Cozy living rooms, copious leftovers, lights and decorations, and warm family bonding—these feelings are often associated with the holidays. For foster children, however, the holiday season can be full of dread, anxiety, and guilt. Many foster youth, past and present, shared their perspectives on the emotions that spike during this season in FosterClub’s newsletter. A common theme was guilt; many felt that if their foster parents got them gifts, it was out of obligation, but the youth said they would feel unloved if they had not received any gifts. Daniel J. Knapp described this as a “no-win” situation, where a parent’s good intentions could not break through the vulnerability of their foster children. Holidays can be a delicate topic for foster youth, as they may bring back emotional trauma and feelings of isolation. Despite this, by adjusting how foster youth are introduced to new holiday experiences, foster parents can make a profound impact and new, positive memories.
From both a parent’s and a child’s perspectives, Thanksgiving and Christmas can be overwhelming and stressful. Parents need to teach and reinforce new house rules while ensuring their child’s comfort. For foster children in a new environment, they can be vulnerable to undesirable memories. As these are more nuanced and traditional holidays, foster youth face varying stress levels when new families celebrate differently. Many children come from homes that never celebrated Christmas, gave them gifts, or promoted family love. During the holiday season, children may be burdened with the idea that they will never truly be “home” for the holidays. Sometimes they may feel like they are surrounded by strangers who are laughing and enjoying themselves. While foster families may have the best intentions, foster youth are still prone to feeling isolated. The holidays may be a stark reminder that the foster youth are not with their biological families. This can create a sense of guilt for children trying to maintain their connection with their biological families. When they enjoy themselves with their foster parents, it may seem like they betray their biological parents. With a little bit of planning, this season can be looked back on with love and nostalgia; just remember, the gift of love is year-round.
If you are looking for a way to help, check out the Bill Wilson Center’s Adopt-a-Family Holiday Giving Program :)