We asked the father of an adopted child – who wished to remain anonymous – what it was like dealing with Christmas. Here is their emotional response.
Imagine not wanting to write a Christmas list because you don’t trust Father Christmas will bring you anything.
Imagine if your worst nightmare is all of the commotion that comes with Christmas. Being dragged from one place to another, constantly changing scenery, different people, surprises, unfamiliarity and loud noises. When all you really want to do is sit down and let your brain rest and spend some time with a small group of trusted people at your home where you finally feel safe and happy.
Imagine being the last kid in the class to get a phone because your adopted parents are trying to protect you from the past, from being contacted by your birth parents.
Imagine over-idealising the perfect Christmas because it’s all you’ve ever wanted, but having such high expectations, you end up feeling disappointed and trying to ruin it for everyone.
That’s what we have going on at our house with our adopted little one – and we have it every year as soon as December strikes.
That’s why this Christmas, I’m writing a letter to colleagues rather than Santa, asking if you know a parent with a foster child, adopted child, stepchild, or child left by divorce. Please cut them a bit of extra slack.
In my house, December can be fraught with disruptions and meltdowns as we lurch from the utter joys of doing festive things to the lows of having an adopted child who doesn’t know where they fit in the world or whether or not a social worker is going to knock on the door at any given moment and take them from a place where they currently finally feel settled. These kids always have one eye on the door.
Often for adopted children and those who love them, Christmas is a difficult time. I mean, how do you get a child who thinks they’re worthless a Christmas present? Often they break it because they think they don’t deserve it, so parents try to find unbreakable toys. Lego’s the best one I’ve found so far – it’s intended to be broken. But kids grow out of Lego.
Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom – we have the highs that go with it. And so many happy, ‘normal’ family times. But often, it’s tainted by behaviour that can’t always be explained, which garners looks from other parents and maybe even a shake of the head. How would I even begin to explain?
I can’t tell you why my kid will flip out over certain things and often neither can they. It just happens because somewhere deep inside is a dark past that still lingers. And whilst we might know a version of what’s happened from second-hand stories from social workers or from talking to them and piecing bits together, we will never know fully or first-hand what they’ve been through. Years in and it’s still like having a stranger in the house.
My little one doesn’t have too many memories of that era, but it doesn’t mean that things that happened during that time won’t have ramifications. So we’re trapped with no memories and a past that ripples into the present. Anything can be the start of a meltdown or the beginning of an outburst and often we don’t know the cause.
Through volunteer groups, I’ve met other adoptive parents who understand because they experience the same every day too. Devastatingly, a couple once shared that they were trying to give their adopted children a biscuit and a warm glass of milk before bed and for months the children refused the biscuit. Eventually, they found out that in their early years, biscuits had been used when the ‘bad stuff’ was about to happen.
This is just one of many stories of families like mine who are faced with: the difficult daily battles of not knowing where the next trigger will come from or if a kind gesture will land terribly wrong. Paired with the emotional impact of knowing your child has experienced things that no child should, a past that you can’t undo.
Despite all this, of course, they’re deeply loved and I can’t imagine life without them. Even at the hardest times, that love is what pulls us through.
So, my wish this Christmas is compassion for the families going through similar struggles. Every day of the year is challenging, but Christmas can be too much.