Our support group was begun in 1992 as a response to the isolation and stress that often come with raising older adoptive children, many of whom had been in multiple placements before reaching our homes, or have suffered abuse and neglect. The backbone of our group has been monthly peer sharing meetings. These meetings are open, honest and nonjudgmental. They offer therapeutic as well as informational support.
Frequently, newly adoptive parents find they have not been given a realistic picture of a child’s difficult past and resulting behaviors. Adoption agency social workers sometimes drop contact as soon as the placement is made, or are too overburdened to offer much post-adoptive help.
Sometimes the friend-family support network we thought we could count on, or so carefully set up before we adopted, is not there for us after our adoption, or is not enough. Family and friends do not always understand or accept children who, for example, display hyperactive, loud, or aggressive behavior stemming from past negative experiences.
For all these reasons, we found a strong need to be with parents who know exactly what it’s like to raise children who may have suffered a great deal prior to adoption. Our meeting is a safe space. Our parents provide affirmation and reassurance rather than the shock, incredulity, criticism or blame that we sometimes face. Our group also recognizes and celebrates our children’s hard-won accomplishments and social and emotional milestones–markers that might come at a much later age than with children who haven’t experienced trauma.
Our support group meets monthly, usually on a Friday evening or Sunday afternoon, at one of the members’ homes. We go person-by-person around the group, often reporting on what happened in our families since the last meeting. Good listening is emphasized in this sharing time; we try to avoid “crosstalk” or responses, except perhaps for clarifying questions.
Sometimes our sharing meetings are devoted to a specific topic. The themes we have chosen are as broad as life itself, but always through the prism of the older-child adoption. Education, vacations, sexuality, discipline, relationships with family and neighbors, therapy and medication have all been the subject of discussion as well as more obviously adoption-related topics, such as searching for birthparents or, in open adoptions, visits with the child’s family of birth. As adoption is a family affair, we sometimes focus the peer meetings on ourselves, and the issues that we currently face in our own lives.
We occasionally invite guest speakrs and then have Q&A.
We hold an annual candle lighting ceremony in December or January.
We help families express, clarify and address adoptive, developmental, special needs, racial and cultural issues.
We give voice to developmental issues and special needs of abused and neglected children and our experiences of intervention, and the need for our children to move toward independence.
We compile and make available information on recreational, therapeutic, educational and other resources for older, special needs, transracially and transculturally adopted children. Much of this information is not compiled elsewhere.
Open and honest peer sharing in membership meetings, often of an emotional character, offers therapeutic as well as informational support.
We gain insights from the shared parenting experiences of others.
We offer support, resources and counseling between meetings to members and non-members via phone and email.
On occasion, we share our own goals and concerns as we grow older and move towards retirement.
ISSUES WE DEAL WITH INCLUDE:
• Coping with schools, special needs, learning disabilities, educational testing, and public and private residential treatment centers
• Dealing with our children’s mental health issues, pregnancies, criminal conduct, alcohol and drug abuse, and relationship, job and financial problems
• Finding therapists and psychiatrists
• Planning holidays, summers and vacations
• Celebrating our children’s achievements
• Parenting during the teen years
• Helping our children become independent
• Raising children of color in a mixed race family
• Managing stress in parenting
At conference workshops, we provide speakers on adoption of older children and on transracial and transcultural adoption.
We give support to families in crisis, including temporary separation of children in hospitals or residential care.
To parent children of color, we share information and resources regarding:
•What to do, and alternative approaches, when our children are subjected to racism in schools, stores, and other places. •Survival skills our children must know for living in a society with racism—like how to act if stopped by the police.
For parents in transracial and transcultural families, we discuss how our children can be part of their birth cultures and communities, finding adult role models and developing ethnic pride.
In addition, we help prepare prospective adoptive parents to meet the needs of transracially and transculturally adopted children. We contribute to making these placements viable options for older children.