The Gift of a Family: Together at Last

Illustration of a happy family clustered together on a sofa, singing; mother is strumming a guitar, and the father has one arm around his daughter and the other around his son's shoulder.
Jojo Ensslin

Bayley clearly remembers her first Christmas with her family. It was the day Christmas finally became real. Adopted through foster care at age 11, she recalls past Christmases as pleasant but somehow . . . fake. Her first Christmas with her family arrived as other Christmases, with presents, food and festivities. But this time, she truly belonged. It was a real Christmas — a celebration at home with her own family.

Bayley says, "It was the first Christmas that I actually felt loved and included. I had people surrounding me with love and acceptance. They were hugging me and treating me as if I wasn't a child in foster care at all. My family accepted me for who I am and gave me grace for my mistakes. It was the best memory and the first Christmas I have ever felt like I meant something to someone."

Developing closeness takes time. This Christmas, help your newly adopted children feel like they're truly a part of your family.

Ask questions and listen thoughtfully. This lays the foundation for a solid relationship and powerfully communicates that you care. Consider asking: What was Christmas like before you were part of our family? What traditions have been meaningful to you?

Incorporate one of the child's former traditions into your celebration.Bayley's family asked her to choose a selection of favorite Christmas movies the family could watch during the holiday season. This was a simple way to connect the past and the present with an activity the whole family could enjoy. Also consider creating a scrapbook with your child, helping her keep special mementos safe.

Celebrate your new family member by introducing an activity that's new to your entire family. Choose the idea together. You might select a special family ornament for your tree. Provide one for each family member. Another option is to make each child's favorite Christmas cookies.

You might decide on a Christmas "theme song" that you play often. Your child will likely remember the song as a mark of his new identity as a member of your family. And don't forget the obvious: Take a family Christmas portrait. Use the photos for Christmas cards or frame small photos to make ornaments for gifts.

This Christmas, your entire family can celebrate being together at last, and all members — old and new — can experience true belonging.

This article first appeared in the December 2012 issue of Thriving Family magazine. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get this publication delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.
© 2012 by Janine Petry. Used by permission.