Enjoy our monthly contribution from foster mom, Elizabeth Oates, who shares many insightful tips and her experiences with foster care. Check out her personal blog here: www.elizabethoates.com
Tis the season to be jolly . . . accept when you’re a foster kid. Many foster children shuffle through the holiday season feeling sad, lonely, homesick, content, confused, safe, happy, angry, and more. It might be their first holiday season separated from their bio parents and no matter how bad things were at home, they might still miss the familiar sights, sounds, and traditions they once knew.
So how can foster parents help their foster kids enjoy the holidays? Here are some suggestions—some we implement in our own family and some I gathered from other foster parents—to help you create special memories and increase your familial bond throughout the holiday season.
1. Ask your foster kids about their favorite holiday traditions, and then try to incorporate them into your family. Do they like a certain food? Do they want to drive around and look at Christmas lights? Do they have a favorite Christmas movie? Maybe they want to open presents on Christmas Eve but your family opens gifts on Christmas day. In that case, you could compromise by letting the kids open two gifts on Christmas Eve. The key is to remain flexible and open to new possibilities this Christmas season.
2. Take a photo of your foster children for their bio parents. Tailor it to your kids’ personalities. For instance, if they like to play in the snow, let them build a huge snowman and take a photo in front of it. If you have girls who like to dress up, take a picture in their fanciest Christmas dresses.
You could even make a small “brag book” and include photos of your foster child from throughout the year. If your child has regular visits with her bio parent and is emotionally able to do so, she could help you compile the book. If your child does not have regular visits or is not emotionally able to participate, then you could still take the pictures and create the book, but give it to your social worker to pass on to the bio parent.
3. Ask your foster child to write a note to her bio parents. Again, only if your foster child is emotionally able to handle this. If your foster child misses her bio mom or dad, writing them a note might be a great outlet for her to tell her bio parents how she feels and that she is thinking of them. She could also draw them a picture or make them a homemade craft.
4. Help your foster child buy a gift for his bio parents. If your foster child wants to do something more than just write a letter, you could take him shopping to buy a small, inexpensive gift.
5. Create a quiet space. As I said earlier, many foster children feel a mixture of emotions during the holidays: joy and grief, happiness and sadness, security and fear. They need time and space to process their conflicting feelings. And if there are other siblings—biological or foster—this creates extra noise and chaos they might not be used to.
One foster mom I know created a “quiet space” to give her foster kids permission to escape the chaos. She noticed that one out of her four foster kids became easily anxious and irritated and needed some quiet and alone time. The “quiet space” gave this child a place to go and also gave the other children a visual cue that he was not to be disturbed.
Even if your home is small and you don’t have an extra room to designate as your “quiet space” you can still create a small nook for reading, listening to headphones, or just thinking. This might be a closet you cleared out and added a beanbag and a lamp. Or maybe you put a small tent in the corner of your bedroom and piled in pillows and sleeping bags. If you live in a nice climate, you could even pitch that tent in the backyard. Think creatively. The space doesn’t have to be large; it just has to be quiet.
6. Purchase meaningful ornaments. One thing that matters to foster children is possessions. Your child might never have had something with her name on it, so why not buy a personalized ornament? Does he like to play soccer? Find an ornament with a soccer ball. Choose an ornament that communicates to your foster child: “I see you. I know you. You matter.” Then write the date on the ornament using a Sharpie. Hopefully it will be a treasure your foster child will carry with her into adulthood and will remember that one Christmas, someone saw her and loved her and gave her that ornament.
7. Help them make a Christmas list. Find out what they want for Christmas. Some foster children might never have received Christmas gifts . . . or at least not what was truly on their Christmas list. If you look at their list and cannot afford what is on there (if it is a reasonable request), talk to your church, your friends, or your neighbors about making this child’s wish come true.
8. Pray for their bio parents and siblings. Our foster child arrived in our home one week before Thanksgiving—she was only nine weeks old. She had no holiday memories or traditions we needed to consider, so we immediately created traditions for her. Even so, I do remember weeping that first Thanksgiving as I held her in my arms. I couldn’t help but think of her bio mom, only miles away, spending her Thanksgiving Day without her newborn baby girl. Intellectually, I knew it was a result of her mother’s choices, but there was still an ache in my heart for her. I prayed for that mama throughout the day. I prayed God would bring her comfort and ease her sadness. When Christmas came, I did the same.
If prayer is a part of your life, you can help your foster children pray for their bio parents and bio siblings. Teach them how to pray. Give them permission to talk about their bio parents and give them the language to do so. Acknowledge that their bio parents are a part of their life, and talking about their parents and praying for them are steps toward forgiveness and healing. And offering our foster children the ability to heal is the greatest Christmas gift we could ever give them.