I heard the bus pull up at the end of our driveway and glanced at the wall clock. My kids were home from school and I had completely lost track of time. I jumped up to unlock the door and smiled widely at my three youngest sons. My 8 year old hugged my waist, my 9 year old threw his backpack across the family room, brushed off my hug and stomped to his room, slamming the door behind him. My 10 year old rolled his eyes and I put my hand on his shoulder to stop him, “Ok, spill it.” He sighed, “Noah wouldn’t leave him alone on the bus. He kept asking about his ‘real’ brothers and sisters. We asked him to stop but he wouldn’t. Noah asked why his ‘real’ mom didn’t want him and then it was time to get off the bus so we all just left.” “Thanks for telling me, I’m sorry that happened to you guys,” I squeezed his shoulder. He smiled a half smile as he looked up at me, “It’s ok, mom, some people just don’t get it.” In our family, we have 8 children all of whom were adopted. We don’t look alike. That fact is usually lost on us until someone else points it out.
Over the years, our differences have melted together to form a unique make up of family. We are both wildly different and comfortingly similar. Our children all have open relationships with their birth families which leads to an eclectic and joyful make up of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. To us, it just makes sense. To others, our family is confusing, we get that. We don’t mind answering the polite questions others ask. We sometimes feel defeated by the rude and abrasive assumptions. Often we feel like we just want to be around people like us.
Living in isolation is never healthy for anyone. For adoptive families, we often live a life that is on display. The feeling of being watched is the most isolating of all. Sometimes we long to have a conversation using phrases like, “My sister’s sister said…” or “My brother’s grandma visited…” without having to explain the entire backstory. The fact is, we can’t do this without others. We need a strong support community. But how do we find it?
We have found three ways to be intentional about creating this type of community for our entire family, especially our children.
1- Adoption Support Groups.
In our 16 years of parenting, we have attended many support groups. At one point, we knew that our children did best in their own environment and we were able to host the support group in our own home. We connected with people through our church, local department of child services and even our elementary school. We found that these groups were an amazing way to interact with other adoptive families. Our children played with other children who came from similar circumstances. Sometimes these meetings were formal and included training for both parents and children. Sometimes the support consisted of a meal, a few hours at a local playground and a lot of informal conversation.
2- Close Friends.
Forming close friendships is often easier said than done. On our journey as a family, we’ve become close friends with two other adoptive and foster families in our community. When we are together, our children rarely talk specifically about foster care or adoption. They have these unique characteristics in common and they can relax around each other without fear of inappropriate questions or snap judgments. We can also share the worries, hurts, fears, loss and joy that is specific to adoption with others who are walking the same road. Our children especially benefit from having friends they can share openly with. You may notice that I said just “two other families.” That’s on purpose. Keep your circle of support small. There tends to be more understanding and opportunity for connection with smaller circles. Larger circles open up the possibility of misunderstanding.
3- Family Camp.
Family Camps can be found across the country and are often associated with faith based groups or post adoption services. We attended our first family camp last summer outside of Seattle, Washington. At first it seems completely crazy to travel from Indiana across the country to the west coast. Our kids were jet-lagged and crazy. We had already reached our limit of traveling by the time we parked the rental van at the gate of the camp. As soon as we headed toward the registration table, something unexpected happened. Our very introverted, shy children took off…running…with other kids…! Mike and I stood looking at each other with confusion. “What just happened?” we asked each other. Our kids spent the rest of the week hanging out with other adoptees. Each night, we practically had to drag our kids into the cabin. Something beautiful took place, our 15 year old daughter pulled her covers up and sighed, “I love being here, it’s like everyone just gets us.” “I know,” I responded, “Dad and I feel exactly the same.”
Finding a community of people traveling the same road is vital for parents and even more so for adoptees. Our children have found healing through their relationships with peers who just get it.
Have you found this type of support? Why or why not? Share your story with us in the comment section below.