This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Christmas Traditions - 3 gifts

Our Family Christmas Traditions: 

When our kids first came to live with us it was right before the holidays. Coming from a blended family myself, and having read everything I could, it did occur to me that the new kids probably had holiday traditions that they would want to continue. I didn't want them to feel left out or excluded by our family traditions, inside jokes, and other things like that.

Try as I might I couldn't get much out of them beyond that they celebrated Christmas (versus Hannukah or something else - or nothing). They did not, of course, still believe in Santa Claus. My kids learned very early that if you don't believe in Santa, that’s OK, but you better not say so out loud or he doesn't bring you presents! Sadly, I don’t think any of my kids believe anymore. We've had a lot of trouble with Kitty thinking I'm a liar because I say Santa is real. I did find a solution for this one.

Christmas Tree -

We usually put the tree up on Thanksgiving weekend and try to take it down New Year's day. This definitely doesn't mean everything is put away right away. We've been known to be thinking about whether or not we should decorate the tree with hearts for Valentines' day. I admit I am a perfectionist so in the past I pretty much did all the decorating myself. Now I'm kind of done with the whole Christmas decoration thing (feeling a bit of Little Red Hen over all of this) so the kids get the boxes down and do everything themselves. They don't tend to even open all the boxes and do the whole house like we used to and I'm OK with that.

When the kids were little, we put the tree inside a baby gate play yard (one of my favorite child proofing items because I could use it anywhere to keep kids and pets out of or in places) and we decorated with little stuffed animals (I picked up from thrift stores) so I didn't have to worry about broken glass ornaments.

Presents under the tree -

Where did his shirt go?!
We usually don’t put presents from the parents under the tree until after the kids have gone to bed on Christmas Eve (keeps them from being tempted to peek or compare). This started more because we were procrastinators than because we wanted it to be a tradition, but it stuck.  For a long time we wrapped all of each child's gifts in the same wrapping paper so they knew which ones were theirs even if they couldn't read yet. That way the youngest child could put on the Santa hat to play Santa's Helper (a role that is often fought over!) and hand out the gifts to be opened.

Christmas Pictures -

Many years ago, Bob had a huge growth spurt just before our first family Christmas picture. I wanted her to wear something nice (I was thinking green velvet). We went to a thrift store and the only thing that fit her was an evening gown (adult size 2 - she was only 9). We take a family picture every year and evening wear has became a tradition, but the boys are totally against it. Every now and then we take a break from it. One year we even did pajamas. We have a cousin who is a professional photographer and she has been taking our photos for years.  One thing I love is her willingness to use PhotoShop. Inevitably with a family of 6, there is one child who doesn't smile (until we realized what was happening and threatened his life if he didn't smile!) and of course the one shot where everyone looks amazing is the one where a child sneezed. It especially helps impatient bodies who can't sit still while we try to get the one perfect photo.

Christmas Eve Gifts

We have a family tradition of giving Christmas Eve gifts. This is usually a pair of new pajamas and a book (was a toy or stuffed animal back when they couldn't wait until Christmas to open a present). I think my parents did this so we wouldn't have on ratty pajamas in the "Christmas morning gift opening pictures." We usually open these after Jesus' Birthday party.

Jesus' Birthday Party

On Christmas Eve we celebrate Jesus' birthday with a party. Everyone writes on a piece of paper what they are going to give Jesus this year (or I write them for anyone who doesn't want to write). It's kind of like a New Year's Resolution, but more about making ourselves a better person that Jesus would be proud of then about losing weight or something. You can read last year's gifts here.

Each person can choose to read theirs out loud and then we put the papers on the tree in a little felt envelope usually used for Santa letters (we have 2 - the other one is for Christmas wish lists). The next year we read them and see how we did. The kids initiated going around in circle and praying about what we are thankful for (is this starting to sound like we're getting our holidays mixed up - Thanksgiving, Easter, birthday, Christmas...??).

Afterward, we all eat Jesus' birthday cake (helps my antsy ones sit through this, knowing there's cake when it's done!).  

Jesus' Birthday Cake

We've tried a few variations on Jesus's birthday cake (you can't really see the layers in this picture so I added a sketch). I guess it's more along the lines of an Easter cake, but I like it better than just a plain old birthday cake. The bottom layer of the cake is chocolate with chocolate frosting for our sins. The next layer is strawberry for the blood Jesus sheds for us. The top layer is vanilla, colored with green food coloring for the everlasting life he gave us. The top two layers are covered with white frosting to symbolize our new purity, and that's covered with multi-colored sprinkles to symbolize  joy and celebration nothing! We just wanted yummy sprinkles!

Like many trauma mamas I was resenting that Santa got all the credit for the "good stuff" so we switched it up a little. Santa brings stocking stuffers (but the kids know that Mommy and Daddy always add things to these too – that way I don’t have to worry about them having seen me purchasing something!) and one big gift, but not the "best" gift, the one that they wanted the most. We leave Santa gifts unwrapped next to their stockings so they know it's from Santa (and so I don't have to worry about the kids recognizing our wrapping paper!).

Last couple of years instead of individual gifts, Santa has brought one big present for the whole family. He's brought things like a Husky dog (named Scarlet Claus), a big plasma screen TV, a ClearPlay DVD player with a bunch of movies the kids hadn't been allowed to watch before...

Opening Gifts

We open gifts on Christmas morning. Kids can get up anytime after 5am (*eek!*) to run downstairs and look at their gifts. They can open their stockings and quietly play with their Santa gift. They are NOT allowed to wake anyone, especially parents (we were usually up until the wee hours wrapping presents!). When everyone is present (no pun intended) we all take turns opening gifts handed out by the Santa's Helper so everyone can watch.

Three Gifts
A few years ago we decided to start only giving 3 gifts to the kids on Christmas morning. (It was good enough for Jesus and the three wise men!). It has helped us me out in many ways (the kids are not quite as fond of it).

  1. Taken some of the focus off of gifts and put it back on the “reason for the season.”

  2. Reduced some of the pressure to get the exact same number and equivalent gifts for each of my 4 children (I remember my sisters and I counting gifts on Christmas Eve – cost wasn't important it was all about quantity!).

  3. Decreased the clutter. My adopted children can’t handle too much stuff in their rooms or lives.

  4. Reduced the cost! Christmas is expensive enough with 4 kids.

  5. Made shopping easier. It’s HARD to find presents for teenage boys (assuming that like us you do not want to buy expensive electronic stuff he’s only going to break or lose anyway and/or can’t handle – ask me about the cell phone bill and texting his birth family and girlfriends at 2am!).

  6. Less wrapping!

  7. Reduced overwhelm and fidgeting - less time sitting watching everyone open presents (better for my ADD kids).

Usually at least two of the three gifts that the children get are “themed” gifts. So it’s more than one item in the package. For example, one year several of the children started private school, so one of the theme gifts was school supplies – each had a personalized and decorated magazine holder for their workbooks that held the coolest pens, pencils, staplers and other supplies I could find (think glitter, sparkles, rabbit fur and lights), and stuffed with paperbacks from the used book store that I knew each would like. Bear, who was not going to the private school, got an art set – colored pencils, artist’s notebook, book about drawing, sketchbook…. Kitty needed a new bed so her gift was a bed (used) and all the bedding (we just put a big bow and her name on it). Bear got a bike (we actually wrapped that – LOL). Bob got her first set of contacts. Ponito loved dragons, so he got a pair of jean shorts and a t-shirt with dragons on it, a bank in the shape of a dragon, and a kite in a dragon shape. Here's another post about this.

Some years I put horrible, punny "hints" on the packages.  Bugs the kids, but it entertains me. :)

The cost of the gift seems to be largely unimportant – the most envied (meltdown inducing) gift was a box of highlights that one daughter got and the other (RAD) daughter didn’t. Kitty got very expensive makeup that year, but all she cared about was the highlights (which I thought would show up too much in her gorgeous black hair, compared to Bob’s dishwater blonde where they would blend in). Here's the post about it if you're interested.

Another RAD parent was feeling guilty about not wanting to buy gifts for her RAD child who tore everything up and had horrible behavior. She had other non-RAD children that she wanted to get nice gifts for.

My advice: I’d say go for cheap gifts from the dollar store. The bigger the better. Personally I appreciate the fact that Bear is death on electronics and Kitty loses everything, because it means I can just buy cheap replacements the next Christmas or birthday and don’t have to get creative or worry about them having cluttered rooms they can’t handle.

Some other suggestions by trauma mamas:
  • 4 gifts - Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.
  • Drawing names - Everybody draws one name and makes a gift for that person. So each person gets only one gift. (If you have enough kids, you could have the kids draw each others' names, leaving parents to gift as usual).
  • Non-tangibles/ Experiences - instead of stuff, you give things to do/ coupons/ gift certificates -- Guitar lessons, cooking classes with mom, a family trip, planning and building a tree house...
  • Charity/ Volunteer work - have a family tradition of working in a soup kitchen, wrapping brown Santa gifts, adopting a family to gift to...

Created by my mom when I was a child. This is a family tradition that it wouldn't feel like Christmas without. Link to the recipe. Hubby spends hours working on making his homemade rolls for Christmas lunch and surrenders a small portion of dough to be used for this Christmas morning treat!

What we do when our kids get the "gimmies" 

*Ugh!* Holidays and other traumaversaries! All the kids go nuts around this time, but it's especially tough on Kitty and Bear. Post about Holidays, Birthdays, and Other Traumaversaries

Like many kids with trauma issues, my kids were/are emotionally MUCH younger than their physical age. This sounds like something they would do (in fact we had a similar conversation on the way home today - and she's 21 now! *sigh* ). Post about Parenting Based on Emotional Age

It helped me to remember their developmental age and parent accordingly. A 3 year old whining for candy makes more sense to me. Especially if they're new to the family, and don't know how things work. Seems like all the media says you can (and should) have everything you want, especially for Christmas.

We had to teach our kids repeatedly how all this worked (they don't generalize well and don't learn from role modeling). 

They needed to be told, that it wasn't polite to tell Grandma what to give them. It wasn't something they just understood or picked up, like the bio kids did.

When I was a kid and we begged for some treat or toy, my mom taught us to say, "Someday I would like to have ______."

We had the children write Christmas lists with many things on it at different price points. With reminders that putting just one item  on the list (a horse, a laptop, gift cards to ___, ____, ____...), did NOT mean you would get that item. We also had to point out to them that a lot of people don't like to buy impersonal gift cards or be told what to give someone.

We also try to focus on the giving of presents. Ignoring the comments about, "I want Grandma to give me a gift card or cash," and asking, "What are you thinking about getting Grandma for Christmas?"

We usually gave them a list of people they needed to buy Christmas presents for and set them loose in the dollar store. (I'm sure Grandad loved the Whoopie Cushion and Hubby greatly enjoyed the cologne that smelled like a sailor on shore leave... who'd been napping in a garbage bin.)

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