“What are your Christmas traditions?” my 10-year-old foster daughter asked me. I didn’t know how to respond. I was a first-time parent and foster parent. My husband and I hadn’t considered what traditions we wanted to share with our children. “What Christmas traditions do you think we should have as a family?” I replied. The unique blessing of being a foster family means you have the opportunity to create new traditions together by listening to your foster child and considering what would make the holidays special for them.
1. Offer grace
It’s important to enter the holiday season knowing that certain holidays or traditions may bring up feelings of sadness, loss, and grief for your child. Talk about this ahead of time. Be ready to offer plenty of grace and understanding to your foster child. Doing so is critical to your foster child—and the entire foster family—enjoying the holiday season. Depending on the situation of your foster child, it may be possible to include your child’s biological family in some of the festivities. If the child has visitation, you can help your child purchase or make a present to give to their parent. By supporting your foster child during the holidays, there’s the opportunity for growth and bonding as a foster family.
2. Respect different traditions. . .
Older foster children will come with their own expectations and traditions. Even if your foster child is younger, their biological family may have certain cultural values they’d like you to uphold. Whenever possible, it’s important to respect and incorporate those traditions into your foster family for the time that your foster child is living with you. If your foster child believes in Santa, be ready to set out milk and cookies on Christmas Eve. If your child always roots for a certain football team on Thanksgiving Day, join them to cheer on their team. Maybe they have a favorite holiday food they cook. Allow them to teach you the recipe and make it together.
3. . . . While sharing the joy of your own!
You can also introduce your foster child to traditions your family has previously held. It’s one of the greatest privileges and a joy as a foster parent to experience many “firsts” with your foster child. The first time they have a Christmas tree. The first time they stay up to watch the ball drop at midnight on New Year Eve. By introducing your foster child to your traditions, you’re helping them feel included and valued as a member of your family. When you bake a secret family recipe together, you’re confirming that they’re a trusted member of the family. When you go Black Friday shopping and ask their opinion on what to purchase, you’re showing your foster child you value their opinion.
4. Try new things, too.
What can be most meaningful is creating entirely new traditions together. Try new things as a family and have a sense of humor about it. My foster daughter, husband, and I found a list of holiday traditions online and we picked things we had never done, but wanted to try. My daughter and I had both never made Christmas cookies, the perfectly cut out and decorated cookies you see in Hallmark movies. We decided to spend a day baking in an attempt to make these. A few hours in we looked at each other and burst out laughing realizing that neither of us enjoyed doing something so tedious and time-consuming. We just liked eating the cookie dough. That wasn’t a tradition we kept, but we had fun trying it. On the other hand, we discovered one of our favorite traditions entirely by accident. We wanted to put up our Christmas tree before Thanksgiving, so we decided to make a Thanksgiving Tree. Lights, a few ornaments, and pretty brown tags were put on the tree. Each tag named something we were thankful for. We created that tradition together and now that our foster daughter and her younger siblings are adopted, we continue this tradition each year.
Cultivating traditions gives you new ways to demonstrate to your foster child that you love and care about them.
Whether you’re learning something new from your foster child, introducing them to an old tradition of yours, or creating new traditions altogether, the holidays offer your foster family the opportunity to bond, grow, and experience the magic of the season together.