With the holidays looming I have advice for all foster parents (and even bio parents). Let go of the Hallmark moment expectations. The holiday, birthday or any event is not going to look like those wonderful movies where everyone sits by the tree smiling all getting along or sitting around the table while another child blows out candles and opens gifts. Now my “little” was thrilled to live with us from early on. She made it very clear her wishes and she felt safe and loved and wanted to stay with us. There was no great trauma having her move into our home. With that said big holidays and special moments are still hard. Regardless of the situation that caused the child to be removed, there is still deep connections and genetically wired love that foster kids have for their biological parents. First of all, she is young. She was 5 during our first Christmas together. Being 5 alone is enough reason to not expect the perfect holiday. THEY ARE 5! I am looking at 50 and still have trouble with holidays. SO MUCH FOOD, EXCITEMENT, LACK OF SLEEP and that is the normal child. Now throw in a foster child (as happy as they are) there is still a piece of them that longs for their bio parents. They could have memories of past holidays or events with bio’s and even extended bio families. They could have horrible memories of holidays gone wrong and that triggers feelings. My husband and I discussed this at length. We have a very close family. In each other’s lives and such. We see them daily. As the holidays got closer we prepared them by sharing our expectations…or lack of them. Our plan was to take our cues from her. She did not have to hug, high five or kiss any family member she did not want to…(we don’t make her do that anyway). We told her if/when she was given a gift she was to thank the person. She could sign it if she was feeling shy. She will sometimes revert to using simple sign language when she is overwhelmed or feeling unsure. We also acknowledged the fact that we were glad she was with us but it is ok to miss bio parents. It is ok to talk about them. It is also ok to laugh or cry. We talked with her and gave her permission to emote. To feel. To be herself. We shared with our family that we were not sure how long we would stay. We may need to tap out early. Dinner was not going to be a battle. I brought some of the foods I know she would eat and just prepared them quietly on the side. The Christmas dinner table is not the place to throw down about food! We also brought a tablet. Sometimes when she gets overwhelmed she just likes to play one of her apps. She has several coping techniques for when she is overwhelmed. Drawing. Alone time dancing to her music. Apps on her tablet. We figured the app would be the least hassle. Our normal routine for Christmas was to spend the night at my family’s big home. All kids under one roof and then they come down the stairs in the morning and we have this long present opening time. Well, that was pre-kids for my husband and I. We were more flexible and could spend the night. Now with a foster kid, we felt it was good for us to have our own tree at our home. We invited the extended family to come and see her open her BIG present which was one of those jeeps kids can drive. My family respected our plan and all came over to watch her open the jeep. We wrapped the big empty box and had the jeep downstairs all ready to go. Sure enough, she opened it. Saw what it was and went CRAZY! Then we threw on coats (it was actually very warm that morning) and went downstairs and watched her drive out of the garage like she was a BOSS! Smiles. Laughter by all! To me, this was the perfect moment and it did not matter how the rest of the day went. But we still had the rest of the day to get through. I kept waiting for the meltdown. I kept waiting for us to leave with a screaming child but it never happened. Our first Christmas and the rest that followed have been amazing. Yes, we have needed to adapt how we celebrate but in the long run, it was not a hardship as family does for family. Being a foster child should not rule her life or define her but it is there. Some days are easier than others and we use the tools needed to help her navigate this life.