Perhaps one of the greatest contributions Jennifer Lopez brought to TV was her influence producing “The Fosters” on ABC Family. When it had its first season last year, it was praised for its realism in showing a family that was far from ones we saw just a decade ago. With two lesbian moms and a house full of adopted children, plus foster children, it was different from anything else and also inevitably faced some criticism for the lesbian angle. Regardless, it managed to present a different reality to the family that’s probably truer than many understand.
It also set forward a message to TV to think a little more seriously about showing more adopted children in family shows, plus the idea of foster children. While there’s been some growth in showing adopted kids on family TV shows, we really haven’t seen many shows that promote how important foster kids can be to a family. As much as the family show has changed on TV, many of them still try to show us a family with mostly blood-related kids, perhaps with a thought the relationship between parent and child is more intense that way.
The Evolution of Adoption on TV
The TV family with only blood-related families persisted for much longer than it should have, at least until the late 1970s when “Diff’rent Strokes” finally showed the advantage to bringing adopted kids into your home, regardless of race. Audiences accepted the show into the mainstream so heartily that we forget just how groundbreaking the concept was at the time considering plenty of family shows were still on in 1978 focusing strictly on blood-related families. Even more groundbreaking in “Diff’rent Strokes” was the idea that a very wealthy man would be willing to take in two African-American kids and have them live with his blood-related white teenage daughter.
Thanks to the winning personality of Gary Coleman and the rest of the cast, it’s an example of how something groundbreaking can have a natural progression rather than shock people. In many respects, “The Fosters” works in the same way “Diff’rent Strokes” did in making it so believable that you feel like it’s always been that way. Few were shocked out of their minds to find a show on ABC Family that showed biracial lesbian mothers raising a brood of kids who came from abandoned families and broken homes.
Now that “The Fosters” have a second season to show what they can do, they have an important role now in continuing what they started, especially in showing how foster kids can become normal kids within a family. If we’ve seen some reality shows about adoption in the real world (and “Modern Family” taking on an adopted son), how many other shows will be willing to make adoption and foster children a front and center subject?
The Future of Adoption and Foster Kids on TV
Don’t be surprised if the two mothers in “The Fosters” eventually end up taking more foster kids in if the show lasts beyond a second season. Some might argue that Stef and Lena (played by Teri Polo and Sherri Saum) have already taken on more children into their home than they can handle. And that’s an argument that has to be made in making sure any show about adoption or foster kids presents them getting the best possible upbringing rather than parents taking on something that can only lead to disaster.
Nevertheless, part of the point of “The Fosters” is the two mothers are such loving people that they can’t help but take in as many kids as possible. It’s a plot point worth accepting for this one show if it doesn’t become so prevalent that people in real life attempt to do the same thing without thinking about reality.
Writers of TV shows in the past perhaps thought having foster children in the household meant too much of a distance between their adoptive parents in order to bring any compelling plot ideas. Unfortunately, that was probably lazy writing and adhering too much to the family TV show templates set for so many decades.
The best approach is one that shows foster kids blending in easily with a family without making them look like they’re something unusual. In “The Fosters”, you might not even know two of the characters are foster children unless you were told. As many times as TV can show foster children calling their adoptive parents “Mom” and “Dad” and not by their first names, the more the real world will realize that taking in foster kids into their own family means the best possible chances of the same thing happening.