Holidays May Be Tricky
for Triad Members

by Barbara Free, M.A., LPCC, LADAC

     The holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s may present some dilemmas for adoption triad members, both logistically and emotionally. For birth parents who are not reunited, perhaps even still keeping the secret of their relinquished offspring’s existence, there will be moments of sadness, missing the unknown child, perhaps now an adult, and there may be sad memories of a Christmas spent pregnant and isolated from family and friends. There may also be memories of someone else reaching out during that period of time. Not all the memories are necessarily bad. For adoptive parents, there may be memories of waiting for that longed-for child, perhaps of preparing for him/her, or having that child for the first Christmas. There may be memories of lost pregnancies or adoptions that didn’t take place. For adoptees, there may also be a myriad of memories, and for many who are not yet reunited, yearnings to find birth family. For other family members, there may be memories of a sister missing one year, a newly adopted sibling, or a daughter gone to an “unwed mothers’ home” one holiday season. For those who are reunited, there may be both excitement about the holidays and anxiety about how to juggle everyone and how to share the time and resources.
     Most of us grew up with ideas about the ideal holiday season, garnered from books, magazine articles, movies and television programs. For some, those perfect times were only fantasies, which we either thought everyone else enjoyed, or we thought no one ever had such good times, and it was all a lie. The truth, of course, is that most holidays are a mixture of pleasure and sadness, expectations, disappointments, and sometimes unexpected joys. Neither children nor adults get absolutely all of their wishes fulfilled, either for material gifts or for wonderful social events. For many, this is not a big deal, and things generally go well and result in good times and happy memories, along with a fairly high level of stress and fatigue. For others, little goes well, disappointment is the major theme, and there may be unpleasant, even violent times. As adults, we can do our best to create a pleasant atmosphere and prevent disaster, although even then it’s not always under our control. These facts are true whether one has an adoption connection or not, but being an adoption triad member often complicates the season in numerous ways.
     Recently reunited birth parents may wonder how much to include the found offspring, or how much that person wants to be included, whether they live nearby or far away. We may fret over this in silence, or we can choose to be open about it with the rest of our families, and with the son or daughter we’ve found. We may have to consider who still does not know, or how they are apt to behave around our offspring if they are together. Sometimes it makes sense to have different events for different parts of the family; sometimes it’s a great joy to have everyone together. Most birth parents yearn for that missed childhood and may want to give that child some toy or precious thing they would have liked to be able to give years before. Only that parent and offspring can know if it’s appropriate to “make up for lost years” in this way. If that parent is in the habit of giving some toy to other grown offspring, it will probably feel comfortable and not awkward.
     One of the major issues around holidays may be who spends time with whom, and when. Most adults with spouses or partners already face this issue every year, and adding reunited family members may mean even more decisions. Suppose, for instance, a reunited adult adoptee is married to another reunited adult adoptee. (It happens!) There are potentially four or more families to consider! Numerous sets of grandparents for their children, and untold possible cousins, siblings, step, half, and adopted siblings may be more than some can cope with! Again, if everyone can be open and honest and figure out ways to spend even a little time together, the rewards can be wonderful. But in cases where some persons don’t get along with sane others, it may be best not to feel that everyone has to see everyone each year. There are also other times of year to get together that might not have the extreme emotional overload that, for many people, the holiday season carries.
     For those who have been searching and are not yet reunited, the holidays may be a time of yearning for that reunion that can easily slide into self-pity, imagining that everyone else is having a wonderful time with all of their family, or that the one sought is having a great life and does not want anyone else involved. It is frequently advised that the best way to forget one’s own loneliness is to volunteer at a shelter or in sane other way help those who alone, and that is good advice. For anyone in the northern hemisphere, this is also the time of short days and colder weather, which is part of why people have always had sane sort of winter celebration, to counteract the effects of short, dark days and cold.
     Sane triad members who have had that initial reunion, or who have found their birth family but face-to-face reunion has not worked out, the disappointment of having to give up a dream seems even more painful at a time when all the ads and articles and television shows are telling us families are happily all together, celebrating with food and drink and endless marathons of shopping and acquiring material goods. This is an unrealistic picture, of course, but it’s hard to ignore. Again, it may be helpful to seek out others with whom we can share, whether it’s biological or chosen family or friends, or even strangers with whom we might have something in common. Longing to be able to give a toy or book to our long-lost child, we could give a toy to someone else in honor of our relinquished son or daughter. We could participate in helping a family through one of the social service agencies, such as a food bank, clothing bank, shelter, or any organization that “adopts” families at Christmas.
     We can also generate our own celebrations. We may think “I’m alone, so I won’t bother with a tree, or baking, or any reminders of the holidays.” Yet we are reminded every time we go into a store, turn on the television, or pick up a newspaper, or even drive down the street, so it might be healthier to engage to some degree in decorating, cooking, etc. We can call friends, send cards, attend activities, and find new ways to participate, without feeling sorry for ourselves or projecting our own sadness onto others. There may be moments of grief for us, and we need to acknowledge that grief, but set a time limit on it, literally. Some people find if they allow themselves to feel their sadness and grief ten minutes a day, and then get up and do something, it goes much better than trying to deny their feelings entirely and feeling even more resentful.
     Finally, as we look at the new year, we can see it as an opportunity for a fresh start and renewed efforts. We can set a goal of searching or finding new resources to help our search, if we have not found our family members. We can find new ways of developing healthier relationships with all our families if we have searched and found, or been found. We can choose to get more involved in adoption reform. We can choose to focus on positive attitudes and creating new memories, instead of focusing on sad or unpleasant memories we already have. We can choose to let all our family members be who they are and quit trying to get them to be the way we wish they would be. We can celebrate that we’ve lived another year, and have the opportunity to make the new year better for ourselves and for others.

Excerpted from the January 2008 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2008 Operation Identity