By Shay Stinson
Being in foster care during the holiday season can be tough! There’s no way to escape the reality of being separated from your biological family and your best efforts may be made to blend in with your foster family. Even with the best of intentions, the season can be difficult and may result in holiday blues.
To understand what the holidays in foster care mean to youth in foster care, Synethia Davis, a former foster child shares her perspective:
“Being in Foster Care During the Holidays”
An essay by Synethia Davis
As a small child, I loved [the holidays] because I was focused on presents and not on who I was with [or without]. That all changed once I became a teen. I hated it. When it started to get closer to the holidays, I knew I would have to fake being a part of someone else’s family. Every year, there was a new family, and every year I would be the outcast. I hated when families treated me as one of their family members because there was no way they thought I would be a long-lasting family member. There was no way they could love me as much as they loved their biological family members. There was not a Christmas or Thanksgiving that I shared the same family gathering as the previous year, except for [my days in] elementary school. I hated meeting new people.
As I got older, in my teen years, most of my holidays were spent in facilities and group homes. I liked being at the facilities because I knew the staff and residents were going to be there after the holidays. I didn’t really like spending the holidays at group homes because there were always other people that I never saw during any other time of the year. They would have volunteers that liked “giving back.” They would bring their kids and I was always envious, so I hated it.
I also hated having holiday respite. I know social workers may have thought it was a good idea, because many people believe a child should be with a family during the holidays. But that was just a slap in the face to me because I had no home. After the holiday is up, I continued to have no home. To this day, no matter whose home I’m at for the holidays, I never feel a part of the family. I always feel like an outcast. Even if I’ve been spending holidays with the family for a few years, I will find small things in someone’s actions or words and take offense quietly. To this day, being in foster care during the holidays made me envious of biological families. I don’t really celebrate holidays now, due to my own personal beliefs, but I want my children to experience what I didn’t. I’m not sure if any other foster kid felt as I did, but I would never want a child to experience my pain. I’ve never expressed this to anyone, but I’ve accepted it now.
Davis, 30, is a 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Army National Guard. She spent most of her life, from about age 4 until she aged forward as a young adult, shuffling through foster care.
So, how can youth advocates and foster parents help guide children in foster care through the holiday season successfully? Here’s a list of helpful tips to consider during this season and for any time your child needs a little extra patience and love.
- Do nothing. As odd as it sounds, sometimes the best thing to do when your youth in foster care is missing their biological family is nothing. Just support them in sorting out their own emotions and give them space to feel.
- Listen. Your foster child may want to talk about good or difficult memories from past holiday seasons. Don’t negate their renditions. Just be a listening ear.
- Give them space. The holidays can be jam-packed with family activities that could be overwhelming for foster youth. Always remember to invite inclusion and not force it and accept when it’s declined.
- Include their traditions. Your way of doing the holidays is not the only way. Be open and willing to incorporate other traditions or activities.
- When possible, include the biological family. Usually, children in foster care still have some biological relatives. Tven if they’re not close on the family tree, that’s still their family. You can offer to organize a small gift exchange, holiday phone or video chats, visitations, and written letter exchanges, etc.
Soon enough, the lights and decorations will come down and the guests will travel back home. Your foster youth will however remain away from their biological families and in your care. They may face a plethora of emotions before, during, and after the holidays that you may or may not understand. Just because they are safe in a foster home does not mean they are safeguarded from experiencing emotions surrounding them missing their biological families. Be patient and always be willing to show extra compassion and love.