Adoption, Isolation, and Community

This summer, I have had the great privilege of helping to plan and organize a retreat for adoptive/foster mothers in our community.  Over the weekend, I gathered with a group of mothers for an incredible time of fellowship, laughter, tears, prayer, and restoration.  We all went around and told our stories of waiting, longing, loving, and fighting for (and with) these precious children.  The stories were all different, but we were all tied together by the thread of adoption, of pointing to a child born of another woman and claiming him as our own … and all the heart-wrenching joy and pain that goes along with that.

This weekend was eye-opening and restorative to me in more ways than I could name here, but one thing struck me above the rest.  This weekend was more than a couple days and night off for these women, it was a place of freedom.  It was a safe haven where the truth could be shared without fear of judgment or misunderstanding.  It was a place where we could all look each other in the eye and talk about how hard this is, how it’s harder than we ever imagined.  How every single one of our kids has been through the trauma of adoption – many through much worse – and caring for their tiny souls can sometimes be unequal portions of joy and excruciating pain.  I sat and cried with women who have been adoptive parents for five … ten .. fifteen … twenty years, and can’t think of one person outside their family who knows this road they are walking.  It struck me that this is the “rule”, not the “exception”.

There are a lot of reasons why adoptive parents feel isolated, and a lot of fears we have about being honest about the hard truths of adoptive parenting.

… we don’t want to further any stereotypes about adoption or adoptive/foster children.

… we want to protect the privacy of our children and their past.

… we don’t want to scare you away from adoption or foster care.

… we don’t want you to think we regret it.

… we don’t want to ruin the happy picture you might have of adoption.

… we don’t want you to think that we or our children are crazy.

… we don’t want to disappoint those of you who financially and prayerfully supported us.

… we know that we cannot expect you to understand, because we didn’t understand either.

Every form of parenting has its challenges, and every parent can struggle with feeling isolated in those challenges.  What I saw this weekend and have observed from my own experiences is that although adoption comes with an incredible community, the day-to-day can be very lonely.

If you have an adoptive/foster parent in your life, I wish I could give you some Pinterest-worthy little list of ways to emotionally support that friend. I just don’t think it is that simple.  All I can offer are some tips that I gathered from the collective experiences we shared at the retreat:

– Even if you are trying to be helpful, avoid offering advice.  Most every traditional parenting technique/trick won’t apply (yeah, it drives us insane too).

Be a safe space. If you already have a good relationship, take it a step further and let your friend know that you are there as a safe place of confidentiality, support, non-judgement, and acceptance.

Initiate.  For all the reasons listed above, your adoptive/foster parent friend probably is hesitant to take the first step to getting real about the challenges they are facing.  Maybe try something like: “Hey, friend, you’re doing a hard thing that I have no experience with.  But, I want to be a support to you, and want you to know that I will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you in this even if I can’t understand or relate to it.  If you want someone to listen, I am here with a cup of coffee (read: glass of wine).”

Be a listening ear and/or a crying shoulder.  Sometimes it is intimidating to reach out to someone who is walking a different road than yours because you don’t know how to offer that kind of helpful advice.  Listen, friend.  YOU DON’T NEED TO!  The biggest blessing to me this weekend was to sit in a comfy chair with women who’s only agenda was to listen while I verbally processed.  They didn’t need to say anything for me to walk away feeling refreshed, and neither do you.  Just be there.

Offer help, but then let your friend modify.  I think we all know that the old “Let me know if you need anything!” is mostly a bunch of crap.  Adoptive parent or otherwise, very few of us are ever going to take you up on that.  If you really want to help, offer something specific.  BUT.  Then let your friend modify to fit his/her family situation and current needs.  We might not yet be able to accept a free night of babysitting, but you could come over after bedtime to watch a movie and talk.  Consider offering one or two fun ideas (I will take you out to dinner so you can have a break from your kids) and one or two practical ideas (I will come over and do your laundry so you can spend time with your kids), so your friend has the freedom to accept your offer in a way that is truly helpful for him/her.

 

And to those of you that are adoptive/foster parents who are feeling isolated, find a way to connect with other adoptive/foster parents.  Go up to that other adoptive/foster family at church and introduce yourselves.  Search online and on social media for support groups in your area.  Start a weekly or monthly meet-up with the adoptive/foster parents around you.

I think I can pretty safely speak for adoptive/foster parents as a whole when I say that we are ALL open to support from other adoptive/foster parents, and thus are ALL willing to give it.  It took almost no time at all at our retreat for women who were strangers not an hour before to exchange numbers with sincere promises to call each other in the hard moments.  It is something we are all desperately searching for, so I am confident you will not be disappointed in your efforts to reach out.  If you are adoptive/foster parent in the Cedar Rapids area, the goal of the retreat this past weekend was to launch a regular support group for adoptive/foster parents.  Contact House of Hope and ask to be notified about the upcoming gatherings.

 

As our family is about to take off for a new chapter in California, this is something we want to be very intentional about.  If there isn’t a support system already in place in our area, we want to start one.  One of our theme verses from the weekend was Proverbs 24:6, “… for with guidance you wage your war, and with numerous advisers there is victory.”  We know that adoption is plucking a child out of the enemy’s grasp and then engaging in a lifelong war for them.  We’re not far into this battle, but we already know the importance of “numerous advisers”.  This far too important of a journey to risk walking alone.

Source: Flickr Creative Commons by T*C*W*

Source: Flickr Creative Commons by T*C*W*

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