Creating our own Traditions
All families have traditions. Ours no more or less than others.
However, as an adoptive family we, in common with most other adopters, have adapted ours to reflect the less conventional way in which we came together.
We have also had to adapt them to recognise the negative associations attached to some traditional celebrations for our children.
Birthdays? They should be quite straight forward shouldn't they?
For our son they weren't. When with his birth parents his had hardly been celebrated at all. He had little concept of what they were until he was placed in foster care.
There he did have a birthday party, provided by his first foster carer, with friends from his play school and the foster mother's wider family invited. We knew this not because he told us about it but because there were photographs of it in his Life Story Book.
I've explained elsewhere that when our son first came to live with us, despite the abuse he had received at the hands of his birth parents, his greater fear was having to see this foster carer again, with whom his relationship had disastrously, irrevocably broken down.
Therefore our son's recollection of this birthday party was as something that had been stressful and unpleasant. An event that was endured not enjoyed. "I was told off an had to stand in the corner," he said when we were discussing birthdays and looking at the photos.
"I don't really know who some of these people are," he added, looking at the photo of he and other toddlers arranged around a tea table.
Without the context of what was happening being explained to him, what clearly had been a well intentioned attempt to mark his birthday was, for our son, something confusing, strange and ultimately negative.
Our son's first birthday with us (his fourth) coincided with a visit from J's mother and sister, who naturally felt we should be marking the occasion.
Knowing what we knew we decided to keep things low key. Providing a birthday tea party, inviting my father and a close family friend to make it a small family gathering.
We used books, stories and films for a few weeks before his birthday to acclimatise him to the idea of celebrating his change in age.
Even so, he seemed overwhelmed by the whole experience. Overjoyed, yet incredulous, that the presents were for him. Subdued and uncertain at the tea party. We decided to end festivities early, turning the day into an extension of all others in it's continuation of routine.
Later birthdays have come, and gone, with increased gusto. Helped along in no small measure by the seeming avalanche of party invitations he seemed to receive in his first year at school.
Christmas had similar connotations for our son, but for very different reasons.
The festive season had once been a source of some joy and celebration, this being evident from some of the photographs we had of his very early years. He was too young to remember this however.
The social work and foster parents reports told a different story.
Christmas had been a point of stress within his birth family. The reports told a story of increasing drug and alcohol use as the holiday approached. Incidents of domestic violence were more frequently reported around Christmas, ultimately resulting in the catastrophic familial collapse that caused his finally being removed from his birth parents.
Consequently the foster parent reports told a story of increasing upset and stress as Christmas approached. Another reason why his move to us was delayed until the holiday was over.
He had been told about his move to his Forever Family in the days between Christmas and New Year and so, even though embracing this as a positive, he also recognised Christmas as a time of change and movement.
As his first Christmas with us drew near our little boy became visibly more stressed by the anticipation growing around him. As his Reception Class-mates embraced the excitement of the seasonal preparations he appeared to recoil from them.
Cast as a sheep in the nativity play he spent his moment in the limelight initially throwing his head-dress up in the air and then into the audience. Engaging as the game of catch with his sheep's head was for much of the audience, we sat caught between embarrassment at his behaviour and concern at what we knew it represented.
That evening, at home again, we discussed our options, deciding we should confront the issue head on rather than trying to avoid the holiday preparations which were, in any event ubiquitous.
We had delayed putting up our decorations and buying a tree until the following weekend. We therefore spent some time talking about the importance of these preparations to us all, as a family, as the weekend approached.
The whole of that Saturday was taken up with the process of buying the tree. Making sure our son chose the one he liked best. Choosing which decorations were to be put where. Putting up a stocking with his name on it at the end of the bed (never mind the fact that it was two weeks too early).
That evening, as J and I had always done, we decorated the tree together,. That year, for the first time, as a three.
We opened a bottle of champagne, as we always had, to mark the beginning of our Christmas celebration. A 'special cocktail', replete with cherry, umbrella and sparkler in hand our son joined in. Adding most importantly to the tree, the Christmas decoration we had bought specifically for him.
Still showing some trepidation our little boy then appeared to embrace the celebrations a little more wholeheartedly and certainly with better understanding as we reassured him, repeatedly, constantly, that they did not herald change or unhappiness, but rather fun, enjoyment and presents!
Decoration of the tree, with special 'cocktails' included and a new ornament bought especially each year has become part of our family Christmas tradition. Both children now join in heartily with this and all of our festive family traditions, any fear thankfully banished.
Many adoptive families celebrate a 'Family Day'. A day they choose as the anniversary of their becoming a family, recognising their unique nature and celebrating their coming together. We chose a day in early January for ours.
It serves three purposes. The anniversary of our son coming to live with us. Handily it is also the anniversary of our little girl's celebratory hearing confirming granting of the Adoption Order confirming her legal status as our adopted daughter.
Finally, it falls the day after the anniversary of my mother's death, which was itself the day before we began the transition of our from his foster parents' care to our own. Clearly nothing to celebrate, but a positive and forward looking celebration to dispel the sadness of that particular anniversary.
We celebrate it with a special dinner, at a venue of their choice. Invariably this means something pizza or fast food orientated, but then it is their day. We buy the children a gift. We look back through a photo book I prepare each year, recording the events of the year, reminding them of the things we have done together.
I've blogged before about the uncertainty that haunts our children. How, regardless of the assurances we give them about their being with us forever, there are still occasions where they question the permanence of their placement.
We hope that as each of these different anniversaries and celebrations comes around, both conventional and self contrived, it adds to the rhythm of their lives with us. Deepening their attachment and sense of security as each one passes.