When we first started this site we looked around at the landscape of special needs support sites and we were excited to find Hopeful Parents early in our search. We love what Hopeful Parents does and feel like their mission complements ours so we wanted to celebrate them by making them this month’s featured organization. We’re starting off with an interview with Christina Shaver, very humble founder of Hopeful Parents!
How were you inspired to start the site?
In 2008 my four-year old was admitted to the psych unit for the first time. I was scared and had all these images (thanks to the movies) of what the inside of a psych unit looked like. I wanted to find someone, anyone else whose child had been admitted so young…and I couldn’t.
A few months later, as my son’s psychiatric condition deteriorated, I felt very alone and isolated. There were other families I knew whose children had ADHD like my son and had an autism spectrum diagnosis like my son and had anxiety like my son — but no one who had all three and no one who had the additional and very severe diagnosis of psychosis.
At the time, I hadn’t found “my tribe” of parents with young children who suffer from psychotic episodes (it’s so rare). What I did find is my journey paralleled those of that other parents of children with different disabilities. So many of us experience grief and isolation; we feel overwhelmed; and on some level, we may sometimes even laugh at our situation (because sometimes it’s easier to do that than cry). Regardless of someone’s perspective, though, I think we all seek hope for our children and families wherever we can and in whatever small or significant ways it turned up.
But to 2008 — I was in counseling. The thing about having a child with a psychiatric condition is that one of the more immediate questions the specialists ask is what kind of support we’re getting as parents. I don’t know that this happens for a child with other disabilities — and being in counseling now for four years has been has helped me beyond measure.
One of the themes that arises in counseling is self-care. I think so often we as parents lose ourselves as we parent. We sacrifice ourselves on behalf of our children. The problem is that when you’re raising a child with special needs, as a parent, you have to be completely and totally engaged and available. There are so many decisions to be made, appointments to keep, care to give. If we, ourselves, feel lost or overwhelmed or depressed or anxious, it confounds our ability to provide for our fragile children.
And so, after all that — feeling isolated, yearning for connection, and a desire to help other parents remember to care for themselves — I started Hopeful Parents.
How did your vision change as you went?
Believe it or not, my vision has been pretty steadfast — to help parents of special needs children remember to care for themselves and support each other.
I’ve always had this very grand idea of finding every parent of a child with special needs, so that together, with one enormous voice, we can advocate for ourselves and for our children.
As a group, we struggle with anxiety and depression, with finances, with health insurance, with awareness and sensitivity. Society doesn’t take us into account much — and, at this time, why should it? We are the minority. The only way any minority has ever changed society is by coming together with one voice and advocating for themselves. I have this bold vision that someday, we Hopeful Parents are able to do just that.
How did you choose the first contributors?
Choosing the first contributors for the site was the hardest process. It took me about a month to compile a list of parents who have children with special needs. Maybe I wasn’t good at Google searches back then, but I kept coming up pretty empty on my searches. I did find a few that way, though.
In addition to those I found through Google, the first contributors I asked were people I knew “in real life” and through blogs. But I think there were only 10 or so. I asked them who they knew, and found a few more contributors that way. By the time the site was ready to go up, we had 30 writers!
Now, we get writer requests all the time. I wish we had the space to accept every one. Honestly, we do accept nearly every writer request at some point when space becomes available.
In fact, in August, we expanded the writing pool to two posts per day (instead of one). Prior to August, I had this growing waiting list of writers that was stagnating. If that list grows in that way again, we will consider increasing the posts to three a day.
I’ve made a conscious choice to include anyone who wants a voice here, regardless of their writing capability. This isn’t a literary site or a news site or an information site. Hopeful Parents is a place for parents to express their raw emotion — and very often, raw emotion is scattered and messy.
What are your long term goals for the site?
I don’t think of Hopeful Parents as a site, really. I think of it as a community. And truthfully, I don’t feel it’s my place to determine what we do long term. I may have helped us find each other, but the community should really set the goals.
In fact, this spring our board of directors incorporated Hopeful Parents as a non-profit organization. So major changes within Hopeful Parents are now no longer at my sole discretion.
That said, there are some activities that our board of directors and board committees are looking to establish including getting our community offline and in person. We’ve launching a membership campaign that will not only drive resources into Hopeful Parents so that we can continue our search of every parent of a child with special needs, but will also allow us the ability to meet each other.
We’d like to reach a critical mass so that we can start groups of Hopeful Parents around the country. These groups could meet for coffee and in an informal way to start, gain support from each other.
The board has also discussed the idea of doing some kind of retreat, which would give all of us a good reason to find a few days respite from our role as caregivers and be with others who understand life’s intensities.
Further down the road, our community has enormous interest in advocating for ourselves and our children and in creating awareness and sensitivity around special needs. Again, though, we will need far greater numbers than what we have today.
We’re only gaining momentum, though, and I do see all of these activities materializing in the future.
Can you share one of your success stories of the site? One of the times your vision was truly realized?
Success stories happen all the time at Hopeful Parents. What we consider success doesn’t happen at an organizational level, but happens at a very deep, introspective personal level.
The stuff of life is made by all the little things, and all those little things are happening all the time within our community.
Success for Hopeful Parents means making individual connections with others to whom we can relate and it happens all the time in the blog posts, comments and community forum.
So often, people tell me that they can’t believe they only just found Hopeful Parents and wished it had been there for them all along — to me, this is the true testament of our success: that we have become a foothold for someone on their journey.
What do you look for in a contributor?
I would say our guideline is that there is no guideline. We honor everyone’s individual journeys. As long as someone is willing and able to post on their assigned day, they are welcome.
While we will always welcome new writers, the focus of Hopeful Parents is finding every parent of a child with special needs. Parents can find out more about membership at http://hopefulparents.org/membership.
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