Like many other children, when December comes around our children enjoy carefully writing out “Wish Lists” to send to Santa. They excitedly think about presents and consider what special items they might write down. This year our nine-year-old son Jameson patiently helped our five-year-old daughter Jubilee put together a lengthy list of her favorite things. At our dining room table sat a little guy we are fostering. At six years old he has already lived in a few different houses and spent the holidays with a few different families. On this particular Thursday night, he was writing a special letter to Santa and he wanted to put on his list a certain toy he once had at his mom’s house, but he couldn’t remember what it was called. And then I think he just got to feeling so sad about it. Big alligator tears were sliding down his little-freckled cheeks. I tried to help him find it by having him describe it and looking at pictures online, but we just couldn’t figure it out together.
Around the holidays, I see many others struggle with family dynamics, financial burdens and worry over holiday stress. I just keep thinking about the heartache of this six-year-old boy away from his mom, in his third foster home, longing for a home and a toy that’s probably long gone. The good news is, there are many ways that foster and adoptive parents can reduce stress and anxiety for children over the holidays. Here are my top three best bets for a smoother holiday season.
Number one: Honor every family member’s traditions.
We have a family habit of making a list on our chalkboard of all the things we would like to do over the holiday season. Sometimes they are simple items such as reading a Christmas book, drinking hot cocoa, or watching a favorite movie together. Making a family to-do list together builds trust and empowers children to have the opportunity to choose things that they would like to do. I ask them if there are certain foods that they would like to include in our holiday meals. We always plan time for the children to buy small gifts for their parents to take to visitation as well.
Number two: Prediction. Prediction. Prediction.
I can’t stress this enough. Let your children know what’s coming next. If your schedule is going to be different over the holidays, consider making a visual schedule somewhere accessible for them. We have done this in a few different ways. Our son Jayvon has a white-board in his room with different small pictures that let him know what’s coming next. Last year our son Jameson had a calendar in his room that marked the days we were visiting people as well as his school holiday concert. Christmas was marked with a big sticker. We also use our chalkboard for this on nights when our kids are especially worked up. Visual aids can be extremely soothing for children who have lived in chaotic environments.
Number three: Adjust your expectations for yourself and your child.
Especially if you have children who have been newly placed within your home or are sensitive to changes in environment. If on a typical Christmas day, you have a flurry of opening presents, followed by celebrations in three different relatives’ homes in different cities, adjust the expectations for new children. It may be very overwhelming to meet that many new people at one time. Consider if they may do best with having some planned downtime, or time to do a sensory-friendly activity that can help center them over the busy days. Try to be in tune with what your children need if they are feeling sad or anxious. Plan ahead for potential meltdowns! This year it might be best not to stretch yourself too thin. It’s okay to say no to some activities and invitations.
We remind each other at our house that everything doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. Children can love spending the holidays with your family, and be deeply missing their own family as well. It can take a lot of grace, patience and mercy to get through the holiday season. Give yourself some space to enjoy the holidays without so much pressure.
People often have a negative perception of children in foster care. Just because these children come from hard places and have experienced hard things, doesn’t mean they aren’t also great kids. When you hear about children in foster care, you often hear the worst stories about the abuse and neglect that they have endured. Encourage’s kids are resilient with many brilliant qualities.
You might learn in the news what they’ve experienced, but these articles don’t share that they also love the color orange, love to be read to, and play pretend. I like to remind new foster and adoptive parents that a child may be in foster care, but that is a situation they are experiencing, it doesn’t define who they are or who they will become.
Successful foster care stories are powerful because they help change the way we think about foster care children and the adults who said yes to loving them. This recent foster-to-adopt story about a sibling group gives us a glimpse into the vivid personalities and tender hearts of these amazing kids. It also gives us the opportunity to share about the specific needs of sibling groups.
The overwhelming majority of the referrals we receive here at Encourage are for brothers and sisters who need to be placed together. Many times being separated from your brother or sister is more traumatic than being separated from your mom or dad. Especially if you were the one responsible for taking care of your brother or sister.
Can you imagine your little brother or sister being pulled away from you to stay in another place with strangers you don’t know? There are many positives when taking care of siblings. Having your brother or sister in your foster home with you can reduce fear, worry and anxiety. It creates stability and security for children to remain with their brothers or sisters.
My husband and I have fostered six different sibling groups. The rewards of keeping them together have vastly outweighed the challenges. Siblings may require more laundry, more time to get ready for school, and more plates around the dinner table, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Keeping brothers and sisters together in foster care has been the most meaningful part of our lives.
At Encourage, we are here to walk alongside individuals, couples and families as they prepare to open their home to a foster child or sibling group. Everyone has foster care questions. This is a big decision and there are many questions to ponder and concerns to uncover.
Sometimes one spouse is ready to sign up to be a foster parent before the other. Here are some great tips from a foster parent/foster home licensing specialist to consider as you pray and discuss this issue with your husband or wife. As you learn about his or her uncertainties, you’ll have the opportunity to show love by listening and validating their feelings. These conversations will make your foster home stronger if and/or when you make that choice together.
Unless you’re a united front, the bottom line is your home will not be the best place for a child who has already experienced too much instability. Dragging someone else along into this decision might seem good for you, but it will not be best for a child.
What hesitations are holding you back from saying yes to fostering? We would love to help you process your foster care concerns and remove any barriers to taking the next step. For more information, please contact Heather Huebner, Foster Care Recruitment & Engagement Specialist at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330.462.1118.
If you are ready to say yes to fostering, our next pre-service training begins in February. Learn more about the session today.
Foster families and their unique joys and struggles are often tucked away from mainstream media so we are excited to see this important subject come to the big screen. “Instant Family,” starring Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne, will be in theaters Friday, November 16. Here’s the trailer:
Note: We have not pre-screened the film but prayerfully anticipate how God will use it to encourage discussion about the needs of foster children and prompt individuals to explore the possibility of becoming foster parents.
Will you please pray with us?