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Mothers Day Q&A

Mother’s Day Q&A

May 10, 2019     By Boys Town Family Teachers Marie Ruther, Sarah Seaman and Amanda Forman

Family Home Program, Parent-Child Relationships, Village of Boys Town

Boys Town Family-Teachers® have the unique job of caring for children who are not their own, teaching, guiding and preparing boys and girls for success in life. With as many as 8 children in their Family Home at a time (not including their own children), the "Moms" in these homes have a hand in raising A LOT of kids. To celebrate Mother's Day, we asked some of them to reflect on parenting, motherhood and the work they do at Boys Town each day. Here is a collection of our favorite responses….

QUESTION: As someone who has helped raise many kids, what is one piece of advice you would give to young mothers out there?

One of my favorite mantras right now is, "You can do anything, but you can't do everything." Our society wants moms to be superheroes, but the truth is that most of us can only do a few things well at a time. You only have so much capacity for giving to others, even your own children who you love dearly. You have to set limits and boundaries in your life with your own time and energy. When my children were very little and I needed a break, we would play "Drive Trucks on Mommy's Back." I would just lay on the ground and shut my eyes for a few minutes. It's okay. Give yourself permission to say "No" when you need to. Someone else can chaperone the field trip. Bring store-bought cookies to the bake sale. Use paper plates and skip the dishes when you need to. And take the time you need for yourself to exercise, sleep, read a book… whatever fills your bucket. This sometimes means you have to be willing to ask for help when you need it. Find your village because parenting was never meant to be done alone. You cannot be the parent you want to be for your kids if you are stretched too thin, overcommitted and exhausted. Moms are just people and that is okay. You don't have to be super to be a good parent. Just be you and give yourself some grace when you fall short of what you hoped. 


There is a lot of pressure, not only on new mothers but also on mothers at any stage. So many differing opinions and philosophies, it seems like you can never get it all right. My advice would be that if at the end of the day, your children know they are safe and loved, then the rest will fall into place.


The best piece of advice I would give is to love, have patience (take a deep breath) and remember you will not get this time/moment back with your kids. They will not and do not learn effectively from anger, yelling, retaliation. By approaching teaching and discipline through love and patience, they are more likely to listen to what are you are trying to say and will respond in a much more positive way.


QUESTION: When you became a Family-Teacher, what surprised you as a parent?

What surprised us/me the most about becoming Family-Teachers was how much the youth would impact our lives. We knew that we were there to help and teach to them, but I didn't realize how much I would learn from each boy that came through our home about myself and what it means to be a parent. I also didn't realize how special it would be to have so many of the youth that we came to know be such a memorable part of our family still to this day. 


QUESTION: You've learned many parenting skills and strategies on the job. In hindsight, was there anything you wished you would have known or done differently with your own kids prior to coming to Boys Town?

Yes, a million times over. I could say so much about this. We actually use a simplified teaching model for preschoolers developed by Boys Town with our own two children. This was taught to us by one of the behavioral therapists here on campus at our Center for Behavioral Health. It is remarkably similar to the model we use with our teenagers (in the Family Home) and is based on the same behavioral principles. We had no idea how to do any of this until we were trained. I always thought that when I became a mother, I would somehow just know what to do. There is this idea out there of a mother's instincts, and I found out quickly with my own kids that there is no such thing. For all of human history, parenting has been passed down through families, with the older mothers teaching the younger. We don't really get that in our society today because we live so separated from other generations. I think that is a great loss in our society and part of the reason why so many parents feel ill-equipped to handle their children's behaviors. 

The number one thing that I have learned at Boys Town that I now use to parent my own kids is a simple concept – for children, attention equals love. Kids crave attention and will do anything to get it from their parents. If they can't get enough positive attention, they will act out in order to get negative attention. Especially with small children, it's all the same to them. They just want to be seen. But positive attention, when we give it intentionally, is like magic. It is so reinforcing and can change any behavior over time with enough consistency. So, in short, I wish I had understood earlier how to use praise and positive reinforcement to get my kids to do what I want them to do.


QUESTION: When it comes to caring for children, what is the difference between a mother-father relationship and a Family-Teacher relationship?

One big difference between Family-Teachers and a mother-father relationship that I have noticed is that Family-Teachers are able to teach and interact with the youth on a more neutral platform. Sometimes there is so much love, pain and emotion wrapped up in a parent-child relationship that it can be difficult to accept or address really difficult behaviors. As Family-Teachers, we are able to view things in a more neutral setting, allowing the space needed for families to heal and work through past struggles. Other than the obvious biological differences, I feel that there are more ways we are similar. When you take youth into your program, you share your home and your family and your lives with them. You go through the good and the bad and you are there for each other through it all. When we are faced with difficult decisions regarding our youth, we often ask ourselves, what would we do if this was one of our own children? And we often let that be our guide with all the boys in our program.


QUESTION: Looking back on your time as a Family-Teacher, what makes a "winning day" for you?

A "winning day" is a day that a child accepts teaching and help. When we first started this "job," someone once told me, "A great day is not that the child is 'perfect' and doesn't make any mistakes; it is that you are able to accept these consequences, pick yourself up and try again."  This has stuck with me and has completely changed the way I view success. We learn best when we make mistakes and move forward and try again. No person is perfect and finding ways to better yourself every day is a "winning day."


QUESTION: What is one thing you learned about parenting that you don't think you would have learned had you not become a Family-Teacher?

I am so thankful that I have learned, through Family-Teaching, the most effective way to change a behavior. The most important thing that I have learned is how the relationship you have with a youth is the key in shaping and changing behavior. Teaching will have much more weight if it comes from a place of love and respect rather than solely from a place of authority. It doesn't always have to be with a negative consequence; sometimes, it can be as simple as a heartfelt conversation. There are so many tools/options that are available to help change a behavior, not just one. Also, that all children are different and need different levels of positive and negative consequences. 


Happy Mother's Day to all the Moms here at Boys Town and all the Moms around the world! You have one of the hardest jobs in the world. May you always do it with grace, a sense of humor and a large blanket of support.


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