Christmas can be a really special time for all families, but it can also be challenging for adoptive families with pressure to create a ‘perfect’ Christmas at an all time high, negotiating past and new traditions, and supporting children who may be experiencing trauma or grief or feeling overwhelmed by all that goes on at this time of year (school festivities, fairs, Father Christmas visits, gifts, new food, crowded dinner tables, and unexpected visitors to name just a few!).
We asked some We Are Family members and volunteers to share their thoughts about managing this time of year, and helping the whole family to have a ‘good’ Christmas. Whilst we know all children and families are different, we hope that you might find some food for thought, support, a different perspective, or space to reflect on these ideas. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this blog.
My tip would be, really pair it back. Our children had no experience of a traditional Christmas, well, any Christmas whatsoever. We have started our own. Gone are the hours spent in a kitchen preparing the Nigella roast or the Jamie potatoes. I buy everything ready done, ready peeled and ready to pop in a hot oven. Even using disposable baking trays so cutting down on washing up. Along with nibbles they enjoy. So the focus wasn’t on ‘the big meal’, leaving more time to play and celebrate in the wonder of them. I know someone who had pizza for their dinner that day, because their children loved it. Why not? The focus should be on them.
We planned a walk in the afternoon to get fresh air and we also kept it just us, except in the early evening for only a couple of hours, nan and grandad came to play some games. Not lots of family coming over, and no driving anywhere. Staying at home in their own beds.
I’d say don’t over do it on gifts. We did get carried away that first Christmas and that was overwhelming for them looking back. The bench mark was also set high for the following year!
It’s so tempting to really give them everything all at once. Filling every day with glitter and magic. Truly our two most loved the Christmas crackers and playing games all together. They loved their Christmas pyjamas and Christmas bedding all so cozy .
(We Are Family Member)
Christmas can be an upsetting time of year for our children. We may wish to celebrate and be positive but in the lead up, they can often worry about the Christmas card not sent or the gift not under the tree. Being mindful of this and noticing how they feel helps.
Building new traditions can be important, like buying a decoration each year, and talking about it every time you take out to highlight how long they have been part of the family can be reassuring.
Making a list of gifts for them to choose from seems to calm the worry about what they will or will not get.
(We Are Family Volunteer)
As we start looking to the festive period, I cannot help but think about our first Christmas as a family. My daughter had only come to me a few months before Christmas, so it was hard to know what to expect. I was told to keep things simple and to expect to spend Christmas just myself and my daughter which was something I could not fathom. Coming from a big family it was going to be really hard just having a quiet Christmas. After discussing with the family, it was decided that we should still have a family gathering but it would be on the understanding that my daughter and I would be upstairs whilst everyone else would be downstairs. It seemed strange but at least we would still be part of the celebrations.
This however was not what happened! As the family started to arrive my little girl was not frightened or overwhelmed by these people but was just so curious about what was going on. The expression on her face was priceless, you could almost see the wheels spinning around in her head and whilst she couldn’t articulate these things her expression was, ‘who is this, who is he, who is she, ooh that looks nice, what’s that….?!. She never cried, just kept looking around with wonder.
Once everyone had arrived and I tried to go upstairs to where we were supposed to be, my little girl was having none of it and was pulling me towards the front room where everyone was. In fact, she walked over to a chair as if to say, ‘this is where we need to sit’ and that’s where we sat.
Oh, what a lovely Christmas day. My daughter didn’t cry, she was just curious about what was going on around her and therefore made our first Christmas one we would never forget.
(We Are Family Member)
Last year was our first Christmas with little one. He came home in October and we were so excited that he was going to finally meet my family after 3 months of lockdown. Then a few days before, we went into lockdown again. I don’t think we realised how much we were holding onto that moment as a break or change from the flood of emotions and new world we had found ourselves in. Overwhelming in every sense of the word: we were bouncing from feelings of pure joy and hearts bursting with love, to guilt and abject failure when little one was clearly in the depths of his grief for the life and people he’d just lost coming to us.
We’d also wanted to bring him into our wider family traditions, meet his cousins and see where his grandparents lived. And make it so special as it had been such a long journey for us to bring him home and such a long time since we’d seen our family together.
We felt gutted and exhausted. I ran out to M&S, queued for about half an hour to get into the shop then bought as many Christmas treats as I could lay my hands on. I came back feeling buoyed, it was ok, we’d keep the traditions going and make it really special even if it was at home without the usual noise and chaos.
In the end it didn’t feel like the Christmas we knew at all, we ate all the food, met with friends and their little ones in the park and attempted to open presents which little one was not at all interested in doing, and watched Christmas movies. On Boxing Day we got a McDonalds and felt a bit flat.
But looking back, it was the other things that made our Christmas together special. We all chose a Christmas tree together, in the pouring rain with little one running through the lines of trees hiding and loving every minute of it. The wonder on his face at every set of Christmas lights we passed on our daily walks, and all the Christmas trees lit up in the windows of other people’s houses. Just the feeling of waking up with little one there, with us, making us a family was what we should have been paying attention to, that is special enough.
If it’s your first Christmas with your little one at home keep it simple, take time to just be together. Forget the festivities (or enjoy them when they’re napping!) and enjoy the time you have just you and them. Make new traditions and respond to where your little one is at and what they are enjoying.
Christmas will never be the same again and we don’t want it to be.
(We Are Family Member)
We Are Family members can look for more resources on the member hub by searching ‘Christmas’. If you have any comments to add to the conversation about managing Christmas feel free to add them below – we’d love to hear from you.
Merry Christmas from the WAF Team!