Thursday, December 10, 2009

Embracing Advent and Christmas

Years ago, when we were training to become foster parents, one of the social workers told the class that, if we loved the holidays, we may want to reconsider being foster parents. I thought that was the strangest statement. She went on to explain that Christmas stirred up all kinds of birth family memories and troubles in the child and then the child would act out. In my naivety, I thought that love and a really magical Christmas would wipe all those concerns away. Shortly after we became foster parents, we got our third placement, a little girl (20 months old) who was cute as a button. She was a Christmas baby (born just three days after Christmas)! We did the holidays up in a huge way that year! All the trimmings! Because we had two foster children that year, we were given many gifts through a foster angel tree as well as by our family that were excited that we finally had our long awaited babies. There was a sea of gifts that took up half the room!

But the magic of Christmas scared our little girl. She became even wilder than usual. The next two years were a bit more toned down but much the same. Our dd acted out more and more. We would "lose" her around Thanksgiving and not get back a reasonable child until February. As the years passed and we adopted our foster daughter, things continued to be very difficult around the holidays. We started to drastically play down all holidays and hide from the mall, TV and people and their joy at Christmastime. Sometimes we postponed her birthday for weeks, hoping that we could get her behavior under control enough to celebrate her birthday in peace. We became prisoners to her drama and chaos and began to dread the holidays. My Mother and I would start planning how to survive Christmas in September each year. It was a sad time indeed.

Last year when Goldilocks was nearly 8 years old, I felt that we had to establish a gentle routine for Christmas that allowed the rest of us to enjoy Christmas and left room for Goldilocks to enjoy or avoid, depending on her ability to participate on any given day. Instead of hiding from Christmas, we would embrace it, starting with celebrating each day of Advent in December. It was a radical move. Somewhere on the Internet I saw the idea of opening a Christmas book each day of Advent and reading the story to the children. Of course, being a bibliophile, I loved the idea. I added the idea of a special activity that the kids could do each night. This plan would be similar to our regular routine. We have story time every night of the year, and the activity would be considered school time with Daddy (something the kids love). The same routine, just different packaging. To our relief, it has worked wonderfully. Advent books have given us many lessons. It has allowed Goldilocks to get used to the process of waiting for the surprise (now daily instead of waiting weeks for the big event). She has learned to deal with the disappointment on a small scale of it being a story she did not care for. She has learned that a flat package is not going to hold a live unicorn! It sounds funny, but this truly has been a problem that has caused major meltdowns in the past. Because there is something to open each night, the UPS man stopping often at our home with packages that must wait is not causing endless crying. She is getting used to secrets being okay and even fun when the parents are in control of them. Every night, she is learning the true meaning of the season: compassion, sharing, learning about Jesus, family togetherness, magical wonder, peace and joy.

The days are still rougher than usual. Goldilocks is on a slippery slope. She is having trouble getting through each day, and her behavior is getting pretty hard to deal with. Even her one-on-one worker and my friend who helps with her for a few hours a week are having a very hard time controlling her. But my family is enjoying the season in between Goldilocks' blow outs, and sometimes she is enjoying it, too.

Some photos from Advent ~

Setting up the nativity after hearing The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey.

Trying tamales after reading Too Many Tamales.

The kids made marshmallow snowmen after listening to The Biggest Snowman Ever.

Blessings, Dawn


  1. Wow, that would be very difficult indeed to deal with, but it looks like you've found a safe and effective way. Praying that the rest of your season is peaceful and loving!!


  2. Dawn,

    Your patience and love shines through every post you make. Your foster/adopted children are truly blessed.


  3. Great post, Dawn! I'm so glad you found something that works. Even though our children weren't in foster care, this is still a really tough time for them that brings up feelings of abandonment and missing the birth parents they never knew. Behaviors definitely escalate!

    I'm inspired by what you've written and am off to check out some of the books you mentioned! :)


  4. That story just tugs at my heart! I am thankful that "Goldilocks" found just the right family that is so sensitive to her needs!

  5. This is a wonderful post! I have said it before but will repeat! You guys are awesome parents and what you do is such a blessing,