Who’s got your back
by Sarah Horton Bobo
I often hear from parents who don’t know where to turn for help. Perhaps they are single, facing parenting challenges on their own. Or maybe they're wondering what happened to the friends and family who enthusiastically supported and encouraged them to pursue adoption or foster parenting but now find themselves alone after children joined their families. Shocked and frustrated, they wonder, Where did all those people go?
It’s true that people will disappoint you in this parenting journey. Your mom, who you thought would invite your kids to have sleepovers at Grandma’s, tells you she can babysit no more than two hours at a time. Your church, that preaches about protecting vulnerable children, tells you your child’s behaviors are too difficult for the Sunday School volunteers. Your best friend suddenly gets too busy to talk. Your spouse works longer hours and travels more than before you adopted. No matter what the situation may be, it feels awful.
What can you do when you face these challenges?
Accept what people can give and work within their limits. No one person can give you everything you need. Also take time to identify what makes you feel supported. Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages gives insight about the ways we like to give and receive love and support. If your love language is acts of service, for example, you may want someone to bring you a meal. But your friend may show love by calling you to talk and offer encouragement. You may think, I don’t have time to talk right now! Don’t people know I just need help getting food on the table? Perhaps they don’t.
Likewise, you may find yourself thinking, I’m so annoyed that all my parents do is spoil the kids by bringing them presents. That’s not the kind of help I need. Perhaps your parents demonstrate their love through gifts when what you’re really looking for is words of affirmation. Simply acknowledging these different styles can help you see that no one intends to fail you.
Reflect on what type of support you hoped you’d receive and consider where your needs are unmet. Rather than a general sense of “I need help,” if you can more specifically articulate the help you need, then you’re more likely to get it. Try breaking your needs down into categories and making a list of areas like these where you feel like you need the most help.
I’m overwhelmed. I don’t know what I need.
- Ask a friend who is a planner and loves organization to help you make a plan.
- Ask support group members/mentors to give you a list of ideas based on what they found most helpful.
- Discuss your feelings with a counselor or work with a life coach.
- Start a list or journal about the times when you feel most overwhelmed. Look for patterns that can help you pinpoint where and when you seem to need help most.
I need help with daily chores.
- Create a care calendar that lists specific needs and share this with people who have said, “Let me know if you need anything.”
- Ask a friend who enjoys shopping to do some shopping for you, or do your shopping online.
- Try meal and grocery delivery services.
I need help running kids to appointments and activities.
- Add this to your care calendar.
- Look for other families to carpool with.
- Evaluate opportunities to cut down on activities.
- Coordinate or combine appointments.
I need specific household supplies or clothes for my children.
- Check with adoptive and foster parent groups to find community clothing closets.
- Ask friends with children if they’re interested in swapping items.
- Post the type of items you need on social media.
I need to talk to someone who understands my journey.
- Connect with single, foster, or adoptive parent support groups (online or in-person) or attend parent-centered conferences.
- Consult with adoption-competent mental health professionals.
- Seek out agency staff.
I need a mentor who can share their experience and encourage me.
- Follow single parent, adoptive parent, or foster parenting blogs.
- Check with your foster or adoption agency about connecting you to a mentor.
- Ask a support group member to become your mentor.
I need to laugh and release some parenting stress.
- Reconnect with an old friend.
- Go to a comedy show, watch a comedy special, or listen to a humor podcast.
- Subscribe to a humor blog.
I need to find support for the other children in my family.
- Find a support group for siblings such as Sibling Support Project.
- Participate in family counseling.
- Look for adoption camps for family members.
I need to feel loved and affirmed.
- Think about the people who speak your “love language” and connect with them.
- Keep a gratitude journal or write down examples when your child (or others) say(s) something kind or thoughtful.
- Think of words or phrases that affirm your strengths and make a habit of repeating them to yourself.
I need spiritual encouragement.
- Read books/listen to podcasts from spiritual leaders.
- Reach out to your church and let them know you need support.
- Find a church with a single/adoption/foster parent ministry where you can connect.
RESPITE/NEED A BREAK
I need a short break.
- Look into after-school programs or hire babysitters. You may decide to limit this option if you are new to caring for your child. Increase time with other caregivers after attachment is better established.
- Arrange play dates with other parents.
- Ask someone to come to your house to play with the kids while you go to another room to take care of chores or relax.
I need help from someone who understands trauma.
- Try alternating babysitting or play dates with parent support group members.
- Reach out to adoption and foster care ministries to see if their volunteers are trauma informed.
- Ask family members, babysitters, and church youth leaders to participate in trauma training and give guidance about the best ways to respond to your child.
I need a longer break.
- Be proactive and schedule a long weekend when you can get away with friends. Try to think of respite as something you plan for—part of your family’s routine. Don’t wait to make a plan until you’re at a breaking point.
- Look for day camps or overnight camps specifically for children who have been adopted. Opportunities for culture camps or life-skills-focused programs often take place in the summer.
- Some parents may be eligible for respite care through the foster care system or may be able to find occasional, limited respite through Safe Families for Children.
I need to pay more attention to self-care, but it feels unrealistic because I’m overwhelmed.
- Establish a daily ritual of doing something small that encourages or energizes you.
- Make a habit of reflecting on positive experiences—even the very small ones—to build your own resilience.
- Ask your friends, support group members, or others to share how they make time for self-care. See what ideas might work for you.
Tell me if these thoughts sound familiar:
I’m weak. I’m a failure. I shouldn’t need help. I asked for this. I don’t want to be a burden. I don’t know anyone willing to help. I’m too overwhelmed to ask for help. Other people will only make things worse.
These kinds of assumptions will prevent you from getting the help you need. Try to redefine what you tell yourself about the value and benefit of building up your support network. Hold on to the truth that you’re not meant to go this journey alone.
For further reading, Sarah recommends:
The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman
In On It: What Adoptive Parents Would Like You to Know About Adoption by Elisabeth O’Toole
Ready or Not for Battle-Weary Parents by Pam Parish
Resolving Everyday Conflict by Ken Sande and Kevin Johnson