Parent chat groups (support groups) minister to parents.
TALK IT, LAUGH IT, AND STUDY IT TOGETHER.
Parents of children with physical or mental impairments have more complicated issues than other parents, and it helps them to sit in a comfortable group of like parents where they can share, get ideas, learn, laugh and pray together. The churches’ ministry can really shine in this area where so many parents have been wounded by other churches, schools and community centers.
What Are Parent’s Issues?
The list of parent issues is long and varies. Many have theological issues such as “Why did God let this happen to my child?” Others deal with severe medical issues and psychological testing. All deal with special education programs in schools as well as public and private transportation issues. Many are looking for socialization opportunities for their child. Then there is the inevitable and often recurring grief for what the child cannot do along with the constant recurring question, “Am I doing the right thing?” One or more parents may have given up a promising career in order to stay home with their child, and the mixed feelings and confusion bordering on occasional resentment needs to be dealt with. Socialization for parents sometimes becomes non-existent when a child (of any age) sitter cannot be found. Parents do not complain of these and other issues, but need a safe place to discuss them.
Once they have found your church, parents find another issue. Some churches offer separate groups that specialize in giving a little extra help and spiritual training for persons with special needs. At issue for some parents is whether to place their child of any age into a separate group or to mainstream them. A mentor or buddy may be required in either setting, and this is a decision only parents and adult children can make in conference with church representatives. It takes time for discussion, visitation, experimentation and prayer before a conclusion can be reached.
How Can I Start a Parent Group?
Become partners with parents and/or caregivers individually or over a cup of coffee. Give them time to trust you as you listen to their needs. Using their input, form a support group. Name it something less forbidding than a support group. We call ours chat groups, and, because age level interests and issues vary so much, we have three chat groups, one for each age level being served.
Record keeping is important, especially email addresses that announce events. Although privacy is important, some groups choose to share the email list and form a network for transportation and just keeping in touch.
Support groups stabilize and are comfortable for a time, but need to change as students grow older or the group achieves some of their goals. One on-going function, however, is welcoming new parents by telling them they have landed in the right place where love is spoken.
Groups Take On Personalities and Topics
Chat groups take on personalities and chores that make them alive and different. One group asked their church for a respite program and got it. Another invited an expert to talk about SSI. Support or chat groups do that – support – with sharing. In the beginning, a leader is important (see What Makes a Group Gel?), but soon they may need to be more than simply a sharing group. Meetings with a theme or presentation can provide a framework for directed discussion, discussion that may lead away from the topic to the heart of a present issue. Here are some topics we have used:
Help! I Need to Clone Myself!
Spirituality and Faith Development With My Child of Any Age
Housing – Where is It? How Do I Get There?
Summer Camp Opportunities (A sharing from all parents and church resources.)
Guardianship and Power of Attorney
SSI or Other Magic
Planning for Emergencies and Disasters
Walking Through the Internet for Information
Respite Care Programs: Where and How Much
Using the Bible With My Child
Hurt? Who Me?
Bullying – my child and myself
Safety Issues and Shared Solutions
Changing the Picture of Myself
All Grown Up and Someplace to Go (Presenting a survey of possible residences and work places.)
Each time I leave a parent group meeting, I feel a sense of awe at the spirit of compassion and spoken love between the parents. It seems that God through the church provides a safe nest for them, and they can feel it. I believe this is one of the most important ministries a church can undertake, and it is one of the easiest nest projects they can choose to do. The next step is to help integrate these wonderful parents into the full life of the congregation. They bring gifts of teaching and leading and music, and soon we wonder how we got along without them. A program of special needs draws parents like a magnet, and they come from several denominations, often springing into a different theology. If this is true of your program, the chat group may lead you in surprising directions. You may have to establish a new Sunday school class or design a parent buddy program to help them become acquainted with the church family. What a gift! You will listen to their needs!