True confession: I’ve never been much of a fan of Halloween. With a late October birthday, I always felt like it stole too much of “my” festivity. As a child, we never lived in a neighborhood, so our trick or treating involved getting in the car and driving around to the homes of various friends and relatives. And the big kids always seemed to make it a bit too scary for my liking. As a teacher, I still didn’t like Halloween. The kids were all hyped up the day before trick or treating and all grumpy from a sugar crash the day after.
When I became a mom by adoption, I had a lot of expectations. About everything. Including Halloween. It was going to be fun and festive, and not too scary. And my daughter and I were going to like it, for goodness’ sake.
A few years (and another child!) into this parenting thing, a lot has changed. Here’s what being a mom by adoption has taught me about Halloween (and, really, lots of other situations).
Many children who have been adopted have experienced some kind of trauma in their early lives. Whether they experienced abuse and neglect in the technical sense or not, children from hard places may have lived a nightmare much scarier than any made-up spooky story. They may be working hard to manage bad dreams or flashbacks. The absolute first rule in any celebration is that the child feels physically and emotionally safe. This might mean trading neighborhood trick or treating for a more well-lit and well- supervised experience. It might mean inviting a few friends over to enjoy a costume party. It will likely mean lots of talking about backup plans and what we can do if things feel too overwhelming.
“Big days” are hard for lots of children who were adopted. There is the build up, the change in routine and the mismatch of expectations and experience, not to mention the potential sugar high and crash. To add to this, older children who were adopted have had their own experiences (good or bad) with Halloween in the past. As much as you try to recreate the positive aspects and change the negative ones, you aren’t perfect. Halloween won’t be perfect. Your child’s behavior will more than likely not be perfect. It’s OK.
Spend some time thinking about the non-negotiables (for our family, that’s physical and emotional safety). Let the rest go.
What works (or doesn’t work ) with a particular child in a particular developmental stage one year might not be the best idea the next year. Situations change. Children change. Parents change. Give yourself permission to make a plan that works best for your family. And then give yourself permission to change that plan as your family grows and changes.