The Adoptee and The Holidays


Many of us look forward to the holidays. It’s usually a time of celebration, family, togetherness, and a time for creating lasting memories. For anyone who is adopted, young or old, this time of year can be complicated, confusing, and often full of sadness.

My birthday is at the end of November and it sometimes falls on Thanksgiving. When I recall my childhood birthdays, I remember being sick each year. I had stomach viruses, the flu, strep throat, or another illness. I remember year after year lying on the sofa under a blanket in my grandparent’s living room while my extended family sat down to a long, relaxing dinner at the dining room table.

I don’t even think anyone noticed that I was sick each year. Maybe my relatives got used to it and it became a normal part of the holiday. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that my illness had all to do with my adoption and my feelings surrounding it. During my birthday, I constantly thought about my birth family and imagined them having a wonderful holiday with my birth mother missing me. My fantasies always got the best of me and I could easily get hooked into daydreaming about another pretend life. For me this was a daily occurrence during this time of year. In this invented life I dreamt of, my birth mother, I imagined, would be delighted to have me back. All my wishes would come true when I was living in this fictional life. I hung onto these daydreams throughout my childhood. They became a part of who I was.

Looking back, I wonder if my sickness each holiday season had anything to do with my inability to share and process my feelings about being adopted. If someone acknowledged that this time of year was hard for me, would that have made for one less visit to the doctor? I don’t know.

What I do know is that many adopted children will be thinking of their birth families during the holidays this year. They may feel alone and not know what to do with their pain and their loss. They might not even be able to recognize that what they’re feeling is pain and loss. These can be very private feelings and children are unsure who would even understand then.

If we can normalize these emotions and allow children to openly grieve the loss of their birth family, we can help the adopted child in our lives feel some control over their world. When we give support and show compassion, we help the child make sense of their feelings and know that their feelings are okay. This can make a difference in the way an adopted child views the holidays. It is our job as parents and caretakers to help to ease their pain and not feel alone.

The holiday season can get busy and stressful. We tend to have much more to do and little free time to get it all done. However, this is the time that the adopted child in your life needs you most. The best gift that you can give to them is the gift of time. Take a walk in a new area. Explore nature and notice the change in seasons. Pick a board game and set aside a couple of hours to just play. You can let your child pick the activity and enjoy the time together. The most important gift you can give a child is to turn your cell phone, computer, and TV off and give your child undivided attention. During these times with you, children feel safe and relaxed and can often talk openly. This can open the door for further discussions about adoption.

About Jennifer Eckert, LICSW

Jennifer Eckert, LICSW, is the founder of Boston Post Adoption Resources. To read her bio, please visit BPAR's Team page.