How A Simple Support Group Meeting Changed Our Life

Sometimes the moments we try to avoid the most end up having the biggest impact on our lives. We just have to open our hearts and minds to the experience. This was our story in 2011.

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To be quite honest, I didn’t want to go! At all. We had this so-called “support group” date on our calendar for several weeks and every time I glanced at it, I cringed! Another waste of time, I thought to myself. Another defeating support group led by an over-confident and under-qualified facilitator who’s going to tell me how I’m failing as a foster parent!

Reluctantly, however, I got in our van with Kristin and our 6 small children, and drove toward the city. But I continued my rant. “They’re probably going to tell us all the things we’re doing wrong as parents,” I said to Kristin. “And then, they’ll belittle us and make us feel stupid in front of everyone!” I was growing more and more frustrated with every mile I drove. Little did I know…Kristin agreed!

She was also hesitant, and there was a reason.

The Judgement Road.

In our decade of parenting, nine of those as foster parents, we had been down the judgmental support group road before. Several times, in fact. Haughty looks, condescending tones, un-educated guesses, abrupt conclusions on how we were supposedly not parenting a traumatized child the right way, you name it!

We had our reasons for avoidance and they were many.

Admittedly, just before the meeting began, I plopped down in my seat in the conference room we were in, folded my arms, and pretended not to notice any of the other families. I just wanted to escape. When the facilitator entered the room and said a cheerful “hello” to everyone I faintly smiled back at her and promptly returned my gaze to the table before me.

But then something happened. She opened up the group by asking all of us to share our personal stories as foster-to-adopt parents, which nearly everyone was. Our pain, our fears, our heartbreak, our trials, everything was fair game. Around the table, each person shared honestly….even their greatest mistakes, and darkest sins. No one pretended to have all the answers, including the facilitator. As each person shared she simply nodded. Every now and then, she would softly say, “I know….this is hard….you’re not alone!”

Then it was our turn. We shared our story, we teared up, we shared our wounds, we laughed, and she nodded…at me…at us! My heart suddenly opened. My bad attitude drifted away. I felt understood. I felt heard. I felt hopeful! And I no longer felt alone.

The Power Of a Nod.

Let’s be honest. As adoptive, foster, or special needs parents, we all need someone to nod at us don’t we? We need someone to look at us and understand that we feel hopeless and exhausted sometimes. We need someone to hear us say that we feel disconnected from our kid and we don’t know how to reconnect. We need a voice that whispers, “I know, I’ve been there, you’re not alone, there is hope!”

Some of the most powerful, healing moments I’ve ever experienced as a human being or a parent have not come from reading a book, attending a workshop, or seeing a counselor (though there’s nothing wrong with any of this). They’ve come when I’ve discovered that other people, other parents, struggle through the same things I do. When I’ve discovered that someone else’s teenager made a horrible choice. Or someone else’s son battles tooth and nail with them over homework. Or someone else’s daughter has thrown embarrassing tantrums in public. Or other parents have felt like giving up and quitting like I’ve felt like doing before.

The point of this blog is NOT to give parents all the answers to their problems. It’s not a “how to do this” or “how to do that.” Truth is- we don’t have all the answers to everything that adoptive, foster or special needs parents struggle with. This blog is a nod. It’s an “I know. I’ve dealt with the same bad behavior. I’ve cried the same tears. I’ve felt the same hopeless feeling when my kid was out of control.”

Adoption, foster care, and special needs parenting is a journey, not a destination. It’s an adventure. And it’s one of the most painful, terrifying, joyful, difficult, miraculous things we will ever do as human beings. But it’s NOT hopeless. And you are NOT alone! We share a lot of the same wounds and scars. No matter what age you or your children are, or even what stage of life you’re in as a parent- You. Are. Not. Alone

Question: In what ways have you felt hopeless as a parent in the past, or even now? How did you find hope? Share your story with us! You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Nora Matthews

    Someone I was expecting support from recently admonished me that “As foster parents we’re really just glorified babysitters” and that I therefore shouldn’t expect better treatment from people in the system myself. Sometimes when I talk to people who have been doing this a long time, the things I find very upsetting or difficult are dismissed as things you just have to expect. It’s true there are things that can’t be changed, but it’s the dismissive attitude that I find disheartening. I think a lot of foster parents who’ve been doing it a long time have been through far more than their share of traumas in the course of their service, and sometimes it’s hard for them to listen to others without it triggering their past difficulties. They hear someone else’s story and immediately share their worst memory, as in, “You think THAT’s bad? Just be glad your kid isn’t setting fires or going AWOL or stealing your jewelry like happened to me…” Sometimes they honestly think they are helping by warning others to run from dangerous possibilities to come or by letting people know how much worse “it used to be.” I think it’s important to never get into a martyrdom competition. And to remember anytime you don’t feel listened to the next time you’re in the position to be a supportive listener, and do better.

    • Wow, Nora, I can’t believe someone would say that…actually, scratch that…I can totally believe someone would say that! We were actually just talking last night about how foster and adoptive parents have gone through secondary trauma because of all of the crap that we have to go through at the hands of other people. It’s so disheartening. Looking forward to interviewing you soon for Honestly Speaking!

  • Lisa

    We received our first placement in May 2014. She was 10 and we were her last option before going to a group home. The honeymoon lasted 3 months. Then the hopelessness of stealing, lying, manipulation, etc became more apparent. I believe that what saved us was her support team, our faith and our Biblical counselor (Not to be confused with a Christian counselor). Her support team encouraged us, allowed us to homeschool and do Binlical counseling rather than the traditional therapy. With the Bible as our source, everyone in the family began a transformation. Less then a year later she was adopted! Now I’m learning to train the hearts of our children with biblicalparenting.org.

    • Lisa, such an awesome story! Thanks so much for sharing it.