I have a question for you. Do you remember waking up as a child on Christmas morning? If you were like me, you couldn’t wait to get your parents up, and dash into the room where your Christmas tree was. Wrapping paper flying, screams of joy and surprise, great food, family surrounding you; it was truly a magical day. I imagine you have fond memories of it. I also imagine that you probably carry on some of the traditions you grew up with, and share them with your own children, or even your grandchildren. For most of us, Christmas is a time of family, a time of joy, and a reminder of God’s love for each of us. It is also a time where we hope and pray for peace on Earth, good will to all men.
For children in foster care, though, it is a very different experience. 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.
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More than likely, a 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. Quite simply, 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.
I witnessed something like this recently. We had a child in our home, Andrew, who had come from a house of horrors, along with his two other siblings. His mother was a meth addict, his father was never in the picture, and his house had no electricity, no food, no water, no plumbing, no heat, nor no air Andrew was often full of rage, and was openly defiant at times, while at other times was considerate and well mannered.
Four months after his arrival into our home, Christmas rolled over on the calendar. As we do for everybody in our house, we celebrated this Christmas in a large way. First, my wife and I woke all of the children in our home singing “Merry Christmas”. I was a little surprised when his older brother and sister told me that they didn’t know the words to a classic and familiar Christmas song. Later that morning, when a present with his name was placed in front of him, wrapped in colorful and festive wrapping paper, our foster son simply stared down at it, then to us, and then back to the present. “What is it?” he asked. With smiles on their faces, and laughter in their voices, our own children then encouraged him to open it up. Looking down at it with a confused look, Andrew simply said, “I don’t know how.”
So, how can you help this difficult time be more joyous? To begin with, foster parents can best help their foster child by spending some time and talking about the holiday. 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. It is important to keep in mind that many foster children may come from a home where they did not celebrate a particular season, nor have any traditions in their own home. What might be common in your own home may be completely new and even strange to your foster child. This often includes religious meanings for the holiday you celebrate. Again, take time to discuss the meaning about your beliefs to your foster child beforehand.
You can help him by allowing him to talk about his feelings during the holidays. Ask him how he is doing, and recognize that he may not be happy, nor enjoy this special time. Look for signs of depression, sadness, and other emotions related to these. Allow him space to privately grieve, if he needs to, and be prepared if he reverts back to some behavior difficulties he had when he first arrived into your home. After all, he is trying to cope with not being with his own family during this time when families get together. These feelings and these actions are normal, and should be expected. You can also help your foster child by sending some cards and/or small gifts and presents to their own parents and birth family members. A card or small gift to his family members can provide hope and healing for both child and parent, and help spread some of the holiday cheer that is supposed to be shared with all.
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.
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