Creating New Traditions to Reflect Our Families and Celebrate Their Identities

author: Avril McInally

For most of us, holidays can be a little overwhelming. Do we have all the candles we need for our Menorah or for our kinara? Have we gotten our holiday lights and decorations up? How are we managing our budgets? Is the house tidy and clean enough for our house guests? Do we have enough food? Speaking of food, what about those special recipes we need to prepare? Do we have all of the proper ingredients? And the gifts? Did we purchase enough gifts to make sure no one is left out or one child gets more than another? These are the scenarios for most families at Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or Yule, yet what of our families? Our families manage these aforementioned holiday traditions of hosting, eating and gifting as well as creating space for our adopted children, their race, the family they were born into, their culture, their religion and more! Read our previous post: ‘Tis the Season to Reminiscence

Because our families rest at the hub of multiple aspects of identity, we visit the idea or concept of intersectionality. Some intersectionalities that help to describe our families include race, gender, sexuality, adoption, age and religion. We have several aspects of intersectionality to honor, celebrate, foster and sometimes protect too. There’s a little more “juggling” for us to do to manage these precious aspects of our children’s or family’s identities. One way to celebrate “us” is to create new traditions that reflect our families and celebrate their identities. Read our post about the conversation cards this month December - Reflections: Making and Breaking Traditions 

Traditions are a way for families to connect and memorialize important life events. To adoptive families, creating traditions is more than a way to bond, but it can also be a great way to commemorate each family member’s roots. By incorporating activities that celebrate birth culture, adopted children can develop a strong sense of identity.

This year, I’m going to work on creating a holiday card for our family with my family. I’ll make a list of our intersectionalities with my adult daughters. Black, White, Adopted, Not Adopted, Atheist, Immigrant, American, Cisgender, Female, Male….. You get the picture. Then, we’ll draw a Venn diagram of our family’s identity and decorate it. Heck yeah, “This is Us”! This is who we are with some holly on top! This could be a new holiday tradition for us. If you start this tradition now with young children, you can save your cards every year and watch how your list morphs or matures.

In addition to creating and honoring traditions, it’s important to make time to honor our extended family of adoption as we gather to eat a special meal, to light a candle, to build a fire on one of the longest nights of the year or simply when we tuck our children into bed at night. Remember it’s important to honor and/or acknowledge the family members absent from your home. It’s the “most wonderful time of the year,” yet at the height of festivities and anniversaries, our children may be experiencing loss and sadness. Make space for children who are processing these emotions and thoughts and love on ‘em a little more and give them space to talk about their feelings. Let’s build traditions of inclusion, empathy and love!

This post is from our December, 2022, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.


Book Corner – December 2022

BOARD BOOKS

Happy All-Idays:

By Cindy Jin, illustrated by Rob Sayegh Jr.

“We all celebrate the season in our own special way.
Let’s look at how families prepare for each holiday.”

With a double-page spread for each holiday, this inclusive book shows families enjoying Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and Chrismukkah.  Ending with Season’s Greetings and Happy New Year, Happy All-Idays is a celebration for everyone.

Merrytale:
A Christmas Adventure

By Christopher Franceschelli, illustrated by Allison Black

On Christmas Eve two brown children are invited on an enchanting adventure.  They ride on a dog sled through the forest and across the ice to Santa’s workshop, where they meet a diverse group of elves who are baking, making toys, singing, wrapping, and more.  Children will love lifting the flaps, turning the shaped pages, and finding all the magical details in this fun book.

S is for Santa:
A Christmas Alphabet

By Greg Paprocki

From A is for Angel and B is for Baking, to Y is for Yummy and Z is for Zephyr (a toy train), this book is an alphabet of holiday fun.  The illustrations have an old-timey feel, but are delightfully populated with people of every hue.  A joyful depiction of Caroling, Ice Skating, Mistletoe, Volunteering, and more.

PICTURE BOOKS

The Christmas Book Flood

By Emily Kilgore, illustrated by Kitty Moss

This beautifully illustrated book is based on a real tradition in Iceland.  Each year people give books as gifts on Christmas Eve, and the recipients spend the night reading.  They snuggle under blankets, eat chocolate bars, and drink hot cocoa.  The lovely art in this book depicts all kinds of people searching for just the right books for their loved ones, gifting them, and reading together. The wonderful tradition of Book Flood is starting to spread around the world.  Reading this book together would be a great way to introduce it to your family and friends!

The Christmas Pine

By Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Victoria Sandoy

This lovely book also celebrates a wonderful tradition.  Every year Norway sends a spectacular Christmas tree to England as a symbol of peace and friendship.  Each year a poem is written to welcome the tree to London.  The Christmas Pine is the poem that was written for the 202o tree.  The touching text and illustrations show the tree’s journey from the forest to the ocean to Trafalgar Square.  There are happy diverse groups of people on both ends of the journey. A sweet book for family sharing around the Christmas tree.

The Hanukkah Hunt (Ruby Celebrates!)

By Laura Gehl, illustrated by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov

Avital is sad because her mom will be far away during Hanukkah.  Cousin Ruby plans a treasure hunt to cheer Avital up.  Each night of Hanukkah there is a rhyming clue, which leads to a fun surprise.  The final clue leads to the best surprise of all – Mom is back in time to celebrate the last day of the holiday.  This story of a loving multi-racial family is followed by an explanation of Hanukkah and directions for playing Dreidel. 

NONFICTION

My Family Celebrates Kwanzaa

By Lisa Bullard, illustrated by Constanza Basaluzzo

Kevin and his mom get the table ready for Kwanzaa, and then the celebration begins.  They light a candle each night, talk about the Seven Principles, and have a party.  Readers will learn about Kwanzaa as they enjoy the holiday with Kevin and his family.

Kwanzaa, How to Celebrate it in Your Home

by Kathleen Minnick-Taylor, illustrated by Charles Taylor II

Kwanzaa is an African American cultural holiday that began in 1966.  This book is an accessible and handy guide to celebrating the seven principles of the holiday.  For those of us who attended camp in 2022, this is the guide we used to celebrate Kwanzaa at our dinner times.

Book Recommendations for Families Created in Transracial Adoption

Our Transracial Journeys families regularly seek out books to share with their children and to read for themselves, as white parents of black children. We are fortunate to have a resource in the Transracial Journey's Board of Direcors Secretary, Avril McInally. With a Master of Library Science from Kent State University and over 35 years as a public librarian, Avril and her colleague, Vicki Richards, collaborate to curate phenomenal book recommendations for our children and parents.   The Book Corner is a regular feature in our Transracial Journeys monthly newsletters. If you would like to receive monthly book recommendations via email, please subscribe.


December – Reflections: Making and Breaking Traditions 

The December holidays give us an opportunity to think about traditions tied to different cultures and religions. Regardless of what you and your family honor and celebrate, we can be inspired to take a closer look at what traditions mean to us and how we can expand our thinking and actions.

December Pro-Tip to Foster Conversations About Transracial Adoptions

At Transracial Journeys we send out cues for conversations each month. Our Transracial Journeys card deck contains 3 cards for each month that the children use to ask their parents questions. Below are the questions for December. Before getting started, read the parent pro-tip each month.

December Pro-Tip for Parents: Resist the urge to hold tight onto traditions that may be holding you back from fully embracing new ideas that may better honor your child’s culture. Also think about simplifying or modifying some of the traditions you now honor to make room for new ones.

CARD ONE: IDENTITY
• As a kid, did you celebrate any December holidays?
• If so, which ones?

CARD TWO: RELATIONSHIPS
• Were there things that you would do year after year as a family during the month of December or maybe other months of the year?

CARD THREE: EMBRACING AND FACING DIFFERENCES OF RACE AND CULTURE
• What are some new traditions or holidays you’d like to learn more about and/or try?

This post is from our December, 2022, e-newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.


‘Tis the Season to Reminiscence

What does it mean to reminisce?  I have difficulty spelling the word, never mind fully understanding it.  After a quick search, I found a few accessible definitions. These included a story told about a past event remembered by the narrator, and the enjoyable recollection of past events.

However, for our families in particular, reminiscing isn’t always a rosy experience. Sometimes, it can be a thorny one. Digging deeper for more meaning, I found the term differently-defined  in a Merriam Webster dictionary.  Hold on to your hats!

  • Apprehension of a Platonic idea as if it had been known in a previous existence
  • Recall to mind of a long-forgotten experience or fact
  • A remembered experience
  • Something so like another as to be regarded as unconscious repetition, imitation or survival

Often, we search for warmth and meaningfulness in our memories and reminiscences, especially during the holiday season,  but they’re often laden with events that can activate thoughts of loss. “Reminiscing together, and sharing feelings and memories about the people who are not present brings everyone closer,” writes Madeleine Krebs, LCSW-C, but that isn’t always necessarily the case. She states that it is important that parents “understand the complex feelings around the many losses that adopted children have experienced.”  Krebs goes on to write, “I remember the teen who had never had a Christmas tree and did not know what to do when invited to help trim it… and another child whose birth family was often homeless and had no money to buy food or gifts, who felt guilty and overwhelmed by what she received from her new family.”

Celebration Can Magnify Grief

Recalling past events can bring forth happy memories as well as difficult ones.  “Know that the joy of celebration can actually magnify our grief,” writes adoption professional Elise Lowe. Lowe describes how to recognize behaviors in our children that may stem from this emotion. Those include: angry outbursts, being withdrawn, anxiety, irritability or having trouble sleeping. These things can happen when difficult memories are being revisited, or when we are reminiscing, but we can help our children cope.  Lowe says we can respond to these behaviors with sensitivity, support and compassion, and  notes that being empathetic builds attachment.

Consider Ways to Offer Support

What else can we do? In the rush of holidays December brings, it’s important to slow down and pay attention to our kids, share our feelings and honor theirs. For children that may have memories of holidays past, ask them about their traditions, says Krebs. We can also consider the following.

  1. Don’t erase those who look different from the rest of the family. Adult transracial adoptee Rebekah Hutson, asks that we make our transracial families multicultural and points out that this is especially important during holidays and anniversaries.  “Just imagine looking around your family… Family, the people who are supposed to ride for you, and seeing all the love, laughter, and support for certain people, and then complete erasure of others who look different.” “Don’t just include us in your family, treat us like family; become part of our family.”  Trauma can be lessened when you keep your child connected to their culture.
  2. Be aware of and prepared for sensory overload. There are loads of stimuli during the holidays and they can be overwhelming. Simply switching on the tv and seeing all the movies and commercials related to happy families and unrealistic expectations can overload our circuits.  For kids with trauma in their background, consider maintaining an environment that’s predictable and consistent in order to soothe their nervous systems.
  3. If your child remembers their biological family, ask them how holidays were celebrated. Work together to incorporate some of those traditions into the season. If you have an open relationship with your child’s family of origin, consider nurturing this relationship even more at this time of year. Krebs outlines that our children can write letters or emails, draw pictures and send cards or make phone calls.  You could plan a holiday celebration to hold on a visit with biological family members too.
  4. Social worker, Krebs describes some accessible activities in her article “The Holidays - an opportunity for loving healing”.  They include adding some old, favorite holiday foods to the menu, or “lighting candles in memory of ALL loved ones not present.” She mentions one family she worked with that “made a paper chain containing all the names of both birth and adoptive family members and hung it in the doorway for all visitors to see.”
  5. Seek out holiday songs from your child’s culture. Listen to them and try singing them too.
  6. Be on alert for any actions or behaviors from friends or extended family that may harm or isolate your adopted child. If this does happen, talk to your child about the problem as well as talk to the  people who have   harmed your child. Always stand up for the rights of your child, be clear with others and be your child’s protector and advocate.
  7. Be culturally expansive about holiday traditions. Have everyone  share something they like about the holiday as well as talk about their favorite traditions.  Decide to incorporate some of these old favorite traditions from all members of the family, and turn this into your own, new tradition.

This post is from our December, 2021, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.


Nourishment: Food and Family at the Table

The following post is from our November, 2021, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.

November brings us one of the more complicated historical holidays (Thanksgiving) and for many in the United States, one of the more family and food-centric holidays. Whether you are a family that marks Thanksgiving or chooses not to in a traditional way, this month we are thinking about the family table and what might be true when there are differences of race and culture with transracial adoption. November also brings National Adoption Awareness Month, (NAAM) which can be challenging for some adopted persons. (read "Adoption: A Three-Sided Coin")  This month prompts on your activity deck include questions for both areas of discussion.

November Pro-Tip to Foster Conversations About Transracial Adoptions

At Transracial Journeys we send out cues for conversations each month. Our Transracial Journeys card deck contains 3 cards for each month that the children use to ask their parents questions. Below are the questions for November. Before getting started, read the parent pro-tip each month.

November Pro-Tip for Parents: Talking about family and complicated history can activate deep-seated emotions and feelings. Make sure you have the support you need to process your feelings before and after the conversations you may have with your children.

November Transracial Adoption Conversations

CARD ONE: IDENTITY
The Family Table: Describe your family table when you were growing up.  What was the food like?  Who was around the table? What were the best parts of family dinner-time? What were some of the harder parts?
NAAM: When did you first learn of NAAM?

CARD TWO: RELATIONSHIPS
The Family Table: Who were the people sitting around your family table?
NAAM: What does NAAM mean to you?

CARD THREE: EMBRACING AND FACING DIFFERENCES OF RACE AND CULTURE
The Family Table: Were there ever people of different races around your family table?
NAAM: How can we find our own unique ways to honor and mark NAAM?


Adoption: A Three-Sided Coin

The following post is from our November, 2021, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.

It’s November. I’m processing the lengthening darkness of our days and basking more in the sun as it makes its daily, silvery appearances briefer and briefer. This processing is followed by the slight confusion brought upon by daylight savings. Does that extra hour really work for me and my schedule when I set my clock back on Sunday? Ahh, I get an extra hour of sleep in the morning - glorious! Crap, less daylight hours to move around my urban village freely as I don’t walk outside alone at night. Do I really need to change the clock on the stove and in my car, or can I just live with that one hour time difference until spring? The old phrase “there are two sides to every coin” comes to mind.

November is National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM)

The heads and tails of our anniversaries, conversations, or experiences aren’t always easy to process. If we could have a special coin for the experience of adoption, it would have three sides, a side for each member of the extended family of adoption. Historically, the media we have consumed around adoption has been one-sided and voiced from the perspective of and generally, in high appreciation of the adoptive parent. I’m thinking about this perspective now especially, as this is National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM), and the narrative is out in full force.

Implications of "Rescue Language" for Adopted Persons

Much of the messaging surrounding adoption is and has been focused on the goodness of the adoptive parent(s) because we’ve supposedly done a heroic thing in adopting a child. Some of the commentary goes so far to speak about how we’ve rescued our children. Who and what were our adopted children rescued from, who are the good and bad members of the extended family of adoption, and what does the use of this language imply? How might this message rest with parents of origin and with adopted persons? What if the others had a louder, more empowered voice not just during this month, but throughout the year? What words could we use to describe the lived experience of adoption in lieu of the “rescue language”?

Making Room for Perspectives of Transracial Adoptees

The language and narrative of adoption has, in general, been uncomfortable and/ or harmful to our children and to their families of origin. Nicole Chung a transracially adopted person and author of the book “All You Can Ever Know” writes, “We must listen to transracial adoptees and make room for their perspectives, including the ones that make us uncomfortable - because when it comes to the wellbeing of adopted people and their families, the truth will serve far better than even the most comforting of lies.”

It’s time to flip the script from an adoptive parent focus and focus the conversation on the narrative of the adoptee. Someday soon, we can flip the script even further to focus on families of origin. Please watch this Flip the Script video made for NAAM and listen to the voices of several adult adoptees. Consider including some of their valuable suggestions into your own family’s script and go ahead… flip it!

Experiencing Thanksgiving When Multiple Worlds Combine

It’s November and Thanksgiving is nearly here. Former foster youth and founder of Think of Us (a research and development lab for child welfare), Sixto Cancel, brings forward his experience of Thanksgiving and how multiple worlds come together in an interview with April. For him, bringing these multiple worlds together can be emotional. Sixto asks for us to be ok with the ups and downs that happen when families are recombined, and April wonders what Thanksgiving is like for members of her family of origin.

Before stepping into the holiday season, let’s ask ourselves to be ok with the ups, the downs and the beautiful collisions of our own multiple worlds. There’s a lot on the table for us to internalize and digest literally and otherwise. Let’s, belly up to the smorgasbord, undo that pesky top button on our jeans, take a deep breath, and recognize the beauty of our multiple worlds. One last thing, before you make the potato salad take a peek at Chadwick Boseman’s what not to do recipe on an old SNL Black Jeopardy sketch.