Adoptive Families and the Holidays
It’s that time of year again. The time when we believe all will be merry and bright and instead, it often turns to miserable and broken. This is not just among adoptive families, any family might have an overload of stressful emotions during the go-go-go holidays, but adopted kids often bring their own issues to the mix.
So here are a few suggestions to help keep the “silent night” both serene and sweet.
Ratchet it down. I know you wish you could carry on “business as usual” and enjoy your holiday traditions— whether the Nutcracker Suite ballet, extended-family get-togethers, Radio City Music Hall or whatever. Forget it. Less is more.
Pace yourself. If the kids are in a holiday choir, don’t plan on ice skating and decorating the tree during the same weekend. Space out the events.
Use Christmas music judiciously. Some can be calming and spiritual, other selections might ramp up the excitement to fever pitch.
Factor in the befores-and-afters of each event: When hopping in the car or on the plane “to grandmother’s house we go”, keep in mind that packing, dressing up, bringing a festive dish, sitting through a dinner and relatives/guests, then coming home to unpack, change back into everyday clothes, etc., can really be treated like multiple events. It’s stressful.
Have a gameplan in place if the child, large or small, becomes mouthy, manipulative or has a melt-down. No need for your holiday to be ruined. But it often is. The adoptive child is either overstressed or sometimes experiences “survivor’s guilt”— why are they enjoying such a lovely time when their friends are still left behind in the orphanage? Or, their feelings may border on rage— why did they miss out on holidays for all of the years prior to now? Or, they could be experiencing a sense of fraud— sensing that they really don’t fit in like “normal” girls and boys who were born into such a lifestyle. Make a deal that they sit, politely participating for 30 minutes during the meal and then they may be excused to do a quiet craft in their room, etc. Explain their absence to others: “Yes, she loves to see the family, but sometimes all of the excitement is just so overwhelming….” No need to go into huge explanations. Invite the son or daughter to join everyone later for dessert after a break of an hour or so.
Plan ahead for conversations that don’t go downhill. Help your child come up with three possible topics to discuss with friends or relatives at gatherings. Make them positive and upbeat subjects that may be of interest to the child or the listener. Preparation goes a long way.
Refuse to allow your child to be bullied. Some relatives, God bless them, like to prove that the adopted child doesn’t measure up in one way or another— asking them to recite multiplication tables, periodic tables or verb tables in their new language. Been there— step in and make a lighthearted comment to rescue them. This is a holiday and not the National Spelling Bee. Never let your child out of your sight. Don’t allow anyone to make disparaging comments about a child’s height, weight, hair, unibrow, intelligence, energy level, manners, etc.
Speaking of manners, your child does know about “please” and “thank you” and how to eat properly? Another good exercise to rehearse is what we might say when opening a gift, particularly a gift that might not be our favorite. Kids are good at pretend-play: “Oh my, this is really something!” “Look at this! It’s big!” “Thanks for thinking of me!” “That was a delicious meal!”
When approaching the holidays, remember that less is more. Even as I write, a holiday party is about to descend upon my home. Everyone is helping and preparing, and we’ve had a couple of meltdowns today and now one is throwing up in the bathroom.
Par for the course. And to all a good night.Tags: adoptees & family holiday gatherings, adoptive families & holidays, avoiding over-stimulation at holidays, Christmas tips for adoptive families, getting through the holidays with adopted kids, holiday tips for adoptive families, kids who become stressed at holidays, protecting your adopted child from relatives, survivor's guilt & the adoptee, your adopted kids are stressed at holiday time