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Published on: 2016-12-06 10:08:00
Christmas is a happy family time, full of peace on earth and joy to the world… Right? What if you’re wrong? What if Christmas is just another day of no food, mum crying, dad shouting or worse; being hit, hiding from a drunk parent, trying to shake mum out of a drug stupor, or trying to protect your younger siblings from an abusive parent? What if there was no abuse, just years of neglect and disinterest; and where chaos and living in fear of the unknown was normal and Christmas just made everything worse? What if being promised a big toy, a better life or the promise of ‘I’ll never hit or touch you again’ is always broken?
As a foster carer, you want to make life better for the Looked After Children in your care, and spoiling them at Christmas and birthdays seems like the perfect way to do this, after all, lot of children in care may have never experienced a ‘normal’ family Christmas. However, as the build up to Christmas begins, so does the child’s stress and anxiety. As the family puts up the perfect Christmas tree while carols play in the back ground, with every TV advert and every present that gets wrapped, the countdown to an emotional overload and possible meltdown begins.
It’s not uncommon for children who have been traumatised by abuse or neglect to sabotage Christmas days outs, events, parties or Christmas Day, as it brings them back to a ‘normal’ they are comfortable or familiar with. As a foster carer, you will often have other children to think about; other Looked After Children, your own birth children or your visiting family’s children, and preventing the child becoming overloaded with emotion and anxiety can be difficult.
M refuses to discuss with us any aspect of Christmases she had with her birth family, however, we know from police reports that it was not a happy time and mostly led to drunkenness, violence and the police being called. J on the other hand tells us all sorts of memories about his Christmas disappointments of being constantly told if he was a good boy he’d get a special present, only to wake up on Christmas morning to a cold house with no food and no money on the meter to pay for Gas and of course, no presents.
Even though both children have been with me for a while, we still keep Christmas low key and small in our house, with one big family meal at my brother and sister in laws on Boxing Day, where unfortunately, we have to go as I do the cooking! Some tips I have learnt over the years to help Christmas stay as calm as possible are:
Christmas is a stressful time for most families; we are thrown together with relatives we might not see for months, we increase our spending on gifts and food and we can feel let down when we aren’t having the identical Christmas to that of the John Lewis ad. Don’t forget to make time for yourselves and enjoy the little moments, and remember it doesn’t have to be perfect!