I have learned over the past 4 years that when it comes to Holidays, Birthdays and other momentous events to never set my expectations in advance .I just go with the flow and watch everything unfold, that way I can positively look for the smallest of gifts.

It’s funny that once you pass through the hard times in loving and parenting a child through adoption the memories of those times soften and blur. Not forgotten, just not as sharp and crisp. Our Christmas was like that this year. With my new soon to be adopted son, who is 16 came to live with us a few weeks back, I had totally forgotten the challenges we faced during the Holidays 3 years ago, with my now 14 year old. This time though I had a thin layer of armour over my feelings and thought I was prepared. So nothing came as a shock as our holiday unfolded and those memories from before came flooding back in full force.

An interesting piece was hearing my 14-year-old son say, ” I NEVER did that! ” and then looking at my 17-year-old biological daughter and with a wink and a smile before I responded “Really…? “. What I want all parents to understand is you can’t take away a life time ( or in my son’s case 16 years ) of institutional foster care in one magic christmas tree with presents and family.

So some advice, reflections or whatever you want to call this blog.

  • Don’t expect your child to “get” or understand your family traditions. Historically, we have always woken up early, brought the children into my room to open stockings, while being very careful not to “peek ” at the tree which was usually exploding with presents. This year my new son, who did not want to get up early said rather angrily “what the hell are we doing that for? “. Then complained about how every item in the stocking was tediously wrapped, even the toothbrush. I began to pray at that moment, because no preparation could prepare anyone for our traditional Christmas morning. Now let me explain… Santa DOES come to our house and I tell everyone, if you don’t believe you will get underwear. I say this mantra daily, before I wrap every present and sign the tag “From: Santa”. Magic is Magic! Of course I was met with ” you know there is NO f*&#@$% Santa !” I just smiled and asked him “what size underwear did you wear?”.
  • Don’t think for one moment they will understand gift giving completely. This is one value that I hold in high regard, so it has always been difficult to understand how my sons think. I mean I know in my boys hearts they are giving in spirit, but this is tempered with extreme survival skills. This means it always about them for the most part. In preparation, I started this year right after Thanksgiving by taking them shopping and asking them to start picking out gifts for each other that they knew the other person would like. I also had them make a list of what they really wanted so when they kept asking about what they would get, I was able to reaffirm that I had their lists and I am a person who follows through. I then quickly switched to what do you think you should get Your sister? Your brother? Even if the gift was not given wholly to make the receiver happy, and was more about the giver and how much they gave I know this is starting to work. My 14-year-old was for the first time more into giving than receiving. Dont get me wrong, his list was still expensive but he spent most of the time preparing for Christmas by shopping for others. I felt the axis switch as we proceeded to watch each other open gifts from each other and then my sons pure joy when the toolbox he bought his sister made her tear up. This gives me hope because after 3 years of struggle I believe he finally is beginning to know he is safe and his needs will be met, so he can focus on others needs.
  • Be prepared for anything! When we started to open gifts (we open Santa gifts first so we can focus when the gifts from each other are opened ) my new son just wanted to rip into everything. This was upsetting to the rest of my other children because they know our pattern, our tradition. His self absorption was absolute as he mumbled things like “Why did I get his stupid game ? I did not ask for it”. I calmly redirected him but what I wanted to yell was “You should be grateful you have gifts! ” In reflection I needed to remember that given the fact he had a master trust fund he had always put a request in for high-priced items and was purchased anything exactly that he asked for.This was not his fault. He also took each item to his room after opening it as if to keep it safe. When we were done opening and things settled down he came to me and said ‘Thank you for my gifts.” It was my Ah-Ha moment. As the day wore on and he reflected on his morning he came to me 2 more times to apologize if he hurt anyone’s feelings. I told him it was ok, we loved him and knew it was hard to understand and grow into our family.
  • Another thought, heading into the Giving season, make sure the caseworkers and Guardians understand you have other children and you must keep the gift giving equal. This is difficult because many people give, give and give to foster kids during the Holidays. As you are blending into a family unit though the last thing you need is your newest child getting hundreds of gift cards along with the presents you have already carefully ensured equalled your other children’s. The system has shaped this child for years and you need to ensure they immerse themselves in your family values so they can grow out of survival mode. Our family message is clear: although everyone has their own set of needs, I love them all endlessly and no one is loved less than anyone else. God gives a never ending supply of love so it’s all theirs to share equally.
  • Lastly never give up hope! Commitment, unconditional love and attachment is what has changes our children’s lives in the long run.The difference I have seen in my 14-year-old son are truly miraculous. This year he decorated the house with Christmas lights, put together my Christmas tree and really owned our family traditions. I loved hearing him share with my new son how and why we do things. My favorite moment was when I over heard him sharing about how we can’t drop the F bomb and cuss while Grandma was over, because it would upset her and she was old! Then he proceed to give examples of how he talks to her while he acted out how he was truly an angel when she comes over. I truly believe this Christmas with all my children was the most amazing because I let it unfold, rejoiced in the small gains and rolled through the OMG moments. I can hardly wait for next year, but without doubt I need the next 11 months to recoup.
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