Thanksgiving Tips for Foster Parents

November 16, 2011 at 12:26 am 51 comments

Today when I was walking Moonlight and Shadow through my new neighborhood, I passed a house that had a huge blow-up turkey outside.  Moonlight tried to attack it and Shadow barked as it moved with the bursts of wind.  I stood there, realizing that I really liked it because it was a “happy” turkey and it made me think about the Thanksgivings I experienced in foster care.

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If you never read about my first Thanksgiving, READ THIS, which covers it and can provide insight into a foster child’s fears (I just re-read it and found it very moving).  After that first Thanksgiving, some were good, some were bad, and some were non-existent.  As I stood there looking at the happy turkey blow-up, I thought of things that were really meaningful to me as a foster kid… at Thanksgiving.

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1) What is Thanksgiving?  Ok, seriously, to this day, I still am not 100% sure what Thanksgiving is really about.  Pilgrims, Indians, food, turkey, eating tons…is kind of my idea.   So see?  Share the history and meaning of Thanksgiving with your foster children.  They may have never heard it.   More importantly, it can help show foster children  how “different people” can be together, celebrate together, and be thankful.  Different cultures, different backgrounds… but still being together.

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2) Prepare Now!  Thanksgiving can be very overwhelming to a foster child.  Lots of food!  Lots of people!  Manners needed!  Start explaining before Thanksgiving, what is going to happen, who is going to be there, what foods there will be, that there will be plenty for everyone, and what expectations you have for manners.  Remember, most foster kids have food issues.  Since Thanksgiving focuses alot on food, make sure to re-assure your foster children or have plans to address their needs.  Get special bags or tupperware and label it so that your foster child has their own “storage” for left-overs.  Have food “rules” in place — If you want 2 pieces of pie, you must eat one vegetable.  Don’t force the child to eat everything on their plate; respect their feeling of being full.

I wanted to take so much because I was afraid that I would not get any, with so many people around.  I was afraid it would be all gone because I was the “little person.”  Survival mode went into action. … One Thanksgiving, I remember taking 3 rolls and piling them on my plate.  As my hand went for the cranberries (which I didn’t even really like), my foster mom gently stopped me and asked me if I really wanted all 3 rolls on my plate.  I didn’t want them at that moment, but I wanted to make sure they were there for me, when I did want them!  MINE!   Solution:  2 rolls were removed from my plate and put aside on a separate plate in the kitchen for when I needed to have them later.  I never did …

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3) Special foods.  Some people have special foods on Thanksgiving, besides or in place of the traditional.  Remember your foster kids!  Ask them if there is anything they would like!   A vegetable?  A dessert?  or even a special drink?  One foster home I lived at poured apple cider with desert.  Have you ever had cold apple cider with hot apple pie?  Holy shit.  Awesome combination!

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4)  Giving Thanks.  You want to make a foster kid’s Thanksgiving?  Before you eat, give thanks that they are there with you, celebrating in your home.  Why?  Because so many foster kids feel like they don’t belong, that no-one wants them, that they are problems, etc…. Very rarely do they hear good things about themselves.  Say good things on Thanksgiving day!  Let everyone know you are thankful for them.

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5)  Respect the sadness.  Please remember that holidays are hard for foster kids.   Holidays = family days… and foster kids come from messed up families.  Irregardless of abuse, kids long for their parents.  Sometimes at holidays, sadness takes over as kids think about their bioparents or biosiblings.  They may feel sad for being away, they may feel sad because they are celebrating and their parents are not or did not, they may feel sad wondering if their parents are ok, they may feel sad because they wonder why “their family” can’t be like this… sadness and holidays go together.

If the child wants to talk, be ready to talk about “their” holidays.  Ask appropriate questions, following the child’s lead. Be prepared to share your empathy for things the child did not have with their bioparents.  Don’t simply say “well you have it now,”… because that is NOT the point.   Don’t ignore the sadness, because then the child is alone.  Remember it does not reflect you, but feel honored that the child wants to share “their” life with you, during these times.

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aaaaaadark6.  Punishment.  Don’t threaten taking away Thanksgiving or making a child miss it.  It is a shitty thing to do to children who are already missing so much in their lives!   Taking things or events away from children who have so little, but yet so much trauma, is going to backfire.  Children will either get worse or they will shut down.  Holidays bring increased anxiety and feelings… and “problem behaviors” might escalate.  Find creative ways to handle the “problems”…such as engaging the child in helping to prepare for the holiday; cooking with you, making decorations, cleaning with you, raking leaves, etc.  Engage, don’t isolate.

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As I stared at the happy turkey blow-up balloon, I realized the last time I celebrated Thanksgiving was when I was 17 years old.  I turned 18 in fall before Thanksgiving…. and aged-out onto the streets, where Thanksgiving was just a fading memory as I struggled to survive.  Admist the sadness I felt recalling the years that have passed by, I found moments of joy reminiscing  about the “good” Thanksgivings I had growing up in foster care.  Far fewer than most people, but still something to hold onto…

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Do your best, to make positive memories for your foster children this year…

…you never know when and where they might need them in the future…

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teach your foster children … Hold the “happy” — holidays are hard for foster kids!

51 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Another Time  |  November 16, 2011 at 12:35 am

    Fantastic post, LT. Eye-opener for people who may be too busy to realize all this turmoil could and probably is going on in the head of their foster child(ren.

    Reply
    • 2. Another Time  |  November 16, 2011 at 12:49 am

      Or their adopted child.

      Reply
  • 3. KimB  |  November 16, 2011 at 12:45 am

    LT, I enjoyed this post tremendously. First, you mentioned that you were able to recall positive memories from your life. That is growth. Second, you did a great job promoting the possible needs and concerns of foster youth during the holidays and explaining why. I hope everyone re-reads your first Thanksgiving, because it helped me realize how thankful I am for my life and what things so many of us take for granted. Thank you. ((LT))

    Reply
  • 4. Krista  |  November 16, 2011 at 12:52 am

    Wow, LT, this is an amazing post. Do you think that Jessie will have you over for Thanksgiving? (I sure hope so!) And you might want to check with your vet and see if Moonlight can have a little bit of turkey to supplement her chicken…just in case you share Thanksgiving with KC and her family. 😉

    Reply
  • 5. Cesarea  |  November 16, 2011 at 1:37 am

    Wow, you just made Thanksgiving amazing for a lot of foster kids. I am thankful for this blog, and for you, LT!

    Reply
  • 6. Ross  |  November 16, 2011 at 1:42 am

    L.T I am very proud of you for being able to hold to the good and positive things that had happen in your life. I am glad that you experienced those good holydays, even if they were very few, but you had some. This post is very educational to me, not only for my foster children but also for my bio too. I will start preparating them and including them since this coming weekend.
    I want to share with you that I am trying to have a girl that lived with me for around 5 months( right now she is in a group home and is a long story) to spend Thanksgiving with us again, like last year. We have open visitations with her and she calls us every week. I am very glad that I am helping her to keep beautifil memories.
    I hope you start celebrating thanksgiving again and please if KC and her family invite you over, don’t be shy, give yourself the opportunity to build even more wonderful memories!
    Love
    xoxo

    Reply
  • 7. michelle v  |  November 16, 2011 at 2:10 am

    great post!
    super advocating!

    ♥ michelle

    Reply
  • 8. ella  |  November 16, 2011 at 2:11 am

    You are amazing!!! You are so thoughtful,wonderful.

    Reply
  • 9. C  |  November 16, 2011 at 3:57 am

    Your talent for writing shines and your voice is appreciated. The lessons here would not be as memorable, and would not have as much impact, if your own personal story were not a part of it. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  • 10. Becca  |  November 16, 2011 at 6:38 am

    Ditto what everyone else said! This post is super, and I am so glad you wrote it. Thanks LT.

    Reply
  • 11. Beth  |  November 16, 2011 at 6:54 am

    I bet KC’s family would love to have you over for thanksgiving this year. 🙂

    Great post, I especially loved the part about giving thanks for your foster kids. I will remember all of your tips with my daughter (adopted from foster care) and the other kids I plan to adopt from FC in the future.

    Reply
  • 12. The Sleeper  |  November 16, 2011 at 7:53 am

    Great post! Many foster families are surprised when their foster children get angry or sad around the holidays. FPs tend to think something like “This is a much better holiday then they have had in the past, why are their feelings out of whack?” You explained why perfectly. Loss of family. Nothing can replace that need for their natural parents. We as FPs need to be sensitive to that issue. Love the dinner roll story! 😉

    Reply
  • 13. cherubmamma  |  November 16, 2011 at 8:14 am

    Awesome post LT!!!!!

    Reply
  • 14. abbys_momma  |  November 16, 2011 at 8:37 am

    nicely done

    Reply
  • 15. Rebecca  |  November 16, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Thank you so much for post. I only recently found your blog, but I love every single one of your posts. Your empathy, kindness, genuineness (and writing talent) are truly unique. I’m at the end of graduate school, studying to be a therapist who specializes in trauma, and your experiences have given me so many important things to consider. You’re doing others an excellent service!

    Reply
  • 16. Steph  |  November 16, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    Awesome!! Posting on Facebook! 🙂

    Reply
  • 17. RW  |  November 16, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Maybe show the kids “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving”. If they are overwhelmed with too many people, watching a movie could be a nice break. It’s also something that they could easily recreate for themselves if and when they are living elsewhere. There are a bunch of Thanksgiving movies out there, but Peanuts is probably the most emotionally safe for little kids. Older kids might prefer “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”.

    I also like “What’s Cooking?” which is about 4 different (ethnically and otherwise) families that all have conflicts, but do their best to come together with love around the holiday. It’s a little idealized, but the characters and situations are believable, so it makes for a good “role model” kind of movie and could allow a kid to talk about different kinds of families without disclosing anything of their personal experiences if they don’t want to.

    Making the classic “trace around your hand” turkey picture is a fun and easy way for a kid to add something of themself to the holiday at a new home. Variations could include sticking on feathers or other kinds of collage. Cut out some turkeys and tape them to popsicle sticks or pencils to make puppets or a “bouquet” of turkeys for a table centerpiece.

    A foster kid may like helping to make place cards and being in on the “seating chart” decisions–this demonstrates in a concrete way that everyone at the meal has their own place.

    Happy TG to LT and the blog crew. I hope you can all spend it with people and animals whom you’re thankful for having in your lives. LT, if your identity weren’t super-secret, you’d have dozens of invitations from your readers, including me.

    Reply
  • 18. CR  |  November 16, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    Great post! This Thanksgiving I’ll also be thankful for you, your blog and all the wisdom you share.

    Reply
  • 19. Joe  |  November 16, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    Great post, LT. I echo everyone else. Especially taking up KC and Jessie and Mark on any invite that might be extended. 17 to 20-something is too long without a Thanksgiving.

    Giving thanks for LT and her blog this year.

    Reply
  • 20. butterflysblog  |  November 16, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    Another beautiful post, sweet LT. These lists are so useful for the rest of us, because you are really explaining what it was like for you and how we can make it better for foster kids. Thank you for doing this, LT. Thank you.
    – Butterfly

    Reply
  • 21. Another Voice  |  November 16, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    thanks for the great post. glad you enjoyed the walk and the turkey.

    Reply
  • 22. KP  |  November 16, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    LT, you rock. 🙂

    Reply
  • 23. Foster Mom in Training  |  November 16, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    Thank you, LT. 🙂

    Reply
  • 24. ella  |  November 16, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    Lt, i found a funny website that makes me laugh. Check this: http://www.passiveaggressivenotes.com. who knows you like it. Have fun browsing;)

    Reply
    • 25. Another Time  |  November 17, 2011 at 12:32 am

      I LOVE that site!! I forgot all about it. Good share Ella!

      Reply
  • 26. Sarah  |  July 2, 2012 at 1:38 am

    Hey LT, I have been reading your blog for a while now and I just wanted to let you know that I think you and your blog are amazing!

    It has always been a dream of mine to have foster and adopted children of my own and your blog is helping me to prepare for that.

    I also wanted to tell how much I admire and respect you. You have lived through so much pain and yet you keep going and not only that but you work through your blog to make other foster kid’s lives better.

    Even though you don’t realize it nearly enough you are an amazing person.

    There is something that some one once told that I think you need to hear, “People walk passed diamonds in the dirt every day, that doesn’t make the diamonds worth any less, it just proves the peoples ignorance.”
    The fact that people have undervalued you all your life doesn’t make you worth less, it is those people that are worthless.

    I know this may not mean much coming from a complete stranger, but if you ever need to talk I would be more than willing to listen. My email address is daddygodknittedme@yahoo.com, I am also on facebook if that would be a safer place for you.

    Thank you for your courage.
    Sarah

    Reply
  • 27. Michelle  |  October 29, 2012 at 8:42 am

    I’d like to paraphrase some of your tips in a newsletter that goes out to foster parents if that’s ok? I think it’s helpful to remind foster parents how the kids in the home think…

    Reply
  • 28. Sheri Rettig  |  October 29, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    Can I use this in a Foster Parent Newsletter?

    Reply
  • 29. Kara Curfman  |  November 11, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    Great post. To the point and from the heart. Can I link it to my FB page which is a support page for Foster and Adoptive parents? I think they would benefit from your blog and especially this post!

    Reply
  • 30. Bonita  |  November 14, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    I would like to use your article in my foster parent newsletter for our Foster Parent Association. I send these out once a month (or try to) to the foster parents in our group. I think this article would be a good one for this month since Thanksgiving is next week. Please let me know if this is ok with you.

    Reply
  • 31. Sarah  |  November 25, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    It’s very interesting… I’m living with my aunt and uncle at the moment. I’m with familiar people, I’m almost 17, old enough to deal with holidays. I asked to get out of my dad’s house. I wanted to leave and not have visits with him. Yet everything you described in this article, I felt on thanksgiving. I actually skipped the mealtime because I was feeling really overwhelmed. My folks had their friends over and I didn’t feel like pretending I was ok when I wasn’t. I missed my mom’s cooking, my dad sitting down with us and watching the parade, my brother helping me heat up leftovers. The smell of the turkey reminded me of when my mom was sick because the smell had made her sick on our last thanksgiving together. It was the one time everyone in my family was together and behaving. This year, i didn’t know what to expect. It was the second home I’ve been in since I left dad’s. Last year I was with a different aunt and her two kids, who resented me terribly. Let’s just say I didn’t feel like I belonged there. I felt like I was in the way. I didn’t want to feel that way again this year, so I stayed in my room. I felt guilty about not wanting to see my dad or brother. I wondered what they were doing, if my dad would have a hot meal and someone to eat with, if my brother would even think about me.

    My cousin knocked on my door and said “gobble gobble” and teased me that he’d eat all the turkey. I just smiled and told him i wasn’t in the mood to be teased. My aunt said to him, “don’t bother her all we ever get is crabby responses. It triggers her anxiety and depression, so just leave her alone.” I didn’t want to be thought of like that. Her tone made me feel like some science experiment. I found it to be very insensitive.

    With all these emotions, I wasn’t hungry. Everyone kept knocking on my door asking me to come eat. But I didn’t want them to know I was crying, so I said I wasn’t going to eat. I didn’t want to burden them or ruin their holiday, and I also didn’t think they’d understand. When I finally went out to join them one of our guests started talking to me. Kids bop was on tv and I said, “I remember when they came out.” and she talked down to me saying, “no you don’t. you were too young.” after several similar comments I was sick of being treated like I didn’t know anything, so I escaped back to my room.

    it goes to show you, these tips definitely apply to all ages. So to foster parents, if your older foster child is acting out or isolating him/herself, don’t take it personally and understand that it’s a reaction to fear, uncertainty and emotions. Remind them that you’re there and you understand it’s hard for them. Approach them with respect, and empathy. Sometimes all we want is to be understood.

    Reply
  • 32. Claire  |  November 15, 2013 at 11:09 am

    This post is fantastic and really impactful. I thank you SO much for sharing! I was wondering if I could summarize you work for our Foster Parent Newsletter (obviously giving you credit). I think your tips will be very impactful and will help our Foster Parents! Please Let me know! Thanks 🙂

    Reply
  • 33. Sara  |  December 1, 2013 at 11:27 am

    LT, the “read this” link in the first paragraph is broken. Informative post otherwise. I imagine most foster parents’ impulse is to make the holidays as exciting as possible, but apparently that’s counterproductive.

    Reply
  • 34. Jessica  |  October 22, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    May I use your material for a paper? I will properly cite (but remove some words because of language).

    Reply
    • 35. LooneyTunes  |  October 23, 2014 at 1:26 am

      yup.

      Reply
  • 36. Debora Gault  |  October 23, 2014 at 10:49 am

    may I use some of this in a foster parent newletter?

    Reply
  • 37. Jessica  |  October 23, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    I think this lady plagiarized your blog….check it out

    http://www.examiner.com/foster-care-adoption-in-national/susan-cornbluth

    Reply
  • 39. Jessica  |  October 23, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    After I reported it, she tacked your link on it.

    Reply
  • 40. beth o'malley  |  November 6, 2014 at 9:33 am

    LT your writing is so profound, useful, and from the heart. I’d like to use this article for my November newsletter . http://www.adoptionlifebooks.com thanks beth o’malley

    Reply
  • 41. Julia  |  November 13, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    LT, I just was connected to your blog via Beth O’Malley’s newsletter. I work at a DV shelter for women and children. I will be there for Thanksgiving this year. Would I be able to pass this entry on to my coworkers? These pointers would be helpful in creating a meaningful day for our families too.

    Reply
    • 42. LooneyTunes  |  November 13, 2014 at 7:34 pm

      sure. you can pass on whatever. just cite the blog.
      have a good thanksgiving helping people… thats what it should be about, really.
      peace.

      Reply
  • […] CLICK HERE FOR THANKSGIVING TIPS!! […]

    Reply
  • 44. MaryB  |  November 18, 2014 at 11:31 am

    LT, I haven’t seen you post on it, but did any of your foster parents ever help you write letters to your bio family – even if they knew they would not receive them past TPR? I wonder how important that would have been to you? Also, did any foster parent ever attempt to alter your perception of your bio family dynamics – example: in the one letter my granddaughter was helped to send to me while in temporary custody, she called my son, her possible father – and CPS was well aware of that – her, “uncul”. Yet before entering CPS she knew he could be her father, and sometimes called him, “dad” or “daddy”, even though he called himself by name to her to try not to confuse her without verification of paternity. If you have views on this subject I would like to read about them. I hope you are beginning to realize how very important your sharing is to educating people. It may be at least a part of your purpose in life. I’ll be thankful for you this season, and the help and insights you are giving me to write to my grandchildren in ways that might benefit them – if they even get my letters.

    Reply
  • 45. Sarah  |  November 18, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    Thank you so much. I am grateful for your perspective and that you share it so bluntly. This is my first Thanksgiving with my foster son who is 8. (and my name is Sarah – ha!) I’m so proud of him and thankful he is with me to celebrate. Your post is a true blessing for me so I can better understand my little man. I’m nervous. I don’t want to mess it up for him, so thank you for the help.

    Reply
  • 46. Therese Wolf  |  November 19, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    Thank you for sharing some really easy things foster parents can do to make holidays better. I would like to use your post for a letter to our foster parents (I am the agency director) to remind them they need to see the world from these kids eyes, not theirs. Let me know.

    Reply
    • 47. LooneyTunes  |  November 19, 2014 at 10:17 pm

      sure. just cite the blog.
      peace.

      Reply
  • 48. tjl567  |  October 22, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    Hi I love your blog and would like to link to your blog. I am especially interested in your posts that talk about how adults can help children in foster care. Please contact me with your response or for more information at office@darlahenry.org.

    Reply
  • 49. Carina Dente  |  November 12, 2015 at 10:06 am

    Hi! I would love to link to your blog on our Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA) Facebook page. We train community volunteers to advocate for the best interests of children who come to the attention of the court primarily as the result of abuse or neglect. Let me know if that’d be okay.

    Reply
  • 50. Kathy Chuderski  |  March 15, 2016 at 7:46 pm

    I am sorry you did not have a better childhood but what you are doing hopefully will help people like me be a better foster parent. I raised two wonderful and successful children and now I still have much love and caring to help others so I am looking forward to it. Thank you for your insight on these things and may God bless you.

    Reply
  • 51. Art Carreiro  |  April 4, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    Hmm it looks like your blog ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum itup what I wrote and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.I as well am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to everything.Do you have any points for rookie blog writers?I’d definitely appreciate it.

    Reply

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