We walked in feeling alone and defeated. We walked out feeling empowered and supported. There was nothing magical about the meeting we were attending. It was simply 8 families, all going through what we were going through, all having adopted from the foster care system, sitting around a large conference room table, sharing their pain and agony with openness and honesty.
It was as if each couple rolled their sleeves up and revealed the same wounds we were working hard to cover up. The reason for our cover up? Fear. Mostly fear. We feared criticism, judgement, and mostly, failure!
That night we learned how valuable a strong support community is to the success of your parenting. Our whole outlook on adoption, foster care, and special needs parenting changed from that single support group meeting. In the years since, we’ve spent a vast amount of time investing in this because we recognize that we can’t do this on our own.
Neither can you. If you’ve been an adoptive, foster, or special needs parent for any length of time you already know how much you need support. You’re well aware of the fact that you cannot do this on your own. And, truthfully speaking, you weren’t meant to.
You need a community of people around you who understand exactly what it’s like to be you, exactly what it’s like to raise the child you are raising, exactly what you go through as an adoptive mother or father of a difficult child, and precisely the kind of trials you face as a foster parent, or special needs parenting.
You need a certain type of people. It won’t include everyone. Who, then, are you looking for? What are the types of people you need in your inner circle? From our experience, we’ve discovered that you really need 4 types of people:
- People who are non-judgemental. You don’t need anymore judgement than you’ve already received. Your inner-circle must be judgement free.
- People who get it. You need people who get where you’re coming from. People who understand the trials and heart-ache that adoption, foster care, and special needs parenting bring.
- People who are in the trenches. People who get it are usually found in the trenches with you. These are people who living a very similar life to you. People who are also licensed foster parents or parenting a child with a special need.
- People who point. No, not people who point at you! You don’t need anymore of that. You want people who listen to you, cry with you, but then will actively point you to a healthier conclusion in your thinking and life outlook.
This is exactly who your inner-circle of support should be built with. Call it a blueprint, if you will, for building a community whom you can lean on through good times and bad. Back to what I mentioned earlier though- it won’t include everyone. There will be many “nice” people who seem genuine but really do not understand you. One of the quickest signs that someone does not belong in your support community, is what I call the “Hail Factor.” People who hail you as a hero can also be quick to judge you at a moment’s notice.
The reason is that they really don’t understand you. They’re observing you from a distance, not walking an inch in your shoes, or even attempting to anytime soon. I know this sounds harsh, but it’s true. Take it from us- we’ve made the mistake of letting people in who ended up turning on us later on.
Every time we write on this topic, or teach it at foster or adoptive parent conferences, we receive the same question- “How do you find people who are non-judgmental, who get it, and really understand what it’s like to be me?” That’s a great question. One we wrestled over for years, as we worked to surround ourselves, and our family, with the right people. The quick answer is, you interview people.
You read that right- interview! Now, this is not like a regular job interview where you sit down with someone and ask them a series of questions. That would be a bit awkward. The way you interview potential support community members is by subtly releasing bits and pieces of your family’s story. For instance, we have children who were drug and alcohol exposed at birth. It’s created a slew of special needs, some extremely difficult and trying. When we meet a kind-hearted person for the first time, we don’t go into great detail on this.
Instead, we release general, but explanatory, details on what we go through on a daily basis. Then, we watch their reaction. The way they handle the general details is an indication (for the most part) of how they will handle the in-depth details.
Hope For The Journey.
If you read this blog often, then you probably know that we talk about hope. A lot! The majority of hopeful times, for us, has come through our support community. Our inner-circle. We could fill up an entire book on all of the times we’ve been there for one another when life was tough.
I believe the only way to make it through life, especially as an adoptive, foster, or special needs parent, is with a strong support community. We’ve found hope, and you can too!
Have you struggled to find the support you need on the journey of adoption, foster care and special needs parenting? Share your story with us.