How To Find Support When The Journey Gets Tough.

4 keys to surrounding yourself with the right people

On the journey of adoption, foster care and special needs parenting, we’ve experienced numerous difficult and heartbreaking moments. The only way we we’ve made it through these trying times was through the support and love we received from our support community.

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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 our 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.

The What.

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. You need people who get what it’s like to be the parent a difficult child, and face the kind of trials you face.

The Who.

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:

  1. People who are non-judgemental. You don’t need anymore judgement than you’ve already received. Your inner-circle must be judgement free.
  2. People who get it. You need people who get where you’re coming from. People who understand the trials and heartache that adoption, foster care, and special needs parenting bring.
  3. People who are in the trenches. People who get it are usually found in the trenches with you. These are people who are living a very similar life to you. Perhaps they are even people who are licensed foster parents or parenting a child with a special need.
  4. 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 say things like, “You’re so amazing for caring for these children. You are a hero!” 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. 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.

The How.

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!

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Question: 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. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Alison J

    I struggle constantly with finding the support. I am a single mom to 1 (through foster), fostering a sibling group of 4 (soon to be adopted! yay!) and adopting my adopted childs bio brother with severe medical needs who will remain in a facility, but gain a family none the less. Being by myself, I know I need more support (both practical and emotionally) than maybe a lot of families with two parents, but I never want to burn out the support I do have. Sometimes people will offer, and sometimes I accept, but I’m always afraid that somehow I’ll ask just a little bit too much, and so I often don’t ask or accept at all. Add my kids complex special needs, I don’t always know who I can trust with the inner workings of our life. And while we attend church and I do the best I can to participate in church life, having 5 kids as a single parent means that we often can’t connect with others very much (since some have earlier bedtimes, if 1 or more is sick none of us can go.) It’s a challenge for sure. This was a great encouragement.

    • Hey Allison, we are so glad to hear you were encouraged. We know how hard this battle is. Hang in there. You are not alone.

  • Sue Valleau-Schiel

    I struggle because I don’t know where to look. Dcfs doesn’t tell you about support groups or finding support. If it wasn’t for The Refresh conference popping up on my Facebook – I never would have found a community of people feeling just like me and people giving me hope! Thank you.

    Any suggestions on how to keep going? What do I do next? Where do I look or go next? Are there resources out there I don’t know about – I’m fostering an alcohol exposed baby.

    • Sue, I am so sorry you feel this way. Gosh, we hate that for you! I am glad Refresh gave you the support you were looking for. We are working to develop a monthly resource that we’ll release in a few months. Hang on tight for that. It’s going to bring the support you are looking for.