Building family traditions with a new child through adoption

Families are tied together by love, by choice, sometimes by genetics, but also by shared experiences. Shared experiences and shared memories are key ingredients for creating the strong sense of shared identity that comes from being a part of a tight-knit family. Shared experiences are a natural part of a family that lives together, laughs together, and supports each other, but parents can also encourage these shared experiences by forming family traditions.

What a family’s traditions look like depends on the family – a tradition can be as simple as a mug of hot cocoa on the first snowy morning of the year, or as complex as a very specific three-course meal on a special day.

Yours, mine, ours

Thinking back to the traditions that meant the most to you in your own childhood, and, if you have a partner, asking them to do the same, is a great way to start to build family traditions, but it’s definitely not the only way. If your child or children were a little older when they came into your life, they may have some memories of traditions and events that have been important to them in the past. Figuring out how to incorporate those traditions into your new family family’s traditions can make a powerful positive statement about the importance of your child’s feelings, and their past.

If your child is a little too young to have any treasured traditions from their past, you can still center some of your family’s new traditions around them. If you know something about your child’s genetic or cultural background, doing some research into how to incorporate some of those traditions into your family can be a great way to show what a central part of your family’s identity your little one is. And of course, some traditions will develop by themselves over time, as your family feels out the way to mark special occasions that works best for you.

Specific events

There are a few special days on the calendar that can feel difficult or conflicted to adoptive families. Parents can help to navigate these days by planning celebrations that are sensitive to children’s feelings, and that take their personal histories and associations with these holidays into account.

  • Mother’s day and father’s day: Like many kinds of non-traditional families, families through adoption can have complicated relationships with holidays that celebrate parents. Children who have been adopted may have different reactions to Mother’s Day and Father’s Day celebrations at different points during their childhood, and there may be times when they’re more interested in exploring connections to their birth parents, as well as to you, during this time. This interest in no way devalues your relationship, and is a natural part of an adopted child’s emotional development and curiosity.
  • Birthdays: Birthdays can also be complex emotionally for children who have been adopted, and may be times when they think of their birth parents. Making some space within your family’s celebrations for some quiet reflection, or for writing a note to your child’s birth parents, can be a way to acknowledge the complicated feelings that can be attached to this special day.
  • Adoption day: Depending on the circumstances surrounding a child’s birth, adoption, and life before adoption, some families choose to celebrate the day of their child’s adoption in a big way, while others go for smaller celebrations, and still others mark the day in ways that leave space for difficult or complex feelings surrounding adoption. Other families choose to let the anniversary of a child’s adoption finalization pass quietly. This is one anniversary that it may be helpful to let traditions and acknowledgments evolve as your child’s feelings do, as your little one grows.

In the end, while there are traditions your family can plan for, there will be others that sneak up on you when you least expect it. No matter what your family’s traditions turn out to be, the important thing is that they’ll be memories your family will form together.

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