I remember the first Christmas as a foster dad. My wife and I of course went overboard with getting too many presents for the kids in our home. Not to mention that CASA workers, agency workers, and Angel Tree folks also contributed to the pile of items under the tree. Did I say pile?! It was more like a small mountain.
I remember the kids being excited about the presents and spending the day playing with their new toys (and a good deal of time playing with the boxes). However, a few days later I noticed that the toys were not being played with, or they were being played with inappropriately, OR they simply weren’t being cared for. Actually, after a week, many of the items were broken or showing signs of distress. I remember some toys being given to other kids in order to “buy” friendships.
In our situation, our kids had simply never been shown how to care for items. Also, the frequent moving around in the foster care system made it difficult for our kids to associate any relational value to an item because our kids were never allowed much time to form deep and bonding relationships with many people. Actually, deep and meaningful relationships is what our children were needing the most at the time.
After a few Christmas seasons, we started to learn how to better meet our kids’ needs. When people asked what they could get the kids for Christmas, we asked them to not get them any toys. Instead we asked people to consider getting our children experiences. We suggested that folks get us passes to the local science museum or gift cards to the nearest zoo so that our large family could afford to eat a meal on the property. We asked people to get us gift cards to Build A Bear so that WE could make a stuffed animal together and learn about each other’s likes and dislikes as we created a stuffed animal friend.
Our family believes that movies and books can help people bond and connect. Thus, we often asked folks for movie gift cards because it’s expensive to take a family of six or eight to the theater. Gift cards can make it possible to let your kids have a “normal” experience that other kids at school are getting to have AND the story that you experience in the theater opens up healthy dialogues for your family to have about past trauma or current issues. Since my wife and I have experience writing curriculum, it was natural for us to use movies as a shared experience. I will say that the movie reviewers at Transfiguring Adoption do a great job creating discussion/bonding guides for current movies and highlighting trauma triggers so that you can have some of the great bonding moments that our family experienced at the movie theater. I am a bit biased when I say you should join the [Media Review Service] BUT I have witnessed myself observing these reviewers creating a magical moments for families. Definitely, [check it out] if you want help turning movie time into a healthy experience.
Did our kids like getting fewer toys? Our kids have never felt cheated. While kids at school might have the latest video games or a new iPhone, our kids have been able to take trips to many locations and learn how to care for people in a family, be sad within a family, ask for help, be disappointed, and have fun. It’s not about “Keeping up with the Joneses.” It’s knowing what your children need and adjusting accordingly.
What does your family have fun experiencing together?
Thanks for all you do,