Monday, July 13, 2015

What's a House Mom?

I think I am probably overdue for a bit of a DTR ("define the relationship"). Now, I know this post isn't going to keep anyone from asking me the same questions over and over, but it can't hurt to have a FAQ post for those who will take the time to read it.

To begin, I'm going to give a very general explanation of what a house parent does. As a house parent at Willow Springs Boys Ranch, it is my responsibility to care for our boys exactly the way any normal parent cares for their child. We disciple them, go to church as a family, schedule doctors appointments, drive them to school, take them clothes shopping, feed them, give them ibuprofen for their headache, teach them how to grow up into responsible adults, have them clean their rooms and then clean their rooms again according to the correct definition of a clean room, help them resolve conflicts with their ranch brothers, coach them in social interactions/reactions, etc. All the things one would do for a child, we do for our children--because they are our children. The main job of a house parent is to parent.

Now, a little more specifically, what does a house mom do? When we applied to work at Willow Springs, the instructions were, for the most part, pretty general:

  • Do the things a mom does that these boys have likely not experienced. This includes home-cooked meals as often as possible, so that they see a mom putting love and care into their food (think about how much emotion is involved when you're eating food prepared with love and care. Now multiply that times about 100 for boys with complicated backgrounds). 
  • Be a cheerleader. When they get a good grade on their test, voice your pride. If they are really good at something, nourish that and support it. 
  • Be quick to listen. Think about how often teenage boys open up: not often. Any time they do come to you with their feelings or concerns, be quick to listen and slow to respond. If you respond too quickly, they may be hesitant to open up again.
  • Be available. If you're doing dishes or cooking dinner or whatever, be prepared to multi-task. Our guys need to know that I'm here for them, even if that means they are talking to me while I cut up 1,000 potatoes. Above all else, don't become detached from what is going on in the home and with the boys.

Some specific things I do that fall in line with these expectations, as well as things that I have found to be healthy and encourage the family atmosphere include:

  • I must accept the fact that food is a BIG DEAL to them. I work really hard to find a balance of healthy meals that still meet their emotional needs. We make them try everything at the table, even the vegetables. If they don't get seconds, hey, more for me (I love veggies). We don't eat dessert all the time or have pop in the house except for on special occasions, and by doing this, it actually feels special and they can learn healthier relationships with food. The balance of healthy food and comfort food has worked really well in our house, because they love the comfort food so much that they trust me to make the healthy food taste just as great. There's no apologizing for meals (unless something on Pinterest turned out, like...really bad. But that rarely happens), and we eat dinner as a family. Setting the table and not having the TV going makes a huge difference. 
  • I let them see Blake and I being affectionate toward one another. It matters for them to see a husband and wife who love each other and treat each other respectfully, and to know what that looks like in real life. We hold hands when we're driving. Blake will hug me and kiss me on the cheek while I'm making dinner. Blake kisses me good-bye every time he leaves. If Blake and I disagree on something, unless it is a very serious or private matter, they usually see us work it out respectfully and quickly. 
  • Obviously, we don't spank our boys. However, we are not against spanking, and there are times when we have to spank Adeline. It's important that they see spanking done in a way that isn't fueled by anger and is done calmly and not excessively. 
  • Consistency. If we tell them doing a certain thing is going to lead to a certain consequence, we make sure that consequence happens, and it is going to match whatever the offense was. If two of our boys can't stop arguing to the point that we send them to their rooms, we aren't going to make them stay there all day, just for however long it takes for their temper to level off. When the consequence is over, it's over. When the incident is resolved, it's resolved. 

That was a smidge longer than I anticipated. Now, let's move on to the FAQ's.


So, do you have another job besides being a house mom?
Nope. Being a house parent is my full time job.

Are they horrible to you?
I'm not saying that hasn't been or never will be part of the job, but no. Our boys are generally very respectful. Part of that is due to our guys' personalities, and the other part due to the tone we have set for this house; Blake has worked especially hard to make sure that respect is the norm. Blake is really awesome.

Are you ever scared to have your daughter around them?

Good grief, no. She adores them and they love her. They interact so gently and appropriately with her, and most nights while I am cooking dinner they are playing legos with her or coloring in her Hello Kitty coloring book with her. They always help me get her in and out of her car seat. They stay about a million miles away from dirty diapers, though. She knows all of their names and is equally excited about running up and hugging any of them. Obviously as her mom and considering she is a toddler, it's not like she has free reign from any supervision. While our guys are great and super helpful and loving, they aren't her parents, so either Blake or I am always around to keep an eye on her if the other is busy.

Do they actually live in the house with you?
Yes. Our house can hold up to eight boys total, and we have four right now. Two have their own room and two are sharing. Family couldn't really happen if we didn't live in the same house.

Is your life completely hectic?
Sometimes, but most parents' lives are pretty hectic. If what you're really asking is if our job is hard, then the answer is yes. But just because the job is hard doesn't mean it isn't great.

Wait...if I'm talking to you and Blake...but your kids aren't with you...who is watching the boys?!?!?!
Sometimes we just leave them at the house completely unsupervised, I mean, they're practically adults, right? I'm being sarcastic. We have amazing relief houseparents who live on the property who come over one full day a week (as in overnight) and one weekend a month. They come with their three little ones to stay at the house with the guys and cook them dinner and relieve for us so we can get the break we need to regroup and do our job well. In the family dynamic, they're like the house aunt and uncle. They are also the ones to cover for Blake and I when we go on vacation.  

Are any of your boys special needs or anything like that?
Sometimes this question is meant specifically for special needs such as autism or down syndrome, and no, we typically don't take in boys with special needs, because we don't have the means necessary to do so. 

Are they all boys who have gotten into trouble, like, are they all "bad kids?"
No. Willow Springs is for boys who need an opportunity for success that they haven't had a chance at in the past. Sometimes they have gotten into some trouble, but a lot of times they just need a place to go. We don't have a contract with DHS for placements, so many of the boys who are here do have parents or guardians, but for whatever reason that parent or guardian needs help raising them. 

I hope this blog has helped answer some of your burning questions regarding our ministry at Willow Springs. Please, if you have any more questions about what a house parent/house mom specifically does, you can leave a comment below or you can message me on Facebook or tweet me on Twitter or however you choose to contact me. I would love to tell you more about what God is doing at Willow Springs and in my life as a house mom!

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