ABC’s hit TV series Modern Family does more than just make us laugh. Amidst all of its hilarity and light-heartedness, the show also touches on many important lessons about adoption and the experiences of the “modern family” today. In honor of Modern Family signing on a milestone 10th season, and with the start of Season 9 airing at the end of September, Adoptions With Love has decided to discuss some of those take-aways here.
If you have ever seen Modern Family before, you likely know the adoption storyline well. It all started in the first episode of the first-ever season, when Cameron Tucker and Mitchell Pritchett adopt their baby daughter Lily from Vietnam. Since the premiere, we have watched Lily grow up and come into her own. We have also seen Cameron and Mitchell – first-time fathers – experience the ups and downs that come with parenting and adoption. Here is what we have learned from the Tucker-Pritchett family so far.
1. Talk about adoption openly and from the very beginning.
Lily has always known she was adopted. Her fathers, Cam and Mitch, consistently talk about her adoption story to make it a comfortable and open subject. Their efforts are first revealed in the episode, “Two Monkeys and a Panda,” in which Lily is less than two years old. The episode depicts Cam creating a storybook for Lily that talks about her origins and adoption story. Cam is adamant about removing the stigma from the word “adopted,” and hopes this book will help Lily see her adoption in a positive light.
Adoptions With Love always suggests talking about adoption with your child from day one, as Cam and Mitch did with Lily. Of course, use age-appropriate language when doing so. This can help your child accept and understand his or her story, and give them the opportunity to ask questions. Like Cam, it is also important to show your child that adoption is a positive, loving way to build a family and that you are happy and always available to discuss the topic. To help your child understand his or her story, you may also create an adoption lifebook: a“storybook” (like the one we see Cam making in Modern Family) that contains photos, documents, and other personal mementos of your baby’s early life.
2. Embrace your child’s culture, and always make it available.
Though portrayed somewhat blithely on Modern Family, Cam and Mitch do encourage Lily to explore her Vietnamese heritage. In the episode “The Future Dunphys,” Lily’s parents take her to a Vietnamese restaurant to give her a little taste of her culture. Lily, however, isn’t interested in her Vietnamese background – she states she’d rather her heritage be “gay” because it would make her closer to Cam and Mitch. They explain to their daughter, “The three of us are a family even though we grew up in different places… We’re a family because we love each other.”
Cam and Mitch do not force Lily’s heritage on her when she does not express interest. They do not dismiss it completely, either. They are consistently open about her Asian heritage and it is available should she later have questions. In this way, Cam and Mitch allow Lily to decide how big a role her background will play in her life, and remain flexible to her needs. This is important in any adoption. If your child is of a different heritage, you can honor it through traditional food, community events, art, books, and music. As a parent, you can also make an effort to learn some new words in your child’s native language or even take a trip to their native country. Celebrating your child’s background can help him or her grow proud of his or her background, adoption story, and develop a better sense of self.
3. Adopting a child, especially internationally, can be a process.
At the end of the second season of Modern Family, Cam and Mitch decided they wanted to expand their family even further through adoption – they wanted Lily to have a baby brother. In season 3, we see the adoption process for the Tucker-Pritchett family. They go through the home study process, meet prospective birth mothers, and consider surrogacy along their journey. That is until the season finale, when they are chosen by a birth mother in Mexico who is delivering her baby. Unfortunately, when Cam and Mitch arrive at the hospital, the birth mother’s grandmother claimed rights to the baby and the adoption fell through. It is in this moment Cam and Mitch decide to step back and focus on Lily.
Executive producer of Modern Family, Christopher Lloyd, explained in an interview that they wanted to treat the adoption storyline in “a real way.” “You don’t just decide you want to adopt a baby boy and then rub your hands and it happens,” he said to TV Guide. “You have to sign up with agencies. The agencies have to come and interview and take a look at the environment the child would be raised in. Often, you have to more or less audition for the birth mother and see how she feels about placing her child with you. We are sort of exploring all of these steps along the way to them actually having a child.”
Adoption is a process that involves several interviews, home visits, and sometimes, meetings with expectant/birth parents looking for the right family. It is important to remain flexible and patient as you go through the adoption process. At Adoptions With Love, infants are typically placed within six to twelve months of completing a home study. We are committed to helping you grow your family.
4. Families come in all different make-ups.
Perhaps the greatest lesson of all in Modern Family is that “family” does not have to entail a traditional mother and father relationship. Mitch and Cam are a happily committed couple that love and support their daughter, and provide for her as much as any mother and father would. They also show us that families are not always perfect—and do not always have to be. When the adoption agency counselor comes to their house for a home visit, there is a whipped cream mess all over the kitchen (and all over Lily!). Everything still worked out and they were approved to adopt. They get through all of life’s messes together because of their love for one another. As they put it to Lily, “We’re a family because we love each other.”
Families, above all, are founded on love. Families founded by adoption are equally as real as families by birth, and it is very important for every adoptive parent to know this. It is consistent, devoted, and unconditional love that will make you a great parent. It is also important to know that you do not have to be a “traditional” family to adopt. Today, less than half of all children in the United States live with a heterosexual mother and father in their first marriage. Some children today have single parents. Others have same-gender parents. No matter your family makeup, know that you can adopt a child with us.
Adoptions With Love is a non-profit, private, domestic adoption agency helping families grow throughout Massachusetts. If you would like to learn about adopting a child in MA, or simply about our adoptive parent services, please call 617-964-4357.
What do you think of the adoption storyline in Modern Family? Who is your favorite character? Did you know that Phil Dunphy (a.k.a. Ty Burrell) is an adoptive father in real-life? Post your thoughts below!