I’ve never forgotten how her hands shook nervously as she opened gifts her first Christmas with us. I’ve always wondered what caused it. Was she afraid she would be disappointed with her gifts? Was she so overwhelmed that there were gifts just for her that she couldn’t contain her excitement? Did she feel undeserving? Did she feel the gifts would require a response she didn’t know how to give? Were all the lights and sounds and decorations and foods and pretty wrappings just too much stimuli for her system? She was eight years old and probably didn’t understand why herself. I don’t think she ever regretted the experience. I just know the holiday somehow overloaded her nervous system and her body had a hard time handling it all.
Just last week I had a conversation with another one of my (now adult) children about how the holidays always cause depression to the extent that he prefers to stay hidden away. This is not uncommon at all. Most SAFE families experience major behavioral issues during the holidays. I don’t know if it’s because somehow the family festivities remind them that they can’t experience this goodness with their birth families; if the holidays still feel a bit foreign and they just can’t find a way to feel at home with them—even though they long to; if they feel they don’t know how to celebrate as their new culture dictates; or if it shines too stark a light on lifestyle differences between them and their parents. For some reason, holidays are simply tough.
So if holidays are difficult at your house, welcome aboard. It’s normal. In fact, knowing this might help you anticipate difficulties and take steps to minimize the struggles. This may mean major changes are needed for your family. The following are some ideas that you might actually find fun to try.
• Keep things as simple as possible.
o Decorate lightly.
o *Buy only a few gifts.
o *Attend one (or no) holiday event.
o Celebrate each holiday only at home.
o Keep meals simple and include mostly foods your kids are comfortable with while introducing one or two holiday foods.
• Relocate holiday celebrations away from your home so your child can feel the needed stability in the sameness of their home environment.
o Celebrate only at an extended family member’s home.
o *Take decorations, gifts, foods, etc. to a nearby hotel for a fun overnight.
o *Celebrate the holiday at a recreational facility (indoor water park, amusement park, skiing, or vacation spot).
o Search your area for restaurants that are open that day and enjoy dinner there. Then return home and celebrate with familiar activities (movies, games, outside play, etc.)
• Start over from scratch and involve your kids in creating your own unique traditions. This gives them a sense of contribution and personal identity with the holidays.
o *Have them help bake cookies.
o Hand make decorations.
o Bring something from their original culture into the holiday.
o Share stories of memories from holidays with their families/countries of origin.
• Provide opportunities for them to focus on others and keep personal expectations to a minimum.
o Serve a meal at a local shelter.
o Deliver meals/gifts to needy families.
o Carol at assisted living centers or hospitals.
o *Work to earn money to buy gifts for family members.
o *Hand-make cards or gifts for family members.
We did very few of these things—only those marked with an *. Most of the above are just ideas off the top of my head to help get you started with your own ideas.
In our experience, we had more difficulties when the kids were older—when all were in their mid to late teens. I remember six tough Christmases in a row. In fact, the seventh Christmas, our kids were finally all adults, so Bob and I didn’t celebrate with them that year. We did things for them, and had short visits with some of them, but for the most part we avoided the anxieties that had become too routine. Now, I can happily say, we love celebrating with them again.
I know we parents get so excited to share our warm traditions with our children. But sometimes our children just can’t grasp the heart of it all. So, keep your traditions in a special place in your heart, while creating new ones for the family you’re becoming.
What if you …
What would your word be for this upcoming Thanksgiving?
For those of you who’ve created manageable ways to enjoy holidays with your SAFE children, I’m sure other parents would love to glean from your insights and ideas. Would you mind sharing with us here?
As I write to you each week, I mostly try to keep the focus on practical spirituality rather than a how-to focus; but for some reason this week I felt led to share this with you. So is there a biblical principle to reinforce this idea? I think there is. How about Jesus’ words to Martha?
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.”
John 10:41-42 (NIV)