I was relatively unemotional, a bit to my own surprise, during our move to Florida this year, I guess because I was just really excited about it, but I had intense moments of realizing what an amazing group of people we were leaving. It took years to develop our “tribe” or “village.” It was not immediate. We moved to Florida not REALLY knowing anyone. We knew of a few foster and adoptive families. We have some acquaintances because of our frequent trips to Orlando in the past several years. We have people here who love what we do with Transfiguring Adoption. We have people who are eager to volunteer for us, but it is going to take a while to establish a tribe. Over the last six months, I have definitely experienced waves of grief and sadness over what we left, and so have our kids.
What We Left and Why It’s So Important
“For caregivers to ‘keep their mind and heart open to the child so that they can remain engaged’ (Hughes et al. 2012, p. 23), they need others who engage with them whom they trust to be empathic, who understand the challenges they have endured over months or years, and who can appreciate why they have lost hope, warmth, compassion and joy and that caring for the child may have just become a job.”
~ Janet Smith in Creative Therapies for Complex Trauma
There is something to be said about having people around you that “get you,” people you don’t have to explain yourself to or give long backstories. I love this quote from Janet Smith. It communicates a need for a tribe of people around foster and adoptive parents who speak the same language and have compassion and empathy for their whole family. We left a host of people whom I miss so dearly, who knew us and our kids, who journeyed through the good and the bad with us (listed here in alphabetical order…not necessarily importance).
- Adults who have been in our children’s shoes
We had a group of people in our lives who had been in foster care or who had been adopted. These individuals help us understand our kids at times when they cannot verbalize their feelings or they do not understand themselves, and they provide modeling for our children of what they can do in life or overcome their trauma. When we had two foster kids last year, one neighbor who had been in foster care as a child and who had also fostered in the past, was a safe place for our teen to land when the stuff really “hit the fan.”
- Church and pastor
We had a wonderful little church family in Tennessee with other adoptive parents and professionals in the congregation. They understood and loved our kids and us. While we were only in Tennessee for about five and a half years, we have known our former pastor, Phil, and his family for almost two decades. He was our pastor in Illinois before we were even married, he performed our wedding, and our families were often substitute extended families when our families were far away. They were some of the first folks our kids met and connected with after moving into our home. Our youngest, who was really into superheroes, somehow started calling him “Captain Phil,” and the name lovingly stuck. They were with us from the decisions made about foster care and adoption to finalization and all the highs and lows during and after.
While I wasn’t fond of every single one of the specialists who cared for our children, we had a wonderful PCP who was proactive in getting care for our kids (and us as well). Most specialists were within a 20-30 minute drive. They knew our kids’ histories and were able to quickly ascertain medical needs.
We had some fabulous neighbors in Tennessee. We lived on a cul-de-sac in a very small subdivision, and most folks helped each other when it came to keeping an eye out for the neighborhood kids.
- Network of professionals and therapists
We found a new therapist last week, but it is going to take a long time to build what we had in Tennessee. We had a network of post-adoption therapists and service providers around us. Our family was able to grow and thrive through groups, adoptive family camps, home therapists, equine therapy, attachment therapy, and so on provided by these amazing people at places like Harmony Family Center, Shining Light Equestrian, the office of Helen Lyle-Joiner, and Built2Bond Attachment Institute. Even after our kids were discharged from these places, we knew we could call on them in a crisis and go back when needed. They could quickly answer questions and give suggestions having knowledge of our kids’ stories and needs.
- Other foster and adoptive families
Over our time in Tennessee, we were surrounded by a great group of foster and adoptive families who were on the journey together, fighting for our kids, fighting for healing, fighting for attachment. They spoke our language and shared our struggles. I always had people to call upon for advice, practical needs, or a group of ladies to go grab some time away with. I was able to be on the receiving end of desperate phone calls from other parents in the trenches. For me, it gave purpose to our struggles as we learned and were able to help others. It helped us all to know we were not alone and to have better outcomes for our kids.
- School nurse
Oh, how we miss our “Nurse Ashley.” As Dalton was leaving elementary school, we would have moved on from her care anyways, but we love her. As a foster adoptive parent herself, she understood Dalton and us. Her office became his safe place during difficult times. She provided the same for our elementary-aged foster child last year. She was priceless to our family.
Our kids were enrolled in some amazing schools with great staff who helped to meet the kids’ needs at school. It wasn’t always easy, and in the beginning, they didn’t always “get us,” but by the time we left, we knew they had our backs and our kids’ backs.
We have floundered a bit over the last six months trying to get established here and find a similar system of support, like when one child had to go a few months without much needed meds because of issues getting a psychiatric provider. For now, I am thankful for the caregivers we have connected with through Transfiguring Adoption. We just found a therapist that two of our kids spoke with for intake and loved. We are starting to get plugged in to groups of caregivers. I know it takes far longer than we would hope, but I’m looking forward to building a new tribe here as it is a vital part of the life of a foster or adoptive family.