We were made for relationship. We were meant to live in relationship with other people. Nothing lives in isolation. At some point, you are going to need help. If you don’t have people around you who are equipped to help and love you, you are going to have a crisis. You need people who are willing to help you when you are on the wrong path. As individuals, we all need other people who we are “doing life” with and families need other families they are “doing life” with as well.
Parents sometimes start by looking to family members or close friends for support when struggling as a parent and for many, this turns out to be a good choice. For others, family and friends may shy away during times of crisis which leaves a sense of isolation, desperation or shame. It is not uncommon for your existing relationships (family and friends) to decry your plans to care for other people’s children. It is a natural defense mechanism. It can be their way of protecting themselves or you from the hurt or risk of hurt that Fear plants in their hearts.
Foster parents consistently report confusion or dismay when they approach the support systems they used before becoming foster parents to seek parenting advice and end up being told to “just give them back” or “that kid needs a good spanking”. While the advice givers are often well-intentioned and are genuinely concerned for the foster parent’s wellbeing, they lack understanding. These encounters can have a piling-on effect and unintentionally worsen the experience.
Many parents (foster and others) have found that the remedy is to purposefully and proactively inform or build and nurture their support network into a community of like-minded souls. Ryan tells a story from his and his wife’s personal experience. He and his wife were once part of a group of friends that they had grown to love. After deciding to foster and adopt children from foster care, they discovered that while they had changed the group had not and it was no longer a supportive environment for their needs. So, they built a new group. A group of like-minded folks who they could support and who in-turn could support them.
We all bear the responsibility to educate those in our circles. It may very well be that you have no need to abandon ship and leave your current relationships. But it is almost certain that whether you choose to stay in your current community or seek a new one, you will have to play a part in bringing them up to speed.
CK Family Services requires our foster parents to obtain and read several books including, “The Whole-Brain Child”, by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson) and “The Connected Child: Bring hope and healing to your adoptive family”, by Karyn B. Purvis, David R. Cross, and Wendy Lyons Sunshine. Many parents find that providing these books to their parents, friends, siblings, and others can help to make them more informed and effective as support.
The other side of the support network and community coin is the need to pour into others in a supportive way. Being part of a community is a two-way street. Exchange numbers frequently, make calls when needed, and answer calls every opportunity that you get. That is how a community is built.
Ask other families to take trips and outings with your family. Ask other families over for dinner or game night. Take all the kids to the park and spend adult time while the children play. Purposefully and intentionally build your community. It is not all about “take”. You must be excited about giving.
We all have a story (or more) to tell and while we frequently down-play the significance of our own experiences; time and again our experience has been that the simplest of thoughts, words or stories turn out to be the difference maker in the life of someone else. Once you build your community. Share into it.
Every human that has ever taken a breath has experienced the need to sit in a safe place and receive support. If that is where you are today, receive all of the support you need and take the time you need to recover function. There is no shame in needing or seeking support. For many the act of asking for help takes courage. Be courageous.
If you are a foster or adoptive family with CK Family Services, there are several ways you can connect to existing support communities. We moderate Facebook Group, that is only available for families who are currently or have previously been licensed by CK Family Services (Covenant Kids). Contact our office and ask to join the group. Reach out to your foster care case manager. Don’t just stiffen your upper lip and trudge through it hoping it will all get better. Your case manager will connect you with the community, if you ask.
Many Churches provide a source of support and nurture for hurting families. Tapestry is a community of support for thousands of foster and adoptive parents. While it is no longer affiliated with a Church it still thrives to offer hope and healing for families in need.
The most important bits we can leave you with are don’t wait until you are struggling. Build your ark before the rain starts falling. “While you are trying to keep your head above water is not the time to learn how to bake a cake.” – Ryan North.
Look for ways to be support for others who need it. Find a sense of family and relationship. A sense of devotion to one another.
The Whole-Brain Child, by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
The Connected Child: Bring hope and healing to your adoptive family, by Karyn B. Purvis, David R. Cross, and Wendy Lyons Sunshine
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