Surviving Holidays as a Foster or Adoptive Family: Part 4-Traditions


Developing New Traditions and Honoring the Old

Traditions are ways that our family connects, bonds, and makes memories together, and it helps to make the day feel special. Our family has certain traditions that we have developed as a family around most holidays and special days. They seem to be ever evolving. When we got married, there was a merging of traditions that came from our families during our childhoods. For example, my family had always done stockings, while Darren’s family had not. We have stockings every year now, but there was compromise and some family traditions that got left out, and there were new traditions created between us that came about not from our past experiences but out of our own ideas together. When a birth child comes into a family, they assimilate into existing traditions, and new traditions develop that include activities for children.

Adding Traditions from Your Child’s Past

When a foster or adoptive child comes into the family, especially at an age where they remember their family traditions, it is important to not just add them into existing traditions but to bring some of their traditions into your own celebrations. This can be as simple as adding a food to the menu, opening a present at a different time, adapting the number or type of presents given, wrapping or not wrapping certain gifts..the possibilities are endless. Involve your children in this process.

Creating New Traditions

Just as in marriage, when you bring a child into your home, you’ve created a new family and with that comes the opportunity to make traditions specific to you. At the end of the blog, I’ll share some of our traditions, but here is one example from our story. The first year or so with our kids, we showered them with gifts only to see those gifts trashed, given away, or otherwise ill treated. This is so common in foster and adopted children for a variety of reasons (low self-worth, lack of experience of how to treat “stuff,” etc.). What our kids were lacking—and really needed yet we couldn’t necessarily afford!—was bonding family experiences. When asked what by others what to get our child, we began requesting movie or dinner gift cards, science center memberships, zoo passes, and so on. We started making the big gifts we gave be annual passes to an amusement park or some place we could go as a family and giving smaller gifts of activities to do in the car on the way there, clothes for the trip, or gift cards to spend on vacation.

Letting Go of Triggering Traditions

Another key is realizing what traditions may be detrimental to your child in some way or another and letting go of those traditions. For example, I have recently seen debate on elements of the Elf on the Shelf story that have been harmful to kids who are dealing with issues related to rejection, performance, self-worth, shame, and so on. Some families who have brought children with major trust issues into their home, children who only know adults as liars, have chosen to avoid traditions related to Santa as their child will view that as another lie from adults. Rather than opening all presents on Christmas morning and overwhelming a child, you may need to spread presents out over days or weeks. As you get to know children in your home, you can decide which traditions may need to be nixed from your celebrations.

Here are some of the traditions our family has developed.

  • Adoption anniversaries – We reminisce over dinner and have a cake with the number of years the child has been legally adopted into our family.
  • New Year’s Eve – The last two years we have had a small party with close friends to play board games and eat certain snack foods and wrap it up with watching the ball drop at Times Square followed by hugs and crashing into our beds. (Before that, our kids could not handle being up that late, and we had to celebrate early at home and send them on to bed.)
  • Easter – We always watch a VeggieTales Easter cartoon. My wife creates small chocolates that are placed in a small chocolate basket. We color eggs and have an egg hunt.
  • 4th of July – We have a picnic before seeing fireworks.
  • Thanksgiving – We make pumpkin juice to go along with our traditional fare. We watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
  • Christmas – We always make candy gingerbread men and decorate them sometime before Christmas to give as gifts. We also always have a special time where we set up a nativity and read the Christmas story. We watch Christmas movies.
    We get PJs on, make hot cocoa, fix up treat bags, and go look at light shows in the “Fink Express” on Christmas Eve.
    Each person has their own specific wrapping paper each year that their gifts are wrapped in. While we still use gift tags, this makes it easy to sort gifts and for a child without reading ability to “play Santa” and hand out gifts. They take turns and everyone is happy with this. We have also printed tags with the child’s picture on them.
  • Birthdays – We wake the person up with a song we made up that ends in a dog pile of him/her. “Happy, happy birthday from all of us to you. Happy, happy birthday cuz we all love you. Happy, happy birthday, don’t think that we’re rude. Happy, happy birthday cuz we’re all gonna pile on you.”
    (This has been evolving the last year to something silly that doesn’t involve a dog pile as the kids have gotten big and also needed more physical boundaries. We now say “howl at you” instead of “pile on you.”)
    We decorate the birthday person’s FACE with icing.

Stay tuned for the upcoming posts in this series—Surviving Holidays as a Foster or Adoptive Family:
Part 5-Managing Emotions

And if you missed it, be sure to check out:

[Part 1: Expectations]
[Part 2: Honoring Feelings]
[Part 3: Balancing Relationships]

Now It’s Your Turn:

  1. What traditions do you have?
  2. How have your traditions changed as new children have joined your family?
  3. Be sure to share your thoughts below. Your answers will help other kids and parents too.


Written by
Margie Fink: Development Director Margie received her degree in psychology and has worked in various social work capacities. Margie has been chosen in the past to speak on Capitol Hill about the Refundable Adoption Tax Credit. She is a witty foster/adoptive mom who is able to give kids from hard places loving structure while providing unbelievable homemade cooking. Margie co-founded Community Kids, a resource and networking 501(c)3 created to assist foster, adoptive, and relative caregiver families. Check Out: Thoughts From A Foster-Adoptive Mom

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