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This month we celebrate the “birthday” and independence of the United States. Many folks observe the Fourth of July as an extended family. Holidays become enmeshed with warm memories of the important people in our family, delicious food, fun activities, and great company.
Since we are part of an adopted family, we have some “extra steps” to consider while planning our holiday. We need to include a generous dose of Adoption Attunement along with all our good intentions. As parents, we can look back over decades of holidays and enjoy the memories they conjure. Drawing on our history, we strive to continue longstanding traditions and to establish family traditions with our own children, family, and friends.
Mindful of our commitment to ensuring that our children have the support they need, we recognize that as an adoptive family we have a few extra boxes to tick off on the planning list. The top priority is ensuring that our kids feel safe and comfortable enough to enjoy themselves. While this seems like a given, for many adoptees, several factors can make it a bit harder for them to relax and enjoy the festivities.
Remember that many adoptees feel most alone and “out of sync” during large gatherings of extended family. Their experience of the holiday may be quite different from ours. Our kids may actually feel the full weight of their differences instead of the ease of many decades of feeling at home with family, loved, accepted, “seen”, and appreciated. This means they may need an escape from this explosion of family tradition.
Create a plan ahead of time that outlines what your child—and you—can do to help them enjoy the day. Agree on options they can choose if they need to access a bit of calm or solitude in the midst of all the fun and chaos. Our personal enjoyment of the day must take a back seat to ensure that our kids feel safe and secure. This attunement to their needs will benefit our children, ourselves, and everyone else in attendance.
Kids adopted from foster care may have uncomfortable, painful, bittersweet, special, or treasured memories of holidays that they shared with their birth families. They will almost certainly have some sense of reawakened loss and heartache. Be mindful of this reality. Discuss it ahead of time. Be aware that certain sights, sounds, music, foods, etc., may trigger some challenging emotions. Create a list of strategies that they can use. Set a code word they can say to you that alerts you to their need for prompt support—or perhaps a respite from the chaos and noise. Reassure them that their reaching out for help will be met with your understanding. Promise that you will not be angry or annoyed if they have to call on your support. Be sure they know that you want them to seek you out if they are struggling, that keeping them safe is more important than the fun you are having yourself.
Kids adopted at infancy won’t have any previous holiday memories that are unknown to you that could unexpectedly “trigger” them but they may still feel a sense of “not belonging” in gatherings of extended family. They can look around and see family commonalities play out live—in the moment—gestures, patterns, physical attributes all convey a message of family identity. Our kids can see these attributes and judge them both as familiar and reassuring and as qualities which they clearly lack. Once again, High AQ families will note the presence of Both/And in the reality that is adoption.
Share conversations ahead of time that explore the complicated and ambiguous emotions that they might feel during the holiday events. Discussing things ahead of time provides an opportunity to build resiliency, predetermine the support needed and wanted, and to set exit strategies if necessary. Try some conversation starters like:
I wonder how you feel when everyone talks about all the past family holidays …
You look obviously different from the family; how do you feel about that when we are all together?
Since you dislike sports, what will you do during the family softball game?
What agreements and plans will you want in place so you can enjoy yourself, have fun and feel safe?
Highly attuned adoptive parents regularly remind themselves of the need to steep their parenting in the fifteen elements of Adoption Attunement. It takes years of practice before the High AQ approach becomes the default. Keep practicing. Our kids are worth it!
Learn how the coaches at GIFT Family Services can help you and your family navigate your adoption journey. We’ve faced our share of family challenges and crises, ridden the metaphorical rollercoaster, and our families have not only survived; they have thrived. We offer experience, neutrality, and understanding. GIFT coaches are available to present workshops online. Contact us : 1-800-653-9445
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