A Guest Blog by Lynn Sollitto
I have fond memories of Christmas traditions during my childhood. My mother made oyster stew each Christmas Eve, which I refused to eat, after which we got to open one gift. Christmas morning, my mother fixed a large breakfast after all the gifts were opened; we ate appetizers for a mid-day lunch, and then an early dinner. (I’m Italian; food is important to us.)
Now, over 30 years later, I have my own family traditions. Some of them are left over from my childhood, such as a tree topper star made from aluminum foil-covered cardboard. We also let the kids open one gift on Christmas Eve. Others are different; we order pizza instead of eating oyster stew and we serve corned beef for Christmas dinner.
Before adopting my daughters, I took these traditions for granted. In the seven years since adopting my daughters through foster care, I’ve learned traditions are essential for my daughters* because of their history of trauma. Paige has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and anxiety. Her older sister, Payton, has Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). For both of them, consistency is key and routine is required for their peace of mind… and our whole family’s.
Maintaining our yearly traditions during the holiday season is not just for fun, it is a necessity. A Christmas routine helps my daughters feel in control during our Christmas chaos. Traditions also decrease my stress level because Paige and Payton are less likely to act out.
Traditions are just one way we maintain sanity during the holidays. The following are others that have helped things run smoother:
- Keep the presents to Christmas day. Let them open presents only on Christmas Day. (See No. 2 for an exception.) If we aren’t going to see relatives that day, we ask them to bring the gifts ahead of time; Skype is a great way to make this work. In the same vein, if teachers send a gift home, we ask that they emphasize the gift needs to stay wrapped until Christmas Day.
- Do the same thing every Christmas Eve. We eat cheese pizza for dinner. Afterwards, the children get on jammies and open a gift we’ve picked out for them. Then we drive around the neighborhood looking at Christmas lights and listening to Christmas music. Once back home, we watch a Christmas video and read The Night Before Christmas. Then it’s bedtime. This takes the novelty of Christmas Eve and makes it routine.
- Discourage focusing on the upcoming holiday. My daughters perseverate on Christmas Day, and it can start as early as the first day of November. This creates an anxious anticipation and leads to increased moodiness and tantrums. We do our best to distract them when the topic comes up; however, now they’re older and have a longer attention span so we’ve changed our technique. They take turns with an Advent Calendar to count down the days, which is an appropriate outlet. Payton has a calendar in her room. She counts down the days and crosses one off before each night. The timing is great because she goes to bed right afterwards. These two things help us to contain their excitement.
- Don’t make exceptions. Our children are not allowed to have dessert unless they eat all their dinner. We apply the same rule over the holidays. On Christmas Day, they aren’t allowed to eat any more candy or cookies than they would any other day. If they receive a video as a gift, it counts towards their TV time.
- Keep things low key. Be consistent and keep the same routine, especially when school vacation starts. We don’t allow sleepovers or extra play-dates just because there’s more free time. We do not travel during the holidays. If we have out-of-town visitors, we prepare them but only a few days ahead of time.
Christmastime is a tight balance of novel and routine to minimize stress, not just for Paige and Payton, but the whole family. The above-mentioned five things in combination with our Christmas traditions have helped make the holidays more enjoyable. Although the holiday season can be more draining with two children who have a history of trauma, I choose to celebrate it with a combination of consistency and love.
- Names changed to protect privacy.
Lynn Sollitto lives in Sacramento, California, with her husband and three children. She has been featured on Carrie Goldman’s 30 Days of Adoption at Chicago Now. Lynn is blogging her story, Born in My Heart: A Bittersweet Adoption Blessing at https://lynnsollitto.wordpress.com. She also blogs about foster adoption each Thursday at http://bittersweetadventures.com. Lynn advocates for foster care adoption on Twitter and Facebook. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.