Christmas Traditions

One thing I have noticed about many of the children we have worked with is that they don’t have many traditions, especially during Christmas and the holiday season. It is important to have roots and traditions and I believe that is one of the more important things we can do for the children we care for.

We have always allowed the children to help decorate the house for Christmas. In fact, we have two Christmas Trees. One formal tree that we must have for Open House and a second tree we have in the family room that only the children decorate. They place all the decorations and where they place them is where they stay, even if there is a huge blank spot on the tree. We may offer suggestions on how to decorate it, but we allow them to do it their way. Funny thing about this tradition is that our home teenagers have enjoyed it much more than our birth children that are now teens. I wonder if they have so many traditions that tradition has less meaning to them.

My favorite tradition is on Christmas Eve:

  • We have a light supper, and then go to candlelight Church service.
  • Then we come home and watch a goofy Christmas movie and have eggnog milkshakes. Past movies have included: “Christmas Vacation”, “Elf”, “The Santa Clause”
  • Finally, before opening presents we load into the van and drive around town looking for the gaudiest Christmas display we can find to give our imaginary “Griswold Award” Usually by the end of the evening we have a winner and several runner up displays.

I would love to hear about what others have for traditions and what their children think of them.

Sometimes it’s Best Just to Keep Your Mouth Shut


Thursday was our annual “Open House” at the facility I work at. It is the largest event of the year and takes a ton of work to get ready for. There are also things you have to do afterwards to get back to normal.

One job is to return the golf-carts, we use for transporting guests, back to the golf-cart shop. That was the job I wanted. I thought it to be more prestigious than the other jobs and more fun. I didn’t get that job. They called me to go and help return the dining hall to it’s usual condition; something I didn’t want to do.

However, I thought it best just to keep my mouth shut and do what I was asked to do. It took us a total of 36 minutes to set up. When we were done, we were free to do whatever. For me that was delivering angel tree gifts our church members had purchased so that some less fortunate children would have a better Christmas. My wife and I returned from that about the same time the golf-cart people finished their job. It took over two hours to return those carts.

It wasn’t hard to recognize which was the better job that morning and I was very glad I kept my mouth shut.


My reply has nothing to do with your original post but every time I look at this post heading it just reminds me of how often I need to do just that. Just keep my mouth shut, whether it is with staff that might get on my nerves or that over excited child that just wants to share a little to much joy or a girl that wants to express a feeling I don’t want to deal with at that very moment. Sometimes I just need to say to myself “KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT and do what you know God called you to do.” Be a dad, be a comfort, be caring, be a worker bee and just keep your mouth shut.


I am frequently reminded that a closed mouth gathers no feet..

It’s Christmas Time Again! Hold on for the ride!



It’s that time again. I thought I’d get a jump on things and pulled everything from the attic last Sunday. I’m still going through it – what is today??!? Tuesday afternoon a group of volunteers is coming to hang lights on the eaves so I had to get them ready anyway. The campus administrator announced a prohibition on getting up on the roof this year. Yea!! Christmas decor can get a little competitive between cottages and that should help keep things from getting too crazy.

I was going through strands of lights wishing I’d bought that light fixer do-hicky that someone mentioned last year on the forum. Oh well, I just tossed out 3 strands. Gotta go to Walmart tomorrow before the group shows up!

Merry Christmas! (I wanted to be the 1st to say it this year)




Our outside decorations are mandated by administration. A single strand of large white lights along the eves, a green wreath with ribbon that coordinates with the house on the door and matching green garland above the door. We are allowed to put out other decorations after open house, but most don’t put much out, because the kids will mess with them. I have a blow-up Jimmie Johnson Holiday car and my blow-up “Thanksgiving Scarecrow choking Santa Claus” protest decoration.

Inside the house we are pretty elaborate. We have a formal tree in our main living room, decorated as mandated by administration. But we also have a tree in our family room that the children decorate. I will set up the tree and put on the lights, then the kids get to place all the remaining decorations. We leave it exactly how they decorate it, which means the decorations aren’t always spread evenly throughout the tree.

Our main theme in the house is “The Nativity” My wife has about twenty sets in various sizes that we put out. It takes almost a week to decorate, but I can have everything packed up and put away in less than a day on December 26th. Our Christmas preparations start in August and our first party is the weekend of Thanksgiving. We are usually ready for it to be over, by the 26th. 


Wait…administration “mandates” how your tree is to be decorated?!?!?




Yes administration mandates how our outside decorations and how our formal tree is decorated, however we are free to decorate everything else to our own liking as long as it is tasteful. It is not a big issue for us and they have very good reason.

We are totally dependent on private donations for our funding and raise probably 40-50 percent of our annual budget during November and December. We do things to present ourselves in the best possible light, including how we decorate for Christmas. Kind of like the whole dressing up for Church principle. Though I think the Griswold style of decorating is pretty cool, not everybody else does. However, not all staff members realize that or even care, so administration has to mandate it.

Reality is – If more people would think of the greater good of everybody (the kids, program, facility) instead of their own personal desires, we wouldn’t need so many rules. And that can be applied to every program in the country, and I think life in general.



We just opened the cottage this year, so our decorations are slim pickings this season. I would like to get to the point next year that we can put lights up around the house, especially since we have one of the oldest cottages on campus.

Volunteers would be nice. Oh well, there’s always next year. Maybe…



My wife and I start decorating the cottage on the Friday after Thanksgiving. I do the outside and she does the inside. I string lights around the roof of the cottage and a a few hanging stars and then I put out gingerbread pople with each of the girls names on them. I start about mid morning and am done by early afternoon. My wife loves decorating and along with a 9 foot artificial tree that the girls decorate she usually has it complete by the end of Thanksgiving weekend. She then starts baking candy and cookies that the girls decorate and eat until Christmas is over. We also let each girl decorate their own stocking and they get pretty artsy and creative and it is always fun to see how they turn out. We enjoy Christmas and try to makes as many memories for them to treasure and keep for years to come. We also have a fire place so when we have our Christmas party I light the fire place and I read the Christmas story from Luke and then we open presents. Of course in order to light the fire place sometimes I have to turn the air conditioning up since it doesn’t get real cold here in South Florida. It is such and awesome time of year I love it more than the kids do probably.

How to find a place when you have 5 birth kids


Does anyone know where we might look to become house parents if we have 4 of our own kids and one coming home from college in the summer and at Christmas? Are we nuts to even think we can find such a place? We are an experienced foster family and have had foster kids for years with our own bio kids but wondered if we might be able to find a program to work for and bring our own kids along to live there… maybe we shouldn’t even consider. Any suggestions?



That I don’t know – most of the group homes that my husband and I have looked at in the Southeast US limit kids to 2 or 3 max… I’m not sure where you’d look… sorry I’m not any help!



There seems to an unwritten rule in this field when it comes to your own children- 2 is all that most facilities will consider. But, there are some that will consider three and I even heard of one facility that has a couple with four. (I will pm you the facility name).

The problem is that your house/ cottage will have at a minimum six children with various degrees of issues. With five of your own children plus you and your husband your up to thirteen in the house. That worked great back in 1890 but it is frowned upon nowadays.

I personally would reconsider what I do now if I had more than two of my own bio with me in the house I would seriously consider a change into another related field. I just believe it is extremely important to be there for all of the kids and to provide the the best quality of childcare- physically and emotionally, that you can. I really do not think I have that much stamina to keep up with that many kids without snapping and turning into a Drill Sargent.

However if God is putting a calling on you to do this- he will open the doors for you. 



The vast majority of facilities will not even consider houseparents with more than two birth children.

 I know there are facilities that will hire people with more, but you have to be willing to accept in most cases: lower wages, less time off, less benefits.

I personally would never consider being a houseparent with more than two birth children and in fact I am almost looking forward to when my birth children graduate so that the conflicts created with having birth children and being houseparents is alleviated. Not that I am in a big hurry to get rid of my birth children, because I enjoy being with them very much, but their growing up and leaving is inevitable and they are getting close to that age.

On the other hand I am not you, and don’t know what your calling is. I do however pray that you will be led in the correct direction.



How do you feel having your own children in a houseparenting situation affects your job as a houseparent. We don’t have any bio children but are hoping to adopt our foster child by the end of the summer. I was just talking to my husband the other day, how it would affect him when we decide to embark upon houseparenting.



Let me preface with saying that none of the issues are enough to make me want to quit being a houseparent and I have dealt with them for over 10 years, but I am definitely looking forward to not having to deal with them anymore.

1. My birth children are not included in Christmas lists and they have at times been discouraged to see home children receive huge amounts of Christmas gifts and they don’t. I quickly learned that I did not have the resources to compete with what the home children received. I have made it much easier on my birth children by explaining to them that they receive stuff throughout the year, when we are on relief and vacation that the home children don’t receive and now that they are almost 14 and 17 it is much easier for them to accept.

2. It is hard for my home children when we go on vacation and relief and they are left behind. We work with children that have very little family ties and we are their best representation of family. They have a hard time understanding that we take our birth children and not them when we leave once a month for relief and those times we leave on vacation.

3. Administration has often made a distinction between home children and staff children which has caused them to be excluded from activities that they would have liked to attend. Choir, camps, trips, etc.

4. Home children are discouraged that our birth children are allowed to get cell phones, and drive when they are 16, and get other privileges when they are not or have much stiffer restrictions on what they can do.

Working in a residential foster care facility exacerbates the situation, because you are supposed to be living like a family. It is just hard for both sides to accept the family concept when so many things are different, however I don’t know if there is a solution. I do know that working in a therapeutic program is easier in this respect because there is a clear distinction between birth children and home children. However it opens itself up to a whole new set of problems, like your birth children being exposed to behaviors you really don’t want them being exposed to or the possibility of them being bullied.



Major kudos to you for admitting it’s tough being a HP with personal children. I know many who do a GREAT job with their own kids, but I’ve always known it has to be more difficult! Many won’t admit that though, which I find odd.



Very Interesting information, thanks for sharing. One more question, Do you feel that starting when your children are younger will make a difference? Maybe they will feel that this is just the norm as oppose to starting when they are grade school age and already have a view of the way things should be in a family. How old were children when you and your wife decided to become house parents and if they were old enough were they part of the decision process of this life change? Me being nosy, sorry.

I guess it teaches your children sacrifice rather want to learn about it or not.



My Daughter was 3 my son was 6. We had been foster parents for two years prior to becoming houseparents. As far as affecting children, I don’t think it really matters; I have come to believe your children will be who they become regardless of many of the choices you make. Both of my children have been raised under the same conditions and with the same expectations and have turned out very differently. My daughter is very committed to her faith, does well in school, and is very devoted to the family and the ministry we have been called to. My son, although he is a very good person, is very worldly, couldn’t care less about school, and in the past year has come to resent having to live with us caring for other children.

As far as including them in the decision I guess I have to say that we always valued their opinion, but the final say was ours. Not too many children have a say as to what their parents profession is going to be, and although we consider it a ministry it is most certainly a profession.

I have seen many new houseparents start with children of various ages and there is no hard and fast rule. I have seen kids that grow up to go to college and are very successful and kids that have ran away with home children and end up in jail. For the vast majority it doesn’t really matter because for most people being a houseparent isn’t a career, but turns out to be a transitional position. Even those that don’t intend it to be.

For me I’m OK with that, if more people would commit to be a houseparent for just a year of two, there would be less facilities desperate for staff and it would be easier to get rid of staff that shouldn’t be houseparents.



Our little guy will be close to three by the time we are ready to embark upon this journey so he wouldn’t be old enough to really understand the houseparenting concept but he will go from being an only child to having lots of children around. I think if God places this desire in your hear then your kids will be ok. But like you said a child’s personality plays into it as well. Thanks for sharing a little of your history with us.

What do you think about the Holidays, Are the children more difficult?


I just wrote a blog entry about the Halloween and the Holiday season. I want your opinions.

Do you think Halloween has any effect on the kids?
Are the kids more difficult during the Holidays?
Do you find yourself more stressed during the Holidays?


Halloween— I think that the environment that you are in and create will determine the way the kids respond during Halloween. Kids live up to our expectations or lack thereof.

Holidays— yes I think that a lot of emotional things are going through them that at times we forget or even just ignore. We forget that there are people out there that they wish they could see and are missing. Sometimes the memories can flood in and really set a depressive mood.

Stress—I love the Holiday season, especially after we get done with open house it really gets to be a lot of fun for me. I do however get stressed when the administrators pass on their stress to me.

Lady Incredible

Are the kids more difficult during the Holidays? Not usually for us. Our numbers really go down during the holiday season so we get to do more things with the ones we have.
Do you find yourself more stressed during the Holidays? Definitely!!! Lots going on.
All in all I look forward to them though.


Wow! I would have a different response completely.

In our school, the students are permitted to return home for the holidays usually for 7+ days. About two weeks before they are going home it becomes difficult to get them to do chores, focus on study hour, and keep their behavior in check.

You start having to follow them around and constantly remind them of what they are supposed to be doing and they start losing lots of merits and privileges.

Usually a week before they leave they start losing IDs (which they are required to have to depart from/return to school); then in the few nights before they leave one or two will have a full-scale melt-down over something.

The only solution seems to be to continue to enforce the program expectations as consistently as possible and remind them that they ARE still at school.


From my short experience in child care, I find the Holidays to be more difficult for the kids. The kids in our home have home visits and many go home to families during Thanksgiving and Christmas. This brings a variety of emotions for the kids. They are reminded of the family they do not have or they are reminded of how messed up their physical family really is. We see an increase in behavior problems a few days before each home visit. They really seem to settle down after the Christmas break and get back on task. It takes a lot more patience and understanding during the Holidays!


I haven’t seen that the children are more difficult…either the little ones or the teens. I believe their level of stress over the holidays is directly related to the degree of which they are exposed to contributing factors…i.e. holiday plays, concerts in which they are to perform.

What I have observed are negative parenting techniques some of the adults are using to control the kids. Specifically, telling the kids if they don’t obey the rules then they will tell Santa. This is totally unacceptable to me. But, hey, what do I know…I’m ONLY the respite.

Another thing that I’ve saw that wrenched at my heart was the decorating done exclusively by the resident houseparents. Neither parent included the kids nor asked whether or not my husband and I would like to help decorate.

My hubby keeps telling me that I am just different than most. If the shoe was on the other foot, I most assuredly would have included the kids and the teens in decorating, complete with our own little house party. I would have helped them make their own ornaments as well as homemade gifts for others. I would have invited any respite staff as well as regular

Would You be Offended?


One of my houseparent friends have two children around the same age as their elementary kids. There was a Christmas party off campus put on by some donors. Since some of the residents were on home visits only 20 or so kids went and 40 were supposed to be there. The staff kids were not allowed to go. It only affected her two kids as none of the other houseparent kids were old enough. The mom said that her kids could have taken two of the spots of the residents that didn’t go.

Would you be offended that your kids couldn’t go to the party or just leave it be?


One can choose to be offended but what would that feeling accomplish?

If one is offended by a behavior- or lack of -I would encourage the ‘offended” one to speak with the “offendee” and resolve the conflict.

Offenses, real or imagined, intentional or not can be like a fast growing strangling weed. We must pluck out the weeds!

On a personal note, if there were open spaces and transportation wasn’t a problem, I would have invited all the children.


I suppose my level of being offended would depend on how clear the home’s policy was.

At the facility I work at staff children are included in all Christmas parties but are NOT included in the Christmas Wish Lists sent out to donors.

I worked at another facility where staff kids were included in all Christmas activities and another where they were included in none. But in each case we knew it prior to being hired and could choose to accept it or find another position.

It is sometimes difficult when our staff children have to sit and watch the home children open numerous gifts at cottage Christmas, but my children also know that the home kids will receive about 80% of all they will receive for the year at Christmas time. My kids will receive stuff year round when we go on relief and on vacations. We are currently in San Diego, California spending time with my dad for Christmas and will go to Sea World tomorrow and have already visited the Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest National Park. Things that most of the home children will never get to do.

So it all usually balances out in the wash.


I guess I’m blessed because my daughter is always included in any party that happens when we are on shift.
When the kids get something that she doesn’t though, she understands the reason why and also understands that she has it a lot better than most of them do or they wouldn’t be here in the first place.