Holidays have always been a fun event for me. My mom always did a great job of making each holiday special, with special foods, decorations and fun. When I became an instant Mom to four beautiful kids I wanted to create the same wonder around holidays for them. I quickly realized however that the holidays are a bit of a double-edged sword for my kiddos.
Holidays have always been a fun event for me. My mom always did a great job of making each holiday special, with special foods, decorations and fun. When I became an instant Mom to four beautiful kids I wanted to create the same wonder around holidays for them. I quickly realized however that the holidays are a bit of a double-edged sword for my kiddos. On one hand, they love the different seasons. They look forward to the magic and excitement each holiday brings. Christmas in particular is a favourite time full of beautiful lights and a lot of anticipation. At the same time it is a dark time. The days are short and like anyone who has experienced loss, celebrating is hard when you have both hard and happy memories to sort through of a person or people who can’t celebrate alongside of you.
The pain of loss is hard enough for adults to deal with, let alone children. Our kids are old enough to remember many of their loved ones who currently aren’t an active part of their lives. We have done our best to keep the losses to a minimum for our children, but legally our hands are mostly tied in that regard. These losses and painful memories combined with the incredible hype that follows most holidays, means for very deregulated children. As parents it is exhausting, physically, mentally and emotionally to try to help your kids who you’d do anything of process such profound pain. We would love to make it all go away, while at the same time not imagining our lives without our sweet children a part of it. It’s easy for people to forget that all adoption starts with loss, no matter how safe and happy the circumstances. My husband and I have come to realize that the grief isn’t something we can simply overcome, but something we need to walk through as a family.
As we enter our third Christmas season as a family, I have been reflecting on things that have helped us get through. I am also starting to see the glimmer of light through the dark, much like the twinkling lights we like to drive around to visit as a family during this time of year. I by no means consider myself an expert in holiday survival, but I’m happy to pass on any tips I’ve found that help along the way. The best ideas or revelations I’ve had have come from other parents in similar situations.
The first tip and hardest for my people pleasing self is to say no to a lot of events. Whether you’ve done them for years or had hoped to start new spectacular traditions with your instant family, we have found that less is generally more. We do small intimate activities as a family, involving a lot of snuggles, reading together, candle lighting, and the odd larger event thrown into the mix. Our third go around we’ve gotten better at knowing our kid’s limits, but have probably also thought they could handle more this year than was actually possible. This can also be hard for extended family to understand, but I think most want to try to make it work for your family. We have found hosting things at our home where our kids feel safest seems to go the best. That doesn’t mean we do nothing outside of the home, but we really limit too many larger gatherings.
My second big tip is to attempt to control the flow of sugar that seems to prevail every holiday. For now we are often liberal on the day of the event, but try to provide some healthier options for our kids particularly leading up to the holiday. They do so much better managing things when they are not hyped up on sugar, speaking of, I do so much better when I’m not hyped up on sugar (although I’m not above hiding in a locked bathroom stress eating some chocolate). Our kids are also very overwhelmed with buffets and the constant flow of food that surrounds these occasions. We are clear with the other adults at the party that we are to provide plates of food for our kdis, and that them grazing isn’t an option as they just can’t manage. Their instincts still tell them to eat like they might not see food again, which lends to unhappy bellies and children not feeling well on these occasions. On the same line of reasoning, keeping bedtimes consistent particularly before and after a holiday events is helping to set your kids up for success. Well rested children and adults at least make it slightly easier to manage the big emotions that come down the pipe on holidays.
Thirdly, make expectations clear. We don’t often give a ton of lead up time to big events, but with most holidays they are well aware they are coming. We try to be careful to lay out what to expect of the day, for Christmas they know how many gifts they will get from us, we let them know that they can choose 2 (or a reasonable number) of desserts, who will be there, what will be happening and any other big details. We also sometimes rehearse and role play how they might handle certain events. One thing that has been particularly helpful for our kids who have a hard time managing the noise and adrenalin, is to have an “escape room.” At our house the kids know they are always welcome to go to their rooms for some quiet time if they need to have a safe space. If we are going to someone else’s home, we try our best to ask the owner what would be a safe room our kids could go find some quiet, and then we walk the kids to that room. They also know we can go with them and help walk them through some calming techniques.
Last, give grace, both to your kids and to yourselves. This is a hard time. Your heart might feel broken with the experiences that you just can’t share with your children, at least not right now. Your heart might also be filled with sorrow as you take on the pain your kids are living through. You might also be dealing with trying to reign in the schedule, and manage hurt feelings of friends or relatives, or your own hurt feelings that you just can’t be included in things you want to be (even if it’s fully your choice). Plan lots of time to destress, whether that’s through a work out, reading a book, early bedtimes, walks, coffee with a friend, whatever it is that helps you to recharge. I know that is extremely hard to do, and often for myself overwhelming when I’m dealing with misplaced anger from my kids, but it’s so necessary for me to be the person and the mommy that they need me to be.
If you’re in the trenches right now, living through a real life “nightmare before Christmas” or Valentine’s Day, or Mother’s or Father’s Day, or even the hype of New Year’s, there is hope for the holidays. Each year we find our footing a little steadier as a family. From the rookie parents who moved their newly adopted kids to a different house (same city but still), 5 days before Christmas, to the parents who have kept some consistent traditions alive for 3 Christmas Seasons. Those traditions have helped our kids to solidify them as part of our family unit, despite the deep brokenness that led to our family being built. We can see our kids settling in a little deeper each year, and we settle in a little deeper to being their parents. As we gather around candles and lights I think we all gaze at the light in the dark and remember that there is always a flicker of hope and a way through the depths of darkness.