Societally, there’s so much pressure on parents for the holiday season to be perfect or run seamlessly. And while that’s a nice thought, it’s not commonly the case, especially for those adjusting to new family dynamics.
One of the hardest, yet well-intentioned, hurdles for parents is the desire to protect their child from feeling disappointed. For adoptive parents, this can be extra challenging during the holidays, as it is a time which often elicits challenging moments or memories.
To help you anticipate and respond to the full range of emotions your child might experience this season, our CEO and founder, Janice Goldwater, recently shared tips, and her personal perspective as a mom through birth and adoption, on the Creating a Family podcast episode, “Navigating Sticky Situations That Arise During the Holidays.” Explore a few key points below.
Remain Open and Curious
You’re not alone if the holiday season makes you feel like you’re in overdrive mode. Slow down, stay aware of your own feelings, and be open to how your child is feeling every step of the way. Approach their feelings and actions with a sense of curiosity, free from judgment. Being attuned to their needs will set you, and them, on the right path.
Keep Developmental Needs Top of Mind
As they say, age is just a number. You can have a 12-year-old who may act like a young child, or seemingly wise beyond their years. In terms of social or emotional maturity, children often behave at different developmental stages, and all need support.
All children manage and express feelings in different ways. You don’t have to be a superhero, but you can sit there and say, “I know it’s really hard.” Validate their feelings and do your best to understand how to support them with the loss and grief they may be experiencing.
Be Extra Communicative with Birth Parents
While every birth parent relationship looks different, the holidays can be a special time to connect. Before the season, come up with a plan that provides consistency for the child. Maybe it’s sharing a gift exchange, tradition, meal, or even a meaningful phone call.
And if the bond is strained, try your best to keep your personal feelings out of the equation. Be careful, and don’t share negative sentiments or reactive statements. Remember, the goal is to honor and respect your child’s birth family.
Manage Family Interactions
In our extended families, we can often run into conflict due to different viewpoints or even ways we show love.
If family members are acting inappropriately or offensively, treating your child differently, or not making any effort to understand their needs, it’s time for a gentle conversation to set a boundary. Children see and feel more than we can comprehend, and it’s crucial to treat them with respect, and stand up for them when necessary.
In some situations, it can be as simple as saying to your family member, “I know you love them, but your words and actions are being perceived differently.”
Flip the Script on Gift-Giving
For children with sensory issues or working through trauma, receiving a gift can bring up heavy emotions, and they often may react in unfamiliar ways, or even reject the gift itself. Rather than focusing on tangible items to build a connection, make sure that you’re truly listening to what they need from you.
Ultimately, focus less on how a gift is received and more on how it feels to give.
Honor Religious Traditions
To embrace your child’s history and culture, have an honest conversation about their religious preferences. Make space to celebrate their religious holidays and traditions in a way that feels authentic to them.
Welcome them into your traditions, but never push your child to participate if they are not comfortable.
A common thread through all of this advice is patience. Have patience for your child, and yourself. Be aware of your need to nurture. Instead of leading with your initial perception of what they need, ask first.
The holidays do not have to be perfect; and neither do you. Give yourself permission to show up imperfectly, and trust that you are learning together.
If you need additional support, reach out to our team for guidance through counseling, parent coaching, webinars, trainings, and more.