open adoption advice

Open Adoption Advice During the Holidays

The hustle and bustle is a staple of the holidays. We tend to be so busy getting all of the things on our Christmas lists, trying to visit everyone, bake and cook all of the things, decorate, and continue traditions. It can be easy to get swept up in the busyness and forget to slow down. As an adoptee and birth mother, I have a lot of family that I need to juggle schedules with. Even in 2020, I have to be strategic about what to get everyone, who to see, and who to call. I have two extra families through my adoption story and two sides of the family that I grew up with. It’s no wonder why I am happy to get open adoption advice from my fellow adoption triad friends. It can be a lot to navigate alone. So pull up a chair and let me share some open adoption advice for navigating the holidays with you!

Check-in With Self

As most birth mothers know, our lives can be complex and emotional every day post-placement. We often have to work hard to be present and to process our feelings. The holidays are already a time of extra sadness for me since I am the last single person in my family (party of one looking for Mr. Right over here. Help a sister out!). I feel like there are so many things screaming at me about how single I am because love is all around during this time of year. Engagements, taking someone special home for the holidays because it’s getting serious, people gathering together with their families at grandma’s, and so many other things smothering the single crowd out there. 

If that wasn’t enough to make a gal struggle, add being a birth mom to the mix. Again, all these little families getting together reminds me of how alone I am. My child isn’t here with me to make sugar cookies to decorate for Santa, to stay up really late to get all the presents put together so that mom and dad can watch the kid’s joy in the morning, or to begin family traditions with. She is away from me and while my love never wavers for her, it’s just not the same. I am missing out on some of her life and it is hard. 

So during November and December especially, I check in with my feelings. My first piece of open adoption advice, I decide what I need to feel supported during this time. Usually, it is meeting up with my daughter and her mom sometime around Christmas to exchange gifts. I also need to do some self-care and remind myself that I don’t need to fall into the comparison trap of what other families are doing during this time or wondering how I could have done something different so that she’d be with me getting to experience all the things I mentioned above. I know that I did what was best in my situation and that my kids know how much I love them, even if our family doesn’t look like the traditional one on the Hallmark Christmas movies I binged last night. Self-care for me usually revolves around pedicures, massages, nature walks, spending time with my dog, listening to music, or doing some kind of craft. 

These things are therapeutic and allow me to shut everything off around me and just be still. It really balances me out. Once I decide what I need and take time to soothe myself with some self-care, I then set expectations of what I can achieve during the time. So I reach out to my daughter’s mom and set up a time to exchange gifts, I start getting her present figured out, and I focus on getting joy out of memories upcoming and from the past. 

Set Up a Gift Exchange or Tradition

Traditions can be fun. We like to use these as ways to get us in the spirit of the holidays and to bring our families and friend groups together. My open adoption advice for this would be to communicate with the adoptive parents on what you’d ideally like to happen during Christmas or Thanksgiving time that includes all of you getting together or having some kind of connection during the season. 

As I have mentioned, we do a gift exchange. I get to ask what kinds of things she is into these days (because it changes every few months it seems) and experience the fun of picking things out for her that I know she will enjoy. This year it’s makeup, clothing, and all things Billie Eilish. Also, she wants bucket hats? I guess I missed the memo that the nineties grunge is back in full swing. It seems like yesterday she was into slime and Shopkins, but alas she is a preteen, going on 25, and clearly more hip than I am. When we do a gift exchange, we usually meet at a restaurant somewhere in between our hometowns. 

With 2020 being an extra treat, we have been doing outdoor patios when possible. We even did the zoo recently, which was a great way to socially distance outdoors and enjoy time together. Of course masks made it different, but I’d take any extra stipulations if it means I get to spend time with my kid. 

A few ideas that I have for others would be: have a holiday picnic outside at a nice park with takeout and gifts. If you are comfy being in a car together you can visit one of the many drive-through light displays, visit a Christmas tree farm for some outdoor memories. If you are in a semi-open adoption you can make a tradition where you send a gift and letter to your child every year, and if you are in an extremely open adoption plan you can even plan an intimate dinner and gifts at one of your houses. Whatever you decide, make sure to respect the boundaries that you all have in place, communicate what you want to do or need, and have an open mind. 2020 has been a different experience for us all, so it’s important to extend grace and be flexible. 

Unique Gifts for all Triad Members

Another piece of open adoption advice would be to embrace one of the five love languages- gifts. For birth mothers, there are a lot of unique things that we can treasure throughout the years. As a birth mother, there are a few things that I know I would love as a Christmas gift from the rest of my personal adoption triad. 

  • Professional Photo Shoot with my Kiddos: 
    • This one has been on my radar to do for myself one year because photographs are not only timeless, but they can capture emotion so easily. I would love to have beautiful photos hanging in my home of me with my kids and even with the adoptive family, to remind me of my resilience and steadfast love for those babies. Our story is not easy, but it’s full of strength, love, and amazing memories and there’s rarely any better way to capture that than a photo. 
  • Charms on a Charm Bracelet: 
    • When I placed my daughter with her parents on Placement Day, they gave me a Pandora charm bracelet. Over the years they have gifted me charms to add to the bracelet. It’s especially fun that once my daughter was old enough, she started choosing charms for me herself which made it extra personal and sweet. 
  • Handmade Gifts: 
    • Ok, sometimes these can be a flop from other family members, but if it’s from my kids, you know it’s getting framed or put on the mantle. This can be a great option for the younger kids as it can add the personal touch in a manageable way for the parents. When I was pregnant with my daughter, her parents took me to a pottery painting place and we each picked out a trinket to paint for her nursery. That could be a great option for kids to do or even some home DIY projects that you can find on Pinterest. No matter the project, the final product will be something created by the hands of that birth mama’s babies, so she will love it. 

Open Adoption Advice for Adoptive Parents

These are the people making sure my child is flourishing and pouring abundant love on them every single day. Gifting them something doesn’t seem like nearly enough, but I will try my best to give a few ideas here if you want to exchange presents with them. 

  • A Unique Date Opportunity: 
    • Gift cards aren’t always my favorite thing to gift, because it can feel way less personal, however, if you really pick something that they love, it’s an acceptable gift in my opinion. I would personally pair it with something like a book of questions to ask one another like this one, or some kind of intimate activity for them to do together. I think it’s important for them to spend time together and to pour into one another for some self-care. 
  • Family Night Basket: 
    • This could be a fun thing for the whole family to experience. I love a good game night, so I would add in a game or two that I love like Codenames or Taboo, some snacks, a gift card for Redbox to stream some movies, and maybe even add in a Favor or Uber Eats gift card. This could be an awesome 2020 Christmas gift that safely keeps everyone in for an unforgettable night of fun. I’d top it off with requesting a few pictures of everyone having fun!
  • Something Sentimental: 
    • I would take a picture of my daughter and me to put in an ornament to give her mom and maybe even begin a tradition of an annual ornament exchange if I wanted. This could be a great way to do something small, but that leaves a big impact. 

Open Adoption Advice for the Adoptee

  • Annual Christmas Letter and Ornament: 
    • If you have a semi-open adoption, this could be a great way to start a tradition without adding anything drastic to your open adoption plan. I would find out what my kiddos are really into this year and pick an ornament according to that. My letter would be filled with my wishes for them in the coming year. 
  • Typical Presents: 
    • They are kids after all, so anything that they are actually wanting to be gifted will likely make their day. I cannot resist seeing my kids experiencing joy. 
  • Something Sentimental for the Older Adoptees: 
    • A few years ago, my biological grandmother gave me a quilt she handmade for me. It’s by far my favorite gift she’s given me and it definitely made me tear up. Another thing she gave me was one of my great-grandmother’s rings the year that she had passed away. Anything with sentiment and familial meaning may move your adoptee and show them love in a new way. 

Christmas Day Coping

I mentioned above that the holiday season reminds me of how alone I am. No different from Mother’s Day, Christmas can be a hard day full of triggers. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas almost as much as Buddy the Elf, but even between the Christmas sparkle and joy, I am sad that I am not watching my daughter come down the stairs early Christmas morning with a face full of wonder at the slew of toys Santa hauled in the night before. 

This is where my post-placement support is vital. I often find myself triggered by different events such as Mother’s Day, holidays, baby showers, and OBGYN visits. While I thankfully am in a good place due to the work I’ve put in over the 13 years that I have been a birth mother, I still struggle. And to be completely honest with you, there are some triggers that are worse than others, so sometimes I get completely blindsided by how I react to some things. This is where my birth mom community is a great asset. 

Recently, I found out some hard things in my own adoption journey. I am an adoptee, and I have been searching for my biological paternal family. The man that I always thought was my birth father, and who my birth mom still claims is my birth father, passed away a few years ago and I didn’t find that out until this year. Even more triggering, I then, after some digging into my Ancestry DNA matches, found out that he isn’t even my birth father. Some really sketchy brothers are my two possibilities. Which caused me to halt all efforts on the matter. It hit me hard because the hope I had of connection was no longer a possibility. I was devastated over and over again. I realized in that moment how important my connection to my kids is. And my fellow birth mom friends were so supportive of me during all of the crazy twists and turns. They are always there for me through the good and the bad. 

Make sure you are surrounding yourself with a support network during the holidays. If you don’t have one, I hope you’ll reach out to a birth mom on social media you may follow, a group for birth parents, or even me. You are never alone. 

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Katie Reisor