When many people think about the holidays, what comes to mind are all the traditions they’ve had over the years, and the fond memories that accompany them. Maybe it’s a special dish you always prepare for Thanksgiving. Or a day where you bake more Christmas cookies than any one person could eat. You might be anxious to pull out the boxes of ornaments that hold so many wonderful memories from over the years. Whatever your holiday traditions may be, there’s no doubt that they’re near and dear. But for an adopted child, the “most wonderful time of year” sometimes isn’t always so wonderful.
Below are a few tips to help your adopted child feel more at ease this holiday season. Or at the very least, help you feel more prepared in sharing this time of year with someone who might not experience it the same way that you do.
Be aware of their feelings.
This seems obvious, but sometimes we can get so caught up in our own delight in the holiday season that we forget that those close to us are not sharing that excitement. Those nostalgic memories you treasure can resonate differently for a child who has experienced trauma or loss. Their memories of this festive time can bring up sad or painful feelings. They will likely be missing their biological family. They may also be especially aware of the traditions that they missed out on, and feeling like an outsider. Whatever the case, it’s important to be aware of this and let your adopted child know they are in a safe space to feel what they feel. Give them room to grieve what they’ve lost, while reassuring them that they are part of the traditions now, and will always be in the future.
Every child processes their emotions differently. Some shut down. Some lash out. Some pretend everything is fine. Being open to conversations with your child about how they are processing the holidays is so important. Beyond the caroling voices and echoes of Happy Holidays, it’s critical to hear your child’s voice during the holidays. Make sure they know that they can talk to you about how they’re feeling, and that you are open to hearing about their past. There may be things they’ve not shared with you that come up this time of year, or there may be something about your family’s traditions that is triggering to them. Being open to hearing their concerns and experiences can deepen your familial bond and also alleviate a lot of anxieties. And who knows – you might end up creating a new tradition that is special just for them, and doesn’t trigger insecurities from their past.
The holidays may be magical, but they are also busy. There are a lot of family gatherings, get togethers, parties and sometimes even travels. For a child who has faced a lot of change in their life and who needs structure to feel as though they can trust the adults around them, the variations from their routine can be scary. Doing your best to maintain that structure and predictability can help your child continue to feel safe and secure through the holidays. That doesn’t mean that you can’t add in some fun activities here and there – but be sure your child knows what the event is and when, and give them ample time to prepare both physically and emotionally. And be open to hearing them if they say that they can’t handle another activity or a new tradition quite yet.
Create new traditions together.
Involve your child in creating new traditions together. This can be totally new traditions that you build from scratch. Or maybe you want to incorporate some from their past that they enjoyed. Working together to build a holiday that represents your new family creates a foundation you can build on for years to come. Don’t worry if this isn’t something that comes easily in the first few holiday seasons. Over time, the little things you do together will become the traditions that you all begin to cherish.
Most of all, remember that it’s okay if your holiday this year (or any year) doesn’t look quite like you always dreamed it would. Ornaments will break, trees will topple over, someone will forget to turn on the oven and dinner will be delayed – and it’s all okay. Those are the things that memories are made of, just as much as the peaceful candlelight service at church on Christmas Eve, or the hot cocoa after caroling. You and your adopted children will look back on the mishaps and missteps at the holidays with more fondness than you may feel in the moment. (And even if you never cultivate that fondness for the cat who nibbled on the Christmas lights, that’s okay too.)