Parents who have adopted or fostered children experience the joy of completing their families and providing a home to children whose birth parents were unable to raise them. However, these families face challenges that may not be recognized or understood by other families.
For more than a decade, JFCS psychotherapist Bari Benjamin has offered a monthly Moms Coffee Group to give mothers of adopted and foster children the opportunity to come together to share their experiences and offer each other support. Herself an adoptive parent, Bari draws upon her own experiences to advise the group members.
“We meet once a month in a safe, confidential environment where we are free to express all feelings related to our adoption journeys,” said Bari. “Moms also offer suggestions to each other on how to deal with the issues and behaviors of our children that are different from children that have not had disrupted attachments.”
A Supportive Environment for Moms of Adopted and Fostered Children
Leslie regularly participates in the group. Fifteen years ago, she and her husband adopted a one-year-old girl from Guatemala. Now a teenager, their daughter has experienced a number of learning challenges and has been diagnosed with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder. The coffee club has given Leslie an accepting environment to talk about the difficulties in parenting her daughter.
“I get a lot of support there, a lot of advice and understanding,” she said.”The extra support makes a difference in the way I look at things. It’s not always you or your parenting style.”
She explained that her daughter’s learning and social challenges are compounded by the fact that she was adopted.
When children are adopted internationally, they may have spent time in orphanages in their infancy, where it is harder to develop healthy attachments to a caregiver. Others, both domestically and internationally, may have been exposed to violence, instability, or drug abuse. Foster children may have lived in multiple homes and lack a sense of permanency. These negative experiences in childhood can have life-long consequences.
Unfortunately, friends and extended family of adoptive and foster parents may not understand the complexity of the issues they face, and may offer inappropriate advice. Sometimes other families are wary of being close to adoptive or foster families.
“It’s hard to explain to them,” said Leslie. “You can feel very isolated.”
A Place for Honesty and Openness
Laura, who has participated in the group since 2009, has three teenage children, a biological son and two adopted daughters. One of her daughters is from Kazakhstan and the other is from Russia, and she adopted both from orphanages. She appreciates the opportunity the coffee club provides to speak openly.
“You can be completely honest, gather information, resources,” she said. “They’ve walked in the same shoes.”
As a group, they can celebrate progress they see in their children that might go unnoticed in other settings. For example, it can be a milestone for a child with attachment issues to learn to express feelings in a healthy way or to reach a level of independence that comes more naturally to those who did not experience childhood adversity.
The coffee group does not have a formal structure. Each participant is invited to talk about whatever they would like to discuss. As the facilitator, Bari offers a therapeutic angle to their discussions.
“I wish more women would attend,” said Laura, who is herself a trained school psychologist. “Even with a professional background, I found the group influenced my parenting more than anything else.”
A core group of women consistently comes to the meetings, while others attend less frequently. The group is open to welcoming new members.
“There is an extreme amount of isolation that occurs within our families,” said Leslie. “Isolation is not good. You can’t parent as well if you haven’t taken the time to help yourself. This group helps you understand you’re doing the best you can.”
Interested in joining the Moms Coffee Club? Please contact Bari Benjamin by calling JFCS at 412-422-7200.
By Susan Jacobs Jablow, JFCS Senior Grant Writer