The Happiest Times or The Hardest Times

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By Kathy Searle, CSW

In general, many parents feel a great amount of stress during the holidays. For first time parents, and even those of us who have experienced many holidays together as a family, these can be stressful times. We want to create that magic we dreamed about or even experienced when we were children.

For many of our children being adopted out of the foster care system, the holidays have not always been a time of happiness. Many children, while in their birth families, viewed the holidays as a time to realize how dysfunctional their families really were. They may have spent Christmas Eve with parents who were strung out on drugs or sleeping another one off. They learned that Santa Claus came to other houses, but not theirs. Some of our children experienced additional abuse during the holidays as already stressed out parents tried to deal with additional stress. Some faced disruption from foster homes or treatment facilities. Many experienced adoptive parents realize that for our children, the holidays can be trying times.

So, what can we do? First, it’s important to realize and remember our children’s past; talking with them about what they have experienced in the past can give us information that may help us understand the behavior, thoughts, and feelings the holidays can trigger for them. Talking about your memories, both good and bad, can allow your child the freedom to express their memories as well. All of us carry a lot of anxiety about having a memorable holiday. We frequently hear messages about how everyone should be happy at this time for the year. When our families don’t measure up, it adds to our frustration. Don’t set yourself up to fail by thinking your holiday has to look like the latest television show or magazine.

Be patient with yourself and your children. Make sure everyone gets enough sleep. If your child has had problems with certain activities in the past, avoid those activities, or talk with the child in advance and have a plan in place for when something goes wrong.

Over-crowding your schedule can make everyone miserable. Many of our children are easily overstimulated. Cutting back to a few great activities can be better than trying to fit everything in and not having any fun at all. Our kids may do better with picking out the cookies at the store instead of baking. Long, drawn-out activities put a lot of pressure on everyone.

Remember your family can define your own fun. Talking with your children in advance about the holidays and what they want to do and not do can really help.

Our family has had some traditions change over time as new children have entered the family. Many times, we as the adults are hung up on some tradition that worked well in our family years ago, but might not be working out well anymore. Creating new traditions when new children come into your home helps them feel more a part of the family. Often with traditions, we just expect everyone knows what we do because that is what we’ve always done. Take the time to talk with them about what to expect so they, like the other children, can have the anticipation of the fun event.

Holiday traditions can be the glue that cements a child to a new family, but usually it takes planning, time, and effort on the part of the parents and possibly older children already in the family, to make it a success.

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