Occasionally, we have the pleasure of sharing with you the thoughts of adoptive parents who are part of our community. We are thrilled to share this piece by Maria Sequeira Mendes. Maria was born in Portugal, where she still lives. She teaches English Literature at the University of Lisbon. After adopting two children, she decided to learn all she could about adoption. She has been an active participant in the CreatingaFamily.org post-adoption parent training and support group since it began.
Her story is the second in a two-part series on the value of parent and caregiver support groups. You can find the first article here.
One of my students had a panic attack in class today. I carried her out of the session and sat in the hall with her. Another student came in and helped. We took deep breaths together. My voice was calm. I didn’t panic. I bought Rebecca food and an iced tea. We avoided going to the hospital (I later discovered she had gone to the ER twice in previous weeks). I had seen the trauma in her when she first came to class. I can often recognize it now like I never had before. Her story moved me but didn’t surprise me: alcoholic father, no mother, Rebeca lives with an overly stressed grandmother. In Portugal, there is no term for kinship adoption or preparation for family members who step in to care for a relative’s children.
My One “Yes” Gave Me 4 S’s!
I could recall my earlier self while helping Rebecca cope with her panic. When my adoption journey began four years ago, I was so underprepared to meet my son’s needs. While he slept at night, I looked for answers everywhere. There were no resources to be found in Portuguese. I still remember the night I found Creating a Family’s website and online community. I spent most of that night awake, reading and learning everything I didn’t know that I didn’t know. A few weeks later, I saw a post-adoption virtual support group starting. When I said “yes” to joining, I gained much more than I ever expected.
1. Skills Learned.
To solve problems you face, you need to be able to name them. When I found Creating a Family’s website, I read everything about trauma and adoption. But how to learn so much in so little time? I needed advice, and I needed it to come quickly. In this post-adoption parent support group, we discuss one topic monthly: trauma, sensory issues, the importance of maintaining one’s couple life, handling teenagers, transracial adoption, and so on. The video summarizes each topic’s key points, often through interviews with experts in the field. We always pause to discuss our learning and share how it impacts us or our experiences with the topic.
Even though some topics may interest me more than others, I have realized that I always learn something. I often go back to the handouts we get after each meeting to read more about something we learned. For example, thanks to the covid curriculum, I could let go of school pressures and use the time at home to focus more on connecting with my children. I have learned how to use behavior charts and changed how I deal with challenging behaviors.
It isn’t easy to summarize the many skills I have acquired in this parent support group. However, knowledge, empathy, and flexibility in dealing with my children’s behaviors are among the most essential tools I have gained! My daughter joined our family one year after my son. I had been in the Creating a Family post-adoption group for months by then. We still experienced hardships in the transition, but I was better prepared. I had gained tools that allowed me to help my children and even my students at university.
6 Parenting Tips for Older Child Adoption
2. Self-care is Critical!
Those of us who enjoy taking care of the needs of others can often have a hard time putting our necessities first. This was me. I prioritize everyone else’s well-being. As a result, I would end up stressed, tired, and extremely grumpy, as my kids would say.
I need to have healthy downtime to be refreshed and to continue to take good care of my family. I need to watch my TV shows, read a book to relax or take a stroll in the park to refuel. The problem was… before being part of this parent support group, I always felt guilty about taking care of myself. I didn’t really know how to rest or refresh. Our group conversations helped me realize that overworking myself wasn’t helping anyone.
3. Say It Again?
I would love to say that I am very different from my children and that when someone tells me something once, I immediately start doing it. Unfortunately, I have realized I am more like them than I previously thought. Saying something once doesn’t change my behavior or theirs, which is why these groups are so important. Our regular monthly meetings help me to remember that “kids do well if they can.” Reviewing previous content from our online meetings assists me in identifying skills I have yet to implement since hearing it the first time.
Connecting with the other parents in our support group helps me remember I need to be patient and, most importantly, that I cannot neglect my self-care. As proof, I am writing this in a beautiful garden after meeting a friend for lunch and taking a long nap. When I get home later, my kids won’t get the grumpy version of me.
4. Sense of Belonging.
My children are lovely humans: intelligent, stubborn, beautiful, and challenging in ways I didn’t expect. When they first joined my family, I sometimes discussed their behaviors with other parents or my family. People told me all children are challenging and have tantrums. I should get used to it. But what do you do when your child cries all day long, and you can’t find a way to soothe them?
Yes, my children have the same challenging behaviors other kids have but with two significant differences. First, the intensity and duration of their challenging behaviors often surpass everything I had known or expected. Second, the trust between us is still growing, and they cannot always trust that I will do a good job taking care of their needs. They are still learning that I will always do my best for them.
Many adults around me did not understand those two significant differences in my parenting experience. As you can imagine, the first months of my first adoption were incredibly lonely.
Then came my first Creating a Family post-adoption support group meeting. I realized that I had finally found the community I was seeking. Even though we have very different lifestyles, political views, and religious beliefs, we are united by our similar experiences of parenthood.
Get a FREE guide, Parenting a Child Exposed to Trauma.
We can be brutally honest about our struggles. When we do, we know there will be someone in the meeting who can give advice and suggest strategies from their experiences. We laugh together – a lot! It doesn’t matter if some of us are finishing the workday in one part of the world and others will go to bed (late!) as soon as the meeting is over. I don’t care that everyone in the support group has seen my pajamas. We finally found the sense of belonging we deserve.
You know where to find us if you’re feeling lost or lonely. As Rosaline in Love’s Labour’s Lost once asked: “Shall I teach you to know?” (IV, I, 108).
Thank you, Maria, for sharing your story and how involvement in a community where you are learning and growing has changed your life. We are grateful for this commitment to your kids and your local adoption community.
May is National Foster Care Month and Mental Health Awareness Month. Please also explore the resources offered at the CreatingaFamily.org Foster Care landing page.
Image Credits: Tatiana Syrikova; Tima Miroshnichenko; Mikhail Nilov
Add Your Comment