Thanksgiving has passed and we can now officially begin the holiday season, even though the stores have been riddled with snowmen and Santas since October 1st. Since the retail giants have started to push the start of Christmas season earlier and earlier, there has been a growing debate on when the season is officially upon us. Every family has their own tradition that earmarks the beginning of the season, whether it’s the hunt for the perfect tree, a trip to decorate grandma’s house and tree, or the hanging of the lights. For my family, the season is officially here when we venture to Dollywood for their Smokey Mountain Christmas celebration. No season is complete without a watching the Parade of Lights or the Christmas in the Smokies musical. So my season officially started two Saturdays ago, along with approximately 8,000 other Dollywood park goers.
Christmas time does not always bring joy and laughter, for many peo
ple who are grieving loss it brings pain and heartache. For children in foster care, this season can bring about a range of emotions because their little bodies are dealing with so much loss and trauma they cannot manage that along with the natural joy and excitement the season brings. For some foster children, this season is a reminder that they did have great, joyous moments in the midst of the abuse and neglect. For some it is a reminder of all they did not have with their biological families. It the middle of a joyous moment, a child can become overwhelmed with the guilt that they are happy and content celebrating without their biological family around.
Since this season brings so many feelings and emotions, they may experience a variety of new behaviors that are directly connected to the season that is supposed to be the happiest of them all. These behaviors can range from withdrawal to acting out, but one thing is for sure, these new behaviors will bring new stresses to already stressful holiday season.
During my time at Dollywood with 8,000 other park goers, I too experienced added stress dragging my two nephews around for the “most joyous day of their holiday season.” I won’t try to lie, in an attempt to make the day the best for everyone, the day just became stress.
So. Much. Stress.
In an attempt to warm up, but also increase our holiday fun we stopped in to the bakery to enjoy a fresh gingerbread man and some hot chocolate. By the time we waited in line, found a table, and got settled my level was already hitting the roof. Within two minutes my 2 year old nephew was wearing the gingerbread man’s frosting head to toe, and was dawning the pumpkin cupcake frosting as well. In a stressful cloud, I scooped him up and headed to the small, stinky, crowded bathroom, plopped him on the sink and began to clean him up. As I washed his face, he repeated the word “face.” Since I am a master toddler interpreter I knew he meant I was indeed washing his face. As he became more and more frustrated his voice began to raise. Face. FACE. FACE!!! In a final attempt to get my attention he took both hands, placed them on my face to steady me, and calmly said “Face, Anda.” Then he proceeded to take the towel and wipe the streak of frosting off my chin.
At that point I was so fixated on him, his face, his needs, his joy, that crazy day, I forgot that I needed to look at myself. I needed to make sure I was taken care of and remove my plank before I attempted to help him with his speck.
During this holiday season, when behaviors arise and stress overwhelms lets take a moment to focus on our FACE.
F- Forgive. Things are said during this time when emotions are high. Behaviors may you feel like you aren’t doing anything right. But remember, this season is hard on these kiddos. Forgive them. In turn they’ll forgive your stressful snaps, overcooked ham, and that sweater you just made them wear.
A- Ask. This holiday season spend some time asking them questions. Ask them about traditions that they hold dear. Ask them about their favorite holiday foods. Ask them about their holiday beliefs, maybe they have no idea who Santa is or that he may come to their house. Ask them how they are feeling, because they may not be feeling joyous this season. Ask yourself what you’re feeling in the moment, maybe the long day fighting traffic at Wal-Mart and the mall have left you feeling a little lacking in Christmas cheer.
C- Cherish. This may be the only holiday season you spend with them, make memories. Also, help them remember their past holiday seasons. They may not have much, but help them value what they have stored in their memory bank.
E- Enjoy! Remember that the Christmas season is not to be reminded of the stress in your life but to remember Christ and His birth and what that means for us, and these children in your life. Enjoy this time. This may mean that you have to step away from helping at the Holiday bazaar or only chose a couple holiday parties that are kid friendly. And have an extra cookie, we all know you want it and probably need it.
While you are remembering the reason for the season, remember why you are in this crazy foster care world to begin with… to share Christ with children and families.