Tuesday, December 4, 2012

It's Jesus' Birthday, and He Doesn't Mind

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.


  1. Great post...and you think deeply like me (I prefer to say passionately)! The hypothetical situation is valid, and one that I have contemplated. "Happy Change can be stressful" is spot on. Actually, I've discovered that it's the days/weeks after the happy big events that have one of mine acting out.

    As for ornaments, I've been going back and forth on whether to buy a baby's first Christmas from the year they were born (EBay). They were babies, they were born, and their lives are to be celebrated and the ornament would represent their birth year just as we celebrate their birthdays by remembering the birth year date. Yet, I would hate for that gift to cause more heartache though...

    Off-topic, Dana, last night I was blessed to read the Bible account of the friend of God, Abram who changed countries and was given a new name! My two older-child-adoptees ate that up!

    Still navigating the holidays along with you!

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I, too, keep contemplating whether or not to buy the Baby's First Christmas ornament. I'll blog later this week about how I decided to handle some of the ornament dilemma, but I still haven't come to a conclusion about Baby's first Christmas.

      Love the Abram analogy. I love how God's word is always relevant.

    2. Update...I eBayed baby's first Christmas ornaments for all three adoptees! Our 8yo was thrilled...I bought him two, one Pooh and one photo (thankfully we have a baby photo of him). There could be a different reaction any given year...one year at a time! :-)

  2. I'll anticipate your ornament post! :-)

  3. Sam's "1st Christmas" ornament is actually from the year following, since she was actually one for her 1st Christmas with us, instead of "baby" if you follow... It makes it so much easier on us that she was so young (9 mos) rather than older. Last year she did bring up that 1st Christmas, wondering about it...

    1. I'd love to hear In person sometime) how you handle those conversations.

  4. You know we've struggled with this. We've decided this year to keep Christmas very small. It's the boys' first, after all, and I want it to be special and intimate. The four of us put up the tree last night, and I can already tell so many memories are going to be made this year. And it's totally find with me if they don't involve Aunt Susie just yet!

    1. Aunt Susie will have her day. : ) I've never heard an adoptive family say they regretted keeping things small at first. It takes so much pressure off the holiday. Have fun introducing your boys to your family Christmas traditions!

  5. Cami came home two days before Christmas last year, so by default it was small. This year - we are keeping it small too. It no longer looks like Christmas "threw up" in our house. Funny thing happened when we went smaller - we left more room for Jesus to come in!

    1. I can't believe Cami's been home a year.

  6. Love this post. I am less than 24 hours from checking out of the Garden and heading home with Lucy, our 2nd older child adoption this year. It will be interesting to see how Christmas unfolds for us. Alice has no Christian experience with Christmas, while Lucy does (she even has a stocking in her suitcase she brought with her!). Alice has been home 9 months, Lucy will be home barely 2 weeks by Christmas. The "big" kids are coming home Sunday to meet Lucy, celebrate her birthday and help put up our Christmas tree. It will be a lot to take in, but praying it is a fun first day for the immediate family to all be together.

  7. I'm visiting from Imperfect Prose and I do not have any adopted children. However, I love this post because it made me so much more aware of what other families deal with during the holidays and it makes me armed with grace for them. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  8. I have three children adopted as older children (8, 9 and 14) and I haven't noticed them having more stress at Christmas, but we also don't live around family so we don't get to have some of those experiences. BUT, I did want to say that I loved your post and the things it said and verified because I am SURE THERE ARE many people who do have kids who are in this situation. I loved your example of trauma and all the points you made. Yes, it is true that these children have come to us only because of traumatic events...but what a blessing that we are able to do our best to help them be their own very best. I am glad Wenxin has you to be his mom and best advocate in life.


    1. Suzanne - Thank you so much for sharing. I can see how my post made it sound like all older adopted kids have problems at Christmas which I'm sure is not the case. Thanks so much for helping make that clear.

  9. My heart goes out to each and everyone of you. I *used to* enjoy the holidays in a much different way than I do now...

    We are "lucky" that we now live several states away from family. Our 8 year old (A: 2006) has Autism and PTSD. The holidays are hell for her. It is difficult for my attention seeking 6 year old (A: 2009) as well. Our son, age 2 has only been home since October, but I imagine he will share his sisters feelings.

    We love our extended family. But, we are grateful when we don't have to see them at the holidays. They just do not understand and some are more clueless than others. One year we took a vacation so that nobody could come visit us at Christmas!!!! It was wonderful.

  10. Great post. Christmas is a massive amount of festive chaos! It's fun, but it's... much. And routines are obliterated. We adopted our daughter when she was 4. Were in Guangzhou for Christmas in 2010. Last year, my husband put up our Christmas tree while the kids were at school. This year, the kids decorated it, and I am glad for that year in between. Because it gave our daughter a chance to amass some ornaments. As her brothers pulled out ones they have had for years, she had her own, as well. The stocking from the Garden Hotel, an ornament frame of extended family meeting her at the airport, crafts from the daycare last year... I'm not sure my boys understand the significance of the words "baby's first Christmas" on their ornaments. They just know who is the reindeer and who is the peapod. But someday if it seems my girl would like one for her year, too, well, to eBay I will go!

  11. I love this post, Dana! It's so important for ALL of us to be aware of other's hurts during this time (adopted and non-adopted)! While it may be an exciting time for most, there are many people hurting!

    I wanted to thank you for linking up with the Tuesday Baby Link Up, again! And guess what....I'm featuring you again on Tuesday!! :)

    I hope you'll link up again this week!


  12. This is wonderful! I think the license to scale back at the holidays should belong to all families with small children, adoptive and biological. This time of year tends to get a little out of hand and can be overwhelming at any age. Thank you for linking up with the Tuesday Baby Link Up. I hope we'll see you back there again tomorrow!

  13. I love this post, I do not have adopted children but I have 4 biological ones and Christmas, sadly, can have us all in the most un-Christian mind sets. So, I have done some unconventional things the past two years and it has made all the difference. I am glad you wrote this for all moms. I happened upon your site from another blog roll, I am so glad I did.


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