Must Adopted and Foster Kids Fake A Smile for Gotcha Day?

This is an image of a woman putting a smiley face sign over her mouth. Adoptees can break away and be free from faking smiles and happiness.

You’ve got to be kidding?

Our culture has added one more day on the calendar that adoptees and foster kids have to e-n-d-u-r-e?

It’s called Gotcha Day…and by the way, I hate it. I hate the word itself and the implication it makes…a holiday? A football to be caught mid-air? What in heck does it mean, anyway?

Where does the term come from? And, who thought it up? What’s the purpose of it?

I guess it refers to the day we were handed over to our adoptive or foster parents, when the gavel slammed, or the papers were signed was a happy day for parents. Likely, the happiest day of their lives.

And so, parents often celebrate with balloons, confetti, cake and a party.

But, for adoptees and foster kids, it’s the saddest day of our lives. We have lost all that is familiar and warm. We have been placed into a strange place with strange people who want to nurture and love us. (Is it any wonder that we get triggered when going into strange, new places? Like university, a party, geographical move, etc)

Most adoptive and foster parents now understand that birthdays are extremely difficult for many of us.  We are reminded of the family we lost, the trauma of being removed, and the difficult adjustments.

Let me gently ask, how different is “Gotcha Day?”  We absolutely hate our birthdays and now, in this day and age, Gotcha Day has been added to the list of things we must conform to. It’s just one more thing that we adopted and foster kids have to paste a fake smile on pretend to act happy when everything in us is sad.

Please, don’t do it to us parents!

I know you love us, but celebrating while we’re sad doesn’t work to draw us closer. It does the opposite.

Don’t do it to your kids.

Don’t fail to see our sad hearts.

And, also, don’t do it to yourselves.

What Adoptive and Foster Parents Can Do

Parents, realize that the thing that makes us the most uncomfortable is being in the spotlight, the limelight. When we are in the limelight, we feel our hearts are exposed and if you know how much our heart is hurting, you may reject us.

And, so, you might try:

  1. Recognize the Significance of the Day. Perhaps, “This is the day years ago that we brought you home.”
  2. Validate the Emotional Reality. From the beginning of the day, say something like, “I know this can be a day filled with mixed emotions for you…both happy and sad…and I want you to know I am here for you.”
  3. Forget the Cake and Balloons. Forget the happy, happy, Forget the huggy, huggy. The gushy emotionalism. We don’t want it.
  4. Do Something Fun as a Family. In this way, the adoptee or the adoption is not the center of attention. (Get 5 different candy bars and gallon of ice cream. Gather family together around table after dinner. Talk seriously about how this day was filled with brokennes and hurt for the adoptee or foster child. Pull out a hammer and break the candy to smithereens. Then, say, “But when we stir the broken pieces into the ice-cream, it is something we love.”)

 

One comment

  • As an adoptee-turned-adoptive momma, I don’t entirely agree. I did hate my birthday…and still struggle {although I met my birth mother this year and it has oddly helped with that}. However, on my Gotcha Day, I felt special. I don’t think we called it that in the 80s, but my parents would remind me of my “2nd birthday” and tell me about the day we met. They would leave no detail out. It was sweet…maybe I would even say bittersweet for me, but a sweet time nonetheless. The bitterness was always from the unanswered questions that I’m sure you’re familiar with.

    For my adopted kids, my husband and I let them lead. For now, (at 11 and 6), they LOVE their Gotcha Day. We remind them of all the details. They pick the meal and the evening’s events. And since we waited a long time for adoptions (2.25 and almost 4 years, respectively), we also have a similar day, Adoption Day that looks a lot like Gotcha Day. My kiddos tend to thrive on traditions and enjoy the extra love.

    I have spent a considerable amount of time researching and understanding trauma and the brain, so I will for sure continue to let them lead on this. They love extra celebration days (not to mention they’re also “chore free” days) for now. We’ll see as we go. I am more than willing to work with them as they process and as our family wraps around adoption and trauma.

    I can see how it can and would be a terrible experience. I just feel like parents need to read the “trauma thermometer” of their children and only do what works for their family. My husband and I do parenting so much differently than mine did, mostly based on being trauma-informed. We just know so much more now.

    Blessing, dear one. What you do matters.

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