A blog reader left me this question on my last post.
"I'm sorry that you have been so hurt by others in this battle. Did people not want to hear about what you were struggling against? Could you speak to how others--your friends at the time and your church--could have and should have supported you and responded to your family better?"
To answer the questions, no, most people did not actually really want to know what our issues with the school were. They would ask how I was doing or how school was going for the kids, but they didn't really want to hear about how I had stayed up until 2am researching ways to help my kids because the school was breaking the law and actively discriminating against them. I would start telling them how things were really going, tripping over words that had just been waiting for someone to care. Then I would see their eyes glaze over.
What I want to do though is not so much say what people should have done better, but write about what a few people did right.
What should a person do when a friend is fighting a battle that they don't know much about? Here's a brief list of things that people actually did (or didn't do).
1) Don't send their Facebook vents to the school district. Realize it might be their only outlet.
2) Send a quick text or FB message with a goofy meme just to let them know that you have their back and aren't sending their FB posts to the school. I have a healthy sense of humor. One cannot go wrong here whether its a grumpy cat, a half lit mom with a wine bottle after an IEP meeting, or Shakespeare insisting that "More of your conversation would infect my brain."
3) Say, "I just wanted to let you know that you are a great mom."
4) Call just to listen. Even if all you have to say is, "I'm sorry. This sucks."
5) Ask if they want to meet for lunch.
6) Realize that this really crappy thing your friend is walking through might actually be their calling. Remind them of this.
7) Don't judge their decisions whether its about therapy, evaluations, choosing to fight the school vs just pulling the kids out to homeschool or coping strategies.
8) Just offer normal conversation about normal mom stuff. No one wants to talk about their problem 24/7. No one ever wakes up wanting to fight a battle.
9) Show some emotion. Its ok to cry when you realize the injustice of it all too! Another person moved to tears is very validating for someone in the thick of it.
10) Don't be offended if they ask you if you were by any chance sending their Facebook posts to the school. Realize they don't want to ask you, but being ratted on during an incredibly difficult time causes profound paranoia. Try really hard to walk a mile and not take offense. Its even better if you can be genuinely horrified that someone would put anyone in a position that would make them feel this way.
11) Don't offer suggestions for what your friend could be doing better. Plenty of other people who have no idea what its like to raise internationally adopted special needs kids in a rural county will offer very opinionated suggestions and criticisms. Realize that your friend doesn't share every detail of their lives, and trust that they absolutely are making the best decisions for their family given the choices available to them.
There is a very small group of ladies that have remained friends with me through all of this. For them I am so grateful because there have been days when some small word of encouragement from one of them picked me up out of my desperate funk. I have this need to laugh at terrible situations. I have to make it funny somehow. I have one friend who totally gets this and she has participated with me in inappropriate meme texting. If I can giggle at it then I can refocus and take aim once more.
I can count my real friends on one hand now, but you know what? That is ok.
I cannot really list the ways that our church has been supportive because it wasn't. What I had hoped for was that the church members might realize the issues our school system had when it came to adequately serving special needs and minority children. I would have hoped that the members of the church would have rallied around us and helped to enact change without the need for me having to file a formal complaint. So many church members work for the school system in this county that raising awareness of this issue and demanding change for the children would have been 110% doable. The issue I kept running into was that certain church members working in the schools were actually actively part of the discrimination. When I realized the extent of the issues, I wanted to make people aware so they too could understand why things needed to change. Instead of being supported, we were labeled as troublemakers. If I could list just one thing that the church as a whole could have done better to support us, it would have been LISTEN. We certainly didn't create the problem, and we didn't even intend to expose it. The fact is though that it was there.