With Thanksgiving just around the corner, many of us will be reconnecting with family members and many of us will listen as grandma and grandpa talk about “the good old days”. All the stories that get passed around this time of year give us a great opportunity to learn about our heritage. This is why November is National Family Stories Month.
We all know that adoptive families have some wonderful stories to tell, but National Family Stories Month is not just about collecting family stories. It’s also about keeping family traditions alive. Traditions make us feel connected to something bigger than ourselves. They help us achieve a sense of self-definition, establish our sense of belonging, and give us a healthy perspective of our place in the world. With all of this in mind, we would like to offer you a few tips on how to explore and record your family’s unique story together.
Create a Lifebook
Many adoptive parents have found that creating Lifebooks for their children helps validate adopted children and their stories. Every child likes to hear stories about the silly things they did as a baby. Little stories like, “When you started crawling, you wouldn’t crawl forward. You’d scoot backward till you bumped your booty on the wall.” Unfortunately, many adopted children, especially older children, don’t get to hear these kinds of stories because they weren’t adopted until they were toddlers or older. These books are not only a great way to tell your child her adoption story, they also make great keepsakes your child can keep her entire life. For more information about Lifebooks, check out Creating a Family website. Also check out Pinterest for some inspiration and awesome ideas!
Talk About Your Traditions
Explain the traditions your family keeps today. Why is it important? Do you say a prayer of thanksgiving before the big meal? Do you put up a Christmas tree every year? Maybe even try reviving a tradition your family kept when you were growing up. Did you go and pick out a live Christmas tree, but now you have an artificial tree? Consider taking your family out to a tree farm this year. Consider writing down your traditions. The written word tends be more permanent than the spoken. Write your traditions down in a journal or consider making a scrapbook. Your children will be able to save these things and show them to their children one day.
It’s also a good idea to remember that some traditions may make older adopted children feel left out. They may be sensitive to the fact that they were not part of your family’s past and that can be very painful. Remind them that the purpose of traditions is to strengthen the bonds between family members, regardless of how they became family members, but this only works when everyone feels happy, comfortable, and safe. Be sensitive to your child’s feelings. Ask your family how they feel about following these traditions, and discuss ideas for improving traditions.
Start a Family Cookbook
Cooking and eating family meals together are some of the best ways to bond as a family. Our need for security, nourishment, and relationships are all tied together in food, and many families have special recipes that they only use for certain occasions. Why not collect all those beloved recipes like Grandma’s Buttermilk Biscuits, Aunt Shirley’s Apple Pie, or Uncle Johnny’s Turkey Dressing? Put these recipes in a cookbook right next to your own recipes and your child’s favorite dishes. Having these recipes handed down may help your child feel more a part of the family.
Your Child’s Story
The last thing to remember is that your child’s story belongs to him and he should have control over it. As parents we love telling how our children came to us, but the difficult parts of the story are private. It’s not our job to tell that part of our children’s stories, and it’s not our job to fill in the gaps for those that are curious. Your child has a right to reveal that part of his story to the people he wants to reveal it to when he feels comfortable enough to reveal it.
Let your child tell his story in his own way. Maybe let him draw pictures, act out a play for your family, or create a collage with pictures. These traditions and family stories should not be something painful for the child, but should be something that helps him bond his past stories with his present story in his adoptive family.
Looking for another resource for National Family Stories Month? Check out this article written by an adoptive mom on creatingafamily.org.