Forever Family: Thanksgiving edition

Here we are.  We’ve made it to the holiday kickoff…

Halloween to Christmas seems like a high speed train ride, but passing Thanksgiving feels like jumping the tracks and skidding the rest of the way downhill.  A little terrifying, often out of control, and everything cranked up ten notches on the intensity scale.

The holidays are stressful.  I see adults wigging out all over the place. Sure, they’re working hard to hide it…smoothing things over, looking like everything’s just fine and it’s a holly, jolly Christmas season, but if you peer deep into their eyes you can see it.  Something that’s a little like a squirrel hopped up on coffee beans, looking as if they’re about to jump off the roof.  The anxiety is banging around in there, getting louder by the second.

So you’ve got the typical holiday pressure, and you’ve got amped up family drama at the holidays, and then you’ve got any adoption issues that intensify around this time of year.  That’s a lot of tension packed into a relatively small block of time…

Do you know how many articles I found by googling “handling holiday stress”?  A LOT.  The links kept scrolling on and on and on, so let’s save time and just say there are countless articles out there about this particular subject.  I’m not talking about random blog posts, either, this is the real deal.  The first page alone has links to articles for the Mayo Clinic, WebMD, and the APA, among others.

The holidays seem to resurrect and intensify whatever underlying issues already exist in your family.  Old wounds are reopened, coping methods deteriorate, and childhood dynamics rear their ugly heads.  And all of that’s only dealing with the adult extended family.  Sometimes we already have our hands full with our kids.

In our house we celebrate Christmas, and December is a time of extremely intense anticipation and excitement.  Everything seems bigger and brighter and just…MORE EVERYTHING…but the positive emotions aren’t the only ones heightened during such an emotionally charged time of year.  Guilt, anger, anxiety, despair, and loss can also intertwine with the holiday experience for an adopted child.

Now those are some thoughts that don’t jibe with the traditional expectations for December.  Kids should be counting the days, right?  Making lists and decorating trees and singing carols and such…so it can be a bit jarring to realize that perhaps this isn’t such a magical time for everyone, especially when we’re talking about the smallest among us.

When I look back on last Christmas I see some patterns I didn’t notice at the time.  Bear threw herself into our preparations – she loved helping BrightSide hang the wreaths outside, and she willingly gave me a hand with the indoor knickknacks.  When it came to decorating the tree Bear was all over it, excitedly unwrapping ornaments and talking about their family history while we worked.  She lit up from the inside at the excitement of the holiday.

T-man, on the other hand, was quieter, sometimes even withdrawn.  We had to work really hard just to get him to hang his ornaments on the tree.  (Everyone in the family has their own special ornaments to hang each year.  Some we’ve received as a family, some the kids have gotten from their grandparents each December, and there are even a few of mine from my childhood.)  Even once he’d joined us, it seemed like more of a chore to complete than an annual tradition he was enjoying.

Why do I think that was?  Well, I can’t say for sure.  T-man’s never been my worker bee, preferring instead to kick back and take it easy over getting things done.  He also had some stuff going on at school that was making life hard for him.  But maybe there were other factors, things I wasn’t tuned into.  Maybe he was struggling with feelings that clashed with the whole “Merry Christmas” scene and wasn’t able to express that.

I do know that moving into this year’s holiday season I’ll be more conscious of what my kids aren’t saying…their mood swings, their body language…all the little ways they might asking to talk about something that’s troubling them.  After all, adults aren’t the only ones dealing with stress during the holidays.

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Were you adopted?  How has this affected you during the holiday season?

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