The Healing Power of Family Tradition

By: - November 18, 2019

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navigating the holidays with your foster child

Sometimes life just happens so fast, and you realize you didn’t really think things through. Our daughter had only been with our family for six months when her birthday came.  We had a family tradition of friendly “birthday spankings” that we never thought twice about. Our biological kids had grown up with this tradition, but we never considered how it might impact a new child in our family. What was fun and connecting for our family was confusing to her. Epic parent fail.  

Despite this epic parenting fail, I still believe in the healing power of family tradition.  My family just returned from our 13th annual trip to Colorado.  We biked, hiked, fished, and burned things in a fire pit.  It is what we do every summer and it is a connecting event for our family.  Another family joined us this year, and we spent a good part of the trip retelling our many Colorado family memories. This retelling of our family stories called my attention to the healing power of family traditions.  Traditions generate shared family memories which create a sense of belonging and connection. 

However, when you bring adopted or foster children into the home, traditions can be complicated and will often trigger big emotions.  Here are a few tips for managing traditions with your adoptive and foster children: 

  • Think Ahead.  Consider your family traditions and rituals.  Think through each month of the year and make a list of traditions.  Traditions are often linked to holidays like Christmas or can be seasonal things like getting ice cream on the last day of school.
  • Communicate. Communicate.  Communicate.  Talk about what is going to happen.  Some things that are normal for your family will be confusing or downright weird to a new child in the family.  Holidays can be difficult for children from hard places. Be sensitive to your child’s trauma history. Remember talking through an event beforehand can help with those “transitions” into and out of the event.
  • Compromise.  For older children, ask them about traditions in their birth home. Be open to modifying your traditions to include what they remember. This gives them a voice. Be flexible.  A child with sensory issues may not handle the annual day-long trip to the amusement park well. Consider doing a smaller trip to a pizza place instead. 
  • Create New Traditions.  We now celebrate Forever Family Day every year by doing something fun together on the day we finalized our adoptions.  My husband recently decided that a Father’s Day trip to an all you can eat Mexican buffet is now a thing.  When we left the restaurant, my kids claimed this to be a new tradition.

Many of our kids from hard places have lived chaotic lives with very little predictability.  When done with thoughtfulness, sensitivity, and flexibility, traditions create connection for our children. It might be difficult and awkward at first.  Beyond memories and identity, traditions can create stability and predictability, which can be critical to healing. It won’t always go the way you pictured in your head.  Our first couple of trips to Colorado with our adopted children were hard.  There were lots of tears on all sides. Now I look back and it was worth persevering with our tradition and helping our adopted children build an identity with our family. 

Don’t miss the opportunity for creating connections with the healing power of traditions.   

For more ideas for navigating the upcoming holidays, you can listen to Chris, Ryan, and Kayla talk about Simplifying Christmas here.

Also Found In: Resources for Families, Tapestry Blog