Every year when Thanksgiving gives way to Christmas time, we start to hear bells at stores. Trees appear with dangling Christmas ornaments that double as shopping lists. Big, brightly wrapped boxes sit in office hallways, waiting to be filled with coats and hats. Without a doubt, Christmas time is a season of giving.
When I became a foster parent years back, I found out what it was like to be on the receiving end of this giving spirit. Case workers appeared loaded down with stuffed animals and toys for our kids. We received invitations to sponsored parties and left them with our arms filled with gifts.
It was, in all honesty, overwhelming. And we noticed quickly that while we appreciated the love and care behind our children receiving gifts from others, it had unintended negative effects. Kids don’t always tap into the heart behind giving, and instead a windfall of stuff reinforced some of our kids’ struggles. When the adults in your life haven’t been reliable, or you have felt insecure about being fed or clothed, or you have felt rejected and unwanted, it is natural to try to find satisfaction and contentment in things. After all, toys and shoes and electronics don’t hit you or abandon you. They distract you from life’s problems. They sometimes make you feel “more like other kids” when inside you feel you must be different.
Please hear me, I’m not saying people shouldn’t sponsor gifts for kids in care this season. It can be a real blessing to some foster families. I’m simply saying there may be other things that have a more beneficial and lasting impact for children. So here are a 5 gifts I think would be more meaningful for kids in foster care:
1. GIVE A CHILD’S FOSTER PARENTS A COUPON BOOK
Make a little homemade coupon book for a foster family. Coupons can be for a night of free babysitting, freezer meals, home cleaning, etc. Put expiration dates on the coupons, make them go throughout the year, and stress you EXPECT them to be redeemed! Here’s why this is a gift for KIDS in foster care, too: When kids who grew up in foster care are asked what made life hard for them, one of the top answers is MOVES. When foster families choose to quit fostering, one of their top responses is lack of support. We have to come alongside foster families to give them the support they need to continue fostering and give children the stability they need. Supporting foster parents is really supporting the kids in their home.
2. MAKE A FINANCIAL DONATION TO AN ORGANIZATION THAT IMPROVES THE LIVES OF KIDS IN FOSTER CARE
A Barbie will last only until her arms break off and someone cuts her hair. A remote control car will run out of batteries and find itself forgotten in a closet. But attending a summer camp to learn life skills or getting to have monthly visits with your siblings who live in different homes or having someone help your mom work her plan to bring you back home? Well, those are gifts that will stick with you for life. Organizations like Care 2 Foster’s umbrella organization Fostering Great Ideas are providing these services and more! Many charities and non-profit organizations depend on the generosity of others to restock their shelves and balance their budgets before the end of the fiscal year. Giving to them positively effects children all year long.
3. BECOME A MENTOR
More than anything that can be bought with money, children in foster care need people in their lives that will be there for the long haul. Statistics say on average a child will move seven times or more during their stay in foster care. Seven times. That’s a lot of people for a child to count on and then lose. Becoming a mentor allows you to be a consistent presence in the life of a child, even if they move homes. It’s a chance to communicate to a child that rich relationships are better than anything money can buy.
4. LOOK FOR KIDS ON THE EDGES AND ACT
Years and years ago, before we ever had kids, a little boy used to show up at our house nearly every time we barbecued. Like clockwork, as soon as the meat hit the grill, he’d pull up on his bike, his shoes worn thin and his hair in desperate need of a cut, asking for whatever we were cooking. My husband and I joked about “second dinner” and inside I wondered if his mom would be mad we were feeding her son without permission. We were so incredibly ignorant.
Looking back, I wish we had done more for this boy who in retrospect, probably had to find his own ways of getting fed. We should have thrown his bike in the back of my husband’s truck and found out where he lived. We should have met his mom. We should have had an open door policy and kept our eyes out and been WOKE to the need right on our doorstep. Maybe acting for kids on the edges won’t help kids already in foster care. But it may mean all the difference to a child before it comes to the point of going into foster care.
5. BECOME A FOSTER PARENT
You knew we were headed here, didn’t you? Kids need families. Period. If you aren’t following already, join our SHARE Fostering Facebook group to learn & be encouraged by current & prospective foster parents.
Kids need someone to love them through the hard, confusing, and scary. Being family to a child when they can’t be home with their family is the single best gift you could give a foster child. It will come at a cost— your time, effort, and emotions. But you may find, like I have, that being a foster parent is one of the greatest gifts you will ever receive.