No matter how you add kids to your household, things have to change. Schedules, furniture, and meal selections become different in many ways. Get-togethers with family and friends involve options for folks of all ages, or involve babysitters and details.
When we added babies to our family, things changed in a predictable way. Grandparents oohed and ahhed over baby antics. Holidays became more kid focused. We emptied guest rooms of adult type furniture and added things that were more kid friendly. We kept to our regular menu, when we weren’t too tired to cook, and added kid friendly options as our babies grew. We varied our schedules so that if one of us was at work or in class, the other could be home. We arranged for sitters to watch our kids when we had conflicts in overall schedule. It was predictable and easy. Others had done it before us. There was someone waiting with advice to share at every turn.
And then, we adopted older children and teens.
How hard could this be? We knew what we were doing. We’d been parents for at least 20 minutes. We had this down.
But, we didn’t.
Older kids and teens require more than a change of furniture and replacing the bunny wallpaper. It doesn’t matter if these kids join your family through adoption or as the result of finding a new life partner who brings kids into the mix. Older children come with more than a suitcase full of clothes and a box of childhood memories. They arrive with truckloads of emotional baggage, too.
We found that the most challenging part was learning how to combine family traditions.
We’re all tied to our family traditions. Think about it for a minute. I’m used to a big family Christmas celebration, with multiple trees and loads of gifts, amazing food, and lots of laughter. My partner’s family spent Christmas on the road, driving from house to house and waking on Christmas morning in a cheap hotel room. Christmas was limited to what could fit in the trunk of a car. Even when the kids grew up and Christmas was at the parents’ house, a tabletop tree was the only decoration, dinner was nothing special, and each person received two generic gifts. Based on the experiences we had growing up, we had to decide how we could combine our traditions into something we both appreciated.
Now, imagine doing that every time someone new joins the family. At one point, we were adding a kid or two a year. Many were old enough to remember. Some were old enough to understand.
But, one of our guys really struggled with tradition. For him, holidays were horrible. Family vacations never happened. No one in his family could cook, so the thought of a special meal made him ill. His mom was great at buying presents, but they were always for her. Imagine how he felt, as a young child, getting a treadmill for Christmas. What is a little boy going to do with a treadmill? So, his mother used it instead.
When he joined our household, he struggled with our boisterous family gatherings. He believes that parties are money wasted that could be spent on more important things. He doesn’t understand why we let children over eight go out trick-or-treating. And, the list goes on and on.
We try to respect his feelings, but it’s hard to let go of everything that we know and love because it’s hard for him to accept those things. So, we have to compromise. I learned that the world doesn’t end if he is missing from the holiday table. We set a place for him, but if he chooses to stay in his room, then it’s okay, too. He now helps me with the Christmas shopping so that he feels like he is a part of the whole Santa thing. This way, when we are opening presents, he gets enjoyment from seeing the younger kids’ excitement.
However, he still advocates for Thanksgiving out of town, so that no one else can join us at the table. And, sometimes we give in. After all, we’re making new traditions to blend with the old. Summer vacations are at the lake as well as the beach. Christmas trees are both real and fake. We have fewer parties and more immediate family time.
And while, there is a level of discomfort on both sides, sometimes, we have found that successfully blending a family comes with a little bit of emotional growth. For everyone.
Rev. Kelly Crenshaw is the mom of 16 adopted kids, two biological kids, guardian of one baby girl and foster mom of dozens. Some are lesbian, some gay, some straight, and some bisexual. Kelly founded a K-12 day school where kids could have a safe, bully-free environment for learning. She is co-owner of a counseling agency that works with children and their families. Send your parenting questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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