Suppose that you are a foster parent with four children in your care. One of the children is excited about going trick-or-treating. One child knows nothing about the holiday. One comes from a family that does not celebrate the holiday for religious reasons. The fourth is a new arrival who is easily frightened and who erupts into panicked screams when her foster sister disappears behind the mask that transforms her into a witch.
You want to create happy memories for all of the children but crafting an event that includes everyone does not seem as simple as one might wish. Is a trip to the Pumpkin Patch a Halloween celebration? Is the scarecrow the family makes for the front yard more frightening than fun? Given all of the difficulties facing foster parents who are trying to bring order and stability into the lives of children who have been removed from their families because of abuse or neglect, these could certainly be seen as a trivial issues. However, for foster parents who understand the importance of ritual in creating a sense of family, matters such as these can loom large.
Photo by: Urbansoup.
Foster parenting is not easy, particularly for those parents who open their homes to several children. Chances are good that they will come from different backgrounds, and bring with them not just different expectations about holidays and whether or how they might be celebrated, but from varying communities. The suburban parent who takes in a child who has lived in a city tenement may discover that the quiet of the new neighborhood is unnerving rather than comforting and interferes with the child’s sleep. The family who bows heads in prayer and spends most of Sunday in church may find themselves with a confused and ill-behaved foster child if this is her first exposure to formal religion.
For foster parents who want children to feel part of the family, it is natural to include them in the family’s traditional holiday celebrations. Yet, paradoxically, rituals that are unfamiliar to the child may make her feel like an outsider, rather than one who belongs. As a result, she may deliberately exclude herself from the festivities or disrupt them by acting out—thereby ensuring that everyone shares in her misery.
Halloween ushers in the fall and winter holidays with parents anticipating a rising tide of activities—some welcome and some not. For foster parents this season often means a rising sense of anxiety, as well, as they attempt to help the children they care for feel at home with them and yet still connected to their families of origin. Foster parents always need community help and support, but particularly at this time of year.
By Toni Heineman