I think it's safe to say that most parents would agree that talking about Santa, and whether or not he truly exists, should be a pretty big conversation. It's just one of those things that all parents will have to face at some point.
That moment happened for us this week.
And it should've been a big deal, but it fell third in line behind: No one loves me and Really, really bad things have happened to me.
This family's "Get in line, Santa" story is an example of what I have come to refer to as the "Bigger Fish To Fry" mentality in foster care. Otherwise basic parenting tasks or responsibilities may take a back seat to very serious issues that need to be dealt with. Simple childhood joys or discoveries may be overshadowed by the aftermath of a terrible situation. Conversations that perhaps should be a big deal just aren't because messy stuff has taken the spotlight.
Some further examples:
Before we were even licensed, I was talking to a coworker about some of the issues that children in foster care face. Somehow the topic of food issues came up and the coworker asked how we would handle that. I said "If we get a child who will only eat McDonald's chicken nuggets then by golly, we'll buy stock in McDonald's." The bigger fish to fry is that we'd just need to get the kid to eat something, even if unbalanced and not that healthy. The otherwise normal task that gets lost is that of helping a child learn to eat vegetables, grains, know they can count on their next meal showing up, etc.
Another coworker recently asked me if Brother has been potty trained since he just turned two. My response boiled down to "Oh hale no." You see, we're still so busy figuring out how to be parents to these two particular kids, toting them to parent visits and appointments, social worker and attorney visits, etc. The bigger fish to fry is all the STUFF we have to do besides just parent and the task that gets lost is, well, yeah, I think age two is about the right time to start potty training. (We're still not going to yet.)
The things we deal with are pretty mild because our kids are so young and they experienced very little trauma in comparison to many other cases. But a lot of foster situations could have even bigger fish to fry than this...
There's not room in the weekly schedule for a child to be on a baseball team because their time is taken up with speech therapy, counseling and special tutoring to help them recover from the abuse they have experienced.
Foster parents who should otherwise be playing happily on a trampoline with an eight year old are instead disciplining and coaching on appropriate language to use and why it is not ok to say the F word, the S word, the B word.
A foster daddy and daughter who should otherwise be playing tea party in her room cannot be alone together because she will start making sexual advances towards him.
You get the idea...
Part of the foster parents' job is to bring back the little fish. It may take time to build trust, skills, appropriate understanding. It may take strategic massaging of a weekly schedule. It will for sure take the foster parent bearing the brunt of bad news and changing situations. But part of our job is to instill a sense of childhood back into these children that was stripped away when "nobody loves me" and "people in my life have hurt me" entered the scene.
So, here's to the bigger fish to fry...may you be dealt with appropriately and as needed, but not so much that you take. over. everything.
And here's to the little fish...the tea parties and trampolines and vegetables...may you find a way to the surface too.
And here's to all the foster parents holding the deep fryer...may you have wisdom and discernment, stamina and grace.