By Courtney Moscariello, MSW. The seminar, waiting family gatherings, annual picnics and holiday parties all provide opportunities to connect with other adoptive families in a more formal setting. We love helping our adoptive families get to know one another and have seen firsthand how valuable these relationships can be in the long run. We’ve noticed that most times however, and it’s the self-organized groups that seem to produce the deepest and most lasting supportive relationships. Here’s a fresh view of self-organized groups, with insights on why they’re so helpful and tips on how to start your own.
“I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap.” – Ani DiFranco
Most of our adoptive parents begin this process with an already rich and supportive community of friends and family, and aren’t exactly looking for “new friends,” beyond the friendship they hope to cultivate with their child’s birth family of course. There are a few key differences though, between your natural community of friends and the ones you make through the adoption world. Your friends unfamiliar with adoption don’t share that bond of experiencing the vulnerabilities of adoption, the amazing moments and challenging times of birth parent relationships, or the small ways that being a family through adoption can feel different in the larger world. They may be empathetic, respectful, and understanding, but sometimes it’s just not the same. Christa Richardson, an adoptive parent, organized a group of OA&FS adoptive parents living in the Olympia area while awaiting her first adoption in 2006. Initially the group met monthly, and though the regular meetings later fell off over the years as people continued adding to their families, Christa still has some “lifelong” friendships originating from that group. “Having the common experience of open adoption was key in the beginning, but we also have similar values and parenting styles,” which she says helped sustain the friendships over time. For Christa, the relationships with other adoptive families are “invaluable.” She appreciates “having close friends I can have real conversations with about my kids’ birth families, without weird looks or judgment … they all get it!”
A “support” group?
The idea of a “support group” can bring visions of chairs in a circle, and people sharing vulnerable stories awkwardly, but in reality whether “support” is in the name or not, most of these groups develop organically around the needs and interests of those who come and have a very informal feel. Bill Soderberg, a parent of two children adopted through OA&FS, has been involved with the LGBT adoptive family group for over six years, and has helped coordinate the group during the last three years. The group is open to anyone working with OA&FS, whether they’ve adopted already or not, though most of the regular attendees are already parents. The group gathers every other month on a Sunday afternoon. People bring snacks, they rotate between each other’s houses, and there’s usually an activity for the kids, like coloring, though the children play together and devise their own fun too. The focus is on hanging out and chatting. There are no pre-determined topics so people just discuss what they want. Last month, the conversation naturally turned toward kindergarten choices, experiences with teachers and same-sex couples, and whatever else came up organically. Bill appreciates that it’s a great resource for general parenting support, as well as for the open adoption relationships. Bill says it’s been “helpful to talk to people who’ve been in that similar situation, hearing success stories and things that worked for them.”
Start your own group with these simple suggestions.
• Get a partner. Though the premise of the meetings is simple, the scheduling and coordination can feel like a lot to take on as one person.
• Pre-plan for the year if you can. Schedules get busy, and somehow when an email goes out asking who wants to host next week, volunteers are not fighting for the honor. By pre-planning the calendar and who will host each time, (if
• Meet at homes if possible. The LGBT group has found meeting at people’s houses more personal, and by rotating the homes it can give more shared ownership of the group. Other groups have also had success meeting at public libraries and parks.
• Adjust timing accordingly. If monthly meetings are feeling like too much, try every other month. Maybe after the group has settled in you’ll try meetings near holidays instead, or when events come up.
• Think about the goal and who to invite. If the invitation net is cast wide, there may be many different values, parenting styles, etc. If the goal is to have deep, lasting friendships with fewer people, perhaps consider each invitation more deeply first. Think about what you want to have in common with the others, and whether or not you want everyone to have that in common, or if diversity in that area is the goal.
So how do you decide whether joining a group is right for you? Bill encourages you to check it out if you’re at all curious, “you never know, it might be a really good fit.”
For the kids.
At the root of all our adoption-related thoughts and ideas, a good place to anchor ourselves is in the most fundamental question: What’s best for the child? Bill Soderberg and the families who gather for the LGBT group know how powerful it is for their children to have a group of peers living in families like theirs. At group meetings kids see their parents liking and supporting one another, while also forming their own friendships with the other children. As they get older, the hope is that the children will be able to support each other and relate to one another as well. Mary Watkins and Susan Fisher, in their book, Talking with Young Children About Adoption, discuss adopted children benefitting from these relationships as they provide “not only a feeling of belonging but the clarifying understanding that prejudice and bad treatment are not an individual and private matter but a social issue.” Interestingly, adoption professionals have observed that many of the same adoptive parents who are least interested in connecting to parenting groups early on are the same group most likely to look for help and support as their children reach adolescence, (Irwin Johnston, 2008). Let this article serve as a gentle reminder that no matter where you are in your adoption, connecting with other adoptive families can be helpful, and provides a deeper reservoir of wisdom, understanding, and new ideas from which to dip into when challenges arise.