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The Birth of Tradition

Family rituals take on new meaning when we adopt a baby.

by JoAnne Solchany, R.N., Ph.D.

The holidays are a time of tradition and ritual. They remind us to connect, celebrate, and remember, and offer opportunities to strengthen family bonds. The special holiday routines we create--indeed, the traditions and rituals forged for any time of the year--reflect a family's love, comfort, and attachment. Children thrive on family rituals, consistent routines that include added meaning and emotion.

We may think that babies won't remember being a part of a ritual, but the truth is the opposite. From day one, babies learn&--and make memories. They live, interact, and create memories through all of their senses. These early memories are visceral, through the body, and affective, through emotion.

Our babies come to us with a set of memories, formed during their adoption journeys. We must create lasting family memories for them, involve them in traditions and rituals. These rites honor who we are, and celebrate seasons, faith, culture, holidays--and family.

Involved from the Get-Go

Infants are often at the center of rituals, such as christenings and naming ceremonies. Our babies also need rituals that celebrate the wonderful way our families are formed, such as coming-home ("gotcha day") celebrations, the creation of adoption life books, and traditional tellings of "the day we met you."

Families are thrilled and eager to include babies into holiday rituals. Some of these reflect longstanding family tradition, often honoring cultural or religious backgrounds and beliefs. These rituals can be modified and enhanced to include your adopted baby in special ways. If, for example, your child's birth culture is different from yours, December holidays may include new dimensions. Or you may choose to add a ritual in recognition of your baby's birthparents.

Let your infant or toddler play a role in family rituals early on. Bring him into the holiday-meal preparations, placing him in a safe place near you as you work. Let him see and hear the interactions, feel the warmth of foods cooking, smell the aromas, and taste what's being prepared. Let him touch and see the adoption-journey photo album you're making. Tell him his story over and over.

Rituals reflect who you are as a family. By involving your baby in existing and new traditions, you show him who he is, that he belongs to a family and a society, and that he is and will forever be cherished.

Dr. JoAnne Solchany is an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Washington in Seattle.

PHOTO: Ava (9 months, U.S.) helps her daddy put the lights on their tree.

Share ideas on creating new traditions with your baby in the Welcome Home group on AdoptiveFamiliesCircle

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