Angel Trees. Those trees you see every year around the holidays, covered with tags on which are written the names, ages, and wishlists of children in need.
You’ve seen them, right?? They can typically be found in the malls as well as at your local Walmart, Kmart, and various other department stores.
Wish list: Skateboard, Xbox games, iPod…
For a number of years I bought gifts for the children on these trees. I turned it into a family event. I would take my children to the mall where we would carefully choose one or two children from the tree, then we would go shop for those children together. I had this image in my head of these poor children who aren’t going to get anything for Christmas, and those children deserve a good Christmas. What a simple thing I can do to put a smile on those kids faces.
My husband and I relied on charity once for Christmas. I was shocked by the number of gifts they gave us for our children. We felt like we had hit the jackpot, and we were incredibly grateful that so many people were willing to give of their time and money to help us out in our time of need.
When we reached the point when we could afford to give back, we did so. Every year.
At this point I never thought to distinguish between a one-time need or temporary situation vs. more long-term situations. I also never considered the difference between low-income families vs. children in foster care.
Recently I have been working for companies that do gift drives for foster children every year for the holidays. They “sponsor” a foster child, and everyone in the office buys for that child. Some organizations just buy gifts for an organization that passes them on to foster children.
Until recently I always tried to help out with these drives.
I’m going to express to you what is likely to be a very unpopular opinion on giving gifts to foster children.
I will start by saying that I believe that everyone should give in whatever way they feel is appropriate and in whatever way they can. Whether that be by giving gifts for the holidays, as is so popular, or by giving money to, or volunteering your time at, these organizations that work with these children.
I do not criticize the manner in which people give, and I applaud any efforts that are put towards helping innocent children who have been affected by horrific circumstances beyond their own control in their lives.
Personally, my family has decided to no longer give gifts to foster children.
I think we all have this image in our heads of these poor children, and we have this desire to provide them with a wonderful Christmas. It’s what we want for our own children, and it is wonderful to imagine the smile on their face when they open those gifts. And these children most certainly deserve a wonderful Christmas, I’m not denying that.
However, these kids don’t *need* gifts. These children need stability, they need people in their lives who truly care and want the best for them, they need adults to encourage them and increase their feeling of self-worth, they need to feel loved and valued and important. They do not need an iPod, an xbox game, or a skateboard.
We can never know the particular circumstances of a child we give to, so the end result is entirely out of our control, which is why I say it’s still good to give even though I personally choose not to. But, unfortunately, some of these children are showered with more gifts than you can possibly imagine. And our own experience of Christmas, if we’ve never lived in foster care, is not adequate to process the potential end result of such a focus on materialistic things. The excitement and satisfaction we experience when we open those longed for gifts while surrounded by loving and supportive family members, it’s nothing like the short lived satisfaction that those same gifts will bring to an overwhelmingly unhappy child who is searching for happiness and can only seem to find it in that iPod.
Studies have been done that show that children are highly susceptible to being influenced by advertisements when they are unhappy. Children who do not have a solid basis in life, who are not satisfied with their home life, their family, friends, school, etc., are much more likely to search for happiness elsewhere, and are much more likely to believe the TV commercials that tell them that happiness can be found in a Barbie Doll. This can lead to materialism, a search for acceptance and status based on the clothes a person wears or the electronics they carry in their pockets. This materialism may seem harmless in a child, and it may lead to a temporary happiness in an extremely difficult time, but it leads to a much less than satisfactory adult life.
I’m not a psychiatrist, and I don’t claim to have all the answers. But if foster children are not unhappy with the foundation of their lives, I don’t know who else would better fit this description.
Yes, the kids deserve Christmas. No, you can’t know what affect those presents will have on whatever child receives them. Yes, giving is good.
So continue to give. The children thank you.
I choose to help in different ways.
Please respect that.
If you are able to give in other ways, I encourage you to research the various ways you can make a real difference in the lives of these children. Be a volunteer or a mentor. Foster. Adopt. Or give financially to the organizations that contribute to this cause in ways other than just giving gifts.