Bittersweet Holidays


2017 Sharon Kaplan Roszia M.S.

This is the holiday time of year from October to January; one happy event after another. Holiday decorations, costumes, cooking and festive meals, gift buying and receiving, and schedules and routines disrupted, Defenses are down from exhaustion. This is the average experience for most people.

There are also those who suffer from this time of year because of poverty, worry, loneliness and a sense of failure and isolation.

As an expert in adoption, foster care and relative caregiving, and as someone where adoption and foster care are a part of my personal life experience, I am aware of an extra set of pressures on families where a central theme of loss is also present.

Children waiting for a permanent family who have been “treading water” for such a long time in the foster care system, feel cut off from other meaningful relationships, particularly at this time of year. They wonder and worry about birth family members and siblings who are “somewhere out there”. They may not feel worthy of gifts since abandonment issues or abuse can be a part of their history. They may feel overwhelmed by so much attention that they may feel guilty.

Children who have achieved permanency through adoption, even those placed at birth, may think about their original families and wonder if they are celebrating, have food and gifts and are thinking about them in return? They can be very happy and attached to their adoptive family but still wonder what it would be like to be with their family of origin. Even in an open adoption, there are still two families too be thinking about unless you are all together for the holidays.

Families waiting to adopt may experience sadness at not having achieved their goal of family building as yet. Families who have adopted, may find that they think about the children not at the holiday table that wish they could have birthed into the world; you can be loving the child that you are parenting and still think about the child did you did not birth.

Foster families wonder about the children who have moved on to other families through adoption or who have returned to their families of origin. They wonder, are they happy, loved and safe? Children, especially, think about other children who have moved on from the foster home.

Children with Grandparents or other relatives still worry about their birth Mom and Dad. The relatives, themselves may be saddened this time of year for their struggling family members not with them. 

Things to consider:

  • Be aware of your own feelings and be honest about them. Children can’t always tell when you are sad or mad because of them! If you share that holidays bring up feelings for you, they may feel more able to share what is on their mind.

  • Nurture yourselves; don’t push yourselves beyond what you can realistically do. Your stress is catchy; get sleep, get outside if you can; watch what you eat. Diminish stress to increase the joy of the season.

  • Be with people you really like and who do not bring stress into your home. Diminish obligatory entertaining.

  • Children speak to us through their behaviors, so listen and watch. If we don’t get it the first time, the behaviors will escalate. Are the children showing distress, anger or sadness? Do they need more attention? Label those emotions for them and set firm and loving boundaries; try and keep routines as much as possible. Children in the first three years of life are particularly sensitive to new smells, sounds, and tastes. Trips away from home may be hard for them.

  • If this is a newly arrived foster or adoptive child, keep things simple. Don’t overwhelm with new people; establish and keep a routine; don’t pass a child around.

  • If there are people missing in your lives, talk about them; light a candle for them; say a prayer for them; put up pictures of them.

  • Ask “I wonder” questions such as “you look sad, I wonder who or what you are thinking about?’

  • Remember, holidays are a mixed bag for so many of us; it is bittersweet, a paradox.

Happy 2018, Sharon Kaplan Roszia

Written especially for Circle 4 Parents by adoption specialist and co-author of The Seven Core Issues In Adoption And Permenancy, Sharon Roszia.