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 knew what to expect each year at the holidays and it filled my spirit with anticipation to think about repeating each and every tradition. It wasn’t until recently that I considered how those traditions came to be. They gained importance over time. A family does something and then enjoys it, the family decides to do the same thing again and over time it becomes the expectation. Some traditions stay the same and some change or grow over time. Time is the key with traditions and time is a luxury foster and adoptive families are not guaranteed.
As our foster family grew, we had children make their way through our home during the holidays. Our traditions meant nothing to them. They were simultaneously mourning the loss of their family while trying to navigate the secret language of our family’s traditions. My oldest daughters came to live with us when they were 15 years old. They hadn’t experienced the Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas tree runs, or John Denver classics that were impressed on my childhood memories. They had their own expectations about the holidays and their own childhood recollections. It became apparent to us that we could not assume that our children would understand or appreciate the things we value as a family if we did not value the things they held dear as well.
As of today, we are adoptive parents of 8. Our oldest two are adults with spouses and children. Our three middle kids are teens with ideas and agendas of their own. Our youngest three are still in the magical age of loving everything about the holidays. My extended family no longer gets together for Thanksgiving dinner and neither does my husband’s family. My two older children have extended families of their own with schedules to juggle. My teens are focused on part time jobs and going out with friends. I wanted to replicate the holidays of my memories but it never quite works out. I tried changing my expectations and so that my feelings wouldn’t end up hurt but then I found that my children had expectations of their own that weren’t being met. The whole holiday season felt like a mess and I found myself waiting anxiously for January. I was lamenting to an older friend who has navigated the holidays with hundreds of foster children, adult children, grandchildren and currently some younger teens as well. She gave me the most valuable advice, “Sit down with your children and ask them face to face, what traditions are important to them and tell them what things are important to you. Make a plan for how to do as many of those things as possible together.”
Simple, right? It is and I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before. Communication is key to all relationships so Mike and I talked to each older child and explained that we were trying to create our own traditions as a family but we are kind of starting from scratch. We asked each child what they love doing and picked out dates to do that thing. We can’t fit everything in but we discovered that their expectations were simple. They wanted to do things that were pretty easy to accomplish. We haven’t been able to do all of the things together but by communicating, we are also avoiding the land mines of hurt feelings that come from unspoken expectations.
Here are some of the things our children wanted to do during this Holiday Season.
- Bake Cookies
- Town Tree Lighting Ceremony
- Advent Devotions as a Family
- Christmas Concert
- Zoo Lights
- Watch Christmas Movies in our PJs
- Children’s Museum
- Make Gingerbread Houses
- Visit Grandparents
- Attend Christmas Eve Service
- Volunteer to Help Someone
Together we are learning to set reasonable and attainable expectations for the holidays. Our newest and best tradition is communication.
What family traditions are you doing this year? Are you starting anything new? Share with us in the comment section below this post.