Holiday seasons can be tricky for any family. Adoption often adds an additional layer of joy and complexity. Here’s our guide to making it through the season with a smile!
When holidays hurt
As well as being a time of fun and family togetherness, celebrations can sometimes be difficult to navigate for adoptive families. Most parents who adopt children as infants report few holiday season issues. For some families who adopt older children who were removed from their birth family or have lived in foster care, celebrations can be associated with tremendous losses and upsetting memories. Here are a few tips to help you make your family’s holiday celebrations special and sensitive.
If you are close to having an older child placed in your family, resist the urge to rush to get them home for the holiday season. Instead, try to arrange a visit or celebration with the foster family in their home.
Don’t assume that your child views the holiday season positively. For some children, occasions like Christmas were particularly stressful and are associated with violence and abuse.
Prepare your child
Well before the festive season, talk about how your family celebrates. This ensures that the new child is okay with the plans and keeps his or her expectations realistic.
Keep it simple
Don’t try to make up for all those previous holiday celebrations by overdoing things. Some of the children have already had adults try to “buy” their affection or “make up” for disappointments with gifts.
Overdoing that first holiday season may also remind the children of what they have missed out on previously and produce very mixed feelings about the upcoming festivities.
Try to gauge the child’s expectations, ask about his or her experiences of the holiday season, and explain that it’s okay to have sad or mixed feelings.
Accept new traditions
Ask the child what his or her favourite food is, what traditions he or she may have followed before, and try to include some of those in your celebrations. To avoid resentment, include all the children in the family in any changes.
They said it!
Sarah Reid, adoptive mom and AFABC Adoption Key Worker shared this funny and festive conversation between her two kids
Michaela: “Mommy Becky is my birth mommy!”
Be meticulously fair with gifts: children, especially those who have had to do without, will notice variations in expenditure and will probably take them personally.
If you have openness with birth family or foster family, try to plan a visit with them a couple of weeks before the event. This may mean that the child’s feelings about the visit (which could be mixed or negative) aren’t tied into their feelings about the holiday season.
If you are involving the birth family in your celebrations, be sensitive about gift giving; if the birth family is unable to meet your expectations, it will be upsetting for everyone, particularly your child.
If you don’t have openness, remember birth family in any prayers or ceremonies. If your openness is limited to annual letters and photograhs and you haven’t yet sent one, do it now!
This article originally appeared in Focus on Adoption in December 2006.