Our Social Worker confided in me that just prior to having her first child she moved house and into a small village. She explained how difficult it can be to join established groups of mums and she made it her daily task to find a playdate each day. I took up this challenge when Katie came to join us and I still joke that I'm on a playdate mission. Katie had lived her life until that point in a very busy foster carers house. She was used to lots of children around and we were concerned that moving to a very quiet house with just the three of us would be an enormous culture shock for her. We knew that it was vital that we had lots of playdates.
I am really lucky to have a wide group of friends who are fellow adopters. I met my online group after being reunited with a friend from my toddler days thanks to the world of Facebook and Friends Reunited. Ironically she was also an adopter and she introduced me to the group (The A Team!). The A Team provided enormous support throughout our home study and continues to be a huge support for me, and hopefully I for them. We meet up for a weekend, with our partners and children, at least once a year at a mid-point in the UK and have a wonderful time. We hope that one day our children will take over the mantle of the group and maintain contact with each other.
Despite being a bit shy initially, I am quite a sociable person. I like people and I like to have a good chat. I am fairly open and honest and, not very good at lying. I have to admit that I'm also not particularly good at small talk. I like a proper conversation. One where you really connect with someone. Of course I now know that, once you have a child, you only ever really get to participate in small talk mostly because you are interrupted every 30 seconds! This remains a bit of a challenge for me but I'm getting there.
During our adoption home study I carefully researched all the different types of groups that were running in our local area. I was also lucky to have several friends with children of a similar age to Katie which helped with some playdates and was also introduced, via work, to a lovely lady who adopted her son a month before Katie came to live with us. We are now very close friends.
What I didn't really take on board though was the groups of mothers who have formed via ante-natal classes. They have shared history of their pregnancies and labours and often meet each other regularly. I didn't really think through what I was going to say about why we were only joining groups at the point Katie was a toddler or what I would say when the labour story comparisons started.
Katie and I initially went along to the weekly toddler group which ran in a local church. It was quite a large group in a large space. I think we lasted 6 sessions before Katie said to me that she didn't like it there. Neither did I! No-one ever really spoke to us after the first session. I tried initiating conversations with some of the other mothers there but no-one seemed particularly interested or friendly for that matter. The children mostly seemed to compete with each other for the toys. So we left. As fast as we could. And never went back.
I have been known to call that group The Twilight Zone.
Thankfully one of my close friends came to our rescue and invited us along to the toddler group that she attended in a nearby town. The downside was that I wouldn't be meeting local mums but the upside was that I had an "in" into the group. It was a much smaller group than the previous one and all the mums were friendly and welcoming. Because the group was smaller, I was honest with everyone about Katie being adopted from the outset. We were given a lovely welcome and I am so grateful to all the ladies in that group because we quickly became part of the group. Katie loved playing with all the children there and many of us became friends outside of the group. Katie started to be invited to birthday parties and play dates and also felt like she belonged. I felt unfazed when the mums discussed and compared their labours stories and often joked that I was the lucky one because I still had functioning pelvic floor muscles!
Meeting other parents in the community is really important for any parent but particularly so for an adoptive parent. Adoptive parents have to hit the ground running. By meeting other parents you gain access to insider knowledge of the best groups to join; where to sign up for classes; which pre-schools to go to. It is so important to find people you can relate to; who you can share experiences with. People who understand what it's like to have a child the same age as yours. You really need that on the difficult days! It's also important for learning parenting skills. Sometimes you learn positive skills and sometimes you watch the parenting that you don't want to learn! It's important for your child to become embedded in the area you live in. To make friends and play with other children. I have likened this process to dating. I am constantly trying to make connections with other mums and it almost feels like I'm asking them out on a date if I suggest getting the children together and meeting up for coffee! I get so nervous that I'll be turned down or people will think I'm pushy or weird or both! I know I couldn't be so bold if I was single and looking for dates but I almost give myself the excuse to be bold because I'm doing it for Katie. Actually in reality I'm doing it for both of us. Now I'm a stay at home mum, I need those daily connections to keep me sane.
When Katie started pre-school it started to get a lot easier. The mums of the children who play together seem to come together and I made friends with the mum of Katie's best friend. This friendship has been a real blessing for us. We now have a weekly play date at a local soft play area and I have, on occasion, met up with her ante-natal group at the same venue. I do still feel a bit of an interloper at this group though. We have become friendly with other mums who are at soft play the same times as us and I now have developed a skill of disappearing to the toilet, or getting the teas in, when the labour stories start. I do now have a basic labour story in my head (which is actually Katie's real labour story - I just wasn't there!), in case I ever need to use it, but so far I've not done that. Like I said I'm not a great liar. I'm generally either honest or I subtly extricate myself from the situation. Thankfully no-one has ever been laying-in-wait for me on my return to give them the lowdown on Katie's birth. We now also have a regular playdate after gymnastics with some of the other children in the class. Katie is my partner in crime in organising this and we've slowly added to the numbers of who is joining us.
Now we are going through the adoption process for a second time I will need to think about toddler groups again. Thankfully Katie's best friends mum has a younger daughter of 14 months, so the chances are we'll have second children around the same age. Katie will have started big school by the time our second daughter joins us and I suspect it will be fairly obvious to the other parents at the school gates that we've adopted when another child suddenly joins us. I'm more clued up now about the local groups that are running and which activities I'd like to participate in. I am more confident about when I tell our story now. I find just asking lots of questions of other people can nicely deflect any questions direct towards me. People actually like to talk about themselves for the most part so this is fairly easy to do. I tell some people that Katie is adopted. I trust my instincts and generally get a sense of who I can tell and who I don't want to tell. I am always mindful that, whilst this is my story, it is also Katie's story and she may not want people to know she is adopted as she gets older. People have been generally very positive when I tell them though. They are curious and ask questions but, aside from some of the comments I discussed in my last blog on the topic of "The Silly Things People Say About Adoption", are very accepting.
My advice to anyone starting out as an adoptive parent,
who is wanting to join toddler groups is:
1) See if you have a friend with a child of a similar age whose group you can join.
2) Have a story clear in your mind that you are happy to share when labour stories are discussed. Do you want to invent a labour story; tell people that your son/daughter is adopted or; find a way of moving away from the discussion for a while.
3) Don't be shy. Just dive in there and ask for playdates. Some will work out and some won't. It gets easier the more you do it. Honest!
4) If you don't feel comfortable with a parent/toddler group then try another one.
Infiltrating Parent/Toddler groups is Mission Possible I promise you!