layer of complexity to the family dynamic. In ‘This is Us’ Randall questions his place in the family because he is constantly picked on by his brother, Kevin. Kevin carries a lifelong grudge against Randall because he feels that their mom overcompensated for the fact that Randall was adopted and he felt overlooked and ignored in the process.
If you have a blended family, don’t let this dynamic slip off your radar.
5. Birth parents hurt long after the adoption too
I often think about this and although every adoption story is different, I am certain that biological parents don’t find placing their child for adoption easy. Maybe necessary, but never easy. I wish that open adoption in order to facilitate some contact between children and their first family was something that we aimed for in South Africa.
While I loved every single episode of this series, there are just two things I’d like to point out:
- It is highly unlikely these days that a family can just adopt a newborn without screening or training. It’s also not best practice for a Social Worker to place a child with adoptive parents until the allocated 60 or 90 days have passed as birth parents have the right to change their minds.
- Secondly, while the back story Randall’s adoption is made known to the viewer for the sake of the storyline – if we were able to step out of the series for a minute, we’d be reminded that it’s never a good idea to publicise the reason why your child became available for adoption. Your child’s story is their story to share and it’s best to keep it to yourself until you can share it with them in an age appropriate way. The fact that we know that Randall was abandoned at a fire station by his drug addicted father is too much information full stop. (Yes, I know this is just a show!)
This article first appeared on Heart Mama Blog.
Have you seen This is Us? As an adoptive parent how do you feel the show portrays adoption? Send your thoughts to email@example.com and we might publish them.