I know it’s only the beginning of November but let’s face it, you’ve been looking at the tower of mince pies in Tesco for the last two months. The supermarkets are prepared and the tear jerking TV adverts are looming any day now, hoping to cry you into parting with your money. It’s time to get prepared for the emotional overload that is Christmas in a foster care household.
The last two Christmas’s have been potential disasters for us as a household, and were only salvaged as we have seen it all before and know better than to make any plans that cannot be changed at the (very) last minute. Last year, J’s family asked and pleaded to be able to see him on Christmas Day and along with discussions with social workers, arrangements were made to drop off and when to collect him. His family had many conditions and demands and we made it easy as possible for him to go, as that was what he wanted. He talked about it for weeks leading up to Christmas, building a fantasy in his head of the perfect Christmas. It was hard to watch and we tried to help him balance his expectations. His family cancelled the Christmas contact two hours before we were due to drop him off, stating that he had been rude to a sibling over a week ago. J was devastated for an hour, upset for the morning and angry for four months. Luckily, we were able to rally round and make a magical Christmas for him. Of course, it wasn’t the perfect family Christmas he had looked forward to and imagined for months, but he did end up laughing and enjoying the day. It took him several months before he would even talk to his family, and regular contact was a painful exercise in punishment, mutinous silence and battle tactics.
The year before, M’s relationship with her family broke down on Christmas day morning, and we had to drive over and pick her up from a McDonald’s car park where she had called us from. Her family had also made big promises for New Year’s Eve, and cancelled those plans at 5pm on the day. We no longer buy tickets for events on these big days as more often than not, we have to drop everything and either physically or emotionally pick up a devastated child.
This year, we have the usual issues surrounding M and J’s family, and we are adding Baby S into the contact arrangements. Baby S’s mum has already demanded detailed contact arrangements covering Christmas Eve and again on Christmas Day, involving a 30 mile round trip on each day. We have decided to be firm and explain that whilst we are happy to drop off and pick up any of the three children on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, this year, we will be resisting any contact on Christmas Day. Hubby and I feel we need to offer all the children a planned and relaxed Christmas Day without emotional turmoil, and give them the opportunity to build memories that don’t involve trauma and fighting. I have written to all the children’s social workers asking them to explain that contact will not involve Christmas Day this year. I’m sure there will be several replies but I’m standing firm.
I’ve already told M and J and whilst J has accepted this readily as it means it’s out of his hands and he can’t be pressurised by family, M is rebellious and told me it’s up to her who she sees and when. I’ll let this lie for now as M wants the image of her family fighting for her to be with them to be true, but the reality is that if she does find a way to see them on Christmas Day, it’s could well be a let-down, or worse. Baby S and her mum’s religious needs can be fully met on Christmas Eve and on a Saint’s Day in January which we have already agreed to.
I feel grown up and in control for the first Christmas in years. I know there is still a huge amount that can blow up in our faces as Christmas is an emotional time for the most well-adjusted chocolate box family, let alone one juggling three sets of families all trying to out prove which one is the most dedicated. Last year, M received nothing from any family member and I know I will need to be there for her when the sadness of imposing reality over the sugary sweet Christmas of TV land hits hard.
Even if it all goes to plan there is still lots of scope for fall out; J is involved in an all faith nativity play at school involving a space ship, a panda and an iceberg and he is excited as he’s going to be rapping the narration alongside Selina, who sits next to him in class. This is the first time he has been in a play at school as he moved around a lot, not staying in one place for longer than a year. He has asked if his family can come and I’ve decided, cowardly, to hand that request over to his social worker to deal with and negotiate.
In the meantime, I’ve got my ear close to the ground for Christmas ideas and I’m building up a little stock pile of gifts. I can’t magic them a perfect family, but I can wrap up a PlayStation and wait for the screams of glee to reverberate around the house! I’ll be talking about Tokens of Love and the gift giving minefield nearer to Christmas.