The days are becoming shorter and many of us are experiencing that crisp fall air. The holiday season is around the corner, and it always seems arrive sooner than anticipated. Adopted families may look toward this season with joy, gratitude, and potentially, trepidation. For newly adopted children this can be an overwhelming time and for children who have been in your family for years, the holidays may be a visual reminder that they do not share biology with the family they love. The Barker Adoption Foundation has International programs in South Korea, China, India, and Colombia, and has helped many families navigate this time of year. Below are a few tips to help prepare you and your family for the holiday season:
Holiday family traditions are cherished by all children, and unique rituals that distinguish your family are especially valued by adoptees. Incorporating new traditions that weave in your child’s heritage will promote pride. Is there a favorite recipe from their birth country that you can include into your traditional holiday meal? If they are old enough, they can help you prepare the dish. Depending upon your child’s age at the time of adoption, traditions also foster a sense of belonging and permanency. Even if your newly adopted child is a baby or toddler, now is a good time to begin incorporating such traditions. One day, they will enjoy knowing that your family embraced such traditions from the very beginning.
Maintain Connections with Country of Origin
International adoptive families do not typically have contact with their child’s birth family, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot maintain connections with individuals or institutions that cared for them in the early years. When possible, families are encouraged to maintain connections with their overseas foster family by sending a letter or photos. As you are sending out annual holiday cards, this can be a great time to establish the routine of sending updates to their early providers overseas as well. When a child is older, they may wish to participate by drawing pictures or writing a letter.
A great example we have seen in the past are kids who raised money for the orphanage in their birth country. Then, depending on the need of the orphanage Barker used those funds to send specific items such as, toys, books, art supplies, formula and diapers. Another child used her birthday to fundraise and help buy cribs for her birth country’s orphanage.
Create Room for Dialogue
Holidays may serve as a reminder to some adopted children that they do not resemble their extended family at the dinner table. While some children do not struggle with racial differences, this realization may trigger unanticipated grief for others. With busy holiday schedules, it is easy to miss signs that your child might be struggling. By integrating cultural traditions or connecting with their country, you provide a natural space for dialogue where to process such feelings.
Envision your holiday season through your child’s eyes.
If your child arrived home within the past year, they may still be transitioning into your family. During the home study process, you may have been encouraged to “keep your world small” as your child adjusts, and it’s helpful to maintain this perspective during an otherwise hectic time. Extended family members and friends may have supported you along the way and are eager to meet your child at large holiday gatherings. If you are still building attachment, consider limiting large social events that could feel overwhelming to your child. Also, you will know your child’s preferences regarding affection and if they seem more comfortable with a high-five instead of a hug, inform family members in advance.
Educate Your Family Members
With the extensive training adoptive families undergo, positive adoption language can become second-nature. It is easy to forget that not everyone equipped with the same preparation, and sometimes families are caught off-guard by the comments or questions that arise from well-intentioned family and friends. Sometimes, after a long and arduous adoption process, your child is finally home, and you may even feel tempted to discuss the details or your child’s story, but remember that your child should be the first to hear those details from you. Certain family members may even need to be educated in advance about topics that are off-limits.
People are inherently curious about adoption. However the details of your child’s story belong solely to them, including when and with whom they share their story. Also, when telling others personal details surrounding your child’s adoption, you risk your child hearing their story from the wrong source or before they are developmentally ready. It is easy to forget this when your child is an infant or toddler, but remember that you are setting a foundation for questions in the future.
If you are struggling with how to best support your child through the holiday season, connect with your agency for support. Adoption agencies like The Barker Adoption Foundation offer Post-Adoption Support services to assist our families at all stages of the adoption process. If you would like to learn more about Barker’s International Adoption Programs and reputable life-long support services, please contact us.
Author: Lisa Hughes, LCSW-C, LICSW
International Clinical Specialist
The Barker Adoption Foundation, based just outside Washington, DC, is committed to the idea that all children deserve a safe, loving and permanent home. As the 4th oldest adoption agency in the country, Barker provides life-long adoption-related services and robust educational programs, partnering with all members of the adoption circle in a manner that’s respectful, ethical, and compassionate. In addition to Barker’s Domestic Infant and older child adoption (“Project Wait No Longer”) programs, Barker currently has International Adoption Programs in China, Colombia, India, and Korea. Barker’s China Waiting Children program focuses on finding devoted families across the United States for children who are older, or with known medical needs, ranging from minor, correctable conditions, to more severe and/or permanent conditions. After an adoption is finalized, our department of Family and Post-Adoption Services provides comprehensive guidance and education to birth parents, adoptive parents and adopted persons including counseling, parenting workshops, support groups, an annual conference and more.