I was feeling like I was drowning in the responsibility of this Support Group I’m starting. Then I received a phone call from a friend, a mother I’d helped when I was a professional advocate.
Seven years ago, near the end of my time as her son’s advocate, we discussed the overwhelming need for an agency in this area that provided advocacy services. We’d talked about ‘going into business together’ to provide those services, as both she and I had developed reputations, within the parent community, as a result of our advocacy skills.
My disability had shifted my focus from helping others to trying to take care of myself and my family. She was having difficulties, so we didn’t speak of it again.
Right before I announced my support group on Facebook, she’d told me she was planning on leaving the state. I didn’t invite her to get involved because I didn’t want to cause her to feel conflicted. When I expressed that I really needed help, she said she’d have helped if I’d have asked her to. She joined the group, but cautioned me that she probably wasn’t going to be able to attend meetings in person.
Over this past weekend we had a series of conversations on the phone and she’s decided that she really needs to do this. She’s got a lot of great ideas to bring to the table too.
She’s offered to have the press release put in the newspaper where she lives, she’s making contact with the Intermediate Unit for her county and she’s going to go out into the community and post flyers for the September meeting, as soon as we have a location confirmed. She’s posted the link to the group’s website on all the Facebook group’s she is in and her friends have posted the link as well. She’s responsible for bringing several parents into the group recently.
She suggested a weekly ‘web meeting’ via chat or Skype, so the ‘core group’ would be on the same page and could be more supportive of me. I explained that I’d been trying to do that with the individual who’d initially wanted to start the group with me, but that it hasn’t happened much recently, though it is a great idea and could be quite beneficial.
I think, after the group is established, the ‘core group’ should meet via web meeting the week before the scheduled parent support group meetings to go over last minute details about the upcoming meeting and determine who will assume what role during the next meeting.
I felt such a sense of relief knowing she wanted to participate.
I have to admit, I’m cautious about getting too excited. When I was part of the ‘re-organization’ of the Local Right to Education Task Force and accepted the position of Parent Co-Chair, I was warned by the woman who’d been the Parent chair in the past that people will come out of the woodwork in the initial stages of putting the group together, with all kinds of ideas, offering to do all sorts of things, wanting to participate, but once there was work to be done, I would likely find myself doing it alone.
She was absolutely right! The core team of the group consisted only of the Parent Chair and myself. The Parent chair of the reorganized Task Force wanted only to chair the meetings. I handled all the flyers, agendas, meeting minutes, mailings and the creating of the project we’d chosen to work on – creating a resource manual for parents. Eventually, she started missing meetings, leaving me to also chair the meetings.
When I’d spoken to her about the inequality of our commitments to the group and the unfair division of work responsibilities she responded, “No one is making you do anything. You’re choosing to take on the responsibility yourself. Don’t blame me if you’re overwhelmed by it.” The problem with that self-serving attitude is that our group was mandated to do certain things, carry out certain functions and we had a responsibility to other parents as well as the sponsoring agency to accomplish certain goals and meet mandated requirements. If I had taken on the same attitude that she had, NOTHING would have ever gotten done and since my name and reputation were associated with the group, I felt compelled to meet those requirements and to do the very best I could.
Though she did none of the work involved in making it a functional group, she had no trouble taking credit for the ‘re-organization’ of the group, the materials gathered and distributed by the group or the advocacy the group accomplished.
Others, at the time, told me if I pulled back and didn’t get everything accomplished, someone else would likely ‘step up’ and get more involved. When I finally resigned as Parent Co-Chair, within a few months the group effectively dissolved. They stopped holding monthly meetings, stopped producing the parent resource manual and the Parent Chair resigned.
Recently, when trying to secure a location for my Support Group to meet, encountering so many obstacles and one rejection after another, I was beginning to consider trashing the whole idea. It has been far too great a headache and I had vowed I would never do something like this again unless I knew I had help. Both my husband and my son have told me they think I should give it up. They have both been protesting, since I had surgery, that I’ve been worrying about and working too much on the group and shedding too many tears over the frustration of the lack of support I’ve encountered.
I was questioning, what is a support group, if not supportive, and if the group can’t support its core members, how is it going to support other parents?
I’m hoping my friend can breathe new life into this venture. I’m already burned out and beginning to dread all the work that’s yet to be done.