Whatever stage you’re at in the adoption or fostering process, it’s likely that you’ve been asked about your ‘support network’

Whether or not we ever think to describe it in that way, we all need people around us who can support us in practical or emotional ways.​

Sometimes support can come from unexpected quarters. It’s not unusual to find that when you adopt or foster, some friends who you thought would be there for you, might drift away. They may not really understand what you’re going through, or perhaps just can’t relate to your experience. But others may come to the fore, who you were never particularly close to before.

It can be a useful exercise to take a pen and paper, and consider what your support network looks like. Don’t think too narrowly. As well as close friends and family, you may find support from work colleagues; other parents; if you attend a church or other community gathering; support groups (e.g. meetings for foster carers); and even online forum members. Some people have found it helpful to actually make a list of who you can turn to, to meet different needs. A few may not be able to do much for you practically – but someone might be willing for you to call them, to provide a listening ear for you to offload how you’re feeling occasionally. Another may not want to do that, but can step in with a car lift or to help run errands when needed. Try making a list of people you could think about calling when you’re feeling down – some names of people who you could approach for practical help – some people who could sit with your child – and so on.

It’s natural to wish that people would rally around and offer help if we’re struggling. We think they should notice what’s happening, and we feel let down if they don’t provide support. Realistically we are often all rather absorbed in our own lives – or we assume someone else will do it! So you’ll probably need to find the courage to be specific about your needs, and ask people to help you.

Asking for help

It can be hard to ask for help. It can seem like a sign of weakness. And what if they say “no” to my request? What if they ignore me? What if they see my request as a waste of time? But we don’t have to feel it personally as if they are rejecting us. It’s just a ‘no’. Maybe they would love to help, but they just aren’t able to at the moment. Some may indeed say no, but many others probably want to help, but simply don’t know how – but you won’t know until you ask!

You may have friends or family who say, “Do let me know if there’s anything I can do to help!”. It can be hard, but the onus is probably on you to follow up on that, rather than assuming they will come back to you. The best way is to give them something particular to do – the more specific the better. You might ask, “Could you walk the dog once a week for us?” or, “Can you pop round on a Saturday afternoon once a fortnight when the children are out, so that I can share how I’m feeling?”

Remember, parenting or caring in this way is a marathon, not a sprint. Marshal your resources and seek out whatever help is available, so that you can conserve your strength for the journey. In the long run, you’ll be helping your children as well as yourself.

Helping others to understand

It can be discouraging if those around you seem to have little understanding of your needs, or the challenges you may be facing. Inevitably there may be family or friends who have never really thought much about adoption or fostering, or maybe their understanding of what it involves bears little relation to reality!

They may wonder why you didn’t choose to adopt a baby instead of an older child; or be critical of you for not being ‘firmer’ and disciplining your child in the way they think best; or not understand why you can’t share confidential information about the reason why your foster child can’t cope with large groups. 

Remember that while you may have been living and breathing this subject for some time now, those around you may have some ‘catching up’ to do. If your family or friends are interested or willing to learn more, it can be so helpful to have people around you who understand what you’re experiencing.

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