For many of us loving children who have experienced trauma, the approach of the holiday season seems more like a looming threat than a joyous prospect. We wonder if we will experience the meltdowns, opposition, and anxiety that so often accompanies the changes in schedule, people, place and food of the holidays.
One of the benefits of having parented our adopted children for so long (they came home at ages 5 and 10, and 7 and10. They are now 18, 19, 21 and 23), is that we have had lots of time to learn, and the years have given us some helpful perspectives. So, here are a few thoughts to help us prepare for the season ahead. I'd love for you to add some of your own in the comments so that we can learn from each other and be encouraged along the way. With 34 people coming for Thanksgiving dinner this year, you can be sure I will be planning ahead and would love to read your ideas and thoughts!
Traditions and Unity
I am a big fan of traditions I have to say. In their place and for the right purpose traditions are a gift in any family. You may find like we have that the creation of traditions serve as an effective tool in building family unity and creating an anchor for your adopted children. Certainly it has been true for us that adoption does not lend itself to unity; family unity is something we parents must intentionally pursue. The very nature of adoption is to introduce someone from the outside into the life and heart of your family. I love the definition of unity though--check this out! Unity is "oneness, especially of what is varied and diverse in its element or part." An adoptive family is nothing if not diverse! We have found that creating family traditions has significantly helped us to be ONE family in the midst of much diversity. There is something about family traditions that fosters a sense of unity, connection, fun, and belonging. Embracing traditions in the next two months can create some much needed pockets of peace for your child.
Unlike routines, which are merely every day activities that require no special behavior and usually do not produce good feelings, traditions are "practices that create positive feelings and are repeated at regular intervals." We think of traditions as being handed down from one generation to another, but you can create your own traditions to meet the needs of your adoptive family. For many of us these wonderful activities will be new, but traditions have to start somewhere! The first few Christmases after our adoptions we attended a Russian Christmas celebration, filled with Russian music, dance and food. It was an effort on our part to make our children feel valued and to give them something familiar and comforting. It ended up not becoming a tradition for us because it didn't seem to mean much to our children, but I do encourage you to think outside your family traditions to find activities that will be congruent with your family. I'll share one other Christmas idea with you. Because we have seven children and we were
trying to avoid having 42 presents under the tree (representing only the ones each child would buy for his/her 6 siblings!) it has become a tradition with us that each child give all the money he or she would have spent on gifts for their siblings to buy a gift(s) for someone in need. Over the years we have given anonymously to families struggling at our church, to homeless children at a ministry in our city, and to unwed mothers. I know that sounds very impressive so I feel I must tell you that we still have plenty of presents under our tree, and most of them are store bought! And not only that, but not everyone participates with great selfless enthusiasm--true confessions of a Christian mom! But we have found that this tradition of giving to someone in need is a wonderful way for our family to live out who we are as worshipers of Jesus.
The Gift of Heritage
Along with creating new traditions, I encourage you to embrace ones that you grew up with and value. It is a wonderful gift to your children, especially your adopted children, to be warmly gathered into the heritage of your family, the traditions you grew up with. It creates in them a sense of belonging and history. It is a sad reality for our precious adopted children, to one extent or another, to have missing or fragmented histories. When we maintain traditions it fills in the sometimes gaping emotional holes that their missing stories have left. Take the time to tell your stories of growing up, of the things you used to do each year, and then do it again with your children! Both Stephen and I grew up in a liturgical church and we continue to enjoy observing Advent (the four weeks leading up to Christmas) with our children. It has been an effective way for us to celebrate Jesus in December. Our best family devotionals have been during these nightly readings, lighting the candles in our advent wreath, and sharing the amazing story of redemption.
But don't expect your child to say, "Mom, Dad, I just want to tell you how much I appreciate our traditions. These are very important to me and they are meeting a deep need I have to feel connected." And don't be surprised if he/she complains or acts out in some way when it is time to set the table for Thanksgiving dinner with the name tags you use every year. Our traditions did not mean that our children did not have a tough time with all the busyness--some of them did. Even to this day I see the strain on a couple of our children when the house if full of people and noise, and the daily routine is nowhere to be seen. So, most likely you still will have to love your child through meltdowns or some other difficult response. But keep the long haul view my friends. It has been a great joy of mine to watch as our children have identified themselves with our family traditions over the years, and have found a strong sense of place and belonging and connection. Now that right there is the spirit of adoption at work!
What are some ways your family has made the most of the holiday season?