Written by Washington Foster Team
Anna Thompson is program supervisor at Olive Crest South Sound, a non-profit organization that, as part of its commitment to abused and neglected children, has partnered with Washington State for the program Fostering Together.
Given her work, Anna is in a unique position to provide insight on the challenges — and opportunities — in keeping traditions alive for foster children.
“We talk a lot about it with our families,” she says. “About them being investigators and really trying to learn about the traditions and culture of their foster children.”
While Anna stresses that this learning should be an evergreen practice for foster parents, she recognizes this time of year can be particularly emotional for foster children.
“Holidays are really hard for our kids,” she says. “So we want to try to put whatever normalcy we can into their lives.”
To achieve that normalcy, Anna recommends that foster parents have an early conversation with the children, if possible. “Just sitting down and asking them if there is something their family does over Thanksgiving or Christmas — or if they even celebrate them at all — can make a big difference,” she says. “Every child has a different identity — not just culturally or ethnically, but traditionally.”
When it comes to incorporating a foster child’s traditions, Anna believes it all comes down to finding a balance.
“We all want to have our own traditions,” she says. “If you celebrate Christmas, you probably want to keep celebrating that even if your foster child celebrates something else. The key is balancing it out so you can still celebrate Christmas while also making sure your foster child experiences the traditions they’re used to.”
If finding a balance between traditions is the key to success, however, making assumptions is a recipe for trouble.
“A common mistake is foster parents just assuming the children have the same traditions their family does,” Anna says. “Even if the parents and the child both celebrate a holiday like Christmas, the way they celebrate may have some major differences.”
At the end of the day, Anna points out, the goal of every fostering situation is to make the child as comfortable and stable as possible — even if it means changing some of your own traditions.
“Part of being a foster parent is making sacrifices,” she says. “Anything you can do to make big events like the holidays feel more like home for the children is really important. They’re already dealing with enough trauma by being separated from their family.”
For more information on fostering, download our free resource The Essential Guide To Becoming A Foster Parent In Washington State.