Holidays can be tough for adoptive families. Here are our best tips for enjoying the season.
Keep things simple, and celebrate differently (or early, or late!) if you need to. The holidays may be full of warm memories for many, but they can also be triggering and a sad reminder of losses for our kids (and their parents!)
—Sarah, AFABC Team Lead/Community Engager and adoptive mom
We like to work together to put together a little care package for our kids’ birth Mom with pictures, letters from them, and small gifts (socks, PJs, toiletry items). One year we made her a digital photo album. It shows her she is cared about and thought of and acknowledges my kids’ relationship with her.
—Brandi, AFABC Adoption Key Worker and adoptive mom
Keep it really, really simple. Not a lot of sugar, not a lot of presents, play outside a lot, etc.
—Tova, adoptive mom
We put up a fake tree because it is very durable. The kids can fall into it and I am not concerned. We use the tree and other decorating opportunities to connect to a fun event and making a memory together. We make decorations with craft events (like popcorn strings after a Christmas movie night) and the kids put some of their toys or Lego in the tree. I bought a set of soft Christmas ornaments from Costco and we make hot chocolate one night and put them up.
I collect Christmas kids’ books that explain the meaning of the Christmas story and the season of giving and we have story times. Those books only come out at Christmas, so they seem special.
—Heather, AFABC Adoption Key Worker and adoptive mom
Pace yourselves. We have a long quiet time break between the excitement of the tree and the excitement of seeing family at dinner.
Go for a walk. I actually wish we did this more, but I can’t push it (see next item).
Manage expectations. That means my own around what Christmas should be, and the kids’ around their presents and who they will see.
Don’t skip meals. Hunger is a serious meltdown trigger in our house. We have breakfast first on Christmas morning, then we open presents when bellies are full, and I make sure the boys, at least, have lunch and a good sized snack before dinner, since dinner is always late.
Front load. All special events and changes in routine are marked on the calendar and repeated often (“Remember, we’re going to Auntie Helen’s on Saturday”).
Focus on us. I try not to care what my brother or anyone else thinks of my son refusing to eat anything but fishy crackers (for example).
—Darcee, AFABC Human Resources staff and adoptive mom
Start family traditions! My teenage kids still make sure we do them every year! We buy them each a special ornament each year, and decorate the tree together with great appetizers and snacks.
—Correen, AFABC Adoption Support Counsellor and adoptive mom
I changed my focus from Christmas time being about a beautiful home and display of my lovely things to a beautiful experience with my lovely people.
What’s worked for us when my kids were young was to keep is simple, small and quiet. That’s easy for us, as we have no extended family here.
We always do turkey dinner with just us four on Christmas Eve and have a quiet day—usually a PJs day—on Christmas day. That saves my kids from getting overstimulated and having meltdowns.
When preparing kids for adoption, I found that it was interesting to ask them what their current family traditions were. Often they didn’t think they had any, but if I asked them specific questions, such as, “Did you have a special dinner on Christmas Eve?” “Did you get to open one present on Christmas Eve?” “Did you hang stockings and if so, where did you hang them?” “Were you allowed to open your stocking as soon as you woke up or did you have to wait for everyone?” and so on, walking through the days before Christmas and Christmas day. The kids were always surprised to realize how many traditions they actually did have.
I would share these Q&As with the prospective parents and ask them to incorporate some of the traditions into their own. Sometimes, they would talk to the kids ahead and let them know they were planning to do this and other times, they surprised them.
When my foster teens would join the family, I did something similar and tried to incorporate at least one of the things they especially liked about Christmas into our family celebration (a favourite food, decorations in their rooms, etc.) I also emphasized some things that we would always do, like everyone gets a stocking no matter how old they are and everyone gets an ornament to keep. The kids who grew up with me got to take their stockings and ornaments with them and choose a few of the “family” ones so they had enough to at least start their own tree
—Anne, AFABC Child-Specific Recruitment Team Lead and foster and adoptive mom