When adopted children have grown up in a home without holiday traditions, they may act out during the holiday season.
We can all think of ways we spent Christmas with our families: special activities or treats or decorations that we loved year after year after year and perhaps still do. It’s the ritual of using the same decorations each year, or always having cinnamon rolls for breakfast on Christmas morning, or watching certain movies together as a family. RAD kids don’t have that foundation because they didn’t live in homes with structure and tradition.
Everybody knows that the holidays are hard for RAD kids, and I’m sure it has a lot to do with sad or bad memories. My seventeen-year-old son remembers that when he was only six, his birth parents killed his belief in Santa when they told him Santa had forgotten him that year. My fourteen-year-old daughter remembers that she got a bike one year but they wouldn’t let her ride it because it was snowing outside. She wasn’t even allowed to ride it inside. Can you imagine getting an iPhone and being told you can’t play with it?
When they holidays come around, my kids think about these memories. I know they do because they talk about them with me. And again this year, they’re acting out, getting spacey, getting in trouble at school, being more disrespectful at home, and generally trying to avoid their feelings. But I think the part they can’t articulate is that they feel that everyone around them leans into a foundation built from rituals and traditions they’ve enjoyed with their families at Christmas. A foundation they don’t have.
We make such a big deal about Christmas in our culture, whether religious or Santa or both, and most of us do have that foundation that we lean into. Our expectations of the holidays might not live up to our fantasies about them, but we at least have some patterning to draw on. I think our kids feel the bottom drops out of their world around the holidays. They can feel the ease with which most of us lean back into the foundations created for us in our youth and they have nothing to lean back on.
It has been getting harder for me to be patient with my kids as they act out, even though my rational self reminds me that hard memories come up for them at this time of year. So I’ve decided to focus on what my mom did for me at Christmas as a way of understanding how lost they feel right now. Not just sad, but totally without the foundation that they feel everyone else around them experiencing. I can relate to them more when I imagine not having any foundation. I can’t relate to being told Santa forgot me because it never happened. But I can feel how much I lean on my years of ritual and tradition growing up, and imagine having that yanked out from underneath me. That gives me a glimpse into their world. My first Christmas present to all of us this year is going to be to feel that compassion and tenderness for them and let it help me soothe them.
Photo credit: geologyinmotion.com/santa_claus.jpg