Traditions are a part of what solidifies the culture of each unique family. As foster and adoptive families, we have the important challenge of blending many different customs in to one new family unit. This holiday season, we’ve been asking ourselves and our children how we can honor our individuality while celebrating together.
When I was growing up, Holidays were full of family traditions. On Thanksgiving Day we traveled to my grandma’s house for dinner. We cleaned up together and then went for a walk around our little town. Even if it was freezing, you could count on a gaggle of Schultzes quite loudly making our way through the neighborhood. That evening my family would buckle into the Caprice Classic and only then, begin the non-stop Christmas music that would fill my ears until New Year’s Day. The next day, we would venture out to cut down the perfect Christmas tree. We didn’t start decorating until all family members were present and accounted for, Nat King Cole Christmas was on the record player and egg nog was properly chilled and poured into 6 decorative mugs.
“I have both adopted and biological kids and I find my bio kids often get lost in the shuffle of everything we deal with as an adoptive family. How do we support them and stay connected to them?”
We get this question ALL the time. Usually I’m thinking, “Hmmm good question, I don’t have any bio kids so I don’t know how to answer that.” Next, I’ll think, “I should really meet someone who has bio kids and ask them this question.” Then I say to myself, “Better yet, I should find a bio kid who was raised in an adoptive family and then I’ll ask the question.” This weekend my mom and I went to an adoption conference together and I kept introducing her and by saying, “This is my mom, she’s an adoptive mom too!”
The holidays can be a difficult season for children in foster care. It’s also an emotional time for the parents caring for them. But if this isn’t you, there’s still so much you can do that’s helpful. Here are some ideas on how others can serve families like ours during the holidays. Feel free to share this post with them. That’s why we wrote it…. 🙂
It was a chilly winter afternoon shortly following Thanksgiving. The nights were getting longer and the days chillier. My family was decorating the tree, drinking vegan egg-nog (yes, that is a real thing) and rocking to our Christmas playlist. The doorbell rang and six of my eight children ran to answer it. Stumbling over each other and laughing, they nearly fell into the door. Mike and I hollered from the other room, “Wait before you open it!” We scooped up our 3-year-old and went to see who our surprise visitor might be. I flipped on the front porch light and unlocked the door to see a family standing on our front step holding a brightly wrapped gift. Mentally I checked through my calendar. Oh no, this must be the family delivering the gift from my son’s biological father. I had completely forgotten. I extended my hand toward the mom and greeted her, welcoming her inside. She was friendly but seemed to feel uncomfortable. The dad shook our hands as well and their three teens smiled awkwardly at my kids.
When you’re part of a big family, you often face a big space problem. We’re routinely asked how we are able to have so many children and live in a small house. The answer? We create special space.
When I left for college, my younger brother moved into my room. Immediately. I’m not sure the over-packed van had pulled out of the driveway before he had all of my belongings stuffed into a cardboard box. I’m exaggerating of course but that is the nature of a large family. There is always someone next in line. Waiting for the coveted bedroom, hand-me-down jeans, or a turn driving the family car. I wouldn’t change the way I was raised for anything.
The world often looks at a child like mine, who suffers from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), as a hopeless case. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. He is a warrior. And he is overcoming this disorder every single day!
My son sat slumped next to the front door in a defeated posture.
“What’s wrong kiddo?” I said. “We’re going to church and you won’t tie my shoe for me!” he shouted back. I jumped, surprised at his response. He hadn’t asked for help. To my knowledge, he hadn’t even been sitting there that long. I crouched down next to him. I almost yelled but remembered quickly that my son’s brain doesn’t work like other children, he has FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) and his frustration level goes from 0-60 without warning. I took a breath again and asked if I could show him how to do it with one shoe and he could do it with the other shoe. “No!” he shouted again. I stood up and calmly reminded him that shouting hurts my feelings, I would be happy to help when he was ready.
You get the call from a case manager asking you to take in a teenager recently placed in foster care. Or you’ve chosen to adopt a pre-teen. Now what? How do you successfully set boundaries for them? How do you ensure you and the child are on the same page when it comes to respect, guidelines, and family values?
We didn’t wade into the shallow end of a heated pool, so-to-speak, when we began our foster care journey. We were pretty much tossed into the deep end. Our license was completed in a very short 4 weeks and the calls started rolling in. We were often unprepared, which is to be expected. This was also very much the case when we took in our first teenager. While we had served as youth pastors for nearly a decade before our first teen arrived, everything we thought we knew about them went right out of the window when we were suddenly parenting one!
When it comes to adopting older children there’s often a belief that, because they’ve been through so much, it’s impossible to form a healthy bond with them. We’ve discovered something different.
In our 15 years of parenting we have had the honor of participating in the lives of 23 children. Most of them returned home or went on to be adopted by their forever families, eight of them have stayed forever. Before I became a parent of an older child, I didn’t think much about bonding and attachment. I am attached to my own parents, brothers and sisters. I have not personally had reason to question my place or belonging in the world. When we adopted our first daughter at birth, we bonded quite naturally.
Often, when you’re in the trenches of parenting children with major special needs, the most important relationship you have begins to suffer. How do you keep your marriage healthy in the midst of very difficult circumstances with your children?
I met my husband 20 years ago this winter. I saw him across the lobby of the student center at our college campus. I hoped he would notice me and when he did I shook his hand and smiled the warmest smile I could muster on that cold January evening. He asked me out a few weeks later and I was excited to get to know him. From that moment on, we enjoyed spending as much time together as possible. We studied at the library, took walks around campus, visited the art museum where admission was free. We didn’t need to do anything fancy. Time together was all we wanted.