One of the biggest mistakes a new houseparent can make (and to be honest – I made it twice) is to walk in to a new position and say, “Hi, my name is (name here) and I will always be here for you.” For a very minute fraction of houseparents that may be true but for the vast majority it is not.
The first facility I made this mistake at was in Wyoming at the first place we worked. We were there for almost 2 years. I developed some good relations with many of the children and really wanted to be there for them. What I didn’t count on was that our career goals would change. We left some children that we had made promises to, that were hurt by our leaving. Though we kept in E-mail contact with a few of them for a few months; it’s really hard to be there for somebody from 1500 miles away.
With that facility even if I had been able to keep up my side of the promise, the home is now closed and I would have been forced to leave anyway, thus again having to break my promise. In that part of the country houseparenting positions are few and we surely would have been forced to leave the area.
I next made the mistake at the second facility we worked at. It was a basic care facility in Texas and we really did plan on being there for a very long time the day we arrived. It was run by the denomination that we were members of and I was studying to be a pastor in that denomination. I was hoping to eventually become the director of the home. What I wasn’t prepared for was the administrative turmoil that was taking place at the time and that we would only be there 5 months.
I have been a houseparent for almost 10 years and there are still some broken promises from years ago that still haunt me today. I hear about a child that I knew way back then and wonder how it could have been different had I stayed.
This last weekend was a fishing retreat that all the boys and housedads from the home I work at get to go to. It is sponsored by a local camp and consists of several members of the community that sponsor our boys and spend the day fishing and sharing time with them. It is a really fun time and the boys look forward to it every year as do I. The only problem I have with it at all, is that usually several of the sponsors tell the boys that they are going to come to the home and visit them. Maybe pick them up and go fishing somewhere or look into having them come and visit at their home.
Unfortunately very few of them actually follow through. Not much needs to be said about the disappointment the children show when these promises are broken. I imagine it is somewhat similar to the disappointment they have when we do the same.
The point is this: When you start a new position it is totally appropriate to be dedicated to it and to work as if you will be there forever, just don’t tell the children that is what your plans are. Besides their first response will be something like, “We’ll see” Don’t make promises you may not be able to keep. Care for the children as if you will always be there for them, just never promise them that you will be.
The home could close. You could find yourself in an unresolvable conflict with the administration and have to leave. You could have a family crisis that could force you to leave or any number of other reasons.
The children we care for have had to deal with broken promises their entire life, from their birth parents and family, from the system, from care providers, etc. There is absolutely no reason we need to add to that disappointment.
My response to children today is, “I am here for you now, and will continue to be there for you for as long as I am able.” They really appreciate my honesty.