December 01,2006 / Martha Osborne
For those who are experiencing the joy of the Christmas or Hanukah season
for the first time with your older (above age 4 years) child, I want to give you
just a small, but incredibly important, piece of advice that I, and countless
others, have learned along the way. This holiday is going to be different. It
doesn't matter if you have adopted younger kids before, because they didn't 'get
it'. It doesn't matter if you are the Parent of the Year with your
birth-children, and you think you have got it all figured out. I'm begging
There are those of us who have had years of parenting experience before
adopting an older child. We also were incredible, capable and of course
completely prepared. HA! We are all now on secret email lists sharing stories
and wishing we could both communicate the absolute joy of parenting these
kids...and the very real need for "first time parents of older-adoptees" to open
their minds and accept a little advice.
Get ready to hear this:
I want, I want, I WANT! I WAAANNNTT THAT MOMMY!
With the constant barrage of advertisements and television commercials aimed
at children year round and especially through the Holiday season, a child's
first Christmas home can be a little more stressful than her family may have
Often, having had to survive a number of Holiday seasons wondering if they
would ever have the experience of purchasing gifts for a son or daughter, many
new adoptive parents are at risk of overwhelming and indulging the new child in
Do you see yourself here?
Children who have previously experienced extreme deprivation may seem to have
a never-ending list of toys and gifts they want and expect. Many adoptive
parents struggle with their sincere desire to please their child and to
experience the joy and excitement of giving their long-awaited child the
fullness of their heart's desire. But what is truly in the child's best
Having gone through a tremendous amount of work and preparation to become
parents, adoptive parents are clearly up to the challenging task of achieving a
healthy balance. Traditions, like cookie baking, visiting friends, and
decorations placed in the same place year after year, will be long remembered
after that plastic toy has broken or been thrown away.
The best material gift you can give your first older adoptive child is: LESS.
Emotionally, give more. Decorate your home, take late night drives through
neighborhoods with bright lights, sing carols, celebrate family in every way
possible. But remember: If you have other children, your newly adopted child
will not measure gifts in expense (there is absolutely no concept of cost), but
in number. S-L-O-W Down on Christmas morning. Take turns opening gifts, admiring
each one, and absolutely make sure that the new child has at least the same
number as the other children.
And please know this...it won't always matter. Every parent of an older
adoptee is so thrilled to see the present opening and of course there is an
emotional 'kick-back' that they are expecting. Some parents, unfortunately,
become angry, displeased...they may not get the 'appreciation' that they did not
even know they were expecting. The child isn't 'grateful' for the gifts. But ask
yourself this: Did they enjoy the cookie baking? The carols? The walks through
the park with all its lights in splendor? For these kids FAMILY and GIFTS are
When thinking about what to give your newly adopted child, remember that YOU
are your child's greatest gift. Make her first Christmas home the one she will
remember for a lifetime.
Take many digital photos and have them developed
during the season. Allow older children to take photos and add them to the new
photo album .Decorate together, being mindful that fragile items might be
saved for a later year, as the excitement of the season will make children
sometimes careless don't let a broken object ruin this joyous season.
time with friends and family, but remember that too much stimulation can
completely overwhelm a child who has grown up in another culture or in an
orphanage. Their behavior may not be as you would hope, and it is important to
have a Plan B in place for a new adoptee;a quite place the child can be alone
with a parent when things are too overwhelming. Consider ahead of time whether or not the season is a religious time for your family, or simply a traditional time. If religious, too much emphasis on Santa (a fictional
character) can be confusing for the older child and he is very likely, as has
been seen by other adoptive families, to also consider Jesus fictional when they are presented at the same time.
Help your child to compose a card or letter to their former orphanage. This is a wonderful time to send a small donation to
the orphanage with recent photos of your child. Allowing your child to draw a picture, send stickers, etc is very empowering and beneficial. Often, you will
be very touched by what they wish to send and the letters that they write. And finally, let the word flexibility' be your mantra.
Remembering the less fortunate:
If your child has been home for more than 6 months and has the language
skills, it is important to incorporate helping the less fortunate immediately
into your traditions. Most orphanage-raised children do NOT believe there are
children in the USA that are poor' or who do not have families. In addition to
sending a donation to your child's orphanage (a common practice for adoptive
parents), finding a way to help children within their new country gives your
child a sense of charity, community involvement, and simply helps to form good
With a bit of forethought and mindfulness, encouraging an emphasis on
remembering less fortunate children instead of getting the latest must-have toy
really is possible.
One quick way to help other children is to search the RainbowKids.com Help a
Child Area . Within this area several charities have listed their needs and ways
that you may assist the children who still wait.
Other ideas you may find in your community or may wish to initiate yourself:
• Become an Angel
Often organizations such as the Salvation Army or
Make a Wish Foundation will have a booth at your local mall with Christmas trees
that have angel ornaments hanging on the branches. The ornaments have the age of
the child and a gift they would like to receive. You and your child remove an
ornament of your choosing, purchase the desired gift, and the organization wraps
• The Humane Society and other Animal Shelters
children may feel too competitive with other children and will be more
enthusiastic about giving to animals. If your child shows an interest in
animals, animal shelters are always in need of supplies, as well as old towels
• Department of Family and Children Services
Families who foster
children frequently have four, five or six children to provide for during the
holidays. Donors usually receive the age, clothing size and toy wish of a child
or set of siblings. Frequently stockings to be stuffed with school and hygiene
supplies for the children are provided and a food drive is held to provide food
for the holiday meal.
• Adult Day Care Centers
If possible sharing time with your child
this Holiday season while you both donate time at an adult day care center is a
win/win situation. Adult day care centers can always use volunteers to help in
various activities such as Bingo or decorating for festivities. It can be quite
powerful for children to experience the joy a simple smile can bring and learn
how the holidays were celebrated in years past.
• Donate to a Shelter for Battered Women & Their Children
If your financial situation is tight and there are limited funds, as a physical and visual reminder of how much you and your family already have and take for granted during the holidays and throughout the year, donate your gently used toys and items to those who have even less. Even better would be to call and ask if there were donations of wrapped toys you could make. A child in crisis would adore a newly packaged and wrapped toy. Be certain to phone ahead as domestic violence shelters often have undisclosed addresses and a drop off location will need to be provided.
By enjoying your child and sharing time together during the holiday season
remembering the less fortunate, you will help develop values and memories which
will endure a life time and carry through to their own parenting.