We know that Christmas can be a stressful time for foster children. With lots of strange traditions and activities that might affect their routine, or trigger certain emotions and behaviours. So it’s not unusual for new or potential foster carers to have questions on how to manage Christmas as a foster carer.
Meet Susanna and Jason, our very own foster carers from Blaenau-Gwent. They are hoping to put some of those worries and concerns to bed with her own tips on how to manage Christmas as a foster carer.
Do not expect Christmas to be as you know it…
I wonder how many of us hold the vision that Christmas as a foster carer will be a beautiful and magical time. Where all our children will be deliriously happy with the gifts that have been lovingly purchased for them and feel a real sense of belonging as they experience the warmth and tenderness of a supportive, caring family?
I think this was how I imagined Christmas would be when my husband and I began our fostering career 10 years ago. However, sadly the truth is often very different.
Children looked after can often find this time of year very difficult. The long-established family traditions with the gathering of close family members, can serve to highlight the absence of such experiences for them. Previous Christmases spent with birth families may have been inconsistent or traumatic and finding themselves in a positive and loving environment can feel emotionally overwhelming or trigger distressing memories for them of Christmases gone by.
Talk to the children before hand
Communication is very important within our family so one of the ways in which we seek to manage Christmas is to have open and honest dialogue whenever possible about each child’s expectations of what Christmas will ‘look like’. A child may have started to feel safe and secure within the everyday family setting with the consistency of boundaries but can be completely thrown off balance when faced with disruptions to the ‘normal’ routine such as several family members visiting and sharing in a meal together.
Providing an opportunity to talk through these family traditions prior to them occurring gives a child looked after the chance to ground themselves and prepare for these changes to routine. It also offers them the opportunity to express how they feel and how they would like to navigate their way through the festive period. In our experience, even very young children who are unable to adequately express themselves have benefitted from being prepared in advance for slight changes to what has become their ‘safe and consistent routine’.
Make your own tradition!
Another aspect of Christmas that I personally struggled with in the beginning was knowing that I had tried so hard to buy personalized gifts for all our children (birth children as well as children looked after) yet very often, the special presents I had sought out were not received with any sense of excitement or pleasure. Over the years I have come to realise that the joy I experience in buying these gifts has to be enough for me, knowing that I’ve done my very best, irrespective of how the gifts are received.
Having a blended family of birth children, stepchildren, children who have been adopted and children who are looked after, we try to create and look forward to a relaxed but special day where the children wake up and experience the pleasure of knowing that they have been thought of and valued as individuals when they open their gifts. I have had to accept that there is no guarantee this will happen, especially if their birth families overindulge them with copious amounts of presents during a contact session a few days before Christmas! The big day itself can then feel like an anticlimax as they have already had their Christmas day.
I guess to summarize, my advice on how to manage Christmas as a foster carer would be to prepare oneself emotionally for the fact that unexpected issues could arise at any time for the children in our care. To try not to have any expectations of how Christmas will ‘be’, but to plan to do the very best to create positive memories, in some way for every child who is part of our family over the festive period.
Happy Christmas from Susanna and Jason