It’s your first holiday with your adopted child and you’ve done everything to make it perfect, with magazine-worthy tables of food, a home full of beautiful decorations, and lights twinkling just right in the annual family photo – at least until the dog eats the turkey, the cat knocks down the Christmas tree, and someone is blinking in every single picture! We all know that reality never goes exactly as you plan, but by following these tips to support your adopted child through the inevitable messiness, your first holiday season as a complete family can turn out better than you ever imagined!
Be sensitive to your child’s emotions.
The holidays can bring up difficult emotions for an adopted child. As everyone around them talks about the importance of family, adopted children may find themselves reflecting on their birth family and their past. Older adoptees may also have holiday memories that bring feelings of loss or sadness. Adopted children may feel uncomfortable with or overwhelmed by the new traditions and new relatives they will face. Pay close attention to your child’s feelings during this time and do your best to provide support. A safe space for them to talk about their feelings, a little extra time to go over relatives’ names, or a new journal can go a long way to making your child feel more comfortable.
Keep adoption in a positive light.
With the focus on family during the holidays, adopted children may feel more isolated by their adoptive status during the holidays. To help deal with this, celebrate adoption during the holidays. If you have an open adoption, take some time to meet with or send a card, craft, or picture from your child to their birth family if it’s appropriate. Keep an eye on the way that extended family members treat, talk to, and talk about your adopted child. Some people will treat adopted children differently than biological children, and some people may even be downright mean. A parent’s job is to protect your child from those things. Take offenders aside and be very clear that their behavior is unacceptable. You may want to incorporate your child’s adoption story into the holiday. For example, if you are a Christian family, you may draw parallels between Joseph’s care of Jesus and your care of and love for your adoptive child.
Respect and incorporate your child’s culture or traditions.
Even if it isn’t something you’re used to, doing your best to incorporate a child’s cultural or past tradition into your own family holiday can create a sense of consistency and inclusion for your child. Your child may have their own Christmas traditions that they hold dear from their time before their adoption, and accepting those traditions helps signal your acceptance of your child’s whole self, including their past. If your child’s adoption was international or trans-racial, incorporating specific traditions from your child’s birth culture can help them feel connected to where they came from. Having a cultural food next to your mashed potatoes, for instance, is a great way to mesh cultures in the same way you hope to mesh your family while respecting your child’s individuality.
The most important part of any holiday with your adopted child is to let go of the perfect and embrace being real, loving, and together. Your child might act out because they feel overwhelmed. Your weird uncle may say something insensitive at dinner and hurt your child’s feelings. Your attempt to make samosas may taste terrible. But those can be opportunities to talk to your child about those feelings, show your child that you will stand up for them no matter what, or try making samosas again with your child’s help. Relax and enjoy the time that you have with your newly complete family, perfect or not!