Our favorite adoption-themed show, “This is Us,” never fails to deliver the emotional moments — and last night’s midseason finale was no exception.
In the last of three episodes centered on the different members of the Big Three, we get to see both past and present Randall dealing with some serious life issues. As he works through these to find resolutions, we — watching as the audience — learn a few important things about adoption, foster care and the challenges of parenting in general.
As we wipe away our tears from this cliffhanger of an episode, let’s look back at three big messages we took away from the midseason finale.
1. A transracial adoption can often be hard, even when adoptive parents take steps to include appropriate mirrors and diverse communities.
In this episode, we saw Randall and his father Jack visit Howard University, a majority-black college in Washington, D.C. Randall blossomed among his African-American peers, knowing he had found the right college for him, while Jack wondered why his son wasn’t as excited about the prospect of Ivy Leagues instead.
In the car ride home, Randall revealed to Jack that visiting Howard University was one of the first times in his life that he hadn’t felt out of place. Despite the efforts that his parents had made to include African-American peers and communities in his childhood, Randall was always the outsider as the only black kid. The discomfort that Jack felt as the only white person visiting the college, Randall said, was the feeling he had for most of his childhood growing up.
It’s an important lesson for adoptive parents to learn, especially for those who are considering a transracial adoption. White parents who have always been the majority in their communities will never understand exactly what their child will feel as a minority, and what they think is an appropriate amount of diversity and exposure may not help their child feel as included as they wish it would. This is where open conversations with a transracially adopted child and transracial adoption support groups can be so helpful.
2. Birth parents’ emotions can be complicated when it comes to involvement in their child’s life.
While some form of open adoption contact is the norm in modern adoptions, it’s unrealistic to say that all birth parents automatically know the degree of contact they want to have with their child after they place them for adoption. We see this in a flashback of William deciding whether or not to ask for contact with Randall as he grows up.
After he follows Rebecca home, Randall’s birth father considers knocking on the door to ask for contact with Randall — not everyday contact but for being present at important events like birthdays and graduations. After he and Randall are reunited, he explains that he wishes he could have known him as he grew up but was stopped by the knowledge that Randall had already had nine years without him — and dropping into his life would be incredibly complicated. Ultimately, William decides to turn away from contact with his son.
What lesson can we learn from this scene? Every birth parent is different, and what kind of contact they do or don’t want with their child and their child’s adoptive family will be different, too. Open adoption is a personal relationship that is often determined before and after the adoption by the adoptive parents and birth parents, so it’s important to enter into this kind of adoption with an open mind and the capability for flexibility.
3. Foster care is not the same as foster care adoption — and it’s important to keep sight of the end goal.
Foster care and foster care adoption are by no means the same process, as Randall and Beth figure out when the mother of their foster daughter begins the process to regain custody. And, because the first priority of the foster care system is to reunite foster children with their parents, Randall and Beth discover that their concerns about Deja’s biological mother should not prevent the two from being together.
Therefore, those hopeful parents who are looking to permanently add a child into their family through the foster care system should be aware that, despite any emotional connection they form with their foster children, there is always the possibility that they will not become available for adoption. Instead, they should consider a specific foster care adoption program or a process like private domestic infant adoption.
However, for people who want to help as many children as possible and are prepared for the emotional challenges of doing so — as Randall and Beth decide at the end of the episode — being foster parents is an incredibly rewarding path.