Monday, 9 December 2013

O Christmas Tree

Christmas can be a very difficult time for foster families. There are so many traditions wrapped up in the festivities, and each one can be a trigger to foster children that reminds them of past Christmases at home with their parents. These could be good memories, as every family has their good times together, or they could be bad memories. What may be a harmless glass of wine with dinner on Christmas Eve could be a reminder of a Christmas Day spent without food or presents whilst their parents slept off the alcohol from the night before. Watching a foster sibling open a much longed for present could be a reminder that at home presents were given as bribes or rewards for abuse. A fleeting comment about burnt turkey or lumpy gravy could be a reminder of an argument that turned into domestic violence.

Even if there are no bad memories, adverts are constantly telling us that Christmas is a time for families, and children may be aware that other children are allowed to spend the holiday season with their parents and they are not. Contact around Christmas can be very painful and confusing for both parents and children, as they exchange gifts and try to have their celebration in the strange environment of the contact centre.
(This is for children with autism, but I suspect that one for fostered children would look quite similar)

This is our first Christmas with a child in placement. We don't know anything about Peter's past Christmases, and due to both this and his additional needs we weren't quite sure how to approach Christmas this year. Should we put up a tree and decorations? Should we do the big pile of presents under the tree? What about Christmas dinner? Would he enjoy visiting Father Christmas? How will he cope with other people opening presents in front of him?

In the end we've decided to go quite low key. We put up the tree yesterday (which Peter loved), but have put it at the back of the living room rather than the front, to avoid moving Peter's toys and so that he can choose to go near it or not. Peter has food anxieties so we're going to have our main meal and open our own presents in the evening on Christmas Day after he's gone to bed, and we're going to gradually spread out his presents over a few days (and leave some unwrapped) and see how it goes rather than having a big overwhelming pile of gifts. Esmeralda's mum is coming to stay over Christmas week and is being very understanding of the fact that it's going to be a bit different this year.

Peter's making so much progress that next year will probably be completely different, and he may well cope with a bigger build up with talk of Father Christmas and presents under the tree. Of course, as foster carers we don't know exactly what our family will look like next year - we may have one or two more children with us (and a labradoodle if Esmeralda has anything to do with it!) so will need to consider their needs too. Whilst we'll incorporate our family traditions, Christmas will more than likely be different every year!

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