Resolve to improve your adoption community
I love the feel of a new year. To me, it feels crisp, fresh, and abundant with promise. Christmas is often described as the most wonderful time of the year; however, for some adoptive and foster families, it is the most difficult time of the year. For children in foster care, the magical month of December can be a painful reminder of what they have lost and who they are missing. Children in the foster care system may act out or have emotional outbursts, especially as their foster family trims the tree and engages in their holiday traditions. It is just too painful. For children of adoption, especially children who were adopted at an older age, it might bring back painful memories or feelings of being torn between two families. Add into the mix birth parent visits, supervised visits, or, even worse, canceled visits. You have a recipe for chaos and sadness. I have witnessed my fair share of Christmas meltdowns and I have come to sigh in relief when we are past the holidays. That might sound sad to those who truly love the festivities, but for families with complex adoptive and foster situations, surviving the holidays is a priority. The period between Christmas and New Year’s Day is often a period of focus and renewal for me.
It is a time to be thankful that we got through another year, a time to think of the things that went well, and a time to grieve, or let go, of the hard things. This lovely week between Christmas and New Year’s marks the newness of another trip around the sun, another year gone by. The mood shifts in our home. My husband has always had this time off from his job and we tend to sleep in (well, as much as we can, with five, six, or seven kids in the house—whatever we are at now, or whatever we are at for the moment). We eat well (and by that I mean we eat all the things we want to eat, not necessarily all the things we should eat). We relax and, basically, anything goes. We have pajama days, late nights, movies, and fun.
All the while, though, I am thinking. I’m usually emotional during the week leading up to the new year. I’m thinking ahead and planning for the new year. I don’t make traditional resolutions, but I do like to set goals or be mindful of things that I want to be important in the new year ahead of us. Some years have just been darn tough and we really struggle. Sometimes we feel on top of the world and ready to do it all again. Sometimes we are dragging—dreading what is to come. As adoptive parents, we may be dealing with medical, emotional, or physical problems in our children. We might be dealing with difficult behaviors, coping with prodigals who have wandered from home, or wondering how we can carry on for another moment. We might be dreaming about our first adoption—when that match might happen! Wherever you are on that journey, I’d like to share some of my New Year’s resolutions for the adoption community: may they warm your heart and be a light in this new year.
Resolve to worry less
Parenting, it seems to me, comes with the possibility of quite a bit of worry that takes brain space, can make us tired, and doesn’t help us one bit. As adoptive parents, we might worry about our children fitting in, growing up and managing life on their own, or about adoption-specific trials our children may face (like a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder diagnosis or reactive attachment disorder). Acknowledge that you, as an adoptive parent, are dealing with more than the average parent. Whatever it takes, resolve to worry less this year. You could see a counselor, write in a journal, read a blog, find a good podcast, or set aside time for yourself. Let things go, let things slide, and only take on battles worth fighting. Protect your brain space and your emotional capacity by not letting worry in. With this comes the resolution to let go of hurtful things from the past year and start afresh.
Resolve to connect
Sometimes, families touched by adoption can become isolated. This can happen for a variety of reasons. Our family has become isolated at times when we have been dealing with major behavior issues—sometimes we have isolated ourselves when we weren’t quite sure what to do about the problem; other times, we have felt others pull away when they haven’t known what to do with our differences. We have also felt isolated when medical issues in our adopted children have left us canceling social events and feeling unable to do normal things. Isolation might occur when you are overwhelmed, bogged down, taking on a new placement, or dealing with a transition in your home. Take an honest look at your connections. Are you connecting, and how often? How can you improve this? If connecting feels too exhausting, look for an online group you can follow, an adoption support group that won’t judge you if you can only make it out once in a while, or someone you can ask out for a coffee. Sharing our experiences both encourages us and validates our journeys.
Resolve to create an environment of culture
Culture is a bit of a buzzword right now, but for good reason. For families affected by adoption, it is great for kids to learn about their heritage. It doesn’t matter if you are from the same culture as your adopted children or a different culture—either way, you can research and plan some activities based on what you find. You can bake some traditional recipes, play traditional games, read traditional stories, or visit a museum or monument dedicated to the culture of your adopted child. In our home, we have many different nations of Indigenous people represented. My resolution, as an example, is to teach basic counting and animal names to the kids in both the Beaver and Cree languages. As an extension, I’d love to teach the kids to write the numbers and names. If it is harder than I thought it would be or difficult for the kids to grasp, I won’t feel bad about pulling back and doing less. This isn’t about making yourself accomplish something impossible—this is about doing what you can. Resolutions can be built upon as well. Maybe, one day, you might resolve to visit the country, province, state, or community that your child was born in.
Resolve to forgive more
Part of being a family is living together and, let’s face it, we get on each other’s nerves. In adoptive families, we may be learning to live with someone new or we may be learning to live with a behavioral disorder or some sort of disability. It is easy to get frustrated with simple things. As families in the adoption community, we want to thrive long-term; forgiveness will help us do just that.
Resolve to learn something new
Learn more about your adoption or foster care community. As adoptive and foster families, we are masters of our craft. We most likely took some mandatory training and it has been a trial by fire ever since. Take some time to pick up a new book—or find a podcast—about adoption, parenting, or fostering. Take a training course on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) or reactive attachment disorder (RAD). Online learning makes this possible for those of us in the most remote places, too! Tailor your learning to your skills—if you like visuals, you might watch a video series about a topic of your choice. Whatever you do, treat this as a mission of utmost importance. Learning more about how to parent your unique family will benefit everyone in the home.
Resolve to nurture your partnership
If you are married, you have probably noticed by now that raising children takes quite a bit of time. My husband and I have a weekly date night. We can’t afford a babysitter all the time, and not all babysitters are comfortable with our wild bunch. Every Sunday evening, when most of the kids are in bed, we head to our room to listen to our favorite podcast, Office Ladies, and watch the corresponding episode of The Office (it’s great for a laugh and it’s our favorite show of all time). Sometimes we buy snacks and indulge. My husband might even pick up a bottle of his favorite wine. This time together is so important, and it helps us to remember who we are as a couple. Of course, there are times it is interrupted. That’s okay. Babies can sit on laps (babies aren’t babies very long, so snuggle them all you can now). Kids that are having nightmares can sleep on the couch in the living room for a night. Just remember to nurture your partnership.
Resolve to have fun
Not every day as an adoptive parent is a walk in a park. Many days can lovingly be described as “an utter dumpster fire.” I know from some of the FASD groups that I am in that others experience this just as much as I do. Stolen or damaged property, swearing, issues at school—some of these are the norm for adoptive families. When things get tough, resolve to have fun. Plan a game night, a movie night, or order out and eat in the park. If your adoptee won’t have it and tries to ruin the fun, oh well. They can’t ruin your fun, and they can’t make you have a bad mood without your permission. Make fun a normal, regular part of your life and lead by example
Resolve to give yourself grace
You, adoptive or foster parent, are amazing. You are impacting little lives. You are shaping human beings. There is no one else on earth quite equipped for your job of raising kids entrusted to you. If you make a mistake, correct it. If you are wrong, ask for forgiveness. And while you’re at it, forgive yourself, too.
As this year winds down, many people have their eyes on the Christmas tree. That is okay; it is not a bad thing. There are presents to open and meals to eat. There are carols to sing, stories to read, and fun times to be had. Traditions will be upheld and new traditions will be made. The memories will be in your child’s mind for a lifetime. You, adoptive or foster parent, are making magic in the life of a child. But don’t forget to look past this week. Don’t forget to look toward the crisp newness of the next year. It is the promise, the hope, and the wonder of a full 365 days to do it all again—the hard, the difficult, the easy, and the joyous.
All of these things work together to make this thing we call life. Set aside a little time to think about your adoptive resolutions and how they might rejuvenate and refresh your home and your family. Set aside some time to reflect on the blessings you have been given—these children. Adoption is not an easy road, but it is one that is so worth taking. Remember that, although the days might feel long, one day you will look back on them just as memories. The busyness of the holidays is a choice, and, as for myself, I choose to deliberately set aside time to think about the things I want for my family in the year to come and what is most important. I want to enter the new year proud to be an adoptive parent, hopeful for the future, boldly seeking the best for my family, and expecting the most out of life. And I hope you do, too. Most of all, resolve to enter this new year with joy as your banner and love as your song.