Adoption support groups help families find some common ground.
Before Veronique MacDonald and her husband adopted their first child from Texas, the couple had to go through many hours of parenting training and visits from social workers to get a stamp of approval as adoptive parents.
But none of that prepared MacDonald for what she says was a vacant reception from other mothers when she attended her first playgroup with her then-infant daughter. “All the other women were talking about their pregnancies and delivery stories, but people froze with me because I had none,” says MacDonald, a Bucktown resident, whose child is now four years old. “They did not know what to do with [us], and I thought if that was the kind of reaction we were going to get after all this work, it would destroy everything we were trying to do.”
MacDonald turned to the local support group Chicago Area Families for Adoption to start her own playgroup for families with adopted children in 2004. The group now includes about 15 families with children from both domestic and international backgrounds, and it meets monthly at playgrounds, museums and other locales. But MacDonald says she has a loftier goal than socializing with people in similar situations. “We are trying to create an environment where the kids know that there are other kids who are adopted, and that you can have different types of families and that it is okay,” she says.
Her CAFFA-sponsored playgroup is one of many Chicago-area support groups that revolve around families with adopted children. Some are open to all families while others cater to families with children from specific countries or regions, and others are affiliated with local adoption agencies. Joan Jaeger, vice president of marketing for The Cradle, an agency in Evanston, says these groups can be a useful tool for families once they settle in with their new additions. “They have informal workshops, and they have workshops on specific topics that are more specific to adoptive families,” she says, including delicate subjects like being a “conspicuous” family, where the kids are a different race from their parents. “On the other end of the spectrum, the groups have informal get-togethers just to have fun. But they all offer opportunities to network and learn from one another.”
Schaumburg resident Cheryl Kruger got involved with the Illinois chapter of Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption after adopting a child from Russia in 2001. The group offers outings, education programs and specific resources for adopted children from Eastern Europe, like identifying fetal alcohol syndrome (a problem that tends to be widespread in babies from this region). Kruger says she joined because she wanted her son, now six, to maintain a connection with his birth country, and she says he’s found it by attending group cultural events like the celebration of Russian Orthodox Christmas, which takes place in January. “When we had our summer picnic in August, he and another boy were standing around the Russian flag and were really excited. He does [connect] with his Russian identity,” Kruger says.
Jamie Polit, the mother of two adopted children from China, had similar goals when she joined the Chicago chapter of Families with Children from China, one of the larger adoptive family social networking groups in the city with more than 400 families as members. Through the group, Polit and her children have attended a variety of educational and social events that have covered everything from how to respond to questions about their multicultural family to group outings in Chinatown. “We do ‘wise up’ sessions for the children,” Polit says. “They help them learn how to answer questions or choose not to answer questions. Sometimes they get asked inappropriate questions about their family situations, and these sessions give them the tools to be prepared.”
For more info on Chicago Area Families for Adoption, go to caffa.org.