The holidays are coming and I find this such a stressful time for our family that includes two recently adopted children and one birth child. Can you give us some ideas for how to make it more manageable and fun?
— Feeling stressed in Camarillo
I am right there with you. I find this season filled with various emotions as I am pulled in so many different directions with family and with happenings at Kids & Families Together. The holidays matter to me and I get stressed out from it all too. Personally, I try to rest more and pace myself as much as I can.
Holidays are a time when families gather to celebrate traditions which contributes to joy but can also contribute to stress. In adoptive families, the associations that different family members bring to the holiday festivities may create different expectations and or more intense feelings. Our culture has created the expectation of the Hallmark holidays which is not a true reality and can lead to a sense of feeling inadequate if we buy into this holiday illusion. We need to honor the holidays as a time of mixed emotions where we can experience joy, sadness, and grief all at one time. When we accept our multitude of emotions, this in itself can ease our stress. Below I have listed a few things to consider when you have formed your family via adoption.
1. Children who were removed from their biological families due to physical abuse, neglect or substance abuse may associate the holidays with traumatic times. Rather than approaching the holidays with joyful anticipation, these children may unconsciously associate the holidays with disappointment or violence. In the mix of their emotions, they may grieve the loss of their birth family if they are no longer in contact with them. The best gift you can give to your child is understanding and lots of emotional and physical connection.
2. Children could not experience the benefits of adoptive families without the loss of the birth family. For some adoptive parents, they do not experience the joy of their family without the pain of infertility or the pain of knowing that their child has had various placements before them that has increased their child’s sense of not belonging or feeling safe in the world. Being reminded of all this complexity, how can the holidays not bring up sadness? Acknowledging this sadness openly and honestly makes room for more joy.
3. Take time for mindfulness. Every hour set your timer on your phone or alarm on your computer with a soft soothing reminder to take five conscious breaths. Breathe in relaxation and well being on the inhale and let go of stress, tension, anxiety on the exhale. This will help calm you. Stretch and move your body as well. Doing this every hour will make a big difference throughout your stress-filled day.
4. Kids need time-ins from their caregiver when they are emotionally dysregulated or upset. However, caregivers also need to take a time out if needed. If you are at the point of yelling or having a major melt down, you have permission to give yourself a time out. Let your child or children know you will be back, that you just need to walk away for a few minutes. This is much less damaging than what you might say or do if you do not take this time out.
In conclusion, be kind and loving to yourself and you will more likely be loving with your children. Admit that holidays don’t have to be perfect to be meaningful. Talk openly with your children about expectations you may have for the holidays and how you may change them or let some go. Honestly examine what is working and not working within your family each year. Develop rituals and traditions to fit your current family that you have created, even if they may be different from the rituals and traditions you had growing up or those you imagined your current family would be having with one another. If there is ever a time to let go of rigid expectations and be flexible, it is during the holidays! Humor is also helpful, especially if it includes laughing at ourselves! One of my greatest mentors, used to say we are all cosmic jokes. This has helped me to relax and not take myself so seriously! I truly wish each and everyone of you a loving and joyous holiday.