Question #11 12/18/2006 Questions about being a houseparent Energy/Quite Time/Personality?

My wife and I have been considering houseparenting for a couple of months and have been researching and contacting some places. My wife has a dream of working with teen moms and although I don’t have as specific a vision, I am completing my MS in Counseling and want to work in a counseling role of some kind. We have a 4 month old daughter and a 7 year old daughter (step-daughter for me)and are willing to move from NJ for the right opportunity.

My question is about my personality and energy level. I am more of an introvert than extrovert and get recharged by having time to spend on my own. That being said, I also like working directly with people and would not want to be stuffed in an office crunching numbers or working solely with ideas and concepts all day. I guess I am concerned about the energy needed to houseparent and wonder if introverts make it very far and if there are any tips on how to incorporate a personal quiet time to recharge into the busy life of a houseparent. Any suggestions?
Thanks Tim

You can be a very good houseparent and be an introvert.  I think that I am and I have know several others that have been also. 

As far as time alone, it depends greatly on the facility that you work for.  Many facilities provide a great deal of alone time, especially during the school year.  During the summer and school holidays it gets more difficult.  We work at a long term facility and work with younger children that are not always in school so personal time is a little more difficult to come by.  We have to rely on nap times, getting up early, or staying up late to get alone time.  We also rely heavily on relief time to regenerate.  This is something to discuss thoroughly during the application process prior to accepting any position.  That way all parties are clear as to what is expected of you.

As far as energy goes.  I don’t think it requires a lot of energy to be a houseparent, I do however think it takes a lot of energy to be a GOOD houseparent.  I will be honest it is a very hard job (if you want to call it a job), the hours are long, it is emotionally draining, and some would say it is spiritually draining.  Those that try to make houseparenting a laid back job, usually don’t make it long.

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Question #10 12/18/2006 How should a houseparent deal with children who are out of control with relief staff?

How should a houseparent deal with children who are out of control (disrespectful, disobedient, mocking, as well as taking on a “pack” or “gang” mentality) while in the care of relief or alternate houseparents?
Thanks!  Tawnya

The answer to this question depends on the perspective from which you ask it.  If you are asking from the perspective of the primary houseparent then I suggest that you number share your expectations for their behavior with the children prior to you leaving on relief or days off.  We don’t have much of an issue with our children trying to get over on our regular relief staff because we have worked together for years.  But, we are very clear with our children that if they try and get over on emergency/vacation relief they will receive consequences when we return.

You should also share as much information as you can with your relief staff.  The more they know about your rules and routines the easier it will be for them to maintain them.  Write as much of it down as you can, that way if the children tell therelief staff that they are doing something wrong they can show the children your notes.

Finally pick your battles.  If your relief staff is new or less than competent there are going to be disruptions.  You just may have to live with some things until they learn the ropes or leave.

If you are asking from the perspective of relief staff, I would first like to say that being relief staff is the hardest position there is in residential childcare.  I was relief staff for a year and wish never to do it again, I am just not cut out for it.  Relief staff need to be flexible, and in a sense submit themselves to the desires of the primary houseparents, while working with children that you have very little time to build relationships with and may only see for a few days a month.

When dealing with children that seem to be “out of control” while you are on duty as relief, you need to make sure that you do not communicate that you are intimidated or just a “baby sitter.”  You need to portray to the children that you are confident in your abilities, won’t put up with crap, will be fair and respectful to them, and that you also expect them to be fair and respectful to you. 

You also need to communicate with the primary houseparents and administration as much as possible both before and after relief.  With out their support, you will always have struggles.  Also don’t expect the primary houseparents to be the bad guys.  If a child breaks a rule while you are on duty, give them consequences.  The children will never respect you if you always say, “Wait until your houseparents get back.”

Realize that time is on your side.  The longer you stick with something the easier it will get.  If you are new, you are going to have to establish yourself in the house and that may take until many of the children that are residents of the house when you started have moved on.

Finally, if you can’t get support from the primary houseparents or administration it may be time to look for a new position.  There are too many good facilities that will train, equip and support their staff to continue to work for one that won’t.

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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.

Our Second House

Here is the front of the second house we worked at.  It was the boy’s house at Sonlight Shelter in Cody, Wyoming.  We were only in this house for a few months before moving to Texas.  It was a prefabricated house set on a concrete foundation and a whole lower level underneath the house.

 There was room 10 boys, plus three bedrooms & two baths for staff.  We had way more room than we did in the girls house, but decided we wanted to get out of therapeutic care and move to a basic care facility.  The facility was hoping to build a new house to replace this one, but funding dried up and the facility ended up closing.  It has been closed for over a year now.  Although we have been at our current facility for almost 8 years, the people at Sonlight will always be family to us.


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’s 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 what ever.  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.

Christmas Madness Has Begun

Our first Christmas party was last Sunday, Open house is Thursday (which is about as much fun to prepare for as an IG inspection in the military) after that will be several more functions and events.

We will end up driving hundreds of miles, lose several hours of sleep, and be physically exhausted by the time Christmas day actually arrives.

On the other hand for as much as this season frustrates me, it is good in the sense that many facilities finish the year in the black because of the generosity of others. So I guess it isn’t that bad.