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befriend and support each other,

enjoy each other’s company,

affirm each other’s experiences,

find ways to help our children,

back each other up,

have each other to depend upon

in emergencies,

and for everyday help.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Most adoptive families have big dreams of how they will spend the holidays with their new children.  Some of the bigger holidays, like Christmas, would be traveling to see extended family or just waking up to watch their huge grins as they open the best presents they've ever seen.  Birthdays would be spent celebrating their lives and eating large amounts of birthday cake after singing your best version of Happy Birthday.  Valentine's Day would be another way to make them feel the love in your heart with flowers, handmade valentines and treats, or just a box of chocolates.  No matter the holiday, your new child would feel your love and appreciate all the effort you put in to make their lives better than before you.  Some folks even thought their child would be thankful to be out of such a horrible situation and to have a new family that wants them so much.

For us, holidays are dreaded.  We learned early on our new children resented being in our homes but holidays were an opportunity to really make that clear.  If we put ourselves in their shoes, we can see how holidays would trigger such big emotions.  After all, they loved their parents and wanted to be reunited to them until we stole them.  If we hadn't come into the picture, their parents would have changed and they would be home, living the good life.  We were strangers to them.  How can we love them, if their own parents didn't?  Holidays are memory makers.  We all have them imprinted in our minds, the good and the bad.  So do they.  Holidays meant drinking and parties.  It could have meant strangers in their homes.  Abuse.

The triggers for these memories can be the smell of the fire, cold air on their face, holiday music, and even the very goodies we are preparing for them.  It brings them back instantly.  These feelings can be so strong and even physical for them.  Oftentimes, they can't explain why they are upset because the last time their parents drank beer, they shot their aunt and now every time they smell it, it reminds them of how scared they were that they would be next.  It takes time, help, and practice to let these things out in a healthy way.  It takes years and a safe place.  You have to prove you are that safe place because everyone else has tossed them away.  You may never know the extent of their histories.  I know after nearly 6 years, we are still hearing new memories.

So how should we handle these holidays and help our children?  How do we survive?  My experience is to do it slowly.  We minimized every holiday.  Birthdays are their pick for dinner, a special dessert, and a very small present.  Sometimes we even make them wait a day or two and let them pick something out after the fog clears so they don't destroy it.  Christmas is building traditions like candy making and hiding a pickle on the tree so the first child that finds it gets a giant candy bar to share with their siblings.  We don't have big parties with drinking or go out to big events during that time.  Over time, we began to model safe drinking by having a single glass of wine once a month.   

Each family has to find what works for them.  It is NEVER perfect so forget it.  Take time to mourn the loss of the family you once thought you would have.  Embrace the imperfections.  The biggest and hardest thing to do is be patient with their outbursts.  They will happen.  Their new things will be destroyed.  Comfort them.  Tell them they have a right to be angry because they do.  Praise them for every tiny they did right after the outburst.  If they shared something, didn't break all the dishes, and even that they stopped before they blackened your other eye.  Tell them they deserve to be loved and you are committed.  Mean it.  Forgive them.  When it is all said and done, have them make it up to you and the family.  They can need to make restitution for the time and energy they took.  Nothing punitive.  They need to be included in the family fun.  They need to build happy memories with you.

I'm sure you thinking, what about me???  I'll get to that.  I promise. For now, tell us how your holiday was or what you do to get through it.             

1 comment:

  1. The taste/smell of Christmas remains a huge trigger for our daughter. After about 15 or so years we found out part of the reason why. A former foster mom told of how bio-mom would lovingly scrounge together change to purchase something she could share with her three children during supervised visits in the Children and Family Services office.

    Biomom always chose "spiced" gumdrops to share among the four of them.

    Spiced gumdrops had been the "feast" of the repeated heartaches of our daughter's first family lost.

    I encourage parents... when you notice things trigger your kids... understand chances are there is a very good reason why.

    For us, as far as holidays would go... the first three years were most difficult... then things got beautiful for at least ten beautiful years.

    Having our kids journal daily about feelings (one positive/one negative emotion per day) helped keep them on an even keel.

    When our adolescents convinced us the assignment was too juvenile for them, their progression toward meltdown began... I'm guessing it's primarily because they no longer had an appropriate vent for the emotions that bombard them daily.