Three Tips for Thriving Through This Christmas Season

December is here. 

We’re gearing up for the Christmas season.

Are you worn out already?

Are your kids in meltdown mode?

Are your triggers and your kids triggers causing chaos in your home?

I hear you. I know. It’s hard. Everyone else seems to be having the Pinterest perfect Christmas season. The tree is decorated, cookies made, lights hung outside, and you are just trying to get your child to regulate. I’ve lived there.

When we first brought our four home through adoption, they had never experienced an American Christmas while their new siblings had. Twenty-five days of building up to something was too much stress on their little bodies. Too many new people. Too many new traditions. 

Some Practical Suggestions

Simplify but don’t give up on your traditions.

It’s tempting to give up on traditions because your kiddos are overwhelmed by them. Instead of giving them up, simplify. It’s okay to pare back. Not go to every party. Not go caroling because your kids don’t know what a carol is. Just don’t give up on them altogether. To help my kiddos learn some carols, I bought a book and we sang a Christmas carol every night after our advent reading. Many times the kids were silent or sang “blah blah blah” sorts of sounds to the rhythm. It was okay. They learned carols. They know carols today. The biggest mistake parents tend to make is to give up and give in when kids “Don’t want to” which is code for “I don’t know how to do that” or “I’m scared out of my wits.” 

Involve your kids in the practice of celebrating Christmas.

If you are like I used to be, you want to do everything yourself because it is easier. You decorate the tree. Make the cookies, shoo the kids out of the kitchen because it’s less messy. Don’t. If you want kids to practice the habit of celebration, let them help. Let me rephrase that. Require them to be present and help in some way, even if the kiddos say, “That’s stupid!” One of the issues humans struggle with is doing something they are not competent in. It’s universal. I remember when my kids didn’t know how to hook the bulb and hang it on the tree. Heck, I remember when I didn’t know how. Be patient. These are moments of connection. It’s tempting to say, “You’re doing that all wrong!” or “Just let me do that!” Resist the temptation. Show the kids how to do it. Expect some things to be broken. Expect there to be icing and sprinkles on the floor. It’s okay. It will clean up, sweep up, but broken spirits take longer to heal. 

Don’t expect your kids to understand the real meaning of Christmas. 

Daughter Ania and I hopped into the car after an evening of Christmas shopping at Ikea. Siri decided to send us in circles before putting on the interstate and gave us a three hour drive time for our ninety minute trip. Was that her idea of a joke? Half an hour down the road we hit snow and bumper to bumper traffic. Huge rigs pulled on the side of the road to avoid the slip and slide routine going on with cars. We snailed our way along singing Christmas songs with Pentatonix (we do the sound effects in the background perfectly) and laughing until tears streamed down our cheeks. Oh… Christmas, we love you. We arrived home safe and sound two and a half hours later, tired, and happy. How did you know Siri?


Or better yet, did Mary know? (Mom joke). Really, what does this have to do with kids knowing the meaning of Christmas? Lots.

You see, we sometimes over-spiritualize Christmas. Do you hear me serious sister?  As Moms, we are constantly reminding ourselves of the true meaning of Christmas and in a parallel universe, checking off a to do list like a maniac:

  • 
WRAP PRESENTS ☑

  • ORDER LAST MINUTE FROM AMAZON ☑
  • 
MAKE PIE ☑

  • RUN OUT FOR STOCKING STUFFERS ☑

  • CLEAN☑


And when our children ask for time, tire from activities, walk around in sugar comas and meltdown, we Moms despair of our kids ever understanding the true meaning of Christmas.  When the kids play with the plastic nativity scene and have Mary duke it out with Joseph, and the wisemen, we may wonder if they will ever “get it.”

Do we get Christmas?


BUT- AND THIS IS A BIG BUT…..
Do we get it?


If we do and we live consistently, acting on that belief, then they WILL get it. It won’t be a shopping trip to IKEA and driving home in snow. It will be Christmas.

How many of us don’t really meditate on the real meaning of Christmas every moment of the Advent season? How often do we get sidetracked into buying the perfect gift, keeping up with the neighbors and their extravagant Christmas decorations. We run out and buy more. Scour Pinterest and Instagram for the perfect table setting (guilty and fun!) It’s okay. We’re human. As long as we don’t overspend or make those things idols. The point is, all of our practices are confusing to kiddos, especially ones who have never celebrated Christmas the way we have. We each have Christmas ideals. We want kids to be thankful that Jesus left his place in heaven to born a baby. What does that mean to them and how often do we emulate our inner ideal? 

This is not a guilt or condemnation fest. It’s just a reminder that even if we know the true meaning of Christmas, we don’t always show it in outward ways. We practice traditions, ceremonies, and read Advent readings that have a deep meaning for us. Our kiddos don’t have the same deep meaning for things yet. It’s okay. Don’t stress over it. 

Christmas isn’t a day, well…..it is, a day we Christians picked to celebrate the birth of our Savior. I won’t get into all the theology. Christmas is a belief that God came to earth as a human babe. He left his throne and God-form to set up His kingdom on earth, not for a day- but for eternity.

When we live in accordance with that kingdom-

But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides.

-Matthew 6:33

When we live with this in mind and action, knowing He works out everything in agreement with the counsel and design of His [own] will.

God sent His son to checkmate satan, to turn the tide in the game, to take us from the course and fashion of this world, take control back from the prince of the power of the air and establish His kingdom in our hearts and on the earth.

Kids aren’t going to respect Christmas because we put up a tree or purchased the perfect presents.

They aren’t going to act like angelic beings because we celebrate some man made traditions. However, they are going to watch us. If our actions are consistent with our beliefs, they will get it.

Just don’t expect them to float around singing the Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus unless you are!

Your children will get it, if you live it. It is a process. It takes time. You weren’t born with wisdom and understanding. Neither are they. We understand in part. They understand in bits. Wait for it.

I hope these tips help you thrive this Christmas season. How would you like a tip for each day of the Advent season? Grab a copy of:


Available at:

Alibris
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Books-A-Million

25 Days of Thriving Through Christmas: An Advent Devotional for Adoptive and Foster Families, provides an insightful, practical and encouraging resource for parents navigating the advent season. The book fills a void for adoptive and foster families as to ideas and guidance of not just surviving the Christmas season with children who have come from different backgrounds/experiences but to “thriving” during the season. With applicable daily Scripture readings to practical suggestions, this tool for helping families will become an annual tradition!

After you grab your copy, make sure to sign up for the free e-course to accompany the book! Click on the photo to see the course and watch the video explaining the course.


Adopted, Chosen, and Wretched

My parents had just enrolled me in a Catholic school after the move from Colorado to WV. I had completed some of the science homework ahead of time since I didn’t enter the school at the beginning of the school year. My first day there, I was chosen to go to the blackboard. I was wretched. I felt as if my answers were wrong. I was wrong. I stuck out like a sore thumb among all these kids who had been going to the school since kindergarten. I was the smallest kid in my class and in the class a grade below mine. I wrote the answer to the question in large loopy letters on the chalkboard with fear and trembling. The teacher, Mr. Brummage, commented, “That’s exactly right, Kathleen. If this new student can get this right, you all should.” I felt a tiny bit less wretched.

There have been some social media posts going around about popular preachers saying they are “chosen” with a comparison to Paul, author of 3/4 of the New Testament saying “I am wretched.” Something about these posts didn’t sit right with me. So, I did some studying and thinking.

Here’s something to think about – can you be wretched and chosen at the same time?

Chosen

Even as [in His love] He chose us [actually picked us out for Himself as His own] in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy (consecrated and set apart for Him) and blameless in His sight, even above reproach, before Him in love. – Ephesians 1: 4

We can’t take credit for being chosen. Even if we wanted to chosen like those days we waited to see if we made the team, got the part, were chosen to be adopted. It’s not something we can do in our own strength or is based on our merit or good works. Before God put the earth on its axis, he chose us. He chose you. He chose me. We are chosen. (If you want to read some more verses about “chosen,” check out the list at the bottom.)

Wretched

Wretched and miserable man that I am! Who will [rescue me and] set me free from this body of death [this corrupt, mortal existence]?

Thanks be to God [for my deliverance] through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind serve the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh [my human nature, my worldliness, my sinful capacity—I serve] the law of sin. – Romans 7:  24, 25

While Paul describes himself as wretched because of his corrupt, moral existence. He is still chosen. That condition of his existence did not change his “chosen” status. His fight with himself is well documented in Chapter 7. It’s the same sort of fight we all have with ourselves and our desire to do right, yet we end up doing the thing we don’t want .

For I do not understand my own actions [I am baffled and bewildered by them]. I do not practice what I want to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate [and yielding to my human nature, my worldliness—my sinful capacity]. – Romans 7: 15

That’s exactly how I feel! When I hold onto bitter feelings, watch too much tv, don’t use my time wisely, or fill in the blank. How about you? Are you bewildered by your reactions? Do you often practice what you don’t want to? Eat the donut, skip the workout, yell at your kids, come apart at the seams when you have too much to do? I’m preaching to the Guire here.

Adopted, Chosen, and Wretched.

You knew it was coming didn’t you? What about adopted/foster kids? Are they chosen? Of course. We choose to adopt and foster. Sometimes we expect the children not to be wretched. We want them to feel loved, secure, whole, and free of fear.

I remember when we were still in Poland, after a visit to some psychologists, Damian was wretched. Because of something his brother said after the evaluation, Damian thought we would change our minds about choosing him. He said to his brother, “Now you’ve ruined it. They won’t want us anymore.” Of course that wasn’t true. We did choose them from the first time we heard of them.

When our kids come “home” or are part of our family temporarily, they may begin to feel secure and then will be baffled by their own actions. So, will we. Those triggers will make some ugly feelings rear their heads. It may feel as if they don’t feel chosen. Isn’t that just human nature though? We have a place at the table of the family of God, but we tend to slip off our chair and have a fit when circumstances don’t line up with what we want or think theyshould be.

Why talk about Being “Chosen” verses “Wretched” during the holidays?

Now more than any other time during the year will we have to understand that we can feel wretched even when we are chosen. This is the time of year triggers of past memories, good or bad, are present in abundance. Same for our kiddos from hard places. When we tell our kiddos to be on their best behavior when Aunt and Uncle so and so show up and they CAN’T, these kiddos will feel wretched. It’s our job as parents to connect and correct. It’s our job to reaffirm their chosen-ness and value. It’s our job to structure the environment to make them feel safe. 

Want to hear more about this topic? Want to thrive this holiday season?

Some of us are parenting hurt children who have come from hard places and have no foundation of celebration. Holiday activities may seem strange or act as triggers for their past.
Grab a cup of coffee and join Kathleen as she shares some tips for thriving this holiday season!

Join our free e- course:

Welcome to your twenty-five day countdown and survival guide. Raising children from hard places is challenging. Surviving the holidays with a smile on your face while parenting is even more challenging, that’s whyI wrote this handy little Advent book and created this course. Don’t stress. It’s not a huge to-do, not more than a paragraph or two each day. Easy peasy and encouraging. So, take a minute each morning and read. This year, let’s not just survive the Christmas season, let’s thrive!

scriptures

Chosen: John 15:16, Romans 11: 5, Ephesians 1: 4, I Thessalonians 1: 4, I Peter 1: 2, I Peter 2: 9, Jude 1:1, Revelation 17: 4

Wretched: Romans 7: 24, Revelation 3: 17

Practicing Gratefulness With Kids Who Have Had Trauma or a Capital Letter Syndrome

Have you ever struggled with a child?

Have you ever struggled with a child?  Have you ever tromped around the same mountain and wondered- is this child ever going to change?  Will he ever recover from the wounds he suffered in his life before I was his home?  I’ve been there.  I have circled until there is a trench up-to-my-shoulder-deep and I could barely see the light.  I’ve been there more times then I would like to admit. How about you?  Here are some words I jotted in my journal after a painful trying-to-save-the child-week.

“Whenever you are struggling with _____, thank Me for him.  ….Don’t give up.  Don’t give in……Picture him as the infant you adopted all those years ago.  He didn’t know anything about hot stoves, electrical outlets, toys, older siblings- it was all new territory- so is this being responsible for his  own actions- he may get burned, trip, get mad, slam doors… but in the end, he will learn where the boundaries are.  He will learn to fight for something he wants- to apply his own blood, sweat and tears instead of riding on the backs of others, emotionally manipulating them and never feeling satisfied. My Word will work.  Keep reading it.  You cannot change him.  Give him consequences.  Let me do the work.I did not rescue these little ones to rot in another hell.  Pray the Word, not the circumstances.”

Raising a child who has suffered loss

If you are raising a child from a who has suffered loss, abandonment and rejection in their early life, day to day living can be a struggle.  

“To compound the situation, many children who have experienced neglect, abuse and abandonment have not yet developed an internalized set of values by which they judge themselves and others. They are not able to receive and experience empathy- nor can they develop insight -so they tend to project blame on others and onto objects.  They blame their adoptive parents for causing their anger, and they blame toys for breaking.  They blame things that could not possibly be responsible for anything!”

– Parenting the Hurt Child

How do I practice thankfulness in midst of pain?  Thank Him for the child.  List the blessings.  

1. Morning hugs

2. He said he was sorry.

3. God sent someone my way to encourage me.

4. Dinner out with family. Everyone joking. Telling stories of the past.

5. The kids chilling/talking in the family room.

Victories are Sweeter

When parenting kiddos who have had trauma or a capital letter syndrome, victories are sweeter. When the kid who couldn’t even place the letters of his name in a linear sequence writes his name on a line (in order), there is great cause for celebration. When a child who has been afraid to stand in front of people participates in the social studies fair even though she has tears running down her cheeks the whole time she presents to the judges, that’s a huge victory. When we think about the fact that these kids have to work harder at these victories, they are much sweeter tasting. These victories aren’t small. They’re huge.

It will change you

When we talk of raising kiddos from hard places, we often focus on the kiddos – their behaviors, their victories, their healing – those are all good things. Here’s another part of the picture – raising these kiddos will change us. Looking through the lens these kiddos see through will make me a better person. When I see a child laugh at a joke for the first time. When I hear a child ask for help and leave survival mode behind for the first time, I see things differently.

Also, raising kiddos from hard places has given me the opportunity to operate more in the fruit of the spirit. We parents will have to practice more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,  and self-control (Galatians 5: 22, 23).

Want to hear more about this topic? Listen to Episode 107 of Positive Adoption.

Are you raising a child who has had trauma or has a capital letter syndrome?
Days can be long and tough. We know. How do you practice gratefulness during this season? Join Jerry and Kathleen as they tackle practicing gratefulness when raising kids from hard places (and with capital letter syndromes). They’ve lived it and have some great stories to share. Grab a cup of coffee and join this dynamic duo!

The Habit of Celebration

In the month of November, we turn our attention to practicing gratitude. That’s a great focus. Today, I’d like to take that a step further and say, we need to practice the habit of celebration which in turn produces memories to be grateful for!

“Make sure that the good ground of your home includes an abundance of laughter, parties, celebrations, presents, candles, Christmas trees, gifts, surprises, rocky road ice cream, jokes, backyard picnics, vacations, mountain bikes, bike rides, swimming, fishing and games. At the various houses in which our family has lived, we have had things like a swing set, a tree house, a tent, sleeping bags, a basketball hoop, baseballs, gloves and bats.” 

Seven Habits of a Healthy Home

One summer Sunday, we had a family birthday celebration for Amerey and Damian. Their birthdays are three days apart, and we often celebrate them together. We had grilled chicken and veggies and had a build-your-own fajita buffet. 

My brother Jess and his wife Tessa were able to come, along with their two children, Lexie and Alivia. My sister Natasha and her three children, Aaliyah, Aaron, and Israel, came too — plus my daughter Audrey and her husband Adam. We had a full house and lots of conversation and laughter.

The ironic thing about this celebration is that it had been preceded by a catastrophe. An hour before the party was to begin, Amerey and I were in the kitchen doing some prep work. She was making five gallons of lime water while I sliced green peppers. Her boyfriend had called us several times and warned us that a violent storm was headed our way, but it was still sunny, so I just kept chopping. Within minutes, though, the wind picked up, and black clouds rolled in. Amerey and I ran down to the pool patio and put the umbrellas down, closed the shed, and ran back inside with the wind knocking us around and sheets of rain pouring down on us. 

Back inside, Amerey dried off with a towel and checked the garage. An inch of water had flooded in. We began moving drums and anything we could out of the water’s path. Then she ran upstairs, only to find water cascading from the foyer light. 

My brother Jess and his family had pulled up in the middle of the storm and were waiting it out in the car. When the rain slowed, he called.

“Come in here — we need you!”  I said.

He came inside, checked out the light with a flashlight, and found where the water was coming in. The rest of the family arrived home from church, and we worked on sweeping water toward the garage drain. Tessa took over my slicing job. Damian went down and fished the sticks, leaves, and other debris out of the pool. I cleaned out the light and cleaned up water around a leaky window.

I went back to the kitchen to make sure everything was out and ready. Amerey and Tessa were still slicing and dicing, and everything was on track. “I am so through with this house!”  I complained to Tessa, and then we had gone on with the party.

The highlight of the celebration was our tradition of taking turns at the dinner table to speak blessings to the birthday person. It’s a celebration of memories. Each person starts with, “My favorite memory of you from the past year is . . .” 

This particular year, Damian had turned eighteen, and the comments he received were all about his work ethic and how he had matured. My son-in-law Adam spoke of his tenacity in projects, such as taking something apart and building something new out of it. 

The memories people shared with Amerey were about her being on her own, living in an apartment. Ania’s favorite memory was being able to go spend a weekend in the apartment and eating almost a whole pan of brownies together. Fun times!

I tell this story as a reminder: some of our best memories come at unlikely times. Like a fun-filled birthday party in the middle of a massive storm.

Choosing to Celebrate

Celebration is a choice. If our family had waited until all the circumstances were perfect before we celebrated life, that party never would have happened. When it comes to celebration, timing isn’t everything.

“He who observes the wind [and waits for all conditions to be favorable] will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.” (Ecclesiastes 11:4)

 This scripture puts it plainly. If I wait for conditions to be favorable or for everything to be perfect, than I will never sow, nor will I reap. If I want to reap a harvest of memories with my children, then I must sow the habit of celebration over and over again. 

As a parent, you never know which memories will stick. Every once in a while, my children will speak of a bad memory from their past, but more often than not, they share good family memories. 

“Remember when we went hiking at Coopers Rock?” 

“Remember when we made cards at my birthday party?”  

“Remember when we rollerbladed up and down the boardwalk at the beach?”

Each one of these memories were probably preceded by unfavorable conditions. They definitely weren’t experiences that we planned down to the last detail and executed without any hiccups.

While speaking to the Mom to Mom group at our church, I was asked the question, “Well, what if I plan a fun activity like making cookies, and my kid says she doesn’t want to do it?”  My answer? “Do it anyway!” 

I have found that no matter what “fun” thing you have planned, there will be naysayers. The naysayers may drag their feet and complain, but years from now, it may be a fond memory. I am often surprised when my kids mention one of these events as a favorite memory — even though I remember clearly that, during the actual event, he or she didn’t want to participate. 

Hurt children are often afraid to participate. If the situation is a new scenario for them, they may feel out of control. If the child has bad memories associated with a particular activity or event, he may think that it will end up the same way. 

An example I’ve already mentioned from my own life is long car trips. In my childhood, these were scary times for me. My father would become tense and angry as soon as we got in the car. I began to associate long trips with anger. I didn’t want to get in the car and go to the mountains or the beach or anywhere. Even today, in my adult life, I must remind myself  that long trips are not bad things.

*If you’d like to learn more, check out How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos – the book  (this article is an excerpt ) and the course.

The Five Bs Affected by Trauma Part 5- Behavior

This is the last in the series on “The Five Bs Affected by Trauma”, you if you missed the rest, start here. Also, hop on over to the printable resource page for a copy of “How Trauma Affects Kids.”

Science says there are five Bs affected by trauma, and we cannot overlook them. In kids from hard places, behavioral disorders are a symptom of the effect trauma has had on their development. 

Negative behaviors will be taken care of once a child is securely attached. To achieve that, we must start with the five Bs and work our way out from there.

Behavior

Behavior — an altered ability to self-regulate in response to stressors. This can manifest as impulsiveness, self-destructive behavior, aggressive behavior, excessive compliance, sleep disturbances, eating disorders, substance abuse, a re-enactment of their traumatic past, or pathological self-soothing behaviors.

This is the one we seem to put the most emphasis on. Why can’t this kid just behave? 

Children from hard places have an altered ability to self-regulate in response to stressors. Kids are impulsive! 

When a baby is born, the mother regulates for him. She feeds him when he is hungry. Wraps him in a blanket when he is cold. She rocks him to sleep when he is tired. When he gets a bit older, he begins to co-regulate, this is the two-year-old who gets the juice out of the fridge and pours himself a glass and gets it all over the counter. He begins to recognize his needs and try to meet them. Self-regulated is the final destination of this journey. This is when a teen or young adult can regulate himself. He drinks water and doesn’t become dehydrated. He eats food. He sleeps when he is tired. He starts handling his bank account on his own.

 Children from hard places often have this cycle of regulation broken. Their needs are not met consistently. They miss the season of co-regulation. As a child, they don’t recognize their own body’s signals for food and water. Their sleeping patterns are messed up. They walk around slightly dehydrated. They don’t eat enough or do the opposite. Gorge. 

What we see on our end is dysregulation. A child who can’t sit still. A child who fidgets. Speaks out of turn. Who doesn’t listen.

Key to Remember – “Good/excited stress loads in a child from a hard place in much the same way as bad/traumatic stress. Generally, a child cannot tell the difference.” – ETC

As a result, children from hard places often experience heightened and persistent levels of stress and fear, driving them to develop an array of survival tactics and inappropriate behavioral responses. However, as Dr. Purvis reminds us: Every behavior has a purpose and a function. Behind every behavior and misbehavior is a need, and we must come to view our children’s needs not as something negative but as something very positive. Needs are one of the primary ways that God uses to bring people into a relationship with others and with Himself. So, we need to learn to follow the needs of our children.

Behavior is a need however inappropriately expressed.

 “It’s can’t, not won’t.”

Many children from hard places deal with heightened levels of stress and fear. In order to help our children heal and move forward, it is critical that parents understand how pervasive fear can be and what it looks like in our children’s behaviors and responses.

Fear is much more than a feeling. Fear is a state of being, and for many children from hard places, it has become a way of life.

There are three ways that children from hard places typically respond to fear and stress:

  1. Fight- frustration, explosive or aggressive, resistive, acting out, saying “I won’t, You can’t make me!”
  2. Flight- Goofy, Physically or emotionally distracting behavior, running, escaping behaviors, distractible, clowning, redirecting, easily bored, effectively saying, “I’m out of here.”
  3. Freeze- Body is often not receiving signals from the brain- whiny, tearful, clingy, fearful, reluctant to separate or to try new things, withdrawing, hiding, saying “I can’t!”

THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FEELING SAFE AND BEING SAFE!

Instead of asking, What are you afraid of, ask, what do you need?

In order to truly address the issue of fear, we will need to create a sense of felt-safety for the child.

 Key to remember-You provide felt-safety when you arrange the environment and adjust your behavior so that the child can feel safe.  Felt safety is just as important and real as actual safety, even for adults. Think of a time that you were perfectly safe and yet you had anxiety. Everyone has something that raises their anxiety level. It could be heights, snakes, spiders, elevators, flying, or crowds. 

Now think about how you react to those around you when confronted with those fears, and you’ll understand your children’s behavior better.

Want to hear more about behavior?

In this episode of Positive Adoption, Kathleen continues the series on the Five Bs affected by trauma with “Behavior.” Behavior — an altered ability to self-regulate in response to stressors. This can manifest as impulsiveness, self destructive behavior, aggressive behavior, excessive compliance, sleep disturbances, eating disorders, substance abuse, re-enactment of their traumatic past, or pathological self soothing behaviors. Grab a cup of coffee and join Kathleen as she finishes this series!