This is for former or current foster youth struggling to make sense of the loss of what was. This is for adult adoptees, who may love their adoptive parents, but carry a void around with them, or a never-ending search for identity. This is for bio parents who either made the difficult choice to place their children for adoption, had their children removed never to return, or were the victim of an unethical adoption that unjustly took their children from them. We all need help surviving this difficult season of the journey.
We all need direction.
We all need help coping.
We all need steps to help us navigate the deep cavern of emotions…grief….and loss that comes with this particular season.
This is messy, no doubt. While most of the world looks forward to the Christmas and New Year season (maybe a bit on pause right now due to COVID), those involved in the foster care and adoption triad face dread, and heartbreak.
The question is, how do we make it through the next few weeks, or months? How can parents prepare their spirit in order to maximize the help they can give to their children, as those feelings of loss and grief are sure to spill out in some fashion? How do former foster youth, adult adoptees, the primary human beings, this journey impacts, reconcile the pain they’ve gone through?
Here are some insights to help all of us survive what is, and what could be, a very difficult season…
- Anticipate and prepare. Our post-adoption counselor gave us this gem recently, and we immediately incorporated it into our parent coaching curriculum as well as our online trainings. The idea here is that we anticipate that [behavior, reaction, attitude, feeling, etc] is going to happen, and thus, we prepare ourselves adequately to [respond, react, de-escalate, etc.]. In the case of the holiday season, we must anticipate that this is going to be hard for our children, and for us. We must gear our emotions, reactions, and attitude toward the reality that the hard stuff is on the way. From that anticipation we must prepare ourselves to respond in healthy ways. We must coach ourselves with the reminder, “This is going to be hard.”
- Hold space for grief. Grief is the means by which heartbreak and pain transform into healing. We must not fear it, or try to stop it, especially if we are the caregiver standing by while our child deals with deep loss. It’s crucial that we hold space, and guard that space, in order for grief to run its course. Keep in mind that even though your child has been in your care for years, and you think they should be past this, he or she is not. Grief can take years, even a lifetime, and that’s okay.
- Plan. Knowing that this season can be hard, it’s up to us, caregivers, to plan. Our children can’t do this, nor should they be expected to. At least not yet. When they move into adulthood, or even the teen years, and learn to self-regulate, and cope, planning enters into the picture (for the most part), but for us as parents, here, now, in this season, we need to plan our holiday season in a way that promotes compassion and understanding. Obviously with COVID, most big holiday gatherings, or family get-togethers, which could cause lots of triggers, are at a minimum. But the likelihood that disappointment and anxiety will make an appearance is high. Plan accordingly. Have a plan for how you will respond. Create an exit strategy if things become too overwhelming. Be willing to change things up if Christmas morning, or Christmas Eve are turning into dysregulation.
- Be okay with feelings of loss. It’s important to note that even though those holiday parties, and family get-togethers may not happen, and COVID has overshadowed much of this season, our children may still not understand or be able to cope with the reality of not seeing their bio family, or experiencing what they considered “normal holidays.” Be prepared for the feelings of loss to pour out throughout this season. And the fact that COVID has disrupted a lot of traditions, this reality becomes exponentially greater.
- Redirect and manage. Remember, extreme behaviors are not the product of a “bad child, behaving badly.” Nope. In this season you can be certain they are the direct result of trauma, particularly the added trauma of this season. As part of your planning, have a plan for redirection. If the drive-thru holiday display is too much, bail on it, and swing through McDonald’s for ice cream or fries. Remember that your primary goal when your child is triggered, or melting down, is NOT discipline, or correction (at least not yet). Your primary goal is re-regulation. You need to help your child move from their reptilian brain back to their pre-frontal cortex where logic and reasoning exist.
To borrow a phrase we have seen and heard throughout the past 8 months, “We’re in this together.” This is a hard season, but we can get through this. Most importantly, we can help our children survive this difficult season. We can bring understanding and compassion front and center for the adoptees living in our home, or those we know and love who are now adults living through this uncertain time.
We are cheering for you!
[We just released a FREE Holiday Survival Guide featuring 4 of the best trauma-trained therapists in the world. Click Here to get access!]