Monday, December 14, 2015


Christmas and fostering.

We could be here all day on this one.

The more Christmases I foster the more hard work it becomes because you learn stuff and build it in next year and end up with a bunch of practices the size of Encyclopaedia Brittanica.

And there's absolutely no guarantee it makes much difference; but you try, you try. Every year it throws up the same mystery for me and I suspect many people in fostering.

Can I get something off my chest? I get cross with all the TV cooks making endless fancy Christmas recipes of indulgent stuff with home-made sponge bases and cuts of meat you never see in Sainsburys which they tell you to 'ask your butcher to prepare for you'.

The media generally portrays idyllic family gatherings. You get the feeling you're the only household not hosting 27 laughing back-slapping souls; glamorous sons with noble wives who've flown in from Durban, granddaughters down from Oxford. Cheerful children, twinkling grandparents.


The first thing is to set your fostering sights realistically; foster children are likely to appear greedy and ungrateful. They are neither, of course. Their materialism is no different from anyone's they just lack finesse in going after the goods. And they don't know how to be gracious, not surprisingly.

They might moan about certain aspects of your idea of Christmas, maybe even try to make out that they had a better time before coming into care. In some ways of course, they did; they weren't from a broken up home back then and they often got everything they wanted and more ( I find chaotic parents often compensate for lack of care with expensive treats).

They might get grumpy about your own family traditions. You might want to play Buckaroo on the table at midday because you always do; they'll not get into that will they? Their Christmas traditions might have been that everyone was under the table by midday.

The build-up to Christmas Day is just as fraught. Foster children miss their real home and their real mum and dad more at Christmas than any other time of the year, the Contacts beforehand are tense, the present-swapping is so poignant, the phone calls to family, if allowed, are difficult. They have a wobbly about something trivial, but the real reason is because of what being in care at Christmas does to their insides.

The days after  Christmas can be rubbish for them as well; that dead period between Boxing Day and New Year's Eve; toys all played out, weather bad but not actual snow, TV dreadful.

So what's the fostering mystery? It's this;

Every year you know it's going to be a mighty slog, fraught with pitfalls and dramas. But every year you long for it, plan for it, lie awake daydreaming of the best Christmas ever. You shop til you drop, you cook and cover the house with decorations, you go the extra mile to get their presents dead right, you wrap them beautifully and hesitate what to write on the tag ("From Mum and dad"? "Merry Christmas, love...."?  "xxx"?).

You slog through Christmas embracing all the emotional carnage, remembering it wasn't  much easier before you fostered.

Now you are fostering it's a fantastic stretch of days; you're all together under one roof (you can hyper-foster), you are giving them toys, fancy food, affection and warmth. 

Yes there are tears sometimes. But Christmas gives us a chance to do such intense fostering that maybe we should wish it could be Christmas every day.

I know this is true because we've had children stay for more than one Christmas and it's amazing how they remember each detail from the past year and ask if it's going to be the same again:

"Will there be pork pie for breakfast again? Yeeeeugh!"

"Can I put the star on the tree again?"

"The dancing Father Christmas goes on the other end of the mantlepiece!"

Of course, plenty of foster parents and foster children are non-Christian; so when I say Merry Christmas at the end of this post I mean it in every language and in every faith as an expression of goodwill and affection;

Merry Fostering Christmas!



  1. This one really made me think. I've thought of little else but fostering for many weeks now. But this really did make me think. There were things I hadn't thought of, so that's good, because now I have. We are lucky - we really do all have a wonderful time at Christmas and for some reason the adults and children all get along fine. (Hardly dare to admit it - unfashionable!) It's warm and joyful, and I wanted to share this with a foster child. But it can't be taken for granted, for all the reasons you've given. Work to be done. Well, at least I've got until next Christmas to prepare us!

    My referees received their reference requests a couple of days ago, and I've received my medical forms, and the social worker does her first assessment visit in a couple of days time. I am up for this, but can I handle it? One minute I am sure I can, the next I doubt it big-time. What do you think a foster-carer needs? What are the can't-do-without qualities? Helen

  2. Hi Helen,
    What does a foster parent need? I put exactly that question to panel the moment after they confirmed we'd been approved. I got an answer from the long-term foster dad who was one of the panel. He thought hard and said;
    "You're going to need a lot of love"
    You need a big heart and intuition to understand how being ripped up through no fault of theirs can bring about unwanted emotions and behaviours.
    You need stamina, physical and mental.
    You need a kind family and good friends around you.
    You need all the experiences you've had in life, especially the difficult episodes to draw from.
    Above all you need your mind on the bigger picture which is the good you're doing, the help you are giving. You need to know that you, Helen,are making a better world for a child who needs you.
    You need to keep alert for the hundreds and thousands of joyous moments of reward and delight that come every day, every single day, provided you stay on the lookout.
    Helen, it's not so much about the qualities a foster parent can't do without, it's about the fact the child can't do without you.
    My gut feeling is the fact you asked the question means you'll be great.

  3. Thank you - really from the bottom of my heart. xx

    1. And a very Happy Christmas to you and all your famiy, and especially to Romeo and the Pompey supporter in your midst! You will do a . wonderful job, and will be creating happy, secure memories for all the kids. Helen x

  4. We're having out first fostering Christmas and we're all finding it hard, but trying to make it as low key, tension wise, and calm as possible. We don't have birth children, so trying to build in new traditions that are part of our future fostering Christmas'. We have tried to space out seeing our extended family and planned different activities for each day of the two week holiday, even if it's just a duvet day- I'm hoping that some sense of routine or plans will help us all.

    1. Sounds like you have a great plan, love the duvet days idea.
      And next Christmas will be so much easier because you'll get loads of wonderful 'we'll do what we always do' moments during the holiday.
      I bet your extended family are looking forward to seeing you all and catching up on your fostering journey.
      Yes, it can be the hardest time, but it is also the most sublime time.
      Love, and Merry Christmas.

    2. I will be thinking of you, as I have my Christmas with the famiy here, and as I look forward to having foster children, like you, by next Christmas. Good luck! Helen

    3. Thanks Helen. I hope 2016 is a great year for you.

  5. I hope you're all ready for Christmas SFC! I know it'll be a confusing time for Romeo but hopefully he'll be able to get in the spirit and have a wonderful day with you all.

    Spot on with the "kind family and good friends" advice. We lean on ours for support a great deal. Mine are amazing but I wish I'd addressed what to call the kids before we started fostering, we had a few issues with comments like "Oh - thats Mooglet's foster daughter" and "she's my foster neice" which we've had to address afterward.

    So big question for you SFC - how do you deal with gifts and cards, or the lack of, from birth family. We've always done them first if we have them, and not mentioned them when they haven't. Doing them first means they get attention (and a photo) early on, but are soon swept away amoung the rest of the gifts. What do you do?

    And Merry Christmas if we don't exchange posts before 25th! Your advice is invaluable so thank you for the time and effort you put into this blog.

    1. Happy Christmas, Mooglet, and thanks for the further ideas. I always enjoy your comments on the blog, too. Helen

    2. Thanks for your kindness and good wishes Mooglet. I hope your Christmas went well and that you're not too exhausted.
      Your point about how family address foster children and your question about presents from real family are so important I'd like to devote a post to them, thank you for raising the issues.

  6. Thankyou for this blog, We are learning so much from it... i retired from teaching just before christmas and the form F process is well underway, waiting now for house renovations ...

  7. Hi suep 123, sorry it took a few days to reply, Christmas is so full on. I know that ex-teachers often become great foster carers, I don't know much about building but best of luck.
    Good luck, please stay in touch.