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.


Grief, Kids Who Have Had Trauma, and the Holidays

The picture is four by seven and we five siblings lean into each other, smiling. The funeral home is crowded with friends and family. The rich walnut wood work goes unnoticed. We are smothered by grief. Everyone loved my mother. It seemed as if everyone she had ever known was there. I felt numb and floaty.

The Grief Body Slam

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”

– C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
My family had a VW Van just like this and every time I see one, it triggers happy and sad memories.

You may be reading and thinking my mom died recently. She didn’t. It has been twenty-four years. Every holiday season I begin to feel overly emotional. Last night I woke to hear myself yelling, “NO! I don’t want to!”  I’m not sure what I didn’t want to do. Maybe I didn’t want my holiday hammered by grief once again. BAM! Grief hits me out of nowhere and knocks the breath out of me. Grief sneaks up on me just when I think it has left. I have a few melancholy moments during Thanksgiving and  Christmas when the scents, the music and putting up the tree triggers a memory, like Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail in the clip below.

Grief, Kids Who Have Had Trauma, and the Holidays

The grief body slam is always a great reminder for me of how our adopted/foster/special needs kids react to triggers. They don’t know what hit them when there is a sight, smell or action that is tucked deep in the recesses of their minds and something triggers it. A song. A freshly baked pie. A police siren. And the kid is off. Dysregulated.

Recognizing Grief

It sometimes takes me a day or two to recognize grief. It is not a stranger to me, but sometimes I don’t want to recognize it. I want it to stay a stranger in the shadows and leave me alone. My body aches. I weep at weird times. I’m an introvert, so I isolate. Because I’m an adult and have some experience, although my epiphany may be delayed I recognize grief and call it out by name. Kids from hard places usually do not/cannot. It’s interesting to note, we don’t just grieve the wonderful people and the events. We also grieve the not so great circumstances because they were our “normal.” So when a child is grieving the loss of an aunt who abused him, we must understand. That is part of his story and when we let grieving happen, healing comes next.

“Some adoptive parents believe that once a child is home, all the people in his past will be forgotten. They fail to recognize an important truth: simply, they won’t be forgotten.”

Wounded Children Healing Homes

We parents often expect birthdays, Christmas, New Year’s to be either blank slates or full of our memories, not their trauma. We must understand the child’s world. We must see things from their perspective. If we do, then the child’s behaviors, ‘bizarre and illogical’ or paralyzed by fear will make sense.

Reminders and Tips

I’ll leave you with just some reminders and tips:

  • Remember, the reaction is not about you personally. It is to a past feeling or event.
  • Teach your child some coping skills. (Putting on headphones and listening to music, going to his room when company is overwhelming, walking and talking it out with a parent).
  • Require your child to continue to act with respect.
  • Teach your child to use words.
  • Pare down your schedule to the essentials and use the downtime to do things that are comfortable for your child. Read aloud. Play with LEGOS.
  • Remember your reaction to his struggle and pain is forming a new pathway in his brain if you are consistent and calm.
  • Let them talk about it if they are willing and don’t judge.
  • Take the time to write down triggers in a notebook, find patterns and watch for them.

These are just some suggestions that have worked for others (and my family). Find something works with your child.

Why Living by Our Circumstances is a Trap

I was having a conversation with a friend and fellow teacher at More Grace Outreach the other day. She had just gotten over to the other side of some not great circumstances in her family life. I mentioned the seemingly inevitable occurrence – whenever we think – I’ve got this, or everything is running smoothly, something goes wrong.

Not twenty minutes later, her one of her boys was in throwing up and she had to leave MGO, on top of that, there was a gas leak at one the properties she and hubby owned. If I were one of those people who believed in weird things, I could blame myself for her circumstances because I had said the words.

It seems a universal theme for all humans to have bad things happen. Not just once. But over and over. Not long after her new crisis, my family had a new one. I’m not going to list all the negative, bad, horrible events that come as a package deal with large family living. The more people in your family, the more things happening. It’s just math pure and simple.

My View Of God determined my Response

I used to think of God as a horrible dictatorial being in heaven with a giant sledge hammer meeting out punishment for every infraction. When I believed God had those characteristics, when something went wrong in my life, I immediately blamed myself. I went over my behaviors and attitudes and tried to figure out what I had done wrong. My next step was to ask God why He was punishing me. It wasn’t pleasant looking. I was full of self-loathing, fear, anxiety, and not enjoyable to be around. Let’s just say my fruit of the spirit dried up during these times. And if I’m honest, in times of super stressful situations, I revert to believing and thinking in “Everything is my fault. I made this happen” or “God is punitive.” I do now have a check in my spirit which quickly gets me back on track.

A Renewed View

A few weeks ago, my eldest son, post accident, post surgery was binge watching “The Good Doctor.” After a few episodes, I walked into the family room and he said, “Mom, even though you have been at the hospital A LOT for the past month, we are all really okay. We could have been so much worse.” And he is right. I had joked with the barista at the hospital Starbucks that I practically lived there.

I’m not saying all this to make light of surgeries, hospital stays, or horrific circumstances. Not at all. It’s just a trap to be living on the edge of what-bad-thing-is-going-to-happen-next sort of thinking. Guess, what? Stuff is going to happen. It’s better to change our mindsets to how we respond or how we prepare. If your life is totally great right now, that’s awesome. When I have times of calm I can develop a false faith. Kara Tippets calls it “manufactured faith” in her book The Hardest Place. I’ve been there. In my desire to feel secure (because of some trauma in my past), I manufacture faith by doing all the right things. Then when bad things happen, I feel betrayed as if my faith didn’t work at all. What about you? Do you struggle with that? Do you get tripped up by your circumstances?

The Outcome of Trials

I read this verse in Proverbs 11 and it put some ideas and beliefs into perspective:

When swelling and pride come, then emptiness and shame come also, but with the humble (those who are lowly, who have been pruned or chiseled by trial, and renounce self) are skillful and godly Wisdom and soundness.

When I have pride because my faith is based on my works, I feel empty and ashamed when things go wrong. And they will go wrong because we live in a fallen world. The emphasis on my faith here is in me, my ability to keep being “good.” When my eyes are fixed on Jesus, His power, His ability, when the trial comes and I renounce self, God chisels me. I get spiritually chiseled, godly Wisdom and soundness. Soundness says, “This terrible circumstance isn’t a punishment.” As Lysa Terkheurst says in Uninvited, “It’s impossible to hold up the banners of victim and victory at the same time.” Humility gives us the advantage of letting God’s hand work on us in the midst of the trial. We cannot let circumstances define or confine us. Circumstances are not the measure of our faith or our worth.

Five Bs Affected by Trauma Part 3

I’ve been writing and recording a series on the “Five Bs Affected by Trauma.” You can follow along on the podcast and get your free printable resource here.

“An infant born into neglect learns slightly different lessons. For him, the bonding cycle is short circuited. Instead of experiencing need, high arousal,  gratification, and trust in others, he experiences need, high arousal to the point of exhaustion, self-gratification, and trust in self/self-reliance. Eventually this child develops less need, less arousal, more immediate self-gratification, and no involvement with others. He is likely to develop habits to gratify himself that may include rocking, head banging, sucking on his hands, hair pulling, etc.. He may grow up detached from others, appearing vacant and empty. He has few emotions and desires no interaction from others, even acting if no others are present in a room.

He has effectively learned that he can —- and needs—– to trust himself.”- Adopting the Hurt Child

One of the most visible effects of trauma is how is how it affects the body – medically, through sensory processing issues, or detachment.

Humanism tells us that everything is done by the power of a man. It teaches that man is able to sustain himself without God, without the Spirit. Studies on attachment beg to differ. Man is not sufficient on his own. He can not sustain body, soul, and spirit alone. The spirit of the child vacates when there is no attachment.

“Infants deprived of their mothers during the first year of life for more than five months deteriorate progressively. They become lethargic, their motility retarded, their weight and growth arrested. Their face becomes vacuous; their activity is restricted to atypical, bizarre finger movements. they are unable to sit, stand, walk or talk.”- Rene Spitz M.D.

Children who have been traumatized in infancy and early childhood cannot be expected to behave or respond to stimuli in the same way as children who have not.

Body –altered physical development and impacted ability to process sensory inputs.

Dr. Dana Johnson has described developmental delays and growth disturbances as one month of linear growth loss for every three months that children remain in an orphanage.

What we see in the physical are:

  • inability to process sensory inputs. 
  • Learning delays
  • Developmental delays

I’ve been writing and recording a series on the the five bs affected by trauma. You can follow along on the podcast and get your free printable resource here.

Sensory Issues- may be mistaken for willfulness and defiance, may up frustrated and disconnected.

Sensory over responsivity- OH NO!- you touch him on the elbow and he flies off the handle.

Sensory under responsivity – Ho Hum…. The child reacts less intensely to stimuli than other children. Slumps. 

Sensory Seeking- MORE! MORE!  Craves stimulus/sensation. Vigorous activity.

Sensory discrimination dysfunction- HUH? Difficulty discerning input. Shorts in the winter. Pants and cowboy boots when it is 90. Doesn’t know how he got that scrape. 

Most kids who have experienced trauma have some sensory issues. This doesn’t mean they need an official diagnosis of SPD. A great resource if you want to know more is The Out of Sync Child.

You can learn more on the Podcast series on the “Five Bs Affected by Trauma” and in the book How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos (and the accompanying course).

Connecting with Your Kids When They are Adulting

One Friday evening, many years ago, hubby Jerry was home, which was unusual for him. He asked where all the kids were. I gave him the rundown. Some were working, some at friends, others at practices. It rocked his world. I had many, many Fridays to get used to the idea that the kids were adulting-ish. It had slipped under his radar. He assumed the kids would always be home waiting for him.

Jerry and I have had many conversations over the years which led to us recording a podcast on the subject of kids adulting. We can’t be the only parents who have experienced the complex road of learning how to navigate this season. If you’d like to listen to the podcast, click here or just keep reading.

The Benefit of Teens Making Mistakes

When your kids are young adults, you must be patient enough to let them make mistakes and let them experience the consequences.

You have to let them fail. It’s better to let them fail under your roof where it is safe. Let them fall on their faces while you’re there rather than go out into the world and fall on their faces repeatedly. The truth is, we learn best from our mistakes. If your teen wants a part-time job and you know it’s not right for him and he insists. Let him. Let him experience failing while you’re there beside him.

Go to them.

It takes energy and time to invest in your children even when they are adulting.  You continue to invest but it is well worth it. We don’t have value in this world without our relationship with God and our relationship with others. If we are spending all of our time investing in something else then we’re going to have an empty bank account at the end of our lives. No one says on their deathbed he wishes he had spent more time at work. It’s important that you don’t sit on your couch and wait for adult children to come back home. You’re going to have to be super proactive, especially if your kids get married and they start having kids. Say, “Hey let’s go get coffee.” Meet and buy their snacks and coffee and just sit there and talk. Go to them and remember, there’s a learning curve for them when they begin adulting.

It’s a learning curve for them and it’s a learning curve for us but since we are the older and more mature adults, we should have more wisdom. We need to be proactive about our parenting and offer time to them. We should never be finished with our relationships with our children. We parents should always be pursuing better relationships with our kiddos no matter what their age.

Find their interests.

When children are younger you have them in activities – whether it’s a musical instrument,  a sporting type of activity, theatre, or something along that line, but you also need activities that are things that you do together. If you don’t have things you do together, your relationship won’t be as strong.   Few kids get a college scholarship in one of their sporting activities. Ask yourself, is this activity going to do him any real good when they get older? The connections that they develop will not be around you and your family – it’ll be around the team and with the team did and unless you’re coaching it.  Sporting connections will minimize the impact of the influence you can have on your children. Replacing some sporting or other activities with family connections will have an impact on what you are able to do with them as they get older. When you choose to find the things your kids are interested in and you participate in those,  your ability to influence is greater. If you don’t, your ability to connect and spend time is going to diminish. 

When They begin adulting-ish

When your kids are little, it takes more physical energy, when kids are adulting, it takes more emotional energy and your patience has to increase.

When our kiddos become adults we’re so used to parenting. We tell them to put their shoes away, put their dishes in the dishwasher, when to go to bed and when to get up. These parenting practices must change a bit when kiddos hit their older teens. Teens need to make some decisions on their own. This is the time to develop some coping mechanisms and learn how to manage their emotions. We sometimes have to take the parental hat off and come alongside them. We move into a new sphere of parenting that is more like a counselor, advocate, and sounding board. We’ve moved from telling them what to do all the time and to be their guide.

When the teens move on to adulthood, parents are someone they can come to for advice. Our adult kids can take it or they can not take it. I see so many parental relationships ruined or sidelined because parents will not give an inch if their adult children do not take their advice. This is not the place that you want to be your relationship with your children whether your children are teens or adults your relationship doesn’t need to be based on “my way or the highway.” It just does not work.

Sometimes you’re adulting child is not looking for your opinion or advice. Sometimes they just want someone to really listen to their heart or their struggle. Many times our kids just want to tell us what’s going on in their life. Simply listening and saying “Yeah, that’s great good job” or saying “That’s a really tough situation. I understand why you’re struggling.” Adult kiddos are not always coming to you because they want to know what you would do. They may just need a sounding board. If they ask that great question at the end -“What would you do?” – then that’s your opportunity. If you’re always cutting them off, you shut the conversation down. Jerry had this happen with our oldest. He decided to shut up and wouldn’t say anything for a season because Jerry was always trying to Dad him.

When your kids are adulting you’re trying to connect and you have to drop off the correction. It’s not your job to keep correcting. If we are Christians it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict of sin. It is not our job.

I remember when we are going through ETC training, we were supposed to ask for kids what parts of our parenting were great and which weren’t. I asked the question with fear and trepidation. I felt like I did everything wrong. One of them said you didn’t do anything wrong and another one said she pointed out a couple of things. I survived. It’s okay to ask even if those answers are devastating. Maybe you’ll get – you were always correcting me. Guess what? When they are parenting, they can think about those things and say mom did it this way and I love that part of what she did but that part of what she did, I’m not going to do. If you can’t let that go then your pride is being the boss of you. Yes, it is painful. Yes, it is emotional. I will cry about those things but in the long run, it’s a good thing.

If you didn’t have a great family

If your family has all kinds of dysfunction – maybe they’re struggling with addictions or alcoholism or you grew up in an abusive situation. Maybe your family of origin is not the safest place for you to connect. Find another family to connect with. Find somebody else that you can be in relationship with and connect with. They’re out there. Other people are in the same situation that you are in. You’re not alone.

Want to hear more about this topic? Listen to Jerry and Kathleen share on: 

Want to hear more about this topic? Listen to Jerry and Kathleen share on: