I wonder if you are the sort of person who still needs to have an Advent Calendar and count the sleeps until Christmas Day? Or are you firmly anchored in the reality of a long to-do list and the niggling worries that are generated by the extended family’s hopes and expectations – and the limits of your budget and time? Wherever you are along that continuum – somewhere between enchantment and hard slog – you are unlikely to be in the same place as a child or young person in your care who connects Christmas with the terrors of abuse or the despair that goes with cruel neglect.
It is still more than a month until Christmas but the supermarkets had their Christmas stuff out weeks ago, alongside the Halloween pumpkins and spooky outfits – so most of us can’t avoid the hype that goes with the festive season. It might stir one of those ‘When I was a child …’ memories of the family Christmas tree being decorated in the week before Christmas and the shops putting up their decorations on December 1st – but it is nostalgia that we feel – not panic. But for our foster children, the Christmas music in supermarkets may herald not the arrival of a newborn king, but the prospect of the horrors of Christmas in a different family setting being replayed. So it is that we may sense their mounting anxiety, the kick-offs for some and the shut-downs for others, that sometimes we cannot manage, whatever mouth-music we play!
If Christmas was a time for our children when the sound of a beer can being opened or a bottle popping meant that there would be loud violence and screaming later, you can see why your understanding of the Christmas spirit is different to theirs. Or the fact that the TV and media invitations to spend on goodies proved irresistible to their parents – so lots of presents bought – but then no money to top up the electric and the prospect of paying off loans for months and years to come chilled the warmth of giving and sharing on the day. Or the abuse that happened because Grandad got drunk and came into their bedroom late on Christmas Eve, pretending to be Santa Claus – and then departed, leaving them traumatised and frozen.
So if you are to make this Christmas different to the ones before, you need to start as early as the shops with your preparations. Explain in detail how Christmas is celebrated in your family, where the stockings are hung and where the presents are left. Talk about the people they will see on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day – and how safe your child will be in your family. And, if it feels right, ask about their previous Christmases and give them the quiet space to tell you about their ghosts from Christmas Past.
And if you would like more help with the essential preparations – and understanding the child’s needs that make them so essential – we are offering a webinar on the Countdown to Christmas on 25 November 2022 from 10-11am. If you’d like to join us you can book your place here and if you book before 16th November you can benefit from our early bird price of £5.99. Do join us, put your feet up for an hour and bring your mince pies and coffee to the screen. We look forward to seeing you!
Martha and Rachel