Things I've learned from joining a support group for foster and adoptive parents
Before I started foster parenting, EVERYONE harped on the one MOST IMPORTANT THING I needed to do: Find support from other foster and adoptive parents. And I nodded my head but secretly I was kind of like "Eh, fuck that."
I had an amazing community of family and friends around me. And honestly, as anyone who reads this blog can tell, there are a lot of pervasive ideas in the foster care and adoption communities that I strongly disagree with. Plus, I'm more spiritual than religious, and wasn't sure how I'd fit in when so many foster and adoptive parents are super duper christian. The main reason, though, is shittier than that: I thought I was "too good" for support groups back then. I was a lone wolf badass who didn't NEED support, thank you very much.
Long story short, it took me 3 years in the game to FINALLY realize that I did want to try the whole support group thing. I've been a part of my local support group for about 9 months now. Here's what I've learned so far:
1) Sometimes people don't need advice, they just need you to listen. I am a person who is not a great listener, even though I love hearing other people's stories. It's something I'm working on. I've noticed that the friends I gravitate towards the most in support group are the ones who do a lot of active listening ("No way, tell me more!") and give lots of empathy ("Damn I would be so frustrated if I were you") but rarely give advice unless explicitly asked for it. I'm learning so much from these women. Now when a mom friend shares a hard experience with me, I am trying to emulate my good listener friends more. Easier said than done!
2) Being a dick does nothing to change hearts and minds. The rest of you are like "Yeah, we knew that already." but it's taken me a long time to learn okay? I am passionate about reform in foster care and adoption. The fucked up shit that goes on in those worlds makes me feel so haunted and helpless. When I wasn't actually friends with many other foster or adoptive parents, it was easy to judge people's choices that I didn't agree with on the internet. I shared my opinions very, ahem, bluntly in the comments section, believing that calling people out would inspire them to change (spoiler alert: it does not, but it does get you blocked!). Now that I'm actually getting to know people through group, I'm learning that behind some of this fucked up shit is people who may be misguided as hell but who are doing their best, and who never ever got into this to hurt kids or families. I'm still passionate about changing the tide, but I've learned better ways of attempting that other than coming at people full tilt.
3) Parents who GET it don't scare easily. You need that friend who you can text about the time your kid peed on your clean laundry on purpose who will not say "Oh my god, that's so abnormal they might stab you in your sleep next!" Instead, a friend who's been through it will be like "Yep, trauma peeing sucks. Here's what I did when we dealt with something similar. Hang in there, this too shall pass." I have a friend from group who has a teenage son, and she and I text each other ALL the time about all things trauma parenting and teens. It's amazing because our sons stories and struggles are similar, so we can normalize each other's experiences.
I'm glad my group puts up with me. They put up with my loud ass mouth and my bulldozer opinions and my nosiness and constant texting since I'm quarantined and bored. And I'm so grateful to be a part of such a bomb ass group.
Trust me on this one: You're not too cool for support group, you're probably not even cool. Don't be like me and wait 3 years. Join one at the beginning of your journey.