Just a cheesy title for you. After all, I’m a mum, so it’s part of my job description to be embarrassing. Now that my youngest is seven, I really have to up the cringe-factor. So here’s a post about celebrations, and how these happy times can become hard work or downright heart breaking when children have experienced trauma or suffer from attachment issues. So here are five fears that can get in the way of happy family times, and that can be so confusing for us as parents, friends or relatives. After all, aren’t birthday parties supposed to be fun? Aren’t all children elated, counting the days in excitement till their birthdays? What is wrong?
So I have five fears, and the (possible) reasons for them. Next month I will share with you some of the things we have found helpful. Please share with me when you and your family have found a way to support and bless your children during celebrations and festivities!
- 1. For you…
We love buying our children gifts, and birthday nostalgia is often attached to cute lists, with a dog, a unicorn or a bicycle high on our birthday list. What if your entire self-worth is attached to wrapped packages though? What about our children when “stuff is luv”? Birthday lists aren’t cute expressions of wishes, they’re essential to their mental and emotional wellbeing. Packages under Christmas trees aren’t exciting, they’re nerve-wrecking: How much am I loved? Is my brother loved more, because his package is bigger?
The worst part of gifts is that, no matter how wealthy you are, there will be a limit to the presents. It’s the end of love too. Once the last package has been frantically ripped open, you can see the child looking at the unwrapped mountain of things, and realise, “I have come to the end of how much I’m loved.”
We all like gifts and surprises, but if your entire soul is wrapped up in them, it’s not going to bring joy. Even the unwrapping can be incredibly stressful for our children. “What if I don’t like it? What if it wasn’t what I expected?” And the one I find the most painful, “I don’t deserve anything good, so I shouldn’t be sitting here, unwrapping presents.” How do you explain to a ten-year old that it’s a pleasure to buy and give presents? That nothing will make you un-give the gifts? That your love to them is unconditional, and so is the birthday present? It can take a long time before a child accepts presents happily, without feeling the need to sabotage the day, and this grieves me so much. We have a Heavenly father who delights to give us good things, but our children don’t know what it feels like to receive a gift without strings attached, without fear. So how do we communicate Christ’s love to them?
- 2. Facts vs Fiction
My children are so excited about special occasions! (That took a few years, which is a whole different story!) The tension is off the scale, because of expectations. Not so much of the gifts (that’s more a worry, as they’re never quite certain there will be presents), but because of other people. You see, whenever friends come over, they have imagined a Script For The Day. This script is pretty detailed, and involves the friend’s complete cooperation. I will say…then she will… Sadly the friends are never given a copy of this script, and are improvising their lines all the time. So, at any given party or gathering, disappointment and desperation sets in. The volume gets cranked up, cheeks turn red, eyes grow larger, and friends step back…
Expectations can be hard to manage, as it’s a fine line between “nobody likes me” and “it’s my job to make my friends have the best time ever”. It’s hard to imagine when we have grown up with unconditional love ourselves, but to constantly feel we need to earn acceptance, love and attention is exhausting and frightening. It’s nice to be “liked”, but when you feel your life depends on it, having friends round can be terribly stressful, especially when the day doesn’t run along the imagined script. It is a blessing to be there for our children at the end of the day though, and telling them that they are loved, unconditionally, always, regardless of their actions and attitudes. I love little mantras, repetitive phrases that will hopefully sink in eventually, and this is one that the children will repeat back to me, finally, “We love you for who you are, not for what you do or don’t do.”
- 3. Food
Special occasions often come with special food…and their special effects. Over time, the differences between my children has become clearer. One gets rather moody from sugar, and recognises it. One spreads out treats with a ridiculous amount of self-discipline. One is the opposite, and sugary treats disappear at an alarming rate, the effect taking a lot longer to vanish… One is a steady muncher, loving each bite, delight all over his face.
Another issue with food is overeating, then regretting it. That extra plateful, one-more-bite that seemed so tempting now has spoiled the meal, brought feelings of shame (How stupid to eat too much!) and ruined the perfect image of the amazing meal we were going to have. Again, the Expectations didn’t quite get lived up to, and more proof has been collected that we’re worthless, unlovable and ‘silly’. Moderation is really a trust issue, knowing that God will take care of us, supplying all our needs, our Daily Bread being given and all that.
- 4. First…then…
We associate music, smells and touch etc. with events. Sadly, my older two associate birthdays with getting a new family, packed bags with moving. Adults don’t have positive associations either, so we can’t explain fears away (Is that even an option anyway?), so birthdays weren’t thought of as joyous occasions but rather, stress filled events to be avoided at all cost. Over the years this has lessened, and even my daughter now makes birthday lists in advance, plans and dreams about birthdays, cakes and treats. The fear still lingers, but is manageable.
Presents still cause stress, see point 1, but we can see the healing that has taken place. Do our life experiences hinder us from trusting God, following Christ, allowing the Holy Spirit to mold us and shape us? Associations are hard to explain away, but change and growth is possible!
- 5. Forever and Always…
What if you know something is too good to be true? What if you suspect you will lose everything anyway? My children have experienced heart-wrenching losses. Birthparents, foster carers, homes, toys, schools, familiar views… The best way not to feel loss is to not hold on to anything. Or to get rid of it yourself, rather than see it taken away. Breaking a present on purpose might be less painful than somebody else taking it. Telling yourself this holiday is forever might be less painful than the adults telling you you’re not going back to where you thought ‘home’ was. “I just want to be by myself,” is less hurtful than to be told others don’t want to play with you.
It hurts when we lose people, it’s hard to trust God with our tomorrows, and often we take our belongings and family for granted. The Bible tells us to not live in fear, not to worry about tomorrow, to be anxious for nothing. Even as well-attached human beings we often grumble, “Easier said than done,” so how much harder for our precious children who have lost so much already?
When we have young children, we don’t often invest in expensive, antique furniture, as that would be pointless. Still, we long for adopted and fostered children to invest in people around them, even when their experience tells them that to invest in relationships is pointless, as you can lose everything and everybody in a moment.
Special days and celebrations are possible, but might need more planning, different expectations from us, and might not live up to our own mental image. We love birthdays in our house, and St Nicholas lists are compiled as soon as Christmas decorations enter the shelves in shops. Next month I’ll let you know what we do about festivities.
So, fun feasts and festivities. Are they joyous occasions in your house, or simply stress filled times to be endured?