602-884-1801 | Arizona Association for Foster and Adoptive Parents info@azafap.org

I’ve been procrastinating about this blog and wasn’t sure why. I usually really look forward to this. I realized the level of ambivalence I have about Christmas was holding me back. Then I found a way to talk about it with you that you might find helpful. All in the spirit of a wounded healer, me.

There is no one else left in my family to ask about childhood Christmases so you’ll just have to take my word for it: they were terrifying. There was a tree, but the ornaments were always new because nothing was important enough to grab when a sudden relocation was necessary. There were usually gifts, a turkey and occasionally trips to my maternal grandmother’s house 75 miles away but those were intermittent. The one predictable thing was inebriated adults, hot tempers and the occasional visit from the local police department. I don’t remember any trips to the ER but sometimes we are spared those memories. I do remember going to a hotel because the electricity had been cut off. It was a strange adventure. In the relatively secure vantage point of my middle class adulthood, avoiding this chaos became a priority.

If you asked my children about our Christmas tree, they might share that only mom was allowed to string the bead garland such was my perfectionistic obsession. This morning I realized that some of the ambivalence and overcompensation I brought to the holiday got focused on those shiny red beads and how evenly they were distributed on the tree. They had to be perfect. The food had to be perfect. The staff party had to be perfect. I was wound pretty tight come mid-November! The cards had to be perfect and the gift wrap, too. Some of that need for perfection still lingers…here is a picture of that effort for this year:

What does this have to do with you? Well, having completed (read controlled) the cards and giftwrapping I finally had the mental energy to think about this blog. I also realized that I have 3 distinct audiences for this blog: foster parents, adoptive parents and kinship parents. Each may have a unique task in the context of the children in their homes and the impending holidays. Kinship families may find grief predominates, adoptive families may want to focus on cultural enrichment and foster families may need to avoid overstimulation. Or any combination of these three for all three!

Be aware that the children in your home MIGHT have

  1. zero holiday traditions but learning about them could support identity development.
  2. trauma and dread associated with the holidays that means either acting out or withdrawal is around the corner.
  3. idealized expectations of a holiday with anyone other than their parents meaning that pony better show up!
  4. specific traditions that you know very little about so get going on that research.
  5. ambivalence about telling you about their holiday traditions, see d above.
  6. grief/worry/anger about spending a holiday away from their parents so get ready for expressions of these feelings that are typical for each child, see b above.


Here are a few links to websites that can get your research started:




The dominant culture in the U.S., the media (especially Hollywood), Wall Street and our religious institutions literally oversell the holidays. Be aware when you get caught up in this frenzy, it may be bringing up painful memories for the children in your homes or simply become another source of overstimulation. Be open to talking about those memories and feelings. Invite kids to do things for absent loved ones even if undeliverable and put those products in a place of honor if the child likes that idea. Don’t insist on cheerfulness in yourself or others. Think cozy, safe and easy. Enjoy only brief moments of closeness with newly placed kids or even those who have been with you a long time but with whom you still struggle to connect. Talk to the kids about the elements of the holidays that they would like to have included in the life of your family. Be flexible.


  1. Check out the AZAFAP Event Calendar at https://azafap.gnosishosting.net/Events/Calendar.
  2. Friday night Happy Hour continues (check your email for the link) and we have added a monthly training session to satisfy your licensure requirements, curiosity or life-long learning goals. We typically have about 12-16 people in on-line attendance. Reach out to kristi@azafap.org if interested in membership or either offering.
  3. Certificates of attendance are issued for the training hour (held at 9 pm on the last Tuesday of the month). No training at the end of December.
  4. This shutdown continues for those of us who understand what is at stake. Others seem to struggle to grasp that. Still others, like the teens in your home, have begun to climb the walls. You are in my thoughts. Reach out if you need an ear: cathyt@azafap.org.
  5. I encourage you to check out what Dr. Bruce Perry has to offer. Find his thoughts at https://www.neurosequential.com/covid-19-resources.

Thanks for listening. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.