When we started fostering 11 years ago, we got Christmas all wrong!
We got caught up in all the excitement of presents, decorations and parties.
Our birth kids, both in Junior School, had learned to anticipate that ‘change’ was often positive, and with regards to Christmas, it was exciting too.
For the four year old foster child, who’d only arrived earlier that November, the Season of Goodwill was terrifying.
Just as we’d got him into a routine of get up dressed, get washed, get fed, go to school, repeat, he felt everything was changing
And ‘change’, of any type, threw him into a turmoil.
In his brain, dressing up for a party or ‘plain clothes day’ was not just confusing, but triggered wide eyed fear, and what foster carers call ‘deregulation’.
He wanted to wear his familiar Disney jumper with its familiar smells, that we rarely washed, and only then at a very low temperature, every single day. He hated his novelty Snowman jumper.
His favourite food was spaghetti hoops with a side of broccoli (don’t ask! It’s fairly healthy and that was enough), so why was he being offered chocolate and mince pies?
In the few weeks he’d been with us, our home had become a safe place for him, so why were we talking about visiting relatives and friends. What even were ‘relatives’? All he heard was ‘strangers’ and that, in his experience, meant trouble.
Lots of kids have meltdowns triggered by a heady seasonal mix of tiredness and excitement, but we were unwittingly sending this vulnerable young boy into a spiral of confusing and terrifying emotions.
The idea that some sort of rotund, bearded gentleman and his reindeer was going to break into the house was something we quickly began to downplay.
We realised we needed to dial down the anticipation and excitement.
We needed to stay predictable, to the point of being boring.
We needed to keep to the routine as much as possible.
Christmas’s with a Foster Child, or any child who has experienced significant trauma, can still be fun, but they are different.
Nowadays, we spread the presents over weeks rather than all on the one day.
We carefully consider each and every party invitation and if a child wants a familiar pizza for Christmas Dinner, is there actually any harm done?
It’s become a tradition to consider the ‘true meaning of Christmas’.
Was it ever meant to be a celebration of buying stuff that you don’t want, don’t need and can’t afford?
This will be our 11th Christmas with ‘an extra kid’ at the table.
I’m not sure what these kids have made of the Baby Jesus, the Wise Men the shepherds and the Angel Gabriel.
I do know that Joseph is the character who catches my attention.