Today’s post from We Are Family tells us how they are building a post adoption support community and their hopes for the future…
As any parent will tell you, nothing can prepare you for parenthood. Adoptive or not.
So why are we, as adopters, so alone when it finally happens? Alone in our new role with one, or possibly two, grieving children?
There is no NCT for adopters, no baby massage, no mummy and tummy yoga for adopters. There are places where wide-eyed mums with tiny infants can meet other wide-eyed mums. But by the time we come along with our tots, biological mothers of children the same age as ours have been meeting months, if not years. Many biological mums just aren’t that interested in establishing new friendships at that stage. Particularly while (or because?) we are catching up. And that is to say nothing of the dads out there.
I see the early placement period is particularly fertile ground for creating good, stable, nurturing families, based on mutual love and respect. These are the days when support would be really, really useful.
Centrally to this argument is the word containment. We have it drilled into us that we need to contain all the turbulent emotions of our up-rooted children. That’s our primary job. But who contains us? At the best of times parenthood is the most exhausting and unrelenting 24/7 job you ever had.
Blogging has made it much easier to speak of the difficulties of becoming and being an adoptive parent. At sites like, and connected to, the Adoption Social feelings like anxieties, depression, confusion, being overwhelmed are discussed regularly. These are by no stretch of the imagination unusual feelings. But to many they seem dangerous to acknowledge. Especially at first. No wonder that Post Adoption Depression Syndrome is rife. These feelings are recognisable to biological parents too. My point here is that we are a minority type of family. As newborn families our needs are different from birth families of a newly born child.
Meeting and talking with other adopters can offer respite. The gratification of recognition can feel like opening the curtains on a summer morning, letting the warm sunlight stream in. Letting go to feelings stuck in the system, or identifying the help you might need, may become clearer as you share and listen. Feelings are funny and stubborn like that; they wont let go of their vice-like grip until they have been properly acknowledged.
I don’t think mankind were ever meant to do parenting on our own. Although we all have to find our own way of raising our children.
It’s said that it takes a village to raise a child. But then, that village is no longer there by default. We have to make it for ourselves, with people how are like us, and hopefully also a lot that are very different. And that is what we have done in We are Family.
We dream BIG dreams in We are Family. We dream of a free NCT for adopters, across the UK. We hope we will one day go viral, with or without our nametag. We are working on toolkits and sustainable ways of supporting more local groups. We are enthusiastic and motivated. But we are young. Barely nine months old. It is our hope that our three London networks will be blue print groups to inspire others to do the same. We hope to work out successful formula that can be replicated elsewhere.
We are painfully aware that we need to have good working models before we expand ourselves too far. Having said that support is needed across the country right now. So here are a few ideas for you all, while we get our ducks row.
We have tons of ideas. But they all boil down to the same basics model:
to created informal local networks of adoptive families to meet and connect regularly! With their children and without.
Not once or twice a year. But once or twice, or even three times, a month, if not a week. All for free, with only voluntary donations toward playgroups etc.
We recently coined the term ‘organic buddying’, meaning that once you provide the opportunities for people to meet and make online contact buddying will follow.
‘I have made friendships in this group that I hope and think will last a lifetime.’ Those are the words of one of our members; she voices the sentiment of many others.
In fact we have learned that connecting via email and social media is an important part of the identity of our groups. It helps the sense of a supportive community between meetings at the playgroups or the parent support evening, the two cornerstones. Imagine this: you are home for the 10th day in a row with a sick and contagious child; by now you are going stir crazy and need to connect with someone. You child is reacting to you in ways you don’t understand and don’t recognise. You need to ask some questions about ‘Is this adoption? Or is this ‘normal’?’ So the phone or going online are your options.
With regard to meeting in person the playgroups seem easy to establish – our model is to tag onto a welcoming and well-run existing playgroup. In this way not only do adopters meet other adopters with their young children, a local playgroup will help them meet other local families with children of the same age, thus easing the way in to the community with a child.
It is the adults only support group that appears to be more difficult to set up, but such groups are just as direly needed as the playgroups. These evenings are where the parents can spill all their beans, through all their toys out of their prams, and be heard and feel understood while they do. You could, of course, always just meet in a pub over a pint… But this is very different to the undisturbed and concentrated discussions of the parent support evening.
On top of these two main initiatives, there are now a plethora of other initiatives within our groups such as social events, family parties, clothes swaps, one-to-one play dates, coffee mornings. Much is done via email or text, and it is always informal. Much of it driven by the members themselves (as opposed to the head of the groups).
So far we have found the following values helpful and essential:
- If you want to set up a local network, make sure you are not doing it alone. Have at least one sparing partner.
- Listen. To what the needs are.
- Be reliably regular – no cancellations, especially early on. Do have your plan Bs ready. Members should know they are never far from meeting with other adopters.
- Have no expectations of any one turning up – and don’t be disappointed if that is the case. It can take couple of months for a group to get going. It is important that people do not feel pressured to come, but only come of their own account (if they like the playgroup, they may try to change their arrangements so they can come).
However, if no one turns up for a good few times in a row, it could be that the time and day is not good for the people you want to reach. In which case consult with them and your sparing partner.
- Be inclusive. Open to all faiths, race, shapes and sizes.
- Keep your initiatives free and open to all. Avoid exclusivity – We all know how we don’t need that!
- Beware of data protection and safety. So encourage online aliases and be careful about who and how you disclose your group. Consider the security of the chosen venues the initiatives.
- Work closely with local SW in LAs or charities.
Currently all three groups are working with local Social Workers. In Hackney/Islington we are operating on consortium level with a dedicated working group, and we are moving towards this is the other areas. This is in recognition that we cannot do this work on our own, and that we are stronger if we can collaborate constructively and closely with our local adoption authorities around issues such as post adoption support and life story work. We ask them to steer new adopters our way, so we can welcome them into our midst when their children arrives. That is if they haven’t made contact already.
A crucial part of the network is of course for our children to have the possibility of growing up with other adopted children.
I am not fond of the word, but in want of a better one: A support network like We are Family will help normalise the adopted family, and integrate them into their local environment. We don’t want to create an adoption bubble. We want to support people while they find their feet and we want to continue to be there so throughout their lives as families.
We are not competition to existing group and networks. We just believe that there could be much more post adoption support for all adoptive families, no matter how old their children are or when they moved in.
This may well be premature to promote our community at this early stage. But we are in it for the long haul. And we will keep you posted…
We are Family made our villages in three parts of London. Your village is next.
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