These days, Thanksgiving has received a makeover. Thanksgiving is now the holiday of gratitude. There are so many different ways that you can incorporate gratitude into your life as an adoptive family. From expressing your gratitude to everyone in your family’s life, expressing gratitude to your child, to being present in the moment; we are going to count down the top ways your family can celebrate Thanksgiving. All of these tips have been used in our family of eight for decades. We are by no means experts, but we know a thing or two about adoption and holidays. With several neurotypical children and others who have been exposed to trauma and abuse, every one of these ways has made an important impact in the way we celebrate holidays. Try one or try them all and let the holiday of gratitude commence!
1. Make New Traditions - If you stopped anyone on the street and asked them what traditions their family celebrated, the common theme you might find is that we all have our own unique and special traditions. As a couple or single parent, you might already have your own traditions in place. Before our son was born, my husband and I would go out every week before Christmas and drive around to look at Christmas lights. Each day of November leading up to Thanksgiving, we would write down one thing we are grateful for on our chalkboard. Now that our son has made his grand entrance into our lives, we are seeking new traditions. Now that your family has grown and expanded, seek out your own new traditions and make them a part of it. Ask your child or children what traditions they would like to start so it can be a family affair. It will help them feel included and will mean more each year when you celebrate. It will also give you all something to look forward to!
2. Involve Them - Holidays are busy for most! We could all use some extra help, right? So involve your child while spending some quality time with them. There’s a lot of things that you can do to help involve your child. The first one; have your child help you look up recipes and meal prep with you. Let your child help with the grocery list and the grocery to-do list. Give them some ideas on what dishes you will be serving and let them search for some recipes that best fit the dish. After you are done grocery shopping, let them help you organize the ingredients for meal prep. Do you need to thaw the rolls? Do you need to prepare the cranberries? Do you need to make sauces or peel the potatoes? Have your child join in. Not only will you have more fun and will bond, but your child might have more gratitude for the meal when they see how much hard work goes into it and the role they played in making it happen. Here are some fun and easy recipes your child could help with that I found on Pinterest!
Turkey Cupcakes -
For a fun dessert, whip up some of your favorite cupcakes and frost them with chocolate frosting. You can then take candy corn and insert them ever so slightly into the cupcake to make feathers for your turkey. You can use a Rolo or miniature Reese’s cups for the head. Use another candy corn for the beak and some white chocolate for the eyes!
Acorn Kisses -
For another fun and kid-friendly dessert, unwrap some Hershey kisses for acorns. Take a mini Nutter Butter Bites cookie and dip the bottom in some melted chocolate. Stick the chocolate side of the Nutter Butter to the flat top of your Hershey Kiss. Now top the Nutter Butter cookie off with a mini chocolate chip and you have yourself an acorn! This is our little family’s tradition and favorite of them all.
Apple Pie Bites –
In less than 30 minutes, your child can whip up a gourmet dessert that will have your family thinking they need to be on Top Chef Junior. On parchment paper, roll out some crescent triangles. Mix some brown sugar with apple pie spice and spread it onto your crescents. Dip an apple slice in melted butter and place it on the widest part of your crescent. Roll it up like a normal crescent, put them in the oven at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown, and you’ve got a dessert that will win over anyone.
Let’s get back to how you can involve your child. We cannot forget about the house prep. My mom took cleaning before Thanksgiving very seriously. She took a lot of pride in making sure our home was beautiful and set for our family to come over and enjoy a meal in. Fancy tablecloths, fancy napkins, fancy silverware, and dishware were a must. There was sweeping, vacuuming, dusting, and mopping. With so much to do around the house, make it a family event. Cleaning and decorating do not have to be a daunting task. Put on some fun music. Have a dance party or make it a game while the house prep gets completed.
3. Take Cues - Each and every one of us has our tapping out points. With Thanksgiving in the midst and all the hustle and bustle of everything there is to do, to make, or to see, make sure you are also aware of how your child/children are coping. New friends, new family, and new traditions are awesome and all but they can also be overwhelming. Set up a plan a few weeks before Thanksgiving for if your child gets overwhelmed and practice it. If your child gives you a signal or is able to verbalize they are overstimulated, what’s the plan? Is there a room your child can go to that’s quiet or sectioned off from others so they can regroup there? Are you traveling to someone else’s house? Make sure you communicate the plan with your host. Have your child pack a bag with some comfort items. If you are staying at home or going somewhere else, is there a game, TV station, or electronic device that helps them regulate that they can go play privately or focus their attention on? Can your child go for a quick walk or go outside to regroup? A part of being in a family means listening and accepting one another’s boiling points. It is good to make sure your child feels like they are being listened to, validated, and safe. Make sure to practice the plan weeks before, so if a situation arises on Thanksgiving Day the plan can commence smoothly without disruptions. Holidays can trigger trauma so equip yourself with the possibility it might trigger your child and be prepared. Through preparation comes a solid foundation.
Holidays can also be a time of hugging and lots of affection. For a lot of children, an abundance of affection from others can be uncomfortable or premature, especially if your child is new to your family. Discuss your child’s level of comfort ahead of time. Do not discuss it in front of everyone on the big day. Have this conversation earlier so they feel safe and vulnerable and can be honest with you. Tommy might feel more comfortable with fist bumps and that is completely okay. Make sure to address this with your family and friends before Thanksgiving as well so it’s not awkward or puts anyone on the spot. Never rush your child to show affection to strangers, even if the strangers are family. There is absolutely nothing wrong with telling your Aunt Kameron that Tommy is still getting adjusted and we’re all going to give fist bumps this year.
4. Give thanks - Thanksgiving is a time of showing our gratitude. Take turns going around the table to give thanks for the blessings in your lives. Voice everything you are grateful for. Be sure to include your adoptive child’s biological parents. Talk about how grateful you are to them for bringing your child into this world. Give thanks for the many important people in both of your lives who helped make the adoption possible. Was there a social worker who had a special bond with your child? Is there a judge or family friend who helped you through the process of legalizing the adoption? Give thanks to your family for all of their hard work and the love and joy that each one of them brings to the table. I came across a picture circulating on Facebook of a tablecloth that had been written on each year for a decade by numerous family members. Each year this family wrote down one thing they were grateful for. As they revisited the tablecloth year after year, they reflected on how things had changed and how their lives had grown. I really loved that idea.
5. Reflect - Let us not forget about Thanksgiving hangovers. After the turkey’s been devoured and all that is left is remnants of pie crust, this is a good opportunity to set aside some time now that things have calmed down. There’s a little less than a month for the next family gathering. Take some time to go over what your child liked the most about their Thanksgiving and what they liked the least. This is a time for you to truly validate your child’s feelings. Show your child you are listening and their voice in this family is important. Help them be self-aware. What would they like to see at the next holiday? How did they feel during Thanksgiving? Did anything make them uncomfortable? Did they feel loved and included? Be prepared that your child might have experienced trauma before your home. Talk openly about holidays they might have had before they became apart of your family. Were there holidays that they loved or traditions that they loved? Were there holidays or traditions that bring up bad memories or triggers? This is their family too, now, so allow them to partake in discussions of their past and help them heal. Healing can also be a family affair.
Thanksgiving is a time of family, gratitude, and love. In this moment, you are a family. You are a unit and you are loved and love others. All I remember is Thanksgivings with my adoptive family. I was in their home at such a young age that I do not remember anything but holidays with them. I do remember during my difficult years though, as an adolescent or young adult, that when holidays or Thanksgiving were overwhelming or I was reaching my turn off point, I excused myself from the festivities and went to my room. It is important to note this because my family constantly taught us self-preservation and being our own advocate. As an adult, this is one of my best strengths. I am a great advocate for myself. I know when I have reached my limit, and I know healthy ways of deescalating. As you and your family embark on this Thanksgiving holiday, start it off with starting healthy traditions, healthy coping mechanisms, healthy relationships, and a healthy gratitude. Make this one to remember and remember to express your gratitude. It is so easy to live day to day in our busy lives. With so much going on around us, this is the time of year that forces us to pause and take note of all the blessings and bountiful gifts in our lives. From friends and family to experiences and necessities, life has been pretty wonderful in the grand scheme of things and given us beautiful families. Let us go forth and celebrate that.
You’ve heard our countdown on how to celebrate Thanksgiving as an adoptive family, so now let’s hear yours! Or how about recipes? Does your family or children have some delicious treats they make each year? How about traditions? What are some of the traditions you have started as a family? We are chomping at the bit to hear from our readers and your own experiences. So don’t be shy and comment below!