My son and his family live across the country. Luckily for me, most of the extended family lives right around where I do. Once or twice a year, they load up the kids and make the trek across the states to visit everybody. I get to benefit from this and they make sure to visit me. Our relationship is great, we tell each other almost anything, but there can be an air of awkwardness. I’m not sure if I can ask certain questions and I get the vibe that they feel the same thing.

So, how do you prepare for seeing your child? Especially around the holidays when it’s supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year”. It can bring up some complicated emotions. It is hard for me to watch my son love another woman the way he should love me. Around the holidays, it is difficult to cope with the fact that I didn’t even know who his favorite cartoon character was, so buying him a gift seemed superficial. Over time I have learned to prepare for a visit around the holidays.  Here are five tips that have helped me:

1. Come bearing gifts

The title is funny, but it holds a kernel of truth. Tis the season to be serving, so bringing some form of service will invite the Spirit of Christmas. In past years, I have brought family history books to give to my son’s family so he can feel a connection to his biological ancestry. Other years I have brought fun or silly gifts, or a picture frame that he can put a picture of us in. I know in the future I’m going to buy matching gifts that his mom and I can have—perhaps a necklace or a bracelet that ties us even more together. Just a simple gesture, it doesn’t even have to be a physical “gift”, that shows the adoptive family that you are bringing love and nothing more.

2. Do your research

Like I said, it hurts to know that I don’t know my son like I want to. I am very lucky that the adoption is open. It’s not my couple’s fault, in any sense, that I don’t know every little aspect of my son’s life; it’s just part of the package. I’m not with him every day so I’m not going to know what his momentary, exciting new fad is. So I write an email, call or, if I remember, will ask during a Skype visit what his favorite things are. It makes the gift a lot less awkward if you already know the child is going to love it.

3. Be ready for family

Sometimes it’s hard for the family to get away from other family, especially around the holidays! If you want to see your child for an extended period of time, you might be invited to their family functions. It’s important to figure out how to introduce yourself when the time arrives and be prepared to answer questions. There was a great grandmother at one event I attended who had, let’s say, “old fashioned” views on adoption. So “old fashioned” that the family didn’t even tell her that my son was adopted! No, I wasn’t offended. Especially because they told me of the circumstances beforehand and I wasn’t blindsided. I realized it wasn’t about me or them being ashamed of the adoption, it was a mild form of protection for our son. One I was willing to help out with. So, I was ready to introduce myself as his birth mom. Except for this one great grandmother, to her I was only a family friend.

As for questions, I felt like I was meeting a boyfriend’s parents. I had questions from “where did you grow up” to “what are you planning on doing with your degree”. Nice questions, and they helped me feel like the family cared. Being prepared for them can help relieve some anxiety that may arise before and during the visit.

4. Relax

I have anxiety issues. So people telling me to “relax” usually just makes me more nervous. However, we always say that open adoption can work, barring some extreme circumstances, and gives more people to love the child. The door swings both ways and there are more people to love you, as well. Which brings me to my next point.

5. Remember, you are loved

If all else fails, I try to remember that I am loved. I remember that every night my couple is tucking their child into bed because of my selfless decision to place him in a stable home. It’s hard, it’s emotional, but it’s worth it. It’s worth it when he tells me he loves me, it’s worth it when I hear about how much he loves his family, and it’s worth it to see how much his family and my family love us all.

So, while this time of year is extra emotional for us birth mothers, it’s nice to know we are loved. It’s nice to have a visit to look forward to, and would be more enjoyable if we knew how to prepare for it.