Christmas can be so magical, and it can be fun to watch your child’s excitement and anticipation during the holiday season. But, Christmas time can also be a difficult time of year for children who joined their family through adoption or foster care. The holidays may bring up difficult memories from previous holidays or remind them of those people they have lost.
When my daughter (adopted at age 7) was younger, she used to have an emotional response every time we put up the Christmas tree and hung ornaments. It was not until a couple years ago she was able to finally verbalize the “why” behind some of her emotions surrounding Christmas. She shared with us that “it isn’t fair.” It is not fair that her younger brothers have more ornaments than she did. It is not fair that they have spent every Christmas of their lives with our family, yet she spent seven years of her life not in our family at Christmas time. It is not fair that she cannot be with her biological family at Christmas. It is not fair that she has to go another year without them. I agree with her, it is not fair, and I have talked with her and sat in the grief with her, and unfortunately, I cannot change most of those realities. Except one. That year we asked other family members to make ornaments and send them to her for Christmas. Since many of the ornaments her brothers had were handmade from school, we also spent time making ornaments with her to make up for the years missed. Holidays still bring up big emotions, but I think that year it helped us to take a step toward making something a little more “fair.”
Here are a few other ways to make the holidays special after adopting:
- Take it slow – Christmas can be overstimulating, consider dialing down the celebrations to smaller gatherings, avoid the crowded shops and think of alternatives to the usual holiday traditions. Maybe instead of sitting on Santa’s lap have your children call Santa to tell him what they want for Christmas. Try to stick to your normal routine as much as possible because a change in schedule and a lack of structure can leave children feeling out of control, and anxious.
- New traditions – Consider creating some new traditions to help your child feel like they are playing a part in forming your family’s rituals. If your child has a different cultural background, use this as an opportunity to celebrate their culture and incorporate some of their traditions into your family’s festivities. Incorporating familiar rituals can help your child feel a sense of belonging in your family.
- Plan ahead – During your adoption process start collecting Christmas ornaments, making videos or writing down memories to share with your child once they join your family. After they join your family make time to go through the mementos and share the story of your family’s journey to them.
- Familiar foods – If your child is not used to turkey and ham and all the fixings during the holidays make some dishes that you know your child likes.
- Build in time for grieving – Holidays can bring up big feelings of grief and loss, so it may be difficult for your child to be fully present in all of the celebrations when their hearts and minds may be somewhere else. It may help to encourage your child to put some of those thoughts down in a letter or by making a card or special ornament in honor of someone they miss.
- Focus on building connections – Whether it is your child’s first or tenth Christmas with your family focus on spending time together as a family and making memories together. The most important part of holiday traditions is that you do them as a family. Whether you bake cookies, make ornaments, watch holiday movies, play games, eat candy canes, drink hot cocoa, make sure you do it together, and if it looks a little different that’s okay.
Every child is unique and may need something different to help them feel special during the holidays. Parents should listen, be flexible and think outside the box to make their child feel loved and included during the holiday season.