As we approach the next month of holiday decorations, gift shopping, and special time with family, there are so many things we can look to be grateful for. Holidays can be such a joyous occasion but seeing extended family can bring its own struggles as well. As you prepare for a season filled with so many different schedules, new people, and time with loved ones here are some things to keep in mind as an adoptive family.
You may not be able to go to everything. Whether your child is newly home or still working on attachment, there are things that just might not be an option for your family this year. Different people all wanting to surround your family can be overwhelming for some children who are still trying to focus on their already new surroundings. Know it is okay to stay home and make our own memories. Your extended family will be sad to not have you join them, but making that hard decision can also help your immediate family have a more successful holiday season.
Teach your child it is okay to say no. We all might have that one family member who uses physical touch to demonstrate love. It can be so beautiful and comforting when in the right setting. Even though they are family and you as a parent believe they are a safe person, their approach might not feel safe to your child. Teach your child that it is okay to say “no thank you” to the family hugs or embraces. Also educate your extended family before arriving that it would help your child if they ask permission before approaching your child with a hug, and ask also that they respect whatever your child chooses. Even for teenagers that little bit of control over who is in their bubble can give them the feeling of safety they are needing to handle so many people in one space.
Ignorance does not hide from family. You have been through now countless years of adoption education. You have learned proper adoption terminology, hopefully learned about diversity, and understand the complexities that come from adoption. Your extended family might not have gone through that same education, which can sometimes create avenues for unhealthy comments. Those comments could be about race, adoption, or identity. Be aware of when those things happen and address them as they come. If your child shares a comment that was said during the family gathering, believe them and let them know you will address the issue with that specific family member. Use that situation to show your child that you will always support their emotional and physical needs. It does not have to be a confrontation but instead an educational opportunity for you to stand up for your family.
Standing out in your own family. It is very common during the holidays that extended family bring group pictures, and have conversations of who everyone looks like, and what was inherited from who. To your child that has been adopted, those situations can be fun but can also be isolating. Those moments might be a reminder that they look different and are different than the rest of the family. Take time to talk to your child about their feelings. Keep an eye out for signs of discomfort. Bring your child’s birth culture into the family gathering, such as cook cultural food or add in holiday traditions from your child’s birth culture. Allow them a space to feel that their culture is now your extended family culture as well.
As you navigate the holiday season, remember to put on your adoptive parent lens to make sure you are aware of things that might be affecting your child. Holiday time with family can be so special, and if approached correctly can be fun for everyone.