For many of us Christmas is a time of joy, a time for family, a time for giving and a time of unity. For others of us it is a time of stress, a time of emotional dysregulation and a time of disruption.
As adopters we become parents of children who often come from an environment which contains no structure, no boundaries and no routine. We work incredibly hard throughout the year to create those within our families to help make our children feel safe and secure. This is always met with varying results, but we try.
Then Christmas happens, and everything goes out of the window.
Routines are disrupted, boundaries are breached and whatever structure we have attempted to create dissolves.
The routines and structure we have created for our own children I believe are the main reason they have become so settled within our family so quickly. The fact they are quite young is also a contributing factor. So, when those routines and that structure is removed from our day to day life we can only expect some negative responses from our children.
We did our best to limit the disruption until the last minute. The children had their usual bedtime on Christmas Eve, the routine had a minor alteration to incorporate leaving out a carrot for the reindeer and a treat for Father Christmas, along with a magic key to allow Santa to come in and leave his presents for the children – we have a chimney but not a proper fire place. Their bedtime story was ‘The Night Before Christmas’ and they had their Christmas pyjamas on. Everything else was the same as we always do it – dinner, bath, stories, bed.
And they slept, as normal, and woke up as normal (quite how they managed to sleep through Daddy banging and crashing in the spare room finding all the wrapped presents is beyond me!).
Then Christmas Day happened.
The first thing I heard from our youngest was ‘Dad, I need a cuddle, I have a tummy ache’ – which was more like ‘DaaaAAAaad, me need cuddle, have mummy ache’.
Great. He’d had norovirus the week before (as had I) and had only just recovered (as had I).
So, I opened his door, he spotted the full sack of presents from F.C. hanging from his door handle, and the tummy ache mysteriously vanished. As it turns out, since he had his sickness bug, he’s learnt that saying his tummy hurts is a great way of getting lots of cuddles and sympathy.
Then we went and woke eldest up at about 7.15am. I’m not sure he was asleep still but he had stayed in bed even though his lamp had been switched on at 6.30am when we got up to do some food preparation before the children took all our attention over.
Like last year we let the boys open up their presents from Father Christmas on our bed. Just a few small bits and pieces, stocking fillers. This went the same as last year but with less encouragement to open the presents required than previously.
Then we went back to routine. Breakfast, wash, dress, downstairs.
And that’s where we had to stop the routine, as there was a little matter of Christmas presents to address.
We weren’t really sure what to expect, last year neither boy was familiar enough with the concept of presents to get too excited. This year I heard the screams of delight from the kitchen and walked into the living room to be met with two toddlers jumping up and down incredibly excited to realise that they both had a pile of presents all to themselves.
Last year our eldest opened just one present before deciding he didn’t want any more, happy to play with that one. This year was different. Both boys took great delight in opening their presents, asking to play with them, and then… arguing with each other about wanting to play with the other child’s toys. As much as the arguments were exceptionally annoying, it was far more in keeping with the behaviour I would expect from siblings about their age. We enforced our ‘Sharing Rules’ and stopped the arguing as best we could. After opening about half their presents they were happy to play with their new toys while we waited for their grandparents to arrive at which point they would be allowed to open the rest.
Unlike last year we managed to make a note of the presents each boy received and from whom. Last year, our eldest pulled off every single name tag from the presents so we had no idea who got what. I don’t know why he did that, it was a fascination he had, whenever something had a label it got pulled off.
And then the routine disruption kicked in.
Lunch is usually at about 12.30pm. Eldest tended to get very upset if a meal didn’t appear within a few minutes of a set time, although he wasn’t the problem this year. His anxiety about getting food has all but disappeared now thankfully. What we hadn’t banked on was youngest. He gets HANGRY. On top of usual toddler tantrums we had a child who was an hour overdue his lunch and couldn’t really say why he was being so sensitive to everything.
Eventually I realised it was because he was hungry. Christmas dinner was scheduled for 2pm, and our final guest of the 11 of us attending arrived about 1.15pm. I served up the first course about 30 minutes early, and our youngest settled again and his behaviour became more stable again.
Of course that disrupted our timing on serving up the main course, but thankfully our guests understood (I’m sure they preferred not having a toddler who was shouting, angry and aggressive because he was hungry), and dinner was eventually served.
In all this neither my partner nor I had opened a single present, and didn’t do so until about 4pm after dinner.
Nap time for the children didn’t happen, we risked having grumpy and tired children. But they were good. The distraction of having lots of people to give them attention and lots of new toys to play with meant there wasn’t anything left to upset them. Other than me. Eldest went back to his old ways of not paying attention to what he was doing and nearly broke one of his brother’s new toys. I was too stern with him, as my patience was gone for the day. On top of having just recovered from norovirus, I also had a cold and absolutely no energy due to having eaten only 2 meals in the previous 5 days. So, my partner and I then had to console him before he would continue playing again. My fault entirely, and I apologised to him.
Since Christmas I think we have seen a little regression in some behaviours from our eldest. He has been caught wandering the corridor upstairs when he was meant to be in bed (something he did at his foster carers, but has never done with us before). He also managed to get himself in trouble by coming into the living room at his Great Auntie’s house with a cup full of fizzy drink which he had managed to climb up onto the kitchen worktop and help himself to. This is also something he used to do, but when he was with birth family (as he had no choice, it was do that or have nothing to drink).
That time I didn’t really moan at him other to tell him he wasn’t allowed fizzy drinks as he is too young. He got very upset and had a big cuddle. I don’t know if he has memory of that time, but it upset me a little bit thinking about what might have been going through his mind at the time.
Other than that our Christmas went well, better than and far more inline with what we had expected last year. We are now, more or less, back to our usual routines, and everyone seems to be nearly settled back into them again. Youngest is still struggling with bedtimes and is resisting them a lot more than he was, but he was doing that before Christmas.
What we know is that our routines, our structure, and our boundaries work. They make our children feel safe and secure and allow then to develop well. They make things difficult in non-child related aspects of our lives sometimes, but the payoff is worth it. Routines and boundaries are not fun, but we aren’t there to make things fun for our children, we’re there to be their parents and parenting is not all fun and games.