Are We Willing to Make New Traditions?
It’s no secret the holidays are full of traditions. If you ask just about anyone, she’ll most likely have at least one tradition to speak of.
In my family growing up, we took a drive to ooh and ahh at twinkly lights every Christmas Eve while Santa delivered gifts we’d tear open when we got home. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t in fact the real Santa.
On the other hand, my husband’s family spent Christmas Eve with his late Memaw, and Santa (not the real one either) stopped by later while the children were nestled all snug in their beds.
Combine just those two traditions of our youth with us not having kiddos who are relying on Saint Nick to show up big, and nowadays, we’ve got new Christmas Eve traditions just for us.
(And they mostly involve watching Home Alone, Elf, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on a continual loop the whole of Christmas season.)
But for the children we work with at Stand Up Eight who were maltreated before adoption, traditions with their biological families either didn’t happen, weren’t appropriate, or were lost after adoption.
Fortunately, adoptive families tend to be an empathetic people who make new traditions to honor their child’s story.
The reason is because connecting our past - even the painful parts - to our present brings healing.
Dr. Bruce Perry said it best in his foreword to Life Story Therapy with Traumatized Children, by Richard Rose.
Without a life story, a child is adrift, disconnected, and vulnerable.
At the beginning of an evaluation of a ten-year-old boy in foster care at our Child Trauma Academy clinic, I asked him his name:
“Which name do you want to know?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I don’t know my name, I guess. My new mum calls me Thomas. My last mum called me Leon. And when I visit my grandmother she calls me Robbie.”
“What name do you tell your friends to call you?”
“I don’t have any friends at this new house.”
“Do you know what your biological mother named you?”
“I think she named me Baby.”
As I looked through the records I could see that he was born a few weeks early. He had been in the Pediatric ICU and had never been named by his mother. His discharge records stated: “Baby Boy Jones.” Ten placements and four “names” meant he was disconnected and adrift with no personal narrative.
But “fix him” if he acts out. He is inattentive, disrespectful, struggles in school, and won’t do as he’s told. Fix him. Find the right label. Give him the right drug.
Our current approach to these maltreated children has lost sight of the essential element of healing – and that is reconnection.
Connect to the present and increase the number and quality of relational opportunities but, as important, reconstruct your past connections, lay out your disconnects, and clarify your personal journey to the present.
One of the most transformative ways to connect and reconnect is through tradition. It bonds us to our past and to each other even though our journeys are different.
Have you noticed that even when we’d rather not be bonded, traditions still have the power to connect us and become part of the stories we share?
We must connect the past to the present to bring healing. Now that’s a tradition worth making.