I've been thinking about support groups a lot because a very lovely new friend whose daughter has autism mentioned the support group at her school. She made the comment "I need to figure out what I want from a support group. I what I'm really looking for is hope."
What a poignant observation, and it got me thinking. If I could populate my own dream support group, I think I'd be filling it with moms who have three kids, middle child adopted and visually impaired. They'd all be within three years age difference. They'd also have children who were 2, 5, 7, 10 and 15 years older than my kids, but the adoption would have taken place at the same age. In short, I'd fill it with older versions of myself and my family.
Really, when I go to a support group I want to peer into my currently murky future. I don't want a support group. I want a crystal ball.
We look for support groups because we are looking for hope in the form of a glimpse into the future. We come home from meetings and say things like "They went on a date! We can do that too!" or "I'm so glad to hear that surgery went well. Makes me less nervous about when our child has it." or "Ten years sober! I guess it really is possible."
|This looks too much like a meeting for my taste...|
There's also a special comfort, I think, in being the source of advice for someone else. We want to share all the thing we have learned because we're proud of having figured them out. We want to save someone else the trouble, thereby making our small accomplishment larger by impacting lives outside our own family. Sometimes, to be perfectly honest, we want to brag a bit about how we figured it out on our own.
Then, of course, there's the simple pleasure of having someone understand your story without having to explain. Recently, a group of us parents at the Anchor Center got into a discussion of accepting that you can't cure your child and it was such an immense relief to have people just "get it" right off. It felt great to just be understood.
Perhaps that's why support groups are so attractive and enduring. When you start, you benefit from learning. When you are around a while, you benefit from teaching. All along, you enjoy the sense of belonging and fitting in. There's really not much time at which you feel that you are not getting something out of it (even in the form of giving back) and, if there is, you would call that a poor match and find another group.
|That's more like it|
Of course, your group understands why you don't "just get a sitter." :)