Thursday, April 26, 2012

On Support Groups

So I don't actually belong to a support group yet, but it's not for lack of opportunity. I've noticed that it's pretty easy to find one. Technically, I'm a FB member of a group for parents whose kids have heart defects, but since I don't participate at all (Geri's heart problems trouble me the least and I just don't have the time or energy to connect in that area) and I'm pretty worthless to the rest of the group, I don't really count it. There's groups for adoption, groups for international adoption, there's the group at the Anchor Center, and I think one at the School for the Deaf and Blind. We used to belong to a sort of one for blended families (and technically we still belong and need it, but we haven't had time) and I even had a brief stint in a totally lame Alateen group when I was in high school and struggling with familial substance abuse.

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...
We want to know in advance all the pitfalls we could be headed towards, all the speed bumps and delays we are cruising towards. We don't want to be surprised (except pleasantly, of course) and it feels like preparation when we listen to others tell their stories.

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
The only downside is time management, really. Even among a group that understands your child's behavioral quirks, it's hard to pay attention and engage when you're trying to entertain a little one.

Of course, your group understands why you don't "just get a sitter." :)

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