The Holiday Season is officially here! We’re all in that same state of frenzy and joy, as we wrap up our gifts and our work, and look forward to several days spent with family and friends (either in-person or virtually). While the holidays are something that most of us look forward to, it’s important to remember that they’re always easy for everyone, especially children in foster care.
Put yourself in the shoes of a child living with a foster family. They may wake up on Christmas morning and find themselves surrounded by people who might still feel like strangers to them. They may hear everyone talking about how joyful it is to spend time with family during the holidays, only to realize that they won’t be spending it with their family.
Maybe the child feels rather comfortable with their foster family. That’s great. But they may also be feeling some guilt around this time of year. It’s not uncommon for children who are thriving in their foster situation to struggle with balancing their loyalty to their birth family and the joy they’re experiencing with their foster family. This struggle may cause the child to experience both grief and anxiety, and to feel like they are betraying their birth parents or another member of their biological family.
As Florida adoption and foster care professionals, we always recommend that if you have a foster child in your home it would be best to confront these issues as soon as possible. You’ll want to sit down and talk with the child about what they’re experiencing and what the holidays will look like in your home, just so there are no surprises.
Tips for Talking With Your Foster Child About The Holidays:
Explain how you celebrate the holidays. It may be vastly different than what they’ve experienced in the past.
Ask your foster child about their past experiences with the holiday and try to include some of their family traditions in your celebration.
Remember, it is possible that your foster child has never fully celebrated this holiday before. Take some time to explain what’s going on and how they can be a part of the celebration.
Make sure you talk with your foster child about who is visiting for the holidays and prepare them as much as possible. It’s intimidating enough being in a foster home, imagine how strange it is to meet dozens of strangers all at once.
If your foster child is showing signs of anxiety, guilt, or depression; just try to connect with them and talk. Recognize the situation that they’re in, listen to them as best you can, and give them the space they need, when they need it.
So, as you prepare for the holidays, talk with your foster child about what they’re feeling and experiencing during this time of the year. Also, talk with your friends and family and remind them that you have a foster child in the house. It might cause them to bring that extra present or to jot down the child’s name. Little things like that will help your foster child feel completely included in your holiday celebrations.
My favorite time of the year is upon us. Christmas, and the holiday season. Our family just put up our Christmas tree; our biggest yet. A 13 foot tree, filled with lights and home made ornaments. Like every year, the children in our home put up most of the ornaments and lights, while my wife and I helped the little ones. It was a magical day to start off a joyous time of year. There was much laughter, music, and excitement. Yet, for two little girls in our home, it was a time of confusion, and even some anxiety. You see, for these two little girls, placed in our homes from foster care five months earlier, it was there first experience with Christmas, and they were full of questions.
So many dates on the calendar, so many reasons to celebrate, so many different ways. Christmas, Hanukah, New Years, Kwanzaa; these are times that can be extremely difficult for many foster children. During this time of Holiday Cheer, many foster children are faced with the realization that they will not be “home for the holidays,” with their biological family members. When they wake up Christmas morning, and are surrounded by people who just may be strangers to them, strangers who are laughing and having fun, it can be a very difficult time for them, indeed. To be sure, it is a day that is a stark reminder to these children that they are not with their own family. It is during the holidays when families are supposed to be together, yet these children in care are not. They are not with their families, and they may not know when they will see them next. Indeed, this can be a very emotionally stressful time for all involved.
Foster parents can best help their foster child by spending some time and talking about the holiday. Perhaps the holiday being celebrated in their new home is one that their birth family never celebrated, or is a holiday that is unfamiliar with them. Let the foster child know how your family celebrates the holiday, what traditions your family celebrate, and include the child in it. Ask your foster child about some of the traditions that his family had, and try to include some of them into your own home during the holiday. This will help him not only feel more comfortable in your own home during this time, but also remind him that he is important, and that his birth family is important, as well. Even if his traditions are ones that you do not celebrate in your own home, try to include some of his into your own holiday celebration, in some way and some fashion.
More than likely, your foster child will have feelings of sadness and grief, as he is separated from his own family during this time of family celebration. After all, he is separated from his family during a time that is supposed to be centered around family. However much you provide for him, however much love you give to him, you are still not his family. Like so many children in foster care, they want to go home, to live with their family members, despite the abuse and trauma they may have suffered from them, and despite all that you can and do offer and provide for him. Therefore, this time of holiday joy is especially difficult.
There are a number of other ways foster parents can help the children place in their home during this time of year, as well as reach out and help the birth families of these children. This IS the season of giving, and we are all called to give unto others. With a little preparation beforehand from you, this season of joy can be a wonderful time for your foster child, one that may last in his memory for a life time, as well as in your memory, too. After all, the gift of love is one that can be shared, not only during the holidays, but all year long, with the child, with the family, and with all we meet. May you experience this joy and may you share it with others.
Imagine, if you will, being taken away from your mother and your father, without any warning at all. Imagine being taken away from your siblings, your pets, your stuffed animals and toys. Imagine being taken away from your bedroom, house, yard, and neighborhood. Imagine, too, being taken from all of your relatives, friends, classmates, and everything you knew. In addition, after all of this, imagine if you were suddenly thrust into a strange house, with strangers, and informed that this was your new home and new family for the time being. How might you feel? For thousands upon thousands of children each year, this is not imagination, this is reality; and the reality is one that is full of questions, full of fears, and full of trauma.