Holidays as Adoptees

As we say goodbye to 2020, it has been a year of so many challenges.  COVID-19 is not yet behind us and so many of us are finding ways to be creative this holiday season.  And while, you may not be traveling much this year to gather, the celebrations and the dilemmas can remain much the same no matter the year.  IAMAdoptee is reprising this post in hopes to help you get through another holiday season with some sense of community and belonging.   

IAMAdoptee is grateful to all of you who shared your thoughts on how being adopted has impacted the way the holiday season affects you.  We would love to hear from you, so if you want to share your thoughts, please send a message to us at [email protected].

Presenting a video conversation with international adoptees Katie Naftzger, LICSW and Kathy Sacco, LCSW and their wisdom on the challenges, the opportunities, the tough parts and the ways we can authentically navigate the holiday season.

With gratitude and collaboration with Connect-a-Kid.

Here’s what Connect-a-Kid Board Chairman Kim Hanson had to say about the holidays:

  • Holiday traditions for me are always a special place even if I wasn’t checked in with my family growing up. But the holidays I appreciated more when I left the house and went to college. Thanksgiving to Christmas always holds a special place for me. Even if I do not have the holiday cookings unless I go home and my sister cooks I will always have fond memories of my mom’s cooking. Certain dishes always will carry heart warming memories. Her cranberry salad with marshmallows, her stuffing, her yams, mash potatoes and gravy, her lefse all of which we eat at Christmas time too. Easter is there but not like Thanksgiving or Christmas. New Years never held a special time for the family so never had a fondness for NYE myself. So what have I kept for my son?  I make it a point to go back every year for my son so he experiences all the things I did. My mother has Alzheimer’s and getting worse and why she doesn’t cook anymore. But it is a tradition that I take him back during these holidays. Now that I am divorced it is harder to take him back but I like it that now we alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas for him. I started a Father Son Christmas dinner and Star Wars Advent Lego Calendar. Writing this with a glass of wine listening to Xmas music. Which by the way I listen to year round as it brings me back to my childhood days even if I wasn’t checked in or wasn’t close to my family growing up. Something I guess I always yearned for inside of me. – Kim Hanson, adopted from Korea
  • How I get through the holidays…well, it’s not an issue anymore for me. I think I struggled with the holidays throughout my young adulthood because I was attached to some idea of how the holidays should be or how they should unfold. As a child, I had SO much fun on Christmas day. It was just about playing games with my siblings and cousins – having wrapping paper wars after we’d opened the gifts, playing outside in the snow aka getting thrown in big snow banks, building forts or going sliding. I also really enjoyed eating my grandmother’s apple pies! But, when my grandparents passed away and my siblings started having their own families or moving away, Christmas changed – we could no longer get together as a family anymore. At this point in my life, I was also dealing with conflicting feelings about being adopted and being separated from my culture of origin and its traditions…so, I found myself feeling unhappy about what I lost (Christmas no longer being the same) and also what I felt was taken from me (Ethiopian traditions). Needless to say, the holiday season became a dark period for me. I felt depressed for quite a few years. What changed for me has been working to accept all the losses – not just around Christmas but all year ’round! I find the biggest barrier to acceptance is resistance and I had a lot of it! It has definitely been a process of intense self-help or what I like to call self-development! It’s a work in progress, but I can now say that I appreciate the holidays more now because I don’t have expectations of what they should look like. – Kassaye Berhanu-Macdonald, adopted from Ethiopia and creator of “Out of the Fog” podcast
  • I love going home for the holidays! I seldom get to visit for extended periods of time, so when I can I try to spend as much time as possible with my niece and nephews. My best moments with my (adoptive) parents always hinge on how much patience, honesty and direct communication we employ with each other. In the frenzy of festivities this can be trying, but we give it our best shots! Something I look forward to every Christmas break is when the whole family casually, inevitably, lolls around my parents’ kitchen counter and we gab and joke for hours.  – Michaela K. Dietz, adopted from Korea
  • The holidays is bittersweet for me.  I love all the festivities, the lights, the music and the good will that is encouraged.  I grew up with a love of baking Italian cookies and German apple pie.  Still, the proverbial assumption that I am going to my (adoptive) home for Thanksgiving and Christmas always gives me heartburn.  The performance of the Holidays, that as an adoptee, one is gratefully going “home” makes me sweat a little. I’ve mastered the pivot really well without giving a whole answer and listen with a Mona Lisa smile as others relay their family holiday plans.  – Joy Lieberthal, adopted from Korea
  • I’ve always enjoyed the holidays but of course, they become more complicated as you get older, and I do dread that aspect. Now that I’m married, we have to balance time between “his” and “hers.” Additionally, my birth family reunion makes me long to be in Korea around this time of year. All the while, we try to maintain our own family traditions. In recent years, we have chosen to shed the expectations of others and spend our time doing the things we most enjoy. While it can be misconstrued as selfish, we prefer to spend the holidays celebrating in our own way versus in an airport or driving hundreds of miles just because that’s what you’re “supposed” to do this time of year. – Whitney Fritz, adopted from Korea
  • Making new traditions with my family — children and husband — and keeping those traditions from my adoptive family that I treasure and skipping those that I don’t — allows me to re-write and re-create the holidays to what I want them to be. – Hollee McGinnis, adopted from Korea
  • The holidays hold a duality that is both emotionally liberating and challenging. I can hold several of these conflictual emotions at once–and continually learn how important it is to be kinder, gentler, and loving to those parts of myself during this season. I do not claim home in the same way. . .home is with my children, spouse, and our chosen family. Several years ago, my husband and I made the difficult, yet intentional choice to remain in absentia. Family should not break down your body, back, or spirit. As an adoptee, the concept of family is complicated, but it is also specific–that as I came into myself (especially as a mother), I owned choice–and I owe it to no one to explain further. Living in ambiguity and tension is familiar to so many of us–myself included. Adoptees are assumed to be ever-grateful to their adoptive parents and the world around them. There is an expectation that we share personal tidbits with others based on our adoption-status combined with the assumption that our adopt families are not human, flawed, and in some cases toxic and harmful. Grounded in those assumptions tend to be gratefulness and exceptionalism. There is difference between gratefulness and gratitude. Adoptees can extend gratitude for the loved ones in our lives along with the opportunities that have been bestowed to us, but we do not have to assign the act of gratefulness to anyone or anything specifically unless we choose (that is a sacred, personal space that does not have to be publicized at anyone’s behest). Societal pressure to embody unrealistic “Hallmark” moments within family will always be a tightrope act, How/whom I choose to share our holiday plans with is personal. Today, the ones who get an invitation to our shared table are not out of obligation or pleasantries, but through delight, enjoyment, and authenticity. I’ve found that the more genuine we become, the more we attract those in our lives that can hold these spaces really, really well–and learn to re-parent those parts of ourselves and allow others to do the same. We celebrate our chosen family as well as family (by marriage) who have remained loving, steadfast, and supportive without caveats or demands. – Melanie Chung-Sherman, adopted from Korea
  • As an adult, the memories of holidays that resonate strong are the self-implicated obligations and stress of having a perfect Norman Rockwell Christmas. My mother’s good intentions for a  picture perfect Christmas ended being stressful and not very enjoyable. Now that I have a family of my own, I keep holiday traditions very light. I partake on what I like, such as caroling, presents, music, and time with friends. I don’t do anything that doesn’t bring myself and family joy. – Anna Hu, adopted from Korea
  • For holidays, I bring my partner of 10 years wherever I go, and we support each other in our losses.  I also take time for myself when I need it.  Traditions I love was making wontons with my dad (who has passed), making sweet potato pie / potato salad the way my mother-in-law taught me (she also passed), and going to see my mom and sister. – Taneka Jennings, adopted from Korea