By Erin Bouchard, MA
The holiday season can bring up a lot of feelings for our kids.
It’s a reminder of how much they lost and how their family looks different than other families. For some kids, they may miss their birth family and have a longing to be with them. For other kids, they may not understand why they can’t spend the holidays with their first families, and they may feel anger or resentment towards how their family looks.
As foster and adoptive families, there a lot of ways that we can honor and include first families with our holiday family traditions.
As I’ve worked with foster and adoptive families over the last year, I’ve heard from many of them that they don’t believe it’s safe for their kids to see their first families. But the truth often is that just because it isn’t safe for their kids to live with their first families doesn’t mean that there isn’t someway that you can incorporate their first families into the Christmas holiday season. Being unsafe to live with is very different than being unsafe to visit. I say this with absolutely no judgement. I hid behind safety as a reason to deny my adopted kids access to their first families for many years. The truth: it was easier for me to say that than to navigate what openness would look like. Yes, there were valid safety concerns in terms of living with their first families, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t call or visit with them while I accompanied or supervised the visit.
With those thoughts in mind, here are some suggestions of things to do with your kids regardless of what their access looks like.
Remember, it’s perfectly normal and expected for our kids to want to maintain a connection with their first families. They are biologically related to them, and no amount of time takes that away. Remember too that your child has family beyond their birth parents, so try to include them in the festivities where possible. Make plans to include some of these suggestions for extended family members as well.
Send Pictures & Updates
Send your child’s first family pictures or create a photo book including highlights from the past year. Be sure to include any milestones or big events in the child’s life. Depending on how old the child is, this is something that they can help with. Have the child write a letter or draw a picture that can be included. Request pictures and an update from your child’s first family, read the messages to your child and talk through it with them.
Ask About Family Traditions
Chat with your child’s first parents or grandparents and find out what they remember about Christmas and any family traditions that they may have had. Incorporate one or two of those traditions where appropriate. Ask what their favorite Christmas movie is, and watch that with your child.
Schedule A Phone Call
Find a time to connect with the child’s first family on the phone. If your child’s parents struggle to be appropriate or you’re worried about how the call will go, plan a specific activity for the call, like reading a book together.
Leave Space for Big Feelings
The holiday season can bring out many feelings. Acknowledge and validate any feelings that may arise for your child. Remind them that it’s okay to miss their family. Don’t take it personally, it’s not a reflection of your parenting style but of a biological connection. Talk with your child about what you think they might be doing or how they are missing them this holiday season. Acknowledge them during your celebrations.
Plan A Visit
Plan an extra visit or a holiday visit sometime during the holiday season to have a celebration with their first families. Make it special by sending along a special treat to a supervised visit. Have your child pick out something for their first family. Try to make something sentimental for the parents if you can, like a handprint, or measure how tall your child is with ribbon and put it inside an ornament.
Invite Them to Your Celebrations
Think of an opportunity to invite your child’s first family into your celebrations. Include them at your child’s holiday concert. Invite them to your home. Ask them to tag along for one of your family’s Christmas traditions.
Listen, I know the holiday season is busy! We’re rushing from one party to another, from one activity to the next. It seems impossible to add more to our already long lists of to-do’s. But I encourage you to think of what you can feasibly do over the holiday season to incorporate your child’s first family. If your child hasn’t had any contact with their biological family, take the first step to building a new relationship this holiday season. Reach out to them, start small and remember that you can take small, slow steps in building that relationship. Do a phone call or write a letter and see where it goes. But start with a first step.
Erin Bouchard. Author. Speaker. Advocate. Educator. Erin founded Trauma-Informed Parenting because she’s passionate about helping foster and adoptive parents understand early trauma and attachment. Erin Bouchard and her husband, Joel, have been foster parents since 2011. They adopted out of the foster care system in 2014. They are kinship, foster, adoptive, and bio parents. Over the years Erin has learned a lot through their experiences with early trauma. She teaches and educates about connection, attachment, trauma, grief, and loss. Her first book, Trauma-Informed Parenting is on the way! Help One Child appreciates her collaboration and contributions with blog articles, video usage permission for support group curriculum, and podcast guest appearances