Things Not To Say...
There are a lot of things about houseparenting that people are unsure of: What is a houseparent? Are the kids orphans? Are you foster care? Who pays for their care? Why do you have these kids?
Because there is so much that can be unclear, we do, at times, run into some rather awkward and uncomfortable scenarios.
So, this week we’re going to talk about some general ideas of things that can lead to this kind of situation. Not because we think anyone does this intentionally but because it can help you get a better understanding of what our kids are living and dealing with; and then you’ll be in the know!
These scenarios happen at any time and any place with pretty much anyone – volunteers, well-meaning visitors, at a store or restaurant, school, on appointments or at church.
Talking about the children as though they are not standing there. This happens often – to all children. For us it is people saying something like, “Oh, this one’s so cute can I adopt her?” This gets “the cute one’s” hopes up, and crushes the other children. Or, it may make “the cute one” recoil and say “I have a family!” while another child nearby will say, “You can adopt me!” This has happened to me personally more than once and the following silence is almost unbearable – especially when the child who volunteers for adoption just gets stared at by the adult because the adult is now unsure of how to proceed. Our children are rarely, if ever, adoptable.
Seeing people walk by you at Wal-mart, or a restaurant, with as many as eight children (currently ranging from age 8 to 16) following is an eyebrow raising event for most people. The inevitable “Are they all yours?” always makes me want to physically cringe. There is no good way to answer this question. We say “Yes!”, or sometimes “We claim them, yeah!” and just keep moving. However, while we are absolutely willing to claim them, and the kids are generally relieved by these types of answers (they want to be “claimed”, and they don’t like having to explain) ...all this does is remind them that they are not at home with their families.
The “Do you miss your mom and dad?” As surprising as it may seen this questions gets asked a lot. This is tough for a lot of reasons. 1) The answer is obviously yes 2) sometimes mom and dad are not in the picture but the answer is still yes 3) sometimes they do not but can they say that? What if they say “no”, what then will people think of them or say to them?
Prayer time. People say a lot of well-meant things when they pray out loud. It is easy to get tongue tied and say things you might not otherwise because it can be a nerve-wracking experience. Here is a “we-promise-it-actually-happened” example of what we mean by prayer time turning awkward, that happened with a visiting volunteer group: “Lord please help these kids who are here at Joy Ranch. They have nothing. They have no family and still they are smiling. This reminds us that we can smile no matter what is going on.” All the staff were looking at the person praying, all the kids were looking at staff. And the kids expressions said: “What is wrong with this person? We do have families.”
There are many examples we could tell of things said to our kids by people who don’t know any better or think they do know better. Either way, the things said are the same: “I can’t believe I’m sitting next to a delinquent!” (Said to one of our youth when visiting a youth event). “You’re just a Joy Ranch kid, I wouldn’t expect you to know better.” “Soooo what, she’s an orphan?” and the often cited: “I’m sorry nobody loves you.” Or: “What is it like going to school at Joy Ranch?” (Joy Ranch is no longer a school. We used to be – and for a while had an on-site teacher who taught with the help of online courses – but now we are no longer able to take children who cannot go to public school. However, we were then, always have been and still are, a children’s home.)
And last but not least: “What do you eat? Who cooks for you?” This always seems like a weird question to us. What should we eat? (And the adults cook.)
Food, actually, reminds me of one of my favorite stories about one of our kids which will allow us to end this blog on a personal note, with a great story.
When Gene and I first came to Joy Ranch there was a little girl here who was six years old. She grew six inches, in six months. I seriously could not keep her in clothes. Why? Because she wasn’t getting enough to eat before she came to us. When asked what her favorite thing was about being at Joy Ranch she ducked her head, grinned and said:
“They feed you here.”