Who are all these kids and why are they calling me mom? I have a large family of seven children, but it seemed like there was always a small army at my house. Our kids, their friends, neighborhood kids and kids that just seemed to wander in following the crowd, all found their way to our house.
As the end of one winter break approached a snow storm struck our town. I told all the kids at my house, “It doesn’t matter if school is closed tomorrow. I will pack you all in my fifteen passenger van and drive you to school!” That’s how frustrated I was.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like the kids, or even that I didn’t want them to come over; I was just tired of all the commotion. I felt responsible for all these youngsters and I was starting to feel taken advantage of. Other parents began depending on me more and more. They expected me to be home when their kids had a half day, or when they had an early appointment or late meeting. I was starting to resent it.
During Confession I told my priest about my negative attitude. He asked me to describe some of these families. Well, the one has a dad who is very unavailable to his children, this one has alcoholism in their home and that one is an only child. “Hmm,” Father replied thoughtfully. Then he said, “Where would they be if they weren’t at your house?” I was starting to see his point. There wasn’t anywhere else. If not at my house, they may be alone at home left to their own devices. Father helped me see my ministry as the neighborhood mom.
After that day, I began to see myself and the children in a new way. When they would rush in after school and share their day with me, I felt grateful that they had some one to share it with. I felt privileged that I was the one they wanted to tell.
It is a tradition in our home for me to make cookies on Fridays to greet my children and mark the start of the weekend. All of the kids around now call them, “Friday cookies,” and some will call just to see what kind I’m serving that day. As my children have gotten older, this ministry has become even more important.
My mother gave me a beautiful example when I was growing up. Our friends were always welcome at our home. If they were in trouble, they could come to our house to think things out and talk them through. The door was always open and so were my mom’s arms.
Those same teenagers, who came to our house growing up, are now grownups with teenagers of their own. Some of them still turn to my mom for advice. Whenever they spot her in the grocery store they have kisses, hugs and accolades for her. Most of them turned out okay. The ones who didn’t, well, she has visited them in jail, in the hospital and a for a few, she has had to attend their funerals. She still prays for all of them everyday. My mother taught me that you can be the difference between a child’s failure and their success just by being there and for believing in them.
Now that some of my children are teenagers, I can really see the wisdom of my mother’s approach. Thankfully, my husband sees our roles as a ministry too. We have taken in our children’s friends, for a night or a week when their own parents did want them or couldn’t handle them anymore. We try to be available to talk or just for a hug when the kids need it. I no longer feel stressed or put upon when one of the neighborhood kids yells, “Hey, mom!” to me. I feel blessed.
Rules for Neighborhood Moms
1/ Have rules. Just because the kids are welcome at your house doesn’t mean they don’t have to follow the same rules you expect your own kids to obey.
2/ Have food available. If the kids congregate at your house, ask other parents to donate some cookies, chips or juice.
3/ Explain to the kids that you will listen to their issues, but if you feel they are in trouble you WILL talk to their parents.
4/ Talk to their parents. Don’t go above another parent’s authority even in a bad situation. Clear any sleepovers or other help that you might give a child with their parents. If you don’t you could find yourself in the middle of a volatile or legal situation.
5/ Ask for reciprocation. If you have had the girls up the street over every day during spring break, ask their mom if she could take a couple of your kids Saturday so you could grocery shop or go out to dinner. You may see some surprise at first, but most people are happy to help out. They may have even been feeling guilty that their kids have been spending so much time at your house.