Question #20 – 3/4/2008 – I need to know the truth

I need to know the truth. 

I am the primary teaching parent for a cottage of 8 children (mixed-gender), and I need to give a little detail about each of my kids, before I ask my question. First, I have two 3 yr olds. Then I have a 4 year old, which is highly sexually reactive, therefore requiring constant (and I mean constant) supervision. I have a 5 yr old, which is your typical, full of energy, curious about everything, 5 year old. My fifth child is a 6 yr old who is one of the few that I would positvely diagnose as ADHD at that young of an age if I were a counselor. Then there is my 10 yr 0ld boy who is as O.D.D. as they come, and my 12 yr old girl that has demonstrated such a profound inability to conform to, and even learn, social norms (including such basic things as thinking of somone besides her self for a few minutes a day, moderately respectful behavior, and occasional obedience) that her counselor has said that she would probably diagnose her with Borderline Personality Disorder if the ! industry norm didn’t require her to wait till she was 18 to give her such a serious label. Last, but not least, there’s my 13 year old boy who, praise God, is a normal, every day 13 year old boy who just has normal problems. 

I feel the need to give one more piece of information before I ask my question. I have experience as a house parent; I was in this industry for almost three years before I came to my current position (I’ve been here seven months, but most of this current bunch of kids has come with in the last 3 month’s), including three months at my former children’s home, where I had to run a cottage of 7 hyperactive teen aged boys who thought there former houseparent (who got fired) was God, basically by myself because my wife was teaching at the time, and as low-man-on-the-totem-pole in administration, it fell to me to take the cottage over till replacements could be found. Even so, I will admit that my experience has been completely with older kids. There was a serious misunderstanding between myself and my current administration about what the average age of this cottage was to be, or I would never have taken this position in the first place. 

Secondly, I do admit that my relief staff just resigned, and I am on the tale end of a 12 day shift (and about the fourth nasty email from my boss), so I’m not seeing the picture as objectively as I should at the moment. But the fact remains that this cottage is a mess right now. I can’t get paperwork done on time; I can’t get the house cleaned to even my standards (which admitadly is lower than most administrations at a children’s home’s standards), and I definately can not find the time to spend any time at all with the kids one on one (which, call me an adealist, is what I see as my primary job). My boss is convinced that I don’t belong in this position. “That I should seriously consider whether or not God has really called me here before myself, or one of the children gets injured. (I pulled that one straight out of her last email)” because of these issues. 

I, frankly, am convinced that that the job is unrealistic, and am very, very frustrated that my administration will not help out, or even consider the possibility that some of this is there fault, not mine. Admitadly, two days a week, we have a third person come in to the cottage during peak hours, but that just doesn’t seem to be enough. My wife and I simply spend our days putting out fires, cooking, doing laundry (by the way, 5 of the 8 kids are bed wetters), and praying for our next day off. 

You’ve probably guessed my question. Is she right? When I was a young teen ager, I was convinced I could sing in spite of the fact that the world just didn’t want to listen to me trying (needless to say, I hate watching American Idle auditions). Have I fooled myself again into thinking that I have talents and gifts in an area where I really don’t? Be honest. I really need to know. If I were gifted in this area, should my wife and I be able to handle the kind of kids that I just described, and get everything else done as well? Should I find another job, and start over in trying to find where my gifts and talents really lie, or is it possible, even probable, that anyone would need help with this bunch of kids? 

Thx for your response. 

Mike’s Response 

I am not sure how much I can judge your situation based solely on your E-mail but maybe some information about mine may help.  I also have been in a co-ed cottage for the better part of the last six years, minus a nine month sabbatical when I thought I wanted to do something else, and the administration at the time felt they couldn’t work with us.  We have been back in the cottage for three years now and those administrators have gone back into their previous field of ministry.  I currently have 7 cottage children, 2 birth children, and a 3 yr old grandchild (through a previous resident that has informally adopted us as her parents) that is here whenever his mother is working.  

 My youngest cottage child just turned 5, when she came to us 15 months ago she could be described as nothing less that a wild child, it was if she was raised by wolves. Her first few months here she got about 70% of all the attention that was given out.  Next is our set of twins, age 6.  The boy is severe ADHD and is a bed wetter, the girl is not, but they both have been slow academically and are in their second year of kindergarten.  Next is a boy age 8, he is pretty normal and smart.  His 10 yr old brother is ADD, hates living in the home and only looks forward to the day he can leave here, even though he has lived here for 60% of life.  Next we have an 11 yr old girl that has a very bad case of attachment disorder, is ADHD and is now starting puberty.  Finally there is a 12 yr old boy that has a form of autism which results in a huge deficiency in social skills, he finally out grew bed wetting about 4 months ago.  My grandson is now potty trained but we had diapers on top of everything until just recently.  

 Physically this is the most demanding cottage I have ever had and has been since we came back three years ago.  We don’t have the cleanest cottage on campus but we keep it in good condition and it is one of the most visited cottages on campus.  Thankfully, we don’t have a bunch of paperwork to do and sometimes it gets behind but we are pretty good about staying on top of it.  That said I can tell you that not everyone can handle our cottage.  

 When we were forced to leave the last time, the cottage and children quickly deteriorated both in appearance and behavior.  We were asked to come back by the upper administration because they were unable to find a replacement to deal with the combination of children we had in the cottage.  When the former administrator said that it was either him or us, he was reassigned to another position and ended up leaving about a month later.  You have to make concessions and realize that the vast majority of what you do with a cottage that age is physical.  You have to do everything they can’t.  Don’t look for one on one time, it is mostly group time.  Recreation is a luxury, as is peace and quite, but we are able to manage things.  I don’t know if that makes us super houseparents or if we have just found our niche.  I can honestly tell you there have been many days I just wanted to quit.  

 There seems to be a big difference between our situations and that is the support of administration.  I can honestly tell you from what I have seen in the past and from what has happened to us that when you lose support of the administration your days are probably numbered anyway.  The huge advantage that we had in our situation was that we had been here for 6 years previous and were highly regarded and the admin was fairly new 1.5 years.  

 I have also talked with many other houseparents that are unable to work with younger children and will only work with teens.  If you can’t handle it don’t feel ashamed, you certainly wouldn’t be the first.        

  Finally, no situation is totally the blame of one person or couple, however if administration thinks you are the whole problem you are not going to get a lot of additional support.  If it was me I would probably be at the very least be putting out feelers for a different position or even a different field.  The admin’s e-mail suggesting you look for something else should probably be heeded before they force it.  I do however think it is inappropriate to deal with issues like that through e-mail; the admin should at the very least be talking to you face to face about the situation. 
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One thought on “Question #20 – 3/4/2008 – I need to know the truth

  1. Just my thoughts, only you would know for sure, but it may simply be that you are in the wrong place. I am in an organization that has lost some good people because they were placed in the wrong positions. I am actually in a situation right now where I am going to be trying to get our administration to take a second look at the individuals gifts and callings vs. their current responsibilities. I agree with Mike, your calling would be a blessing to another organization with older children. I work with an at-risk teens facility and believe that I would not be as effective with younger children.

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