A Young Alumni's Perspective of the Holidays
I love the holiday season! I start listening to Christmas music a few weeks before trick-or-treaters scout their neighborhoods for candy in their Halloween garb. Some say I'm crazy for listening to Christmas music so early, but I don't think a month is long enough to thoroughly enjoy those great holiday tunes.
For me, the meaning behind the holidays is more than stuffing your face with Grandma's homemade pecan pie, getting the year's hottest toy, or even enjoying the music. What it's all about is coming together as a family and enjoying and treasuring each other's company.
As a foster kid I used to hate the holidays because I wasn't with my family. After my father died the holidays never seemed the same. While in foster care I was able to go home, but only on Thanksgiving and Christmas day. For me, being with loved ones the whole season is what makes the holidays so special. Going home for just one or two days just wasn't enough.
During the holidays I often felt like an outsider because I was just a foster kid. I struggled emotionally when my foster family celebrated the holidays because I wanted to feel what I thought they were feeling. Even though I was included in all celebrations I often felt left out. To me, I was just "borrowing" their family and ultimately their joy.
I felt guilty when my foster mom bought me gifts because I knew she didn't have to. Sometimes I felt the only reason she bought them was because she was obligated to. If she bought gifts for me I felt guilty, and if I didn't receive gifts I would have felt unloved. It was a no-win situation.
Foster parents are put in a tough position during the holidays. They mean well, but sometimes don't understand what their foster kids go through because they've never been in a similar situation themselves. I know my foster mother did her best, but she would have done better had she understood the complexity of my feelings. Still, I will always be grateful for her willingness to open up her home and heart to me.
In my town we have an organization that provides toys for needy kids to open on Christmas morning. Though the presents were un-wrapped and came in a clear plastic bag, I really enjoyed receiving them. Since the donor of the toys were anonymous, I felt I didn't owe anybody. Receiving the plastic gift bag was a clear indicator that I was needy, but I'd rather feel needy than obligated to someone.
I'm sure my story is probably different than yours, but I know what it's like to be a foster kid during the holidays. I know what it's like to miss bio-family. I know what it's like to feel awkward observing the holidays with people who have different customs and spiritual beliefs than you do.
I know it's really hard spending the holiday season away from the ones you love, but I encourage you to not push away from the ones who are caring for you, even though the situation may only be temporary. They might not say or do the right things all the time, but remember that they do their best.
I can't control my foster care history and I can't control other people's behavior, but I can control how I react to life's circumstances. During the holiday seasons past I missed out on so much because I was focused on issues that were really out of my control. I had every right to feel those feelings, but it caused me to miss out on what the holidays are really about. I still struggle with some of those feelings today that I felt when I was younger and in foster care, but I don't let them rob me from enjoying the holidays.
I wish you joy and peace this holiday season,
Daniel J. Knapp