Thoughts of a foster carer: Great Expectations

The festive time of year is loaded with pressure and expectations

When Tom and I were engaged, we did some marriage preparation that included looking at values and traditions from our family of origin. We thought we were quite similar and certainly didn’t experience any nasty surprises – until we celebrated our first Christmas together.

Presents are opened in a frenzied flurry as soon as you wake up, right? Er, no - you wait until after lunch and open them with coffee (just before the Queen's speech). Stockings are hung by the fireplace? No, we never had one growing up in a modern house, so we put them at the end of our beds. And food, always turkey of course… NOT. Turkey is too dry so we would have goose.

The fact is, we know that the festive time of year is loaded with pressure and expectations and fraught with family traditions and hang-ons from times past. It took Tom and I several years to establish new traditions that worked for us and our family.

Now, imagine you are a child living in a home that's not your home of origin – through fostering or adoption – you have to navigate all of this, and so much more.

Our children, who have all experienced trauma, find routines and predictability extremely helpful in feeling safe and secure. Yet, this half-term is anything but predictable. There are so many disruptions to the normal school rhythm with pantomime trips, carol concerts, rehearsals, Christmas jumper days, Christmas fayres, Christmas party day, Christmas dinner day, film day, end of year music concerts, Christmas card competition, dress up day, dress down day - the list is inexhaustible, and would unsettle any child, but particularly one who is coping with so much more.

We find that preparation is key, so offering a visual chart on the kitchen wall helps them to make sense of all the different things going on. But in reality, even with this it can be overwhelming for them and it is understandable that children will be experiencing increased anxiety, which may well look like bad behaviour or unwillingness to engage.

With our children, we try to keep things really simple. If they are used to eating cheerios for breakfast, we let them! It would be easy to follow the crowd and insist on smoked salmon bagels or some other ‘treat’ on Christmas morning, but this isn’t necessarily helpful for them. If they normally eat lunch at midday (we do), we can’t expect children to suddenly cope with waiting three more hours for a glorious roast, that – let's face it – will be eaten in seven minutes like every other meal (despite the hours of preparation you put into it). And we’ll just have a chicken if that's what everyone will eat.

And then there’s presents. Our children can't always cope with the immense build-up. It needs diffusing somewhere or else it's all too overwhelming. We usually open just a few presents at a time throughout the day, and I usually hide a few for Boxing Day and the day after to soften the comedown.

The notion of being ‘naughty or nice’ in order to be worthy of presents, I find hugely problematic. We all know how it goes:

He's making a list and checking it twice,

Gonna find out who's naughty and nice – Santa Claus is coming to town.

He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake,

He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake!

The immense pressure put on children to 'behave' in order to receive good gifts is tough when they often don't understand why they behave the way they do. Well-meaning strangers asking if my children have been ‘good’ this year... this year?! They haven't even managed to be ‘good’ this morning – and what if they can't be 'good' in the way that society expects, because their little hearts and minds have been so traumatised by experiences in their early months and years that they are constantly battling confusion, fear, anxiety, distrust and uncertainty?!

'Elf on the shelf' should stay there gathering dust in my opinion.

The concept of someone constantly spying on you to be ‘good’ and reporting back to Father Christmas can be frightening and will push anxiety levels right up. Even the thought that there is an Elf moving around at night in your home could be a trauma trigger – likewise, with Father Christmas (an unknown man) coming into the house at night (who apparently ‘sees you when you’re sleeping’!).

We’ve decided to create new boundaries for where he'll leave presents, and always somewhere like the shed or garage, where they can be collected when the children are ready for them.

Our children can take years to believe they even deserve presents.

When a child has been traumatised by his parents or close family, he will not be able to identify it as abuse. Rather, he will believe he deserves the maltreatment, that he must have caused it even if he does not know how. Children are full of shame for who they are, their sense of self is one in which they believe they are unlovable and unworthy of good things.

- Taken from Dan Hughes, Trauma

Even positive emotions like excitement, joy or love can feel really scary. Children may feel the need to sabotage Christmas or spoil their toys because the positive feelings they are experiencing are overwhelming and alien to them. It's frightening to feel these emotions and to engage with them can feel like a huge risk. What if it's all taken away?

All in all, we have learned to reduce or remove expectations and obligations and do things in the way that they need. Because we love them. This isn’t always easy, but with God’s grace as our inspiration and His help as our support, we do what we can.

In Ephesians 2 we read:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Our heart is to ensure that our children can know and believe that nothing they do will ever separate them from our love, and that they will receive good things whatever behaviour they present us with.

Author:
Joy Pollock for Home for Good


Tags:
Blogs


Share:


Related pages

Six ideas to help you enjoy December with looked after children

Six ideas to help you enjoy December with looked after children

Gone are the days when Christmas was celebrated over a day or two.

Read more
Five ways to support foster and adoptive families at Christmas

Five ways to support foster and adoptive families at Christmas

Christmas can be full of joy and festive fun, but also brings difficulties for looked after or adopted children.

Read more
Harry's fostering story

Harry's fostering story

In the first four weeks of his life Harry had lived in three different houses with three different families.

Read more

You might also be interested in

I've just completed the Foundations course, so how did I find it?

Blogs

I've just completed the Foundations course, so how did I find it?

Experience of the Foundations course

Read more
24 ways to 'win at summer'.

Blogs

24 ways to 'win at summer'.

24 ways to help you have a joyful and settled summer

Read more
7 tips for taking fostered or adopted children on an overseas holiday

Blogs

7 tips for taking fostered or adopted children on an overseas holiday

Seven lessons learned about taking your fostered or adopted child abroad on holiday

Read more
Reflections of a foster carer: Father’s Day

Blogs

Reflections of a foster carer: Father’s Day

Don't underestimate what you give and how you influence other lives.

Read more

Connect locally

I would like to find out what is
going on in my area

Connect Locally

Keep up-to-date

I would like to stay up-to-date with Home for Good's news and how
I can give, pray and get involved to help vulnerable children.

Home for Good will never pass on your details to third parties for marketing purposes and you can unsubscribe from our communications at anytime by emailing info@homeforgood.co.uk.

reCAPTCHA helps prevent automated form spam.