A Birth Parent’s Guide to Surviving the Holidays

“I hate the fact that I can only see him during Christmas at an agency party. I hate the fact that I can’t watch him open his presents on Christmas morning. I hate the fact that he’s not here. I just miss him so much.” – Annie at BirthMom Buds 

Because the holiday season is all about celebrating love and family, it can be a very difficult time for birth parents. If you placed your child recently and your grief is still fresh, your adopted child’s absence at the Thanksgiving table or on Christmas Eve may feel practically unbearable. If you placed many years ago, the intensity of that pain has probably subsided, but that doesn’t mean you won’t think about your child or wonder what this season might have been like if you’d made a different choice.

Below are some suggestions for taking care of yourself if you’re having difficulty finding the joy in this holiday season.

Reach out for support.

It’s okay to feel like you can’t handle this time of year on your own – you don’t have to. No one can take the place of your child, but that doesn’t mean other people can’t support you. Reach out to the people who have listened and been kind to you in the past, whether they’re family members, friends, social workers, or counselors. Many organizations have support groups over the holidays for people experiencing grief, so e-mail us if you’d like a referral. We can also set you up to talk with another birth mother if you think that would be helpful.

Give to others …. but prioritize YOU.

Your family may have a specific tradition or idea about how the holidays should be spent, and that’s great if those plans make you feel comforted and loved. But if they don’t– if, for example, your family was not supportive of your adoption plan, and thinking about spending lots of extra time with them around the Christmas tree stresses you out – then you may need to decide beforehand just how much time you want to spend with other people and how to balance your needs with theirs. Setting boundaries with people takes a lot of reflection and strength, and it may mean starting some new traditions instead of sticking to old ones. Remember, your health and well-being are important and deserve to be your top priority.

Start a new tradition.

Find a way to incorporate your child into your personal celebrations. Light a candle for them, make a special ornament to hang on the tree, or do something as simple as decorating with their favorite color. If you have an open adoption, write your child a holiday card or make them a gift to send in the mail; if you’re parenting other children, they can draw pictures to include in the package, too. Even if you are not in touch with your adopted child, you may find it comforting to write to them anyway, even if the letter never actually gets mailed.

Be thankful – or don’t.

Expressing sadness doesn’t make you ungrateful. In the same way that it’s possible to miss your child while also believing adoption was the best decision, it’s also possible to feel upset over the holidays while also giving thanks for what you and your child both have. And if you’re feeling too depressed or angry to give thanks, that’s okay, too! Your emotions are valid; there is no “wrong way” to feel. If you’re yearning for a little cheering up, volunteering can be a great way to help others, feel good about yourself, and remember how much you have to be thankful for.

The holidays may always be a little bittersweet for you as a birth parent, but they will become easier over the years. What will you do to take care of yourself and to celebrate this holiday season?

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