Dear Adoptive Moms - especially those of you who adopted older kids who came with a truckload of trauma -- I have something I need to say.
Jesus doesn't want His birthday celebration this year to cause you stress. He doesn't want you to lose ground in attachment with your adopted child because you have to go all out to celebrate His big day. It's OK with Him if you scale way back. . .or just stay home. . . or even skip the whole thing -- although that's probably not necessary. It's Jesus' birthday, and He doesn't mind.
Aunt Susie, on the other hand. . . Aunt Susie wants you at the family Christmas dinner. Aunt Susie is going to die if you mess with the way your family has always celebrated Christmas. But Jesus understands your situation in a way that Aunt Susie probably never will. And Jesus is on your side.
My family is keeping Christmas simple this year -- just like we have for the last two years since Wenxin came home. The first year was just our immediate family. Then last year, we stayed home, but Grandma came to our house to celebrate with us. This year we'll stay home again and travel to visit cousins the week after Christmas. Our families have been understanding, but I know that's not always the case.
So why do the holidays seem to be so hard for internationally adopted older kids? Why do meltdowns increase as the decorations go up? And is there any way to help our extended families understand?
I suppose there are lots of reasons why Christmas is hard on our kids. The first thing that comes to my mind is CHANGE. Most of our kids do better with structure and predictability. But Christmas is a season of festive chaos. Decorations = Change. Parties = Change. Guests = Change. Gifts = Change. For most of our kids, even happy change is stressful.
Children home less than a year are still learning language so they have the added stress of trying to figure out what the heck is going on without the language skills to communicate on a deep level. Just what we need -- added stress.
Then there's the fact that adoption issues are magnified during the holidays. Just the other day, we decorated a small tree with personalized ornaments that belong to all my kids. 3 of my kids have ornaments that say Baby's First Christmas with the date. They all know that Grammy bought the ornaments for them when they were babies. As they pulled them out, I heard it three different times.
"Oh look! Here's my Baby's First Christmas ornament!"
Wenxin doesn't have one. Of course he had a first Christmas. But it was far away and filled with loss. Thoughts of Baby's First Christmas have the potential to raise lots of questions for him. What about his first mom? Why couldn't she keep him? There's more to it than everyone else having an ornament that he doesn't have.
While language difficulties become less of an issue the longer our kids are home, I think that dealing with adoption related questions will be a lifelong process. And there's something about the holidays that seems to make all of us miss people we've lost.
Which brings me to the main reason I think the holidays are hard for our kids who were adopted as older children. Underlying everything, they all have a history of trauma.
No older child is available for adoption because he's had a good life.
As we parent them, we gain an appreciation for how much they've suffered and how far they come. Sometimes, to protect their privacy, we don't tell the harder parts of their stories. So while we celebrate each step forward and are impressed with how far they've come, it's easy for our extended family members (who may not know the whole story) to lose patience. It can seem like this adopted child, a newcomer to the family scene, is suddenly ruining Christmas for everyone.
This child has a loving family now. Can't we all just move on?
Let me answer that question with a hypothetical situation -- a situation so scary it's hard for me to write.
Suppose that a year ago, Julia, my ten year old daughter, had been abducted by a stranger. Imagine the trauma for her. Imagine the trauma for us.
Then suppose that nine months later, Julia was rescued and returned to us physically unharmed.
Now here's my question. Would anyone expect Julia to just jump back into normal life? Would anyone believe that being reunited with her family would wipe away the trauma of the last nine months? Would family members understand if we had to stay close to home because crowds made her nervous? Would people give us grace?
I'm certain they would.
So why is it different for our adopted kids? Why do people not "get it" when it comes to their trauma?
I think there's a simple answer. People don't get it because the trauma in our adopted kids' lives happened before they knew them. For most people, their starting point with our kids is when we adopted them. They don't remember that every adoption begins with loss.
It's easy to forget.
So give Aunt Susie some grace. If she really understood, she'd probably want you to do whatever it takes to help your adopted child heal. And it's OK to do it all or keep it small as you remember the birth of Christ this year. Feel free to celebrate Jesus' birthday in whatever unconventional way fits your family at this stage. After all, Jesus was never conventional. He'll probably love it!
I'd love for you to comment on how you navigate the holidays. How do you meet your child's needs while being sensitive to the desires and expectations of other family members? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts! Comments make my day.
Check out Our Adoption Toolbox for more older child adoption tools.