Guest Blog by Maxine Chalker
Thanksgiving is fast approaching and families across the country are preparing for a day filled with food, family and gratitude. Holidays should be a time of joy, but for some adoptees, especially older adopted children, the festivities can also be difficult. This is especially true for holidays like Thanksgiving, according to Adoptions From The Heart, a time when many of us gather together with our extended families.
The first point to note is that, for some children, holding a large family gathering might not be the right choice. At least, not right now. Big groups can be overwhelming in general. Holidays themselves can be triggers for some adopted children. They can also make some kids feel isolated, especially if parents are running around tending to everyone else’s needs. Above all else, be alert. Be empathic. Pay close attention, without smothering, to how your child is feeling. Your child’s needs are unique and should be the priority. One option is to plan a series of smaller get-togethers, rather than a single night with every member of the family. This can help strike a healthy balance and demonstrate to your child that they are an integrated part of the family.
For children who were adopted at an older age, holidays can bring back complicated, and sometimes painful, memories. Acknowledge your child’s feelings, so they know that being sad or nostalgic about a previous situation isn’t abnormal or forbidden, but welcomed. Your child should know that they can trust you with their thoughts and feelings, no matter what those thoughts and feelings are. The only way to create trust is through communication and unconditional acceptance. That might mean talking about your child’s biological parents, a common theme around the holidays. This isn’t something you should shy away from, although it can be painful or uncomfortable for some parents. Your child needs you to acknowledge their life, every part of their life, down to the details.
Traditions are the cornerstone of any holiday. Most families have rituals, favorite pastimes or activities to which we return every year. Providing adopted children with stability, a sense of permanence, is crucial. Fostering a sense of stability is especially important during the holiday season, which can be hectic and overwhelming for all parties involved. Creating a new family tradition, one that can be repeated every Thanksgiving, is one way to add stability, like a landmark that will remain in sight year after year. Don’t forget to maintain those smaller landmarks, though. Holidays are stressful, and you may be preoccupied by your plans, but remember to maintain your day-to-day routines, the small rituals that help your child feel centered and in control.
An alternative, or additional, way to think about creating new family customs is to go back and draw on your child’s previous situation for holiday traditions that can be maintained. In some open adoptions, adoptive and biological parents join forces to create new holiday traditions that involve every member of the adoption triad. Maybe a visit is in order, or a gift exchange. As always, everyone should be comfortable with the situation, but holidays can be a wonderful, and natural, opportunity for strengthening relationships within an open adoption.
Author Bio: Maxine Chalker is the founder and Executive Director of Adoptions From The Heart. She holds a MSW and LSW which she uses to give adoption a new face by breaking down the barriers and taking some of the mystery out of the adoption process. Chalker was also adopted.