As we all look forward to the end of the school year, Christmas and summer holidays we are probably filled with joy, excitement and a bit worn out! This year I was privileged to work for Fostering Hope, raising awareness about the needs of vulnerable children in Tasmania and trying to find carers, mentors, and other supports for them. On the back of this role, I am more aware this Christmas period of the unexpected extras for foster and kinship carers and their families at this time of year. Extras which preparation for fostering training sometimes cannot prepare you for.
The unexpected emotion of caring for other people’s children in our home and knowing there is a struggling birth family at the other side of the joy we are privileged to experience.
The unexpected expectation on myself to navigate birth family relationships ‘well’, with love, grace and kindness and not feeling like I can really do anything to ‘fix’ or help.
The unexpected extras of just parenting five children, which means five sets of end of year celebrations, five lots of presents for teachers, coaches, youth group leaders, and other special people in their lives, five lots of presents for friends and siblings they want to bless, and just everything times five (if you grew up in a big family, this won’t be an extra for you, but is for me!).
The unexpected burden of knowing some of our little ones are thriving in our home and we get to share this with them, not their birth family, also knowing their birth family are seeing them thrive in our home and not knowing how that makes them feel.
The unexpected weight of a great relationship with extended birth family and not wanting to mess this up, not wanting to buy presents too big or too little, not wanting to show too much love in case it is a threat, and just generally overthinking this!
The unexpected sadness of knowing life isn’t great for other birth families, so feeling like any gift will be meaningless in the context of their current lives.
The unexpected extra family visits around Christmas and trying to fit these in with your own family, biological children, plans and not wanting these children to feel too different.
The unexpected extra of managing expectations around gifts for all the children in your home. We treat all the children in our home as equal, however your children in care may receive gifts from birth families and you want to celebrate this and handle it well for everyone. This isn’t necessarily hard and can be a real celebration, but still an extra to think about.
Honouring the children who enter your homes Christmas traditions and fitting them in with your family life.
This wasn’t for us, but for some foster and kinship carers, the unexpected judgement of their own families of having extra kids with high needs at this time of year and how this changes what Christmas may look like.
Whatever it is, these unexpected extras of Christmas are part of the fostering/kinship journey. They aren’t things you will learn about in your preparation for fostering journey or things that you really think about prior to beginning. Fostering Hope has spent this year recruiting carers in Tasmania and we hope we can help prepare you for all the expected extras, and then support you through the unexpected extras as we navigate them together.
Throughout the whole fostering/kinship journey, the expected and unexpected, I try and keep Christ at the centre and seek to shine his love, servant heart, and kindness in all relationships. However, I know when I am tired, trying to do this can feel like an extra burden, so I need to rest in Him and stop trying so hard!
Praying for all of you as you enter Christmas that you can find joy, your children and their families peace, and together know you are loved.