Last weekend we hosted a little girl for a few days. We didn’t know much about the situation other than there was recently some major trauma in her and her mother’s life and the mom needed some rest. I thought how nice it would be for the little girl to have a weekend in the country. I know the family coaches always pump up how fun our farm will be to kids and their parents. I suspect it helps put nervous parents minds at ease to know the kids will have a good time out in the country playing with our kids and farm animals.
Of course it never fails that our farm animals scare the living daylights out of every kid we host. Usually it goes down like this:
Child arrives, meets my kids, gets a welcome tour.
Child asks to see our animals.
Child is taken to the animals.
Child gets scared and starts crying.
Our little guest arrived and, as if on cue, immediately asked to see the horses. I walked her down to the barn and hoisted her onto my hip so she’d feel secure. I know the drill. I have adult friends who are terrified of my 1200 pound horses let alone a tiny child who has lived in the city for her entire three years of life. (Although she did mention to me that she has a horse in her backyard. Never mind that she lives in an apartment in the city. I love kids.)
Our new horse is very friendly and likes to nuzzle his face right into you. I knew I could count on him to approach the fence, which he did. This little girl was so brave. Eyes wide, a little scared, a grin of excitement slowly spread across her sweet face. She tentatively reached out a hand to touch his face. It was that precise moment that our horse let out the loudest whinny I have ever heard – right in her face. Terrified, the little girl clung to me for dear life and started sobbing.
Thankfully our little charge wound up settling in and proceeded to enjoy hanging out with our family on the farm. We played on the swing set out in the sunshine. We went swimming at the local school’s pool. She even got over her fear and loved petting the horses, watching the chickens, and especially hauling our barn cat all around the farm.
But every night when the excitement of the day died down and she was settled into the bed, surrounded with pink sheets, a princess blanket, and stuffed pink unicorn, she would cry softly for her mom. I consoled her as best I could, rubbing her back and reassuring her she would go home soon, talking about the fun day we had planned coming up, and sitting with her until she drifted off to sleep.
Its hard to watch a three year old ache for her mommy in a house of strangers.
Its tempting to think that because we have more space, stuff, and resources kids will just magically not miss their moms. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The magic lies in the way that stuff is of little value when held against love. Sure, the children we host enjoy it here with all the toys, animals, and fun times with my kids. They usually have a blast, in fact. But when the evening fades they cry for their moms. Every time.
One of the questions I get asked most often is if it’s hard to send the kids I host back home. I have never once been asked that question when I take care of my nephews or my friend’s kids for extended time periods. Those kids also enjoy themselves during their visit. But at the end of the week it’s never a question that with their parents is where they belong. And I happily pat them on the head and send them home. So why do we assume that just because many of the kids we serve have hard lives we would be a better option or that they would rather be with us?
My kids love Disney World. They ride the rides. They eat the junk food. They splash in the pool. They would still enjoy it with a kind stranger … albeit hesitantly. But they most decidedly would not love being told, “Hey kids, great news…you get to stay here forever with this nice lady. But your parents are not coming back.” They would choose coming home with us over staying at Disney World without us every time.
Some of the kids we host are going back to hard places, no doubt. But provided its safe, its not hard to send kids back because I am not their mom. No more so than when I send my friend’s kids back to their parents. It would be incredibly arrogant to think that we and all our stuff trump their relationship with their own parents. These kids don’t want me and my stuff. They want their moms.
Even if moms are struggling with their own issues or need assistance, they love their children no less deeply than I love mine. Their children need them. And whatever I can do to help any mamas get back on their feet is worth it. Because by helping their parents I am helping these kids. I am just a surrogate girlfriend who is willing to say, “Sure, I will watch your kiddo while you work through this.” I am giving a fellow mom a break. Just like my girlfriends do for me and like I do for them. Not because I am a better mom or have better resources or a bigger house, but because its the right thing to do.
And the reality is we desperately need more surrogate sisters, grandmas and girlfriends to come alongside moms in crisis.
Dave and I bought our hobby farm to realize a dream that our kids would have an idyllic country childhood with space to run, animals to care for, horses, and a big family. We love being able to share the space with friends, family, and kids we host through Safe Families. But despite the toys, the animals, the swimming, and the bonfires with s’mores … our little girl’s favorite day here was the day she knew she was going home. She came downstairs that morning smiling from ear to ear. And the first thing she said to me was, “I get to see my mom today.”
I am so humbled by the kids I host continually reminding me that all this stuff is not important.
I love that I have the opportunity to care for kids for a short while their parents heal. And I am thankful I get to witness their joy in reuniting with the ones they love best.