Three weeks ago, three women sat at a Denny’s contemplating how to share how blessed their lives have been. Brought together by chance, with one thing in common. They’ve all opened up their homes and hearts during this holiday season to a child in need.
Imagine what it would be like to wake up on what’s supposed to be the most magical day of the year. For most children their first thought should be to run to the Christmas tree to see what Santa has left for them but as foster parents we see the sadness and the pain in our children’s eyes as they realize that this Christmas is different. They are not at home, Mom and Dad are not there, and neither are their siblings. As foster and adoptive parents, part of our job is to keep our kids connected to their birth families. Although Christmas can be a traumatizing time in our children’s lives, we have tried to implement ways to help ease the loss and pain that is felt during this holiday. Through our experiences we have found the following ways to incorporate birth families into the holiday season.
Kristina and Will Lebo:
Last year our plans were to travel to California and my heart was torn on separating the children from their birth family. I was able to get Mom’s permission to travel with the kids over the holiday so I could make it feel like Christmas for her in the weeks prior to our trip. I also felt like it was important for the children to see their birth family and foster family being together as a whole unit. The boy’s mom was thrilled that I invited her to come with us to visit Santa. Every parent has stories about how their child reacts to Santa and it only seemed natural that she should have this story to tell as well. Be we didn’t just see Santa and leave. We walked around the store together, rode the carousel together, ate fudge together and we enjoyed each other’s company. On another day, we picked up bio mom and went to a special event held at Desert Ridge where we listened to Christmas stories and Clifford made a guest appearance. We hung out and played with the boys and then we took bio mom back to her home. At the scheduled visit before we left on our trip, we brought mom a scrapbook from each of the boys as well as some framed pictures. I know that almost a year later, mom tells me that she still looks at those scrapbooks almost every day. During our trip we sent updates via texts letting her know that we were thinking of her and we called her from California on Christmas Eve and on Christmas day so the boys could share with her the exciting news of the presents they received. Through having built a relationship, I was surprised and touched that I also received a present from bio mom.
Lori Tkalcich and Zac Gonzalez:
I haven’t had the experience of having had a placement during Christmas because my placements have gone home right before the holiday. In my case we worked diligently throughout the year to offer support to the birth family and to show the children that we love all of our children the same. Because of the efforts that we made throughout the year with our children and birth families, our last placement’s birth family knew that we were heartbroken that the children were being removed from our home 5 days before Christmas. The birth family felt our pain and offered to let us have a Christmas with the kids. Two days after Christmas we met at “our” McDonald’s and we got to bring the kids home. We had a Christmas Eve dinner at our house, opened our new Christmas jammies up and put them on. The older children set reindeer food out and then placed milk and cookies out for Santa. We all sat and read the night before Christmas and then went to bed. On Saturday morning the kids hid in our room while I set up skype with my dad. They came barreling out of the bedroom to see all the presents under the tree. All of the kids received the same amount of gifts from us, Santa and the grandparents. We played with toys and ate a special breakfast. After a day of playing and naps we met the family again at “our” McDonald’s and sent them home. We were so grateful that the birth family recognized that we love these children and that our Christmas would be so empty without them there to celebrate with us.
Anika and Josh Robinson:
This is our 9th year fostering and each and every year we have tried to make it special and magical. Most of the foster children that have entered our home do not understand the Christmas holiday, so we take time to read a few books to them. For some kids, this is the time that they realize that they will not be home for the holidays, so for kids who are missing their biological families, we incorporate one of their family traditions such as drinking hot chocolate on Christmas Eve. Rather than showering them with gifts, we teach them about the importance of giving. We encourage them to make homemade gifts to give to their foster and biological family members. We give birth parents as well as grandparent’s simple gifts such as photo albums, art the children have created or framed photos. I’ve written parents letters to encourage them along the way, to help with the reunification efforts. We also incorporate both of our foster and adoptive biological families when appropriate by sending lots of pictures of the children opening up their gifts, we call as soon as they are done opening gifts and we’ve gone to biological grandparent’s home later in the evening so they can spend some time with cousins, aunts and uncles. We’ve also been lucky enough to have kept contact with families that have now adopted our previous foster placements. One particular family has allowed us to have him for a weekend during Christmas break and another that lives out of state doesn’t celebrate Christmas, but they send us pictures and video of milestones that are met, which to us are the best gifts of all. We’ve also adopted four children from the foster care system and we allow the biological grandparents as well as extended family to celebrate the holidays with us. From experience, we’ve now learned to keep realistic expectations and we understand that both foster and adoptive children are likely to have a lot of mixed-feelings which is likely to be reflected in their behavior, therefore we take time to talk things through and we give them space to privately grieve if necessary. I’ve learned that the best gift I can give my foster children is not something that comes in a pretty package, but rather by showing them through my example that the true spirit of Christmas exists by giving them our time, our support, our understanding and most of all our love.
Sadly, for many foster children in Arizona, this Christmas was spent in a shelter. There are currently over 19,000 children in foster care and of those children, 3,500 are anxiously awaiting to be adopted.
Every child’s story is heartbreaking. I have no doubt that if people could hear their stories, there would not be a child without a family tonight. The blessings of having them in our home and watching them grow and thrive for just a short period of time is absolutely worth the pain and loss that is felt when they leave. As foster families giving of yourself and your home will be returned a hundredfold in the joys and love that you receive from providing a stable home for a child.