Hold the “happy” — holidays are hard for foster kids!
We found this blog post from a woman who is a former foster child. It may be a tough read, but we think it offers a unique and important point of view.
Christmas is for children and most kids eagerly and excitedly await Christmas and all the “specialness” of the holiday season. After all, it is a time filled with presents, food, fun, magical beliefs, and family. Sounds perfect. But Christmas for children in foster care can bring fears and tears… which may result in acting-out behaviors, ungratefulness, anger, moodiness, and antics. Christmas may be more confusing and painful for foster kids, even when their external world and foster family seems “perfect.”
Let’s look at the confusion of Christmas that may exist for foster children…
1. What about my family?
Foster children are separated from their families and it can be extra hard during the holidays. Even if the bio-parents or bio-siblings are no longer in the child’s life physically, they will always be emotionally. The first time “Santa” visited me in foster care, I remember wondering if “Santa” found my brother and gave him a present too… We both never had “Santa” living with our bio-parents. You would think I would have been ecstatic the first time “Santa” came when I was in foster care…. but I didn’t feel super happy and I didn’t feel” right” because I did not know if “Santa” had visited my brother too… or if he was forgotten again.
Over the years, at different foster homes, I would think about my mother and wonder if she was safe and had something to eat. Even though I had not seen her since I was 7 years old, I would get sad and at times very silent, moody, and wanted to be alone. Looking at a table with lots of food and knowing that your bio-parents might still be living in poverty, hunger, drugs, prostitution, etc… is VERY hard for a child or teen.
2. How does Santa know where I am?… this is not my REAL home.
This may seem stupid, but think about it from the perspective of a child who (1) has moved around foster homes and (2) has a different last name than everyone else in the home. How does “Santa” even know I am there? If the child does not trust you or has not been in your home for awhile, they may not believe that “Santa” will find them.
Solution: Write a letter with your foster child and send it to “Santa.” Go to the post office with the child and let him/her mail it: Santa Claus, The North Pole. If your child is really worried, there are cheap services that will reply with a “letter from Santa.” DO IT to help calm the fears of your child.
3. What if I don’t like this?
When I used to tell my dad or mom I did not like something; they would hurt me. Old milk, stale cereal, clothes that were too small or big or dirty, being raped, being locked in a room or a closet, almost anything… if I said I didn’t like it or it hurt or it didn’t fit or it tasted bad or… I was punished for being “ungrateful.”
Therefore, I learned to STOP saying “I don’t like this” or “This is too small” or “That tastes bad.” You see, I learned to agree… to protect me.
Make sure you tell your foster children that it is OK to not like something. That not everyone likes the same things. That is it OK to return something for another size or color or toy or flavor or…. It is OK if he/she does not like something. And NOTHING BAD WILL HAPPEN if they tell you they don’t like it.
4. Do I get to keep this stuff if I leave?
If you are a foster parent, your answer needs to be YES. If “Santa” comes or you give your foster children presents, those presents should be the children’s to keep. Don’t take them away and don’t tell the children they are needed for “other” children.
I could NEVER understand why I had to leave things that I played with or stuffed animals that I held as I cried through the night, especially if the toys, clothes, items were given directly to me. When kids are moved, these items may become “TRANSITIONAL OBJECTS” to help hold onto some memory that is positive or that is helpful in times of distress.
The more you move, the more you lose stuff or the more it gets stolen. But it is not uncommon to try to hold onto something — and kids sometimes carry parts of toys, pieces of paper, ripped photos, pieces of clothes, etc. Items that represent something positive in their lives. Don’t be a Scrooge: if you give it to the child, it’s the child’s.
5. Why did none of this ever happen in my family or house?
Imagine coming into foster care never having had a holiday or a celebration like your foster family does. Never a Christmas tree. Never a present. Never a fancy table with lots of food. Never Christmas music. Never lights. Never cookies. Never Santa. Never a stocking. Never… a holiday.
I will never forget the first time I saw flashing lights on a Christmas tree. I was mesmerized and would try to touch them as they “flashed.” I wanted to be the only one to plug them in … and I would get upset when someone else plugged the lights in. It was special to me — magical almost — to see them come on. My little self felt such joy at seeing the lights.
At some point, you start wondering why is your family so different… than the foster family you are staying with?
As a little child, I simply believed it was because we were “bad,” but as I got older, I questioned more and more and the answers were hard to consider. Was it because my parents never cared about me? Was it because I was bad and being punished? Was it because … why does my foster family have so many “gifts” and I came from “hell?” Hard to think about during the holidays…
As you head towards Christmas, be prepared to recognize that holidays are hard for foster kids. A mix of joy and pain, happiness and sadness, excitement and anxiety, and lots of confusion. Even after years of being in foster care, I was still filled with mixed feelings and memories.
Be patient and engage your kids; bake cookies, shovel snow, make decorations, etc. Remember that differences in lifestyles between bio-family and foster family can be overwhelming.
Before you yell, scream, holler, threaten, or punish; step back, breathe, and remember that holidays are stressful and hard for “big people,” just imagine being a child/teen growing up in foster care confusion.