I got a thoughtful question about why the holidays trigger Little Man, so I am going to give an answer my best guess. He cannot tell us, so it is a lot of reding his behavior and putting it together with what other adoptees and his file tells us.
First, I think he misses his birth parents. Even though he experienced a lot of trauma and neglect through their hands, they are his parents. I don’t know how to explain it better, but if you have ever been utterly disappointed by someone but still ached with love for them, you know. If you survived childhood trauma and abuse, you know even more. They are his first parents, his birth parents, and that means something. It always will.
Simultaneously, he is terrified of going back to them. He misses them but has no good memories, at least none that he can touch consciously and share. He had no attachment style with them, which is very, very rare, but speaks to how hard his early life was. He doesn’t want to go back to that. And, for many years, he has. For every holiday, he has had unsupervised visits with his birth parents. He associates holidays with going back to them — and with being rejected, as his foster family of two years always sent him away for holidays. All of this is terrifying.
Related to that, we believe that he has likely had negative experiences on the holidays with his birth parents. I’m not sure if he was hurt, left alone, or what, but it seems very clear from his body movements and expressions that something happened.
And what a mix of emotions for a little body — wanting your birth parents, loving them, and yet wanting to not be near them because they terrify you and hurt you. How do you hold those two very conflicting emotions in such a little body?
Finally, the holidays include new people, new activities, new surroundings, new decorations… Novelty is scary for Little Man. He doesn’t know what it brings, except that it has usually been bad. He becomes extremely hypervigilant, always on the lookout for the first sign of danger. Of course, to many, hyper vigilance and survival behaviors look like a kid “being bad” and their judgment proves him correct — he is bad, he is unworthy, and bad things will happen. A never-ending cycle.
I try not to go into his background too frequently but I thought this an important question to answer. Our society often has this dream-myth it holds up about how adopted children reach loving homes and that is that. Some children are still not even told they are adopted until much later in life. But all of his journey is part of his story, and that includes the grief, the pain, and mixed emotions around his birth family. It includes that he loved them, and that they loved him, despite the inability to provide a safe and responsive environment for him to grow in. No child is born hoping to be neglected and torn from their birth family. No mother gives birth dreaming that her addiction and poverty will overcome her ability to see clearly around right/wrong with children. Dreams died for everyone the day he was removed, and the holiday season, full of family, is a reminder. I am not happy that my favorite season and our first full December together will be filled with so much anxiety, but I understand why. I know, for me, that understanding has been crucial to being able to respond to his needs so I share in hopes that our story helps another child somewhere.