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A Family For Every Child
1675 West 11th Avenue
Eugene, OR 97402

Fax: 541-343-2866

Tax I.D. 20-4151057

Christy Obie-Barrett,
Executive Director

A Family For Every Child is a non-profit organization that serves families, children, and agencies nationwide. Thank you for all your support.
Christmas Tree

Holidays with Adoptive Children

How to Survive November and December

The Happiest Time of Year?

Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas - we've all heard that November and December are supposed to be the " happiest time of year. " Even for families without adoptive or foster children, those are high expectations to live up to. Introduce new family members to the mix, and the holidays can be especially stressful and tense. It's natural to want your first holiday with your adopted child to be " the best ever, " but perfection is often too high a bar to set. Your dream holiday may not happen, but a better one may occur in its place. Here are some pointers on how to make your annual celebrations the best possible for all involved.

 

 

" A Time for Family "

Many people think of the holidays as a time for family and tradition. If you have adopted a very young   child who has never known anything but your home, those traditions may be theirs as well. But children adopted at an older age who remember holidays with biological parents or in foster care can have very different expectations for the season. Here are some tips on how to weather the last few months of the year.  

  • Create all-inclusive celebrations that acknowledge the situation. Does your child h ave   memories of holidays with his or her birth family? If so, they may have established traditions that you know nothing about. Simply talking to your child about how he or she has celebrated the holidays in the past can allow you to graft new traditions onto new. If your adoption is open, the biological family may actually play a roll in the end-of-the-year celebrations. More layers of family means more relationships to navigate.
    • If possible, maintain a relationship with the biological family throughout the year so that the holidays don't become the single focal point of the relationship. This can ease stress and lower expectations for creating the " perfect " holiday.
    • Let go of expectations. Now that you have new   members of the family, your holidays may not look like they did in previous years. That big meal at Grandma's house with everyone gathered around the table may not be possible this year if, for example, large groups are anxiety-provoking for an adopted child who has experienced abuse. Only take on what you can handle.
    • Keep lines of communication open, and take your cues from your child. Ask him or her what he or she envisions for the holidays.
  • Accept the grieving process. Holidays can spur a feeling of loss for children who have had to say goodbye to their biological families, no matter how imperfect those families may have been. The parenting pages of About.com offer the following suggestions:
    • Make memories a family activity. Go around the room and have each family member share a memory of past holidays. Your child may have a strong memory from his or her biological family, or - if he or she has been with you long enough - he may choose to share a memory of his new family.
    • If your child has a lifebook or scrapbook detailing his past, work on a holiday page. Even if you don't have pictures, your child can draw what he or she remembers.
    • Buy a special ornament or decoration that represents the biological family, if the situation had positive aspects. If not, the ornament can symbolize the coming together of a new family. Another option is to light a candle representing the biological family at a holiday dinner.
    • Allow your child to work through his or her sadness. If he or she is old enough, encourage journaling or sharing memories aloud.  
  • Acknowledge your child's feelings. Don't expect Christmas or Hanukkah to automatically stir up warm, happy memories. It may be second nature to deny that your child is sad - " But Christmas is a happy time! " - but try to be open to your child's feelings. Withdrawal, sadness, and acting out are all potential responses to the   holidays.
    • The blog Adoptivity suggests asking questions and performing a little guesswork to draw the child out, especially if she or he is reluctant to share his emotions. You might ask, " Are you thinking about your birth mother? " or state, " It's hard not having your biological family here, isn't it. "
    • Holiday movies with adoption themes like " Elf " or " Snow Dogs " can provide a starting point for conversation. Check out the adoption pag es at About.com for a longer list of Christmas movies about different family situations.
  • Be aware of your child's state of mind. Busy, bustling get-togethers can quickly overwhelm a child not used to so many people. It's easy for children, especially those who have difficulty dealing with change, to be overstimulated. Try to keep gatherings as low-key as possible, and maintain eating and sleeping schedules as much as you can. Perhaps it would be possible to have a small family gathering, as opposed to a huge dinner with far-flung aunts and uncles, this year.
    • Be mindful of how your child interprets innocent stories or traditions. The emphasis on " being good " for Santa Claus can frighten a child with a history of abuse or neglect. " You'd better not pout, you'd better not cry " may seem to be a harmless line from a song, but adopted children can interpret it to mean they will be sent away - or back to their previous situations - if they are not " good " or happy during the holidays.
    • If you haven't already spoken to your child's teachers, this is an ideal time to remind them that questions like " how does your family celebrate the holidays " can be uncomfortable for children who feel they have two families or who haven't experienced a holiday with their adoptive family. Many schools " adopt " a low-income family for Thanksgiving or Christmas, and while this is a wonderful tradition that encourages giving, using the language of " adoption " can be confusing, especially to younger children.
  • Respect ethnic and cultural differences. If your child is of a different ethnicity or race than the rest of his adoptive family, he may feel that he sticks out like a sore thumb at family gatherings. Relatives who ask probing or insensitive questions or favor the children they see as the family's " real " kids can be especially problematic. Try to educate relatives before they meet your child so that potentially hurtful interactions can be kept to a minimum.
    • Try to blend your child's traditions with yours. Cook a special dish they remember or perform a familiar ritual. If your child came to you without specific traditions but with limited knowledge of yours, explain events well before they occur. Midnight mass or the lighting of the menorah may feel alien to children not raised in those religions.
    • Use stories like " Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer " to begin a conversation about how looking and feeling different can make people feel that they don't belong, even when they are deeply loved and needed.
  • Deal with Extended Family. If your holiday gathering will be a big one, prepare your child for the bustle and try to keep routines as normal as possible. Relatives need preparing, too, so that they can appropriately interact with your child and with you as parents. Explain things that may seem confusing - why, for example, you maintain contact with the child's biological family (if indeed you do), or why you are dedicated to preserving your child's heritage if the adoption was a cross-cultural one.
    • If possible, introduce your child to extended family before the pressure of the holidays hits. It's always easier to meet new people when the situation is low-key and not fraught with expectations. While relatives may feel entitled to all the details of your child's adoption story, remember that it is perfectly within your rights to keep the experience within your immediate family.
    • Gently encourage connections between your child and compassionate, understanding family members. Observe similarities - maybe your child likes to bake cookies like Aunt Ruth, for example - and use them to make your child feel like part of the family.  

 

Contact us:

A Family For Every Child

1675 West 11th

Eugene, Oregon 97402

adoption@afamilyforeverychild.org

541-343-2856

www.afamilyforeverychild.org

 

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