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Childhood Trauma and Mother's Day

My husband and I have two beautiful daughters, adopted through foster care.  Before we were certified to foster, we took classes, learning about many of the struggles and difficulties our beautiful girls might have, as a result of their past trauma.  Both girls have Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

We were warned that holidays could be very difficult, especially Mother's Day.  Being new and inexperienced in the journey, I was unaware of what "difficult" actually meant.  Over the years my daughters, especially my first, have not been hesitant at all in giving me a crash course.

I didn't think there would ever be a day when I wished holidays didn't exist, but over the past few years...  The thought has definitely crossed my mind more than once.  Instead of surrendering to the horribleness that Mother's Day can dish out, I decided to fight back.  Here's to surviving childhood trauma and Mother's Day.

Childhood Trauma and Mother's Day-7 Ways to Make the Most of Mother's Day
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7 Ways to Make the Most of Mother's Day


1. Acknowledge the elephant in the room

Talk about birth mom.  If you have pictures, stories, and/or other information, share items with your child.   As long as your child has a sincere desire to learn more about her birth mom and will not be triggered further and escalate to unsafe behaviors, it's extremely important to talk about things.

If your child wants to write a letter or do something special to celebrate or acknowledge her birth mother, make time for this first thing during the day or even before Mother's Day.  This way everyone can move on and have chance at enjoying the rest of the day.  Be sure to save letters or other items your child creates for her birth mother, as these will be an important part of the healing process.

If your child is triggered and/or not functioning, initiate your safety plan.  Safety plans may vary depending on the behaviors you're are seeing.

2. Put the past in the past if the child is able.

(If not, move on to step three.)

There are two kinds of pasts: pre-adoption and post adoption.  Help the child sort through which past is which.  Put away all pictures and items used to acknowledge birth mom.  Introduce the child's post adoption past by reviewing the child's adoption story. If you have not written your child's adoption story, do so.  If your child is old enough to help, allow her to do so.

Create a scrapbook or photo album that includes pictures of you and your child.  Go through it together if your child is willing.  Be sure to create two copies of the scrapbook or photo album, one for your child and one for yourself.   If your child decides to destroy the album you give her, you still have a copy.  Reflecting on happy memories together can be very therapeutic for both of you.

Each year update the albums with pictures before Mother's Day.  This can be so therapeutic for you, as you reflect on positive moments as a mother of a child with trauma and PTSD.

3. Bring the child back to the present if needed.

Use a sensory oriented anxiety kit to refocus senses on the present.  Include items that ignite as many senses as possible in positive ways.  You may need to use these items several times during the day to help your child stay safe.

4. Make plans for the day ahead of time.

Use our special needs event planner to make plans for Mother's Day with your child.  Planning should begin a few weeks before the holiday before external triggers factor in.  Making plans with your child should allow you opportunities to talk about the day and how difficult it is.  You may be able to address issues before they start.

Some children may need a countdown to the big day to help with anxieties and triggers.  If you notice anxieties and behaviors increase as you grow closer to Mother's Day, review the plan.  Make a visual schedule for your child.  Help her know that she will be safe with you.  Your child may also need a social story.

Keep in mind plans should not be elaborate.  Mother's Day is going to come with issues.  The goal of planning ahead of time is to show your child that she can be successful at surviving the day and can have fun at the same time.  Success will look different with every child.  Plans may be as simple as cuddling up in a blanket and watching a movie together at home with a special treat.

5.  Celebrate the child.

Mother's Day is supposed to be about celebrating the mother, but that is incredibly difficult if not impossible for a child with trauma and PTSD.  Change things up, give your child a gift to celebrate her.  After all, you are a mother because of her.  I like to give a gift to each of my children that is a reminder of my happiest memory with them throughout the year.


6.  Create traditions.

Create simple traditions that your child can look forward to from year to year.  In our home the photo albums and gifts are what our children look forward to most.  We also try to make a special dessert that everyone enjoys.

7.  Celebrate yourself before Mother's Day by yourself or with your spouse.

You deserve to be celebrated, however your child is not capable of pulling that off right now.  This doesn't mean you need to punish yourself.  Celebrate Mother's Day by splurging on yourself before the big day (when your child is not triggered).  Your celebration can be as simple or as elaborate as you want it to be.

If your spouse is able to join you, plan to do something together.  At times this may not be possible because of child care etc.  In those cases, acknowledge that your spouse would do more if it were possible, and that there will be other times in life to celebrate together.

Bottom line, you are worth celebrating!  Just because your family may not celebrate the holiday in traditional ways, doesn't mean that you can't spoil yourself.  If funds are tight, get creative and find a way for you to do something for yourself.

Mother's Day may always be a holiday where you find yourself walking on eggshells worrying about what triggers and behaviors the day may bring, but there are ways to make it tolerable.  You can survive it and eventually conquer it!



If you enjoyed this post, you may want to consider purchasing our book:
Book: Holidays and PTSD:  A Parent's Guide to Survival

You may also enjoy the posts below.
PTSD Support and Resources for Families

Reactive Attachment Disorder Support and Resources for Families

7 Ways to make the most of Mother's Day when parenting a child who has trauma and/or PTSD

11 comments:

  1. We held a mother's day brunch at our place this year for myself & my husband's family (my parents were overseas at the time) & it is definitely a tradition I hope to keep going, hopefully my family will be able to come too next year. We have a 2 year old son & another baby due in August so no special blended family stuff here, but can I just say that it is parents like you & your husband that are really helping make the world a better place by raising children in such a loving environment under tough circumstances. Thank you!

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    1. Thank you for commenting. You are very sweet. Good luck with baby #2 on the way!

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  2. I loved reading your stories! Such beautiful memories for little ones!!! Sounds like you had amazing time!! Let the healing begin!

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  3. I am just stopping by from the Welcome Party Wednesday, and I am just so touched by this. It sounds like your biological kids and now your adopted kids are in such a loving environment, I'm sure they will thrive with you! Thanks for sharing this!

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    1. They all "fit" together so well, its as if the girls were never adopted. Thanks for reading.

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  4. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I think it is lovely that you have adapted your expectations / assumptions so that Mother's Day and Father's Day are meaningful and happy for all of your family members.

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  5. I love that you found ways to make holidays special for the whole family.

    Thank you for stopping by the Thoughtful Spot Weekly Blog Hop this week. We hope to see you drop by our neck of the woods next week!

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  6. Thanks for linking up to the Parenting Pin It Party last week x x

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  7. What a beautiful idea! Thank you for sharing on Makeovers & Motherhood's Welcome Party Wednesday Link-Up! I am featuring you this week!

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  8. Came across your post from Makeovers and Motherhood and so glad I did. Very touching post! Your children are so lucky to have you and your husband in their lives.

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