Christmas for Adoption Families

Mother and Daughter

Why the holidays can be hard for adoptees and adoptive families, and how instead to create intimacy

Christmas can be a complicated time for members of a family by adoption. Everyone wants it to be special, filled with surprise and happiness. Sometimes that is hard to do for some adoptive families for some very good reasons which take time and thought to understand.  


Adoptees who have not had any contact with their birth family within an open adoption may find themselves wondering where their birth family is and what kind of holiday celebration is taking place. They wonder why they have never been invited. That raises feelings about their original relinquishment. “What was wrong with me that made me rejected by my birth family?” This question sometimes leads to the adoptee being excessively guarded to keep their feelings silent, or doing something purposefully wrong to see if the adoptive parents will also decide to “relinquish.” These adoptee behaviors are depressing for the adoptee, frustrating for adoptive parents and embarrassing for everyone if guests are present.

The adoptive parents, out of genuine love, probably have been searching for the “right” presents for the adoptee. However, the adoptee’s genes may be very different from those passed on to the adoptee by birth family. Therefore, it becomes difficult to come up with the “right” present in the “right color.”  The adoptee is “disappointed.”  The adoptive parents wonder what they “did wrong.”

Everyone feels let down and a bit depressed. Often it is hard, if not impossible, to talk about it. Christmas slips by with everyone feeling unfulfilled.

What is happening is easier to cope with when everyone can talk about it honestly and understand. Then a plan can perhaps be generated ahead of time that makes Christmas happier for everyone.

1.  Can the adoptee dare to admit thinking about birth family?
2.  Can the adoptive parents understand without feeling rejected by adoptee?    
3.  Can the adoptee pick out more than several presents they would like in the right size and color from Amazon or a catalog? The adoptive parents can then order some of the items which then creates an element of surprise as to which presents who selected. The choice of a gift can be “right,” creating relief, excitement, and a “thank you” for both adoptee and adoptive parents.
4.  The right to feel sad, and then be understood creates intimacy without fear of rejection.

Within a biological family each one of us learns who we are and who we aren’t as we grow up by watching the relatives around us who have similar genes resulting in similar talents, and behavior. Many adoptees do not have that privilege. That missing piece can show up poignantly at holiday time, making it harder to understand the need for special gifts in the right colors.

My adopted daughter is now the mother of two children. She does Christmas beautifully because she and her children have the same genes. She goes for a lavish Christmas to make up for the holidays in her childhood that were not right due to lack of biological genetic information and understanding. I take direction better from her now that I understand about what to buy for her and her family. However, I continue to live with the fact that I can never do it just right.

May your holiday have honest dialogue, meaning, and a sense of fulfillment......maybe even fun.

Dorothea McArthur, PhD is a clinical psychologist and author of the award-winning, best seller Defining Moments: Breaking Through Tough Times