For those who are experiencing the joy of the Christmas or Hannukah season for the first time with your older (above age 4 years) child, I want to share a small piece of advice that I, and countless others, have learned along the way. This holiday is going to be different. It doesn't matter if you have adopted younger kids before, because they didn't 'get it'. It doesn't matter if you are the the Parent of the Year with your birth-children, and you think you have got it all figured out. I'm begging you....get ready.
There are those of us who have had years of parenting experience before adopting an older child. We also were incredible, capable and of course completely prepared. HA! We are all now on secret facebook groups sharing stories and wishing we could both communicate the absolute joy of parenting these kids...and the very real need for "first time parents of older-adoptees" to open their minds and accept a little advice.
Get ready to hear this from your older adoptee this holiday season:
I want, I want, I WANT! I WAAANNNTT THAT MOMMY!
With the constant barrage of advertisements and television commercials aimed at children year round and especially through the Holiday season, a child's first Christmas home can be a little more stressful than her family may have anticipated.
Often, having had to survive a number of Holiday seasons wondering if they would ever have the experience of purchasing gifts for a son or daughter, many new adoptive parents are at risk of overwhelming and indulging the new child in the family.
Do you see yourself here?
Children who have previously experienced extreme deprivation may seem to have a never-ending list of toys and gifts they want and expect. Many adoptive parents struggle with their sincere desire to please their child and to experience the joy and excitement of giving their long-awaited child the fullness of their heart's desire. But what is truly in the child's best interest?
Having gone through a tremendous amount of work and preparation to become parents, adoptive parents are clearly up to the challenging task of achieving a healthy balance. Traditions, like cookie baking, visiting friends, and decorations placed in the same place year after year, will be long remembered after that plastic toy has broken or been thrown away.
The best gift you can give your first older adoptive child is: LESS.
Emotionally, give more. Decorate your home, take late night drives through neighborhoods with bright lights, sing carols, celebrate family in every way possible.
But remember: If you have other children, your newly adopted child will not measure gifts in expense (there is absolutely no concept of cost), but in number.
S-L-O-W Down on Christmas morning. Take turns opening gifts, admiring each one, and absolutely make sure that the new child has the same number as the other children.
And please know this...it won't always matter. Every parent of an older adoptee is so thrilled to see the present opening and of course there is an emotional 'kick-back' that they are expecting. Some parents, unfortunately, become displeased...they may not get the 'appreciation' that they may have been unconciously expecting. The child isn't 'grateful' for the gifts.
But ask yourself this: Did they enjoy the cookie baking? The carols? The walks through the park with all its lights in splendor? For these kids FAMILY and GIFTS are seperate.
When thinking about what to give your newly adopted child, remember that traditions are the foundation that you will build on. Make her first Christmas home the one she will remember for a lifetime.
- Take many digital photos and have them developed during the season. Allow older children to take photos and add them to the new photo album
- Decorate together, being mindful that fragile items might be saved for a later year, as the excitement of the season will make children sometimes careless. Don't let a broken object ruin this joyous season.
- Spend time with friends and family, but remember that too much stimulation can completely overwhelm a child who has grown up in another culture or in an orphanage. Their behavior may not be as you would hope, and it is important to have a Plan B in place for a new adoptee. A quite place the child can be alone with a parent when things are too overwhelming.
- Consider ahead of time whether or not the season is a religious time for your family, or simply a traditional time. If religious, too much emphasis on Santa (a fictional character) can be confusing for the older child. He is very likely, as has been seen by other adoptive families, to also consider Jesus fictional when they are presented at the same time.
- Help your child to compose a card or letter to their former orphanage. This is a wonderful time to send a small donation to the orphanage with recent photos of your child. Allowing your child to draw a picture, send stickers, etc is very empowering and beneficial. Often, you will be very touched by what they wish to send and the letters that they write.
- And finally, let the word flexibility be your mantra.
Remembering the less fortunate:
If your child has been home for more than 6 months and has the language skills, it is important to incorporate helping the less fortunate immediately into your traditions. Most orphanage-raised children do NOT believe there are children in the USA that are poor or who do not have families. In addition to sending a donation to your child's orphanage (a common practice for adoptive parents), finding a way to help children within their new country gives your child a sense of charity, community involvement, and simply helps to form good character.
With a bit of forethought and mindfulness, encouraging an emphasis on remembering less fortunate children instead of getting the latest must-have toy really is possible.
One quick way to help other children is to search the RainbowKids Get Involved! Area. Within this area several charities have listed their needs and ways that you may assist the children who still wait.
By enjoying your child and sharing time together during the holiday season remembering the less fortunate, you will help develop values and memories which will endure a life time and carry through to their own parenting.
Read about Adoptees Making a Difference in our Hope Ambassadors area of RainbowKids!