For many adopted children and those in foster care, the three most difficult days of the year are Mother’s Day, Christmas or Hanukkah, and the child’s birthday. These special days often bring about feelings of loneliness, sadness, and grief, especially for children who had spent them with abusive parents, those on drugs or alcohol, or without a family setting at all in the past.
Children who have experienced trauma may remember days like Christmas more as a time of dealing with inadequate parents and the lack of gifts and food. Some children mourn over and miss positive memories they shared with their biological parents during holidays. Many children who have come from family backgrounds in which their lives were extremely unpredictable hate the element of surprise connected with these holidays as well as with birthdays. Therefore, many foster and adoptive parents are well acquainted with the fact that their children act out before and during these special days.
How to help adoptive and foster children and their foster or adoptive parents through difficult days
In order to help a child with the pain of Mother’s Day, Christmas or Hanukkah, and their birthdays, adoptive and foster parents can:
1. Acknowledge the pain of the child’s many losses.
Encourage the child to share his or her feelings about those they have lost to reinforce that his or her emotions are perfectly normal. You could encourage the child to honor his or her birth mother and other mothers at home during a candle lighting ceremony or similar ritual to celebrate the special occasion. It is helpful to honor your child’s previous mothers before Mother’s Day, Christmas or Hanukkah, and the child’s birthday. Even abusive birth mothers may be honored for giving birth to the child and providing whatever positive qualities the child may have inherited such as an attractive appearance, sports abilities, musical talent, and intelligence.
2. Talk with the child about his or her past holidays.
Gather specific information so that you can incorporate your child’s previous positive memories into your current family’s activities. Family get-togethers may be extremely difficult. Be honest with each other about your feelings. Sit down with your family and decide what you want to do for each specific holiday. Undertake only what each family member is able to handle comfortably.
3. Remember there is no right or wrong way to handle special occasions.
You may wish to follow family traditions or change them. It may help to do things just a little differently. Holiday activities can change from year to year. Be careful of “shoulds”. It is better to do what is most helpful for you and your children than to follow a prescribed regimen of activities. Set limitations if a situation looks especially difficult for your child before it is to occur. Realize that it isn’t going to be easy and do only the things that are very special and important to you and your child.
4. Remember that your child’s negative reactions to special occasions are based on his or her grief. Becoming angry with a child who is grieving accomplishes nothing. Understand and accept the child’s feelings about the special occasion and about the people he or she has lost. Acknowledge those feelings, encourage the child to express them, and then move toward the special occasion with the intent of providing yet another opportunity for the child to heal.
5. Communicate with other adults in your child’s life. As Mother’s Day approaches, chat with your child’s teacher about usual assignments surrounding the day. The teacher needs to know about such circumstances in order to modify assignments to fit the needs of children who no longer live with their biological mothers. As holidays near, let friends and relatives know your unique plans for the holidays. Ask them to honor your decisions on behalf of your family’s special needs.
6. Nurture yourself. Many adoptive mothers have an especially difficult time on Mother’s Day. You may long to have a positive relationship with a child who can’t attach and feel isolated and sad as well. Try to let go of expectations you place on your child as well as yourself. Do something nice for yourself.