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.


When You Want to Skip Christmas!

 Is your schedule out of whack this holiday season?

Are you experiencing some winter or holiday blues?

Is your adopted/foster/special needs kid melting down every time you turn around?

Do you just want to pack up the decorations and skip Christmas altogether?

Then this is for you friend.

The Whole House team had a conversation the other day (on our pm) about kids being dysregulated over the holidays. It’s hard. Constant meltdowns make us want to just skip the whole season.

Here’s a couple of things to remember if you want to skip Christmas:

Expect Meltdowns.

Different things are triggers for different people. I get weepy around Christmas. I hear an Amy Grant song. I put up the Christmas tree. I hear a church bell and I think of my mother. Midnight mass in the choir loft. Pumpkin pie in the oven or cooling on the gas range. Christmas dinners with tables end to end all the way across the length of the living room. Great memories. Mom left this earth almost twenty years ago and yet , a smell, a sound, can make it feel as if it were yesterday. That’s the way with triggers, they transport us to another time, another place and more importantly, another feeling- whatever that was.

* * *

We adoptive parents must remember that our children have a past. Some of it is fresh in their memory. Some of it is buried so deep, they cannot tell the story.

* * *

But, let them smell something in the air, hear a sound, or taste something and they are transported to another time and place. They may not know why or where. They may not be able to vocalize it. Instead, they will act it out. They will meltdown. Be prepared. Be patient. Be prayerful. Be proactive if you have any information that will help you avert those triggers! – 25 Days of Thriving Through Christmas

When you want to skip Christmas.png

This also applies to kids with Capital Letter syndromes. We’re playing Christmas music and decorating the tree and the kid is punching a hole in the wall. We are left scratching our heads and throwing our hands up and saying, “Forget it!”

Lack of schedule, change of routine and the anticipation of the upcoming event(s) create a tornado of emotions. Some of us just want to skip Christmas altogether! These items I just listed make it hard for a neurotypical child to regulate. Just imagine how much more stress is added for a child with a Capital Letter syndrome or a child from hard places.

Your teen may turn into a giant toddler. His eyes may stay dilated, indicating stress. His body may be rigid, shoulders tense, hypervigilant, looking this way and that for danger, supposed or real. It’s common for your kiddos to balk at doing every day tasks during the Christmas season, even if they normally enjoy them. Their bodies are too overwhelmed to enjoy things.

When we adults react with our own triggers and meltdown ourselves, there will be chaos. We need to provide felt-safety for our kiddos. If that means skipping the Christmas party, ordering online instead of going to a crowded mall or not visiting Santa. Skipping anything that stresses your child to the point of meltdown is worth it to enjoy your holiday. Guess what – you are in charge of your Christmas schedule. You don’t have to do something just because Aunt Edna said so. You don’t have to put up a tree if it stresses you or your child.

Think of it this way, Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. How do you prefer celebrating a birthday? What about your child? If you prefer a quiet birthday dinner at home and not tons of people because it stresses you and your child – do that. Do whatever fits your family style. Make the season what you need to make it as peaceful as possible. If you need to participate in events, as much as possible, let your kids know what is happening next. Make sure you rest in between events. Give your child voice. If they can verbalize that opening presents in front of everyone is too much, don’t make them. If people get offended because you are parenting your child, that’s really on their plate. Not yours.

“Remember at the end of the day, you are the parent.  You have the right to say no to some parties, to say no to the extra sugar, to say no to extra church events that bring in loads of people.  And give yourself permission to not feel guilty because it’s your family and your child and your sanity.  And remember that as hard and stressful it is for you, it’s probably 10x more so for that special needs kid.  Grace upon grace upon grace for this Christmas season.”- Lori Shaffer

Watch for Episode 51 of The Whole House Podcast on Monday, December 17th – “Kids from Hard Places and the Holiday Schedule” recorded by Kathleen and Lori. (PS- I think we recorded this to encourage ourselves. Hope it encourages you as well).

The Day After Christmas

Every year is a fresh blank slate to fill with Christmas memories. This year was one of those. You may not feel like it right now, your house may be a mess. Christmas has worn you out. Right now, take a moment and breathe deeply. Ponder the season. Look back through the tips and count up how many you used. Guess what, even if you only did ten or five, you did more than you would have done if you hadn’t read this Advent Devotional. Go YOU!

* * *

I hope the chapters each week deepened your faith and expanded your understanding of adoption. Not only are you chosen and loved, but so are your children, regardless of their past. Adoption makes kings out of carpenters. Adoptions transcends all bloodlines. Just as Joseph is really the father of Jesus, you are the parent of your adopted children. Adoption is for those children  who need a home to flourish in so that they may fulfill their destiny. It’s a father like Joseph that children need. A man who follows the call and doesn’t look back.

merry christmas.png

We adoptive parents, when entrenched in the day to day with our child’s behaviors, survival mode ruling, we may wonder if your children’s births were prophesied, if they were planned for, if all the past shame neglect and abuse can bring forth a new shoot, new life from the stump of pain and decay.

* * *

In the midst of the mess, the strewn wrapping paper, the piles of presents, take some time to prophesy for the coming year. Find a quiet place and for a few moments, look ahead to the present of the new year. Write down some prayers for your children based on the word. Remember, God can do over and above and beyond all we can ask hope or think, according to the power that works within us, the same power that rose Christ Jesus from dead.

* * *

We adoptive parents may go through a Job syndrome of our own. Horrific things happen in the wake of our calling. Maybe you feel like the holidays are a Job syndrome. Too many meltdowns. Too much sugar. Too little schedule and your family has been thrown for a loop. I get it. I’ve been there. It’s hard to celebrate when you feel as if you are just surviving.

* * *

Funny thing about surviving, it means you made it. You crossed an invisible finish line. Christmas is behind you and the calendar is speeding to a new year.

* * *

Another interesting phenomenon, your children will remember the celebration, the layers of tradition, the happy times more than you will remember the exhaustion of this moment. When my children talk about our leanest years, they don’t remember lack, they remember celebration and joy. When I remember the meltdown on a Christmas shopping day, that particular child, all grown up, remembers it as a great day. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. The post Christmas exhaustion you feel is not a measure of the holiday or the memories you made.

* * *

Let me leave you with a final word of encouragement. Parents, you are anointed and qualified to preach the Gospel of good tidings to your children.

* * *

With the help of the Lord, under your prayer covering and guidance, your children can be set free from the mindset of neglect and lack. If you adopted a child from birth, he can feel chosen, not abandoned. If your teen struggles with his identity, you can proclaim liberty and continue to point to his worth. Formed in his mother’s birth womb, he was chosen and set apart.

* * *

Start the new year with this in mind, you are equipped, you are chosen, you are qualified. You are the parent that your children need. It wasn’t some mix up in the universe. So, today, put on your shoes of peace, along with the full armor of God and fight the good fight of faith. You are more than a conqueror through Christ Jesus. Thank you for being who you are and doing what you are doing.

Father of orphans,

champion of widows,

is God in his holy house.

God makes homes for the homeless,

leads prisoners to freedom,

but leaves rebels to rot in hell.

-Psalm 68: 4,5

*Excerpt from 25 Days of Thriving Through Christmas An Advent Devotional for Adoptive And Foster Parents

Christmas Has Needs

I paced back and forth at the front of the house where large windows looked out over the front yard and the mailbox. The mailbox- what had been a symbol of Christmas cards and good news had become my worst enemy. I dreaded the mailman coming bringing bills and more bills, and yet I watched, waited, worried. When the mail truck pulled up to my box, I hid behind the curtains, afraid he would see me and hand deliver bills that said, “FINAL NOTICE”. I imagined him shaking his head in pity me as he saw the stack of bills.

I’ve lived there, deep in the pit, where my prayers were only about my lack. Mortgage payments. Groceries. Presents.

* * *

How do you have a silent night when your mind is full of the need? Of worry? Of the reality of the barrenness of now?

Christmas
Has 
Needs

I’m not going to tell you how to shop smarter or spend less (there are plenty of great blogs and books about that). The truth is you cannot shop smarter with nothing. It is not a great deal if you have nothing.

Over ten years ago, we moved to our current home and still owned a home in another city. It sat on the market for a year and a half. We paid two mortgages for that length of time. A few years before that we lost our family owned business. We ate through our savings, our kids college funds and put the rest of our money into a house that the downturn in the market swallowed up. We went from being middle class to on the edge of homeless.

* * *

I don’t share this info often because I don’t enjoy pity parties anymore. I’m not inviting you to one. I do, however, enjoy empathy parties with a healthy dose of encouragement. That is what this book is for. Encouragement. As I said before, I have talked to many adoptive families over the years and all of them have something in common- after the adoption comes the Job syndrome. Sometimes it’s years down the road. Sometimes, just months or days. It can come in different packages, loss of heath for parent or child, loss of finances, behavior issues, trouble attaching,_________(fill in the blank). The Job syndrome is a whole book in itself, I’ll keep it brief your sake, you get the picture, right? (This is redundant.)

* * *

Christmas has needs. It needs us to step outside of our everyday stress and receive it.

* * *

That is difficult to do when we are full of worry and the weight of the world on our shoulders. So, how do we accept the gift of Christmas when we cannot buy our children the gifts we want to? Or buy the groceries we need to make the traditional dinner? How do we meet Christ in the morning when we are so weighed down and depressed we cannot get out of bed? How do we celebrate when our children from hard places have had every trigger activated and are out of control?

* * *

Biblical Application:

1. Accept your now.

You may not be where you want to be financially or physically, just remember a healthy part of getting on the right path is enjoying something in your now that you can remember later. Play games with your kids. Cut out paper snowflakes. Sing Christmas carols. Make gifts.  Watch for points of connection and behaviors you want to encourage. Mention them aloud to your children. Before you know it, you will have a pocket full of wonderful memories. The kids won’t remember the lean years as much as they remember the celebration.

* * *

2. Prepare for your future now.

I’m not talking about getting a financial plan. Those are great, but the bottom can fall out of those too. Ask me. I know. I’m talking about your heart. If you believe your child will always struggle or always make things a struggle then it will become reality. Instead, look for pinpricks of light and believe that God is doing a great work in the child that He put in your care. Instead of thinking that your Christmases will always be full of lack and need, focus on the blessings you have. Thank the Father for them. Often. Keep a list or a thankful tree (it doesn’t have to be November to do this). This is heart preparation for the future blessings. It makes things well with your soul.

* * *

3. Rest in HIM.

I can’t say this often enough. I do say it often because the Lord leads me to verses often that hi-light REST. His rest is not the same as ours. It’s not vegging in front of the TV ignoring the  issues, it’s digging deep into His word. It’s dialoguing with Him. Tell Him your concerns. Don’t just make requests. When you do, trust Him to supply. He will. The Christmas that was the most lean for us financially, friends of mine gave me gifts for my children that were perfect for them. We didn’t spend lots of money. We didn’t have it. We did celebrate. I bet if you asked my kids if they remember a ‘bad’ Christmas, they would say “NO!”The great thing about the need of Christmas is –

“You don’t have to make Christmas…..You can rest in Christ…..You can breathe easy in Christ.”- Ann Voskamp

Christmas needs us to rest in Christ.

*This is an excerpt from 25 Days of Thriving Through Christmas An Advent Devotional for Adoptive and Foster Parents

It Had Better Not Be Perfect This Christmas!

Every year when the kids and I were putting up the Christmas tree, my Spock-like tendencies came out. Every candle had to be perfectly spaced. The ribbons had to be equal distance apart.  All the lights had to be white and homemade ornaments had to go on the back side of the tree. I wish I could go back in time and change those practices. I cannot. But, you can learn from my mistakes. Part of my habit was personality. Part perfectionism. I wanted the tree to be perfect. I’m not sure who the tree was being perfect for. It wasn’t for the kids. They would rather have popcorn and homemade ornaments. Colored lights.

* * *

The problem with perfect? It doesn’t help children. It leaves them wanting. It makes them feel as if they don’t measure up.

Happy Birthday.png

The last thing a child from a hard place needs is the expectation of perfectionism. They are wrapped in control that leaves them in manipulation mode. To add perfectionism to that scenario spells disaster. Instead we need flexibility. Fun. Willingness to bend. Willingness to bend down and see where they are and join them.

* * *

Biblical Application:

“In the Christian story God descends to reascend. He comes down from heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and seabed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him.”- C.S. Lewis

Kids who have come from traumatic beginnings or kids who have just had a hard day need us to descend to their depths in order to help them ascend into joy.

* * *

This is the Christ-like Christmas act. This is not perfect. It is messy. It is not self serving. It is bowing down to serve.

* * *

It is paper chains strung across the living room. It is flour all over the floor when baking. It is globs of shapeless cookies with mountains of icing. It is sloppily wrapped gifts with half a yard of tape around them. It is falling asleep on the floor under the Christmas tree with a child who pops out of bed like a batch of popcorn. It is joy in imperfection. Bend down to bring those in your world up with you.

*This is an excerpt from 25 Days of Thriving Through Christmas An Advent Devotional for Adoptive and Foster Parents