Santa’s big secret: to tell or not to tell (adoption/foster)

santassecret

Our daughter’s been asking the question since she could talk, “How does Santa get in?” With no chimney protruding from our roof, our answer was, he’s magic. That response would appease most children. Not Payton. “Will he use the front door? Will you leave it unlocked?” Well, we didn’t want to cause worry, having her think that anyone can just pop in whenever they want, packages in tow or not. So we stuck to, “He’s magic.”

Every year she’s had questions about this Santa guy, the Eater Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. A few years ago we threw out magical flying food for Santa’s reindeer (oats mixed with glitter, an idea my husband’s sister shared with us when they visited with their daughters). Her girls loved it and didn’t have questions. But you could see the concern gnawing at Payton when we tried to feed some poor starving trailblazing deer. “How will they find it?” The oats and glitter had fairly disappeared in the snow or the grass, whichever it happened to be each year.

I had a feeling the Santa front wasn’t going to last long. Because all the afore-mentioned and because I am horrible at keeping secrets. Yeah, it’s really bad, mostly when it comes to gifts and not blurting aloud what we bought the kids, when it was supposed to be from the good ole jolly guy.

This past week I was in Payton’s room, she had called to me after she went to bed. I could hear a little fear etched in her voice, and I wondered what it could be. “How will Santa come? I’m always awake at night.” I asked if she was scared of Santa, and she nodded her head. I asked again just to make sure. Yep.

Decision time had come. Do I let my daughter continue to believe in Santa and be frightened of the big man in the red suit totting an extra-large beard or do I tell her the truth and crush any sort of child-like fantasy? Some parents scoff at me because they’ve always been honest with their kids about these fairy tale characters; the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and Santa. My husband was one of those kids that didn’t have the chance to dream about the great Claus because his parents were the honest ones. I, however, came from a family of liars. Well, not really unless I want to be added to that category because I let Payton believe the same.

I remembered what it was like trying desperately hard to fall asleep on Christmas Eve, waiting to hear any creak in the floor, or a thump as Santa left something for my brother and I. I remember the flight to my parents room as soon as my brother woke me (yes, I always slept later than he), begging them to go to the living room and SEE. I remember the thrill of eyeing the presents under the tree, waiting for us. They are still very special memories, and I wanted my daughter to have the same.

Problem being that my daughter didn’t come from the same background I did. Although she’s tremendously better now, worry has always been a part of who she is. She’s also very intelligent. She is able to think through things and figure out that Santa + no chimney = no Santa. Or, if Santa did come down the chimney, he would surely break a bone, if not several. Many of our kiddos who come from difficult places are highly intelligent, even if you don’t see it, it’s likely there beneath the surface, or you are being fooled.

When Payton told me she was scared of Santa, I told her to wait a minute and I went to chat with Justin. This is a two person decision if you are married, so I told him what was going on (he knew she had been concerned before about a strange man entering our house), and he agreed that I could tell her Santa isn’t real.

That was hard for me. Really hard. I was sad to tell her the truth, but then it felt kind of strange knowing that I had lied to her about Santa and the others. I then had to make sure that she knew Jesus and God ARE real, yeah, think I’ll need to work on that one for a while. She actually smiled and thought it was kind of funny that we’d been the ones to fill the Eater baskets, fill the Easter eggs and hide them, and put out presents from Santa.

Our kiddos have a lot of worries, many come from scary places. We need to think about adding to those fears, whether they have a conscious memory of their past or not. You can tell if your child seems overly fearful or worries more than he should. Maybe it would’ve been better for us to have begun this thing differently, no Santa, no Easter Bunny, no Tooth Fairy. If it had been up to Justin, that would have been the way it was done, but I got my way, and I’m seeing that it probably wasn’t the best.

Does your child have an unusual fear of Santa? How have you dealt with it?

thankful therapy

thankfulnesstherapy

I thought the post I wrote last week would be the last one until after Thanksgiving, then I began thinking about just that; Thanksgiving, and what it means.

If you’re on Facebook, you’ve seen people posting daily about what they’re thankful for. Awesome idea. But it’s hard to be thankful when your children are hurting, acting out, and life is not what you expected. Some of you have kids who wrote the book on strong will. Some of you sacrifice your life daily for your child’s needs. Some of you have angry children who are attacking your world constantly because they’re scared. Life is hard, and the last thing you feel is thankful.

Yet, ask yourself where your children came from. Are they in a better place than they would have been if you hadn’t adopted or fostered? Adoptive and foster parents tend to get stuck in this idea that says, “I didn’t save my child or rescue my child,” in fact they can get downright angry when someone says this about them. But I love to ask if your child is better off with you. Would your son be sleeping in a comfy bed, enjoying family meals with people who love him if he were in an African orphanage? Would your daughter be well fed and warm at night if she was on the streets in Russia? Would your son be safer with a mom who’s doing drugs, and has different men over every week, and doesn’t take care of his needs? I doubt it, and I doubt you are saying yes.

Since this is where you are, and where your child is, you can be thankful for your kids. You can also be thankful they are safe. No, it’s not easy, but can you find things to be thankful for? I would encourage you to find attributes in your child that you can be appreciative of. Your child won’t fit into every category here, but ask yourself the following: Does your child…

  • follow directions?
  • eat veggies?
  • do school work without arguing?
  • enjoy creating art?
  • get along with siblings?
  • have manners?
  • think of others?
  • like to read?
  • follow the morning routine well?

Your child may not do any of these well, or at all, but there is something positive about your child, even if you have to dig to find it. They do have worth, and if you can build on those positives, it will help your relationship grow, and that’s the main goal.

Why is being thankful important? I clearly remember the Thanksgiving after we adopted Payton from foster care. It was only days after her adoption was finalized and we were standing in a circle with family members telling what we were thankful for. Someone (left to be unnamed as to avoid great controversy) said they had nothing to be thankful for. I was quite angry because my precious daughter was now in our arms forever and it was the most thankful I had ever been (we knew she was now safe and a year of fearful anticipation was over). I also saw that the thankless person was miserable. When we can’t find anything in our lives to be thankful for, we dwell on all the negative, and that list can be great. If we focus on what we are grateful for, we have a fuller more joyous life.

Why do I care if you are thankful? I care that you find something to be grateful for because I want your family and your kids to thrive, not just survive. I don’t want this to a Thanksgiving and Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate) that you try to get through as fast as possible, I want you to enjoy it.

Our hurting kids are hurting, and there are days when there aren’t positives to be appreciative of. So what else in your life can you be thankful for? I am truly sorry if there isn’t much, but my hope is that you can find something. Maybe it’s something simple today, like rain or a warm house, maybe tomorrow will bring something else.

I am thankful for all of you who have chosen to care for the orphan, foster child, abandoned and neglected. Without you, they wouldn’t have much to be thankful for. Thank you for all you do! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Here is another post that might help: finding joy

avoid holiday hassles

avoidholidayhassles

We all know the holiday hoopla is fast approaching. Some of us look forward to it, but for many it brings a mixture of depression and anxiety, filling us until it’s all over and we can say it’s two-thousand-fourteen.

No matter where we find ourselves, many of us will be visiting family or friends during the holidays, and some of us will be playing host. This can create added stress onto school activities, social gatherings, special events, the present parade, cooking, and shopping. So what can you do to make that visit with Granny Beatrice go better? Communicate.

What do your children need? How do your children act? What will you need to do that’s different than other families? What do you need your family to do for you?

Explanations go a long way to help our family and friends understand what your child will be doing while spending time together, it will help them understand the special treatment or things your child needs. When we got together with family for Christmas one year, our son, Jeremiah, was fascinated with the string of lights and ornaments on the tree. Our extended family all looked like wide-eyed monkeys on adrenaline when Jeremiah stood close to the tree and touched the bright, beaming lights or the sparkling ornaments. He has Autism. I explained what was going on, it calmed them down a little, and I think understanding why he wasn’t leaving the tall, sensory overloading Christmas tree alone helped. It was a starting point.

There have been situations we’ve needed to head off before we arrive at someone’s house. When Jeremiah is outside his environment and we can’t go outdoors, it’s best to play movies he likes. This is a little bothersome around the holidays because of football games, but they were able to deal with some missed field goals while Lightning McQueen racing across Route 66.

That year I sent an email to all who would be there explaining that Jeremiah would be watching movies, we also added that he doesn’t do this at home (because we wanted to avoid any judgement up front). You can gauge your family and determine what needs to be said and what doesn’t. I don’t condone extended t.v. time for Autistic kids, but if we ALL want to enjoy the holiday, our child needs to be content, and if movies do the trick, okay by me.

In the past, my daughter has struggled with attachment issues and Oppositional Defiance Disorder. We’d had experience visiting extended family members, and a a few things came up that we wanted to avoid before we arrived. Those were that Payton couldn’t handle being told something and then having it changed, she also tended to sabotage anything fun. We kindly explained this to our family.

We asked they not tell Payton about any activities we were going to do. For example, please don’t say you’re going to decorate a gingerbread house before you realize there won’t be time to do so. Don’t say you’ll go sledding before you find out that the child didn’t bring any snow clothes. This can be true for any child, but the outcome can be much worse for a child who has attachment issues.

We also avoided telling Payton of anything we planned to do. Number one, because anything can get cancelled for numerous reasons, and two, she would sabotage anything. To her it was a test to see if we would still do that “special” thing with her (equaled love in her mind) even if she misbehaved.

Our family is learning, but Payton has also healed significantly. This year Justin and I were talking about what we would do when we went to see some family. We were trying to be secretive, and of course Payton wanted to know what we were saying. I thought she could handle it at this stage, so I told her we were probably going to go to the Aquarium. She was really excited, she’d been wanting to go back for a couple years. Then I got a text from my dad, they were thinking of going to the zoo since it was a such beautiful weather. I cringed, I had already told Payton what we were doing, would she be able to handle the change of plans? I broke the news to her, I used some paradoxical parenting, something I rarely do anymore. I said, “You’re going to get really mad when I tell you this. It’s okay, you can yell and stomp your feet.” She smiled and said she wouldn’t. I told her the new plan and she proved that she has come a long way, she said, “Okay.”

This year we will be having another friendly conversation with family about their expectations of Payton’s obedience. Although Payton is doing awesome, she’s still a child, and she’s stinkin’ smart. She knows when she can get away with ignoring someone’s request. When we aren’t around, and even when we’re near, family doesn’t expect her to be polite or follow their requests (many times they aren’t formulated as requests, but as, “I think your mom wants you to wash your hands.” It needs to be, “Wash your hands please.”) I know, it puts pressure on Grandma and Grandpa or Aunts and Uncles to lay down the law, but if they don’t let her know they expect good behavior, she’ll push it. She also has a certain little thing called a strong will.

Other families deal with this same scenario. A family I know went to visit Grandma, and while Grandma was preparing a pickle tray, their son, Caleb grabbed a pickle and said, “My pickle.” When your child has attachment issues and other diagnoses added on top, this behavior isn’t shocking at all, but this wasn’t something Caleb would have done at home. He was making attachments and his behavior was improving, but when expectations were lowered, he still struggled some.

Being around others who don’t have the same expectations we do can sometimes cause our children to backslide. It’s a training process both for our children and for those who are frequently involved in our life. They need to know what we expect and be willing to back us up.

These conversations we’ve had with family have dangled between congenial and heated. The outcome will depend on how you approach them, the tone, and words you use, so contemplate those three factors. It will also depend on your family and friends. Are they judgmental or accepting? Do they have experience with special needs?

Let’s review some questions to ask yourself when considering what to share:

  • Does your child do things that are different than others?
  • Does your child have needs that are special?
  • What will you need when you visit family or friends for the holidays, or act as host?
  • Do you need family/friends to avoid saying certain things?

I hope this helps you to have a better holiday with your family and friends! For those of you in the USA, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!