The Shepherding Family Experience
What You Should Know Before You Begin
by Michael & Dianne Monahan
Author's Note: This book is no longer available as a printed work. It may be may downloaded, reproduced, copied and distributed freely for the purpose of educating others about Shepherding Homes. The only restriction is that it may not be sold for a profit. Our desire is to make the information freely available without cost to any brave soul who is considering taking unwed mothers into their home.
This booklet is a response to the growing demand for realistic information concerning shepherding homes. We have encountered many individuals and groups who have felt the desire to help in some way. Yet, very little information is available which tells how to start and what to expect. The ideas presented here are easily read, but are more difficult to appreciate fully. Each concept has been derived from our experiences with a variety of girls who have lived with us. Our answers to problems are never perfect, but have worked for us. We do not claim to be experts, but we do have many hard-earned understandings to share. After reading this booklet, it may seem that it is not even worth initiating a shepherding home. Please remember that this is a collection of our thoughts concerning all the pitfalls we have encountered along the way. We offer our solutions so that others may avoid these problems. All solutions do not fit all girls. Each girl is an individual and must be treated as such. You may encounter those rare and beautiful girls who make most of our advice seem rather unnecessary. We do not cover here all the joys nor the love that we have shared with the people who have crossed our threshold. It is only your own experience that can bring this treasure to you.
Chapter 1 - Introduction
Since the Roe vs. Wade decision on January 22, 1973, the pro-life cause has evolved into a sophisticated and complex movement. In the past two years we have witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of emergency pregnancy services and in the amount of sidewalk counseling. These two increases have proved extremely successful in achieving our main goal of saving babies. However, this success has presented the pro-life movement with a difficult problem; where to send the woman who has opted against abortion through her contact with an emergency pregnancy service.
While there are in existence some larger shelter homes that are run by churches or pro-life groups, there are not nearly enough to handle the epidemic of pregnancies in unwed women. Because of this, there has emerged another solution; individual shepherding families. Many people who consider this option have an unrealistic idea of what is actually involved. The purpose of this booklet, then, is threefold;
1. To present realistically the joys, problems, demands and stresses involved in being a shepherding family.
2. To detail the possible effects on all areas of the family.
3. To offer suggestions and advice that will help those who are considering serving as shepherding families.
It is true that many families could "endure" an outsider living in their home for six to eight months. Who we are addressing, however, is the family that wishes not only to provide physical shelter, but also spiritual and emotional guidance and loving support. The experience should be a positive, nurturing one for the young woman and a rewarding one for the family.
For the past five years, we have served as a shepherding family. We and our four children (ages two to nine) have opened our home to over a dozen expectant young women. While they have private sleeping quarters in a trailer situated next to our house, they function as part of our family in all other respects. Over all, each girl’s stay has been a positive experience for all concerned. Most of these girls stay in touch after they leave and are considered permanent members of our ever-expanding family. Many of them have accepted Christ and have experienced a resulting change of heart and life-style. This is not to say that we have been completely without problems. A few situations have failed from the start, resulting in the girl choosing to leave. Yet, we eagerly look forward to the arrival of each new girl.
Chapter 2 - The Family
How the Girl Views You
Most of the girls who come to us are from broken homes. The word "family" to them does not bring to mind a cozy picture of mom, dad and the kids in front of the fireplace. In fact, many of the girls have a negative concept of family. One girl related to us that Christmas Day was the worst day of the year for her. When all her family was together, it always resulted in fighting and arguing. She dreaded it. In coming into our family, the girls do not immediately see themselves as part of it. Many have deep wounds from the past and most are suspicious of a seemingly ideal situation. They wait for the facade to come down. As time passes and a relationship of trust develops, the girls finally begin to see themselves as belonging. For some it happens in weeks, for others in months, and for a few it never happens.
Being a member of a family is sometimes difficult for a girl, especially if the values and foundations of family commitment are foreign to her. We have found, however, that most girls have the desire to be considered part of a working group. Because of this, they are willing to conform to family rules and values in order to maintain this status.
How You View Yourself
So far we have addressed the need for the girl to be accepted into the family. This concept, however, can only be effective if the shepherding family itself is functioning properly. If there are already problems in the home, taking in a pregnant girl will only intensify them. If you are considering becoming a shepherding home, you should honestly evaluate the condition of your own family. The following questions will help you make that evaluation.
1. Do you see indications from your spouse or your children that you are already overcommitted to church work, your career or outside interests?
2. Do you and your spouse often disagree because your values or priorities differ?
3. Are conflicts among family members often resolved in open and disruptive arguments?
4. Do you have a teenage daughter who is rebellious or experiencing problems coping during this period of her life? If you have a son in his early teens, you should only consider women twenty-one or older. If he is in his later teens (15-19), we do not recommend becoming a shepherding home at all.
5. Do you have a child who is experiencing emotional difficulties that would require extra attention from you?
6. Are you already feeling stress due to your financial situation? (Family finance is the number one cause of stress in American families.)
7. Are you or your spouse trying to fill some psychological need by taking in another to help?
If you answered "yes" to any of the above, it does not mean that you are automatically unsuitable for serving as a shepherding family. However, it does indicate problems that would only be intensified by adding a non-member to your family. If you could honestly answer "no" to the questions, then it is possible that you are well suited. There are, of course, many variables that we cannot anticipate. You must be the final judge.
Chapter 3 - Rules and Regulations
Among many Christians today, there is a concept that "loving" is all that is necessary to help a person in need. This kind of love tends toward permissiveness and indulgence. Any good parent will know from experience that love must include both affection and discipline for the child to grow into a well-adjusted adult. Well intentioned couples who consider taking in a girl are often willing to sacrifice rules and expectations. While this attitude may be noble, it can lead to tension, discord, and inevitable resentment on the part of other family members. The end result is known as "burnout", where the couple does not want to repeat the experience. To avoid this, it is imperative that the shepherding family understand that the girl should be seen as a member of the family and that she share equally in responsibilities, joys, and privileges. If rules are instituted to benefit the family in the first place, they should not be altered to accommodate the new member. It is also important that the girl understand clearly what is expected of her. It is unfair for a couple to become irritated by a girl’s actions if she has never been told what is unacceptable behavior.
Because every family is unique, different rules will be required. It is necessary for the couple to sit down beforehand and work out a list of rules based on their own family situation. The following areas should be considered before the arrival of the girl: use of the telephone, television viewing, eating habits, sleeping habits, division of chores, use of free time, acceptable language, use of your laundry facilities, acceptable music, smoking, transportation and use of vehicles, discipline and treatment of the children, baby-sitting duties, church attendance, boyfriends and dating. We would like to expand on each of these areas and explain what rules and attitudes we have established. Although they may not apply to your own situation, you may use the information as a springboard for developing your own rules concerning each of these areas.
Use of the Telephone
Incoming and local calls should be no problem if time limits are set. Long distance calls, however, do present a problem. Since most of our girls are from out of town, any contact with their families is long distance. If the girl has no source of income, long distance calls are forbidden except in emergencies or when made collect. If the girl has an income, and is able to pay for the calls, she must first clear them with us. We consider the importance of the call, whether she has paid her prior bill, the time of day, and whether any previous calls have been made before giving permission. Every long distance call must be logged in a notebook noting date, to what city, by whom, the number and the approximate length of the call. As soon as the phone bill arrives, the charges must be paid. No matter how careful you are, be aware that you run the risk of a girl making calls while you are out. We had one girl who left before the last phone bill arrived and later we discovered $125 worth of calls that had been made without our knowledge. This risk can be kept at a minimum if the rules are clearly established and enforced.
In our home this problem is solved quite simply: we have no television. We realize that this is the exception rather than the rule. We would like to make some suggestions if you do have a television. First, make a list of all unacceptable programs that may not be viewed and post it where it can be readily seen. Second, make a list of any special programs that the whole family or one family member watches regularly and inform the girl ahead of time. Third, make it clear when the television is to be used and when it is not. Fourth, establish a turn-off time.
What do you do with a picky eater or a girl who has eating habits which do not conform with the family’s? After facing this problem a number of times, we arrived at a workable solution. Each girl is allowed one "hate food". She is not required to eat this particular food, but she must eat everything else that is served. If her hate food happens to be the main dish in a meal, she is allowed to make herself something else to replace it. You may also encounter the problem of a girl preferring certain foods (usually "junk food") which you do not normally stock. We find that just buying the necessities for nine people is expensive. It is impossible to stock our shelves with chips, cookies, candies, soda pop, etc. If the girl wants this type of food, she must buy it for herself. Another small, but annoying problem occurs when an ingredient for the evening meal is eaten beforehand. To prevent this, we post a week’s menu on the refrigerator. If burritos are posted for Tuesday dinner, everyone knows not to eat the dozen tortillas on Monday for lunch. Breakfast and lunch are unstructured, but we require that everyone be present for the evening meal. This allows us to share the day’s happenings and end the day as a family unit.
This is an area where the rules depend on the habits of the individual family. One common problem is a girl who stays up late and then sleeps in late in the morning. This habit can be discouraged by establishing a set time to rise. Because you are dealing with pregnant girls, you must take into consideration that they require extra sleep during this period.
This is an area too, that depends on a family’s habits. It is also an area that can cause many problems. It is important for the girl’s self-esteem and sense of belonging that she share in the chores of the household. For some women, it is difficult not to treat the girl as a guest. If this is done, however, the girl is denied character building experiences. A few of those who have lived with us have genuinely enjoyed doing house work. Most however, did only what was required of them. A few even balked when asked to do anything. In order to make the division of chores less stressful, we have devised the following system: the girls are asked to help keep the shared living areas clean. We do not ask them to clean our family bedrooms or bath or fold family laundry. Each girl must make her own bed daily and keep her own room clean. Every morning a list of chores is written for each girl and for our own children. This work is to be completed before anything else. The girls are asked to help with evening meals as needed and they share in kitchen cleanup afterwards. No matter how the chores are arranged, make sure the girl knows what is expected of her, and how to do the work. Be sure to give compliments for a job well done.
Use of Free Time
This is an area which may not seem important but can cause conflict. This is especially true if one or both of the couple is highly self-motivated and the girl is not. There are steps that can be taken to prevent this problem. A girl’s creative interest should be cultivated and encouraged. If she likes handicrafts, supplies should be provided for projects. Sewing is also very popular, but guidance is usually required. Creativity has a dual benefit. She is occupied, which relieves family tension and her accomplishments will do much to bolster her feeling of self-worth. She should also be encouraged to become involved with church activities, etc. Many of our girls have had an interest in cooking and baking. We provide an outlet for this by allowing them to make a special meal one night a month. It is with great pride that they serve their specialty. We have enjoyed some unusual and delicious dinners. We have recently developed a new program called "Helping Hands". Once a week Christian women in our community pick our girls up and take them to their home for a morning or afternoon of learning handicrafts or homemaking skills. This idea was an instant success. The girls are very proud of their new found knowledge and their finished projects. It also provides them with role models which they might have never experienced otherwise. Some lasting friendships have developed because of this program. This concept would be adaptable to a family with only one girl by using the wife’s immediate circle of friends or women from the church.
It goes without saying that crude or vulgar language has no place in a Christian home. Be careful however, that you do not apply a double standard. If you request that a girl refrain from this type of language, be sure that she does not hear it coming from other family members. For some of the girls, rough language is a life-long habit. Tolerate slips, but expect improvement. Another important consideration occurs if you have young children in the home. There have been many times that we have stopped a girl mid-sentence because the nature of her conversation was not fit for our children to hear. One memorable example was a girl who relayed the gory details of her drug-using husband attacking her with a meat cleaver. During her story, we noticed our seven-year old daughter with wide eyes listening intently to every word! A special word of caution for those with teenage daughters in the home: It is natural for girls to share past experiences when talking. Considering that many of these girls come from unsavory and promiscuous backgrounds, this may expose your daughter to some things of which you would not approve. It is important that you discuss this possibility with your daughter and consider what her response should be. It is also important to be aware if this type of communication is occurring and to take steps immediately to put a stop to it.
Use of Laundry Facilities
Certain considerations should be made even for something as simple as using the laundry facilities. For sanitary reasons, as well as to develop good habits, girls should do their own laundry and bedding. In our home, there is a penalty for laundry left lying around. Do not assume the girl knows how to do laundry. You may find bras being washed with dirty jeans or a cup and a half instead of one quarter cup detergent being used. In other words, make it clear what is to be done and how it is to be done.
In most cases, music is an important part of a girl’s life. Unfortunately, much of the music will consist of hard rock. We do not allow this type of music in our home or in the trailer. We listen to a contemporary Christian radio station. At first the girls moan and groan, but after a short time they can be heard humming along with the songs on the radio. We do allow mellow rock or country music in the trailer at an acceptable volume. This, of course, all depends on the discretion of the shepherding family. The same rules should apply for both the family and the girls.
Many girls have an ongoing smoking habit that is difficult to break. Different homes will handle this situation differently. Some require quitting "cold turkey". If you choose this line, then you need to be prepared with your response if the girl sneaks behind your back. She should, in the beginning, understand exactly what is expected of her and the consequences of breaking the rules. In our home we do not allow minors to smoke. If a woman is an adult, however, we make considerations. We give her ample literature on the danger of smoking to her baby. We ask that she limit her smoking to three cigarettes per day and that she only smoke outside. Because we have very cold winters, this discourages all but the most avid smokers.
Transportation and Use of Vehicles
The shepherding family is responsible for transporting the girl to and from doctor’s appointments and other necessary meetings. There will be times when she will want to go somewhere special. While consideration should be given to these requests, it is unwise to furnish indiscriminate chauffeur service. Some girls can be very self-centered. They may see nothing wrong with asking you to take them somewhere while you are in the middle of preparing supper. Learn to say "no" when necessary. If others have expressed an interest in helping, enlist their assistance for transportation to appointments and other engagements.
Discipline of the Children
Discipline of the children by the girl is one of the most problematic areas of shepherding families with young children. In disciplining their children, parents are motivated by love and have insight gained through experience. The girl staying in the home does not have the benefit of experience. She has usually had very poor parenting as her only example. Because of her age and her acceptance into the family, a girl tends to see herself as an authority figure over younger children. Unlike the parents, her discipline is not motivated by love of the children. We had a girl, in fact, take out her frustration and aggression on the most vulnerable children. The children, in turn, resent this and may purposely defy her authority. Another problem is the lack of understanding on the girl’s part as to the motivation behind discipline. We are firm believers in Dr. James Dobson’s ideas on discipline. If you have not already done so, we strongly recommend reading two of his books: "Dare to Discipline" and "Hide or Seek". In short, he believes that children should be disciplined for defiance of parental authority but not for childish foolishness or curiosity. If the threat of spanking is used to discourage bad behavior, it must be followed through when necessary. He also stresses that discipline should never attack a child’s character, but rather address the action. These are concepts that most of the girls who have lived with us do not understand.
We have witnessed girls violate nearly all off our ideas of proper discipline. After seeing our children rebel against this type of treatment, we have developed these guidelines: When a girl first arrives, we explain our concept of discipline. We stress that we know that our children are not perfect and that they can even be annoying sometimes. We explain the difference between attacking a child’s character (You are so stupid!) and correcting it (Stop that, you’ll get hurt!). The girls are never allowed to threaten spanking or to spank or hit the children. If there is an offense that warrants action, we ask the girl to come to us. We then decide the proper punishment. If the girl sees one of our children violating a set rule of the household, then she is allowed to verbally correct the child. She is not allowed to discipline the children according to her whim or mood.
A word of caution: As parents, you should be especially sensitive to the interaction taking place between your children and the girl. It is important to recognize the warning signs and act before problems grow. We had one unfortunate experience which brought this lesson home to us. A particularly difficult sixteen year-old who lived with us had many internal conflicts and would lash out often. We noticed her negative attitude toward our oldest daughter in particular. The seriousness of the situation did not become evident until our daughter related a dream to us. She had dreamed that this girl had taken her baby chicks and smashed them against a burning light bulb. While the circumstances in the dream were bazaar, the message was clear. Terry was confronted immediately concerning her attitude. Specific rules were established for her relationship with the children. While she did not become the model resident, she did improve greatly from that point on. She actually did not realize her attitude. Subconsciously, she was taking out her frustrations on our children. Please keep in mind that this is an extreme case, yet there are no guarantees concerning the character of a girl. One final note: Be especially careful to treat all involved fairly. If your children are in the wrong, they should be corrected. If the girl is in the wrong, be sure to point out why she is wrong when you correct her. You may be teaching her something she has never experienced - fair and effective discipline.
It is very easy for the shepherding family to feel they have a built-in baby-sitter with a pregnant girl in the home. While this is a benefit of taking a girl into the home, it should only be used after careful consideration. Not all girls are suited for baby-sitting. The girl should have been in the home for at least two weeks for observing her treatment of the children and the children’s reaction to her. If she is not suitable as a baby-sitter, she should not be put in this position. If she is determined suitable, care should be used not to take advantage of the situation. She should know from the beginning that she may be asked occasionally to watch the children free of charge as part of her contribution to the family.
Placing a girl in a position of authority as a baby-sitter after you have already placed restrictions on her authority over the children presents a problem. The children will soon figure out that she has limited power which does not include spanking. They may defy her when she is left in charge. This unfairly limits her in this respect. When we leave home under these circumstances, we clearly explain to the children the consequences of misbehavior. When we return, we follow up on those consequences if their behavior has warranted punishment.
We urge but do not require the girls in our program to attend church with us. If they are strong believers in another Christian denomination, we make arrangements for them to attend church with someone of that faith. If they are members of a non-Christian religion and have a strong desire to follow that faith, we ask that their church social service place them with a family of like faith.
Most of the girls are willing to attend church with us. We encountered one instance though, where our insistence was counterproductive. One of our girls was an angry young woman with a very negative attitude towards nearly everything in life. She balked at going to church with us. She purposely caused embarrassment by her rude behavior toward those who were trying to make her feel welcome. When she was confronted about this, she related that her mother was a very "religious" person and had used church as a punishment for both her and her brother. Our good intentions were seen by her to be negative because of her past. After understanding the dynamics of this situation, we waived the requirement for church attendance.
The lesson we learned was this: religion is a very sensitive area. To be insistent on your own views may do more damage than good. While the girl should be encouraged to attend church, be sensitive to her individual desires and experiences.
Boyfriends and Dating
Organizations differ on their views of this subject. Some do not allow even visiting. Others feel it only causes problems when couples are kept apart. These groups often allow visiting on a limited basis under supervision. Frequency ranges from one hour per week to one date per week with a set return time.
Because of our rural location and the distance the girls are from home, this is a problem we seldom encounter. We would recommend that you establish your policy early and inform the girl of your desires. Also decide on the consequences of violations and be prepared to implement them when necessary. We do recommend that new relationships be started only after the end of the shepherding home experience.
Especially during the early weeks of a new girl’s stay, at least one "shakedown" talk between the girl, husband, and wife should be scheduled. During these exchanges, each person can relate their concerns, problems and feelings. It is here that the parents can discover problem areas before they develop into conflicts. The girl is able to ask for further explanation of what is expected of her. Parents can encourage behaviors that might be lacking in the girl, yet care should be taken to praise her strong points and end the talk on a positive note. The key is to provide a pathway for communication and mutual understanding between the girl and the family.
Chapter 4 - Physical Accommodations
There are times when a family’s heart is bigger than its home. One might be tempted to ignore this fact and take in a pregnant girl anyway. At some point though, this situation can actually become counterproductive. We speak from experience. There are many different physical accommodations that are workable. We would like to offer the following guidelines:
The ideal situation is for the girl to have her own room in the home. This room should not be used for any other purpose. This allows both her and the family needed privacy. Out of necessity, we have taken this idea one step further. With six in our family and only three bedrooms, there are no spare rooms to be used. To give the girls their own sleeping quarters and avoid over crowded conditions, we placed an eight by thirty foot travel trailer next to our house. The girls use the trailer as their sleeping quarters, yet otherwise interact as part of the family. Other families who take in girls under our program are also provided smaller travel trailers. This has proved to be an excellent solution for both parties. The girls feel less like an intrusion to the shepherding family and have a corner in the world to call their own. We encourage them to personalize their rooms with photos and other mementos. The option of using a trailer is, of course, determined by the zoning laws of each city and by the finances available to the family.
We discourage the sharing of a room by the girl and other children in the family. While this does depend on the ages of the children, there are inevitable problems which arise. When a girl shares a room with a very young child, her sleeping and waking habits are determined by the child’s schedule. This also creates a lack of privacy for the girl. Most small children are inquisitive and like to handle other’s belongings. Often this is a source of irritation for the girl and frustration for the child.
If the child who shares her room is an older daughter, resentment may develop for having to give up part of her domain. If she and the girl have a personality conflict, the daughter’s refuge becomes a very unpleasant place for her to be. There is the added risk that your daughter may be constantly exposed to negative or unhealthy attitudes. Under no circumstances do we recommend that a girl share a room with a male child older than infant stage. Even young boys have a sense of modesty that would be violated under these circumstances.
Another living situation that is often considered but is not practical is a hideaway bed in a living or family room. This does not give the girl or the family enough privacy. It is also a constant reminder to the girl that she is an imposition. If the family is willing to put up a semi-permanent partition that would ensure privacy, then it might be workable.
One other possible living situation is to use living quarters completely separate from the house. While this may sound ideal, we have learned that this does have its problems. At one time we established a "half-way" house. This was actually a trailer located about a mile from our house. The girls who lived there were adults and little supervision was provided. The girls did not share our value system and took advantage of the freedom they were granted. After episodes of boyfriends spending the night and other unacceptable behavior, we decided to close it down. This does not mean that this situation will not work. It does, however, depend on the maturity and responsibility of the girls. We would recommend that supervision be maintained and that the girls be held accountable for their actions. When a girl is living separately from the family, she also misses out on some very positive benefits. Living with a Christian family may be the first time she experiences a good marriage and family that is centered around Christ.
Chapter 5 - The Marriage
A stable marriage is the most important aspect of a shepherding home. A husband and wife must be deeply committed to one another and to the marriage. They must be able to communicate openly about both good things and bad. In any marriage there will be disagreements, but there should not be divisive arguments.
It is always stressful when an outsider is brought into the home. That stress is magnified because a young woman in a crisis situation is often emotionally unstable. For most girls, this may be the first loving marriage they have ever seen. Because of this, it is not enough that there simply be an absence of negative attitudes in the marriage. There must be a strong, loving relationship, coupled with mutual respect. Our Christian witness begins with the manner in which the husband and wife treat each other in the home. If there are underlying problems in the marriage, any show of Christian love outside the home will become suspect.
It is also important that neither the husband nor the wife become so involved with the situation that they neglect nurturing their own relationship. We make it a point to have a candlelight dinner without children or the girls at least once a month. This is a special time for us to talk and share our feelings in a private and relaxed atmosphere.
It is an absolute must that the husband and wife be equally committed to the shepherding home concept. There are bound to be problems if one is enthusiastic about the idea and the other is reluctant. One partner should never have to talk the other into this work. With both the husband and wife equally committed to the Lord, to each other, and to helping a young woman in trouble, the most important ingredients for success are present.
Chapter 6 - The Wife
The wife plays the most important role in the day-to-day interaction with the girl. Because of this, she will be the one to deal with most of the everyday problems. Many of these are small but annoying, such as dishes not being put in the proper place. Others can be serious, such as having the wife’s authority openly challenged.
When a girl comes into a family, the wife/mother may already represent something to the girl. If there was significant conflict between mother and daughter as the girl was growing up, she may transfer her negative feelings to the shepherding family mother. This was clearly demonstrated by one girl in particular. I usually have not had a problem establishing a good rapport with the girls. Cindy, however, was openly antagonistic towards me. Any overture on my part to get close to her was rejected. After a long talk with her about her past, I finally understood why she acted in this manner. As a child, her mother had been the authority figure in the family. She used that authority without justice or compassion. Cindy saw me in the same role and transferred her negative feelings to me. I never did get close to her. But in understanding the motivation for her action, I was able to deal with it accordingly.
There is not a particular personality type that is best suited for serving as a shepherding family wife. Some characteristics can be beneficial and some can be detrimental. A woman who is a perfectionist may find taking in a girl to be more difficult than her easy going counterpart. If a woman demands perfection of herself, she most likely will demand it of others. This puts an unfair burden on the girl. A woman who is flexible and readily accepts people as they are will have fewer disappointments and probably find the experience more gratifying. A woman who sees others realistically will have a much easier time coping. To idealize a girl is unfair. She will never be able to live up to the preconceived image. Learn to know her first and form your opinions slowly.
I find that the idea of the idealized pregnant girl is most prevalent in pro-life circles. She is seen as sweet and innocent, a victim of circumstances. This simply is not so. The majority of girls we deal with have problems. Many come from promiscuous backgrounds. Most come from broken homes and almost all of them have very low self-esteem. This is not to say that every girl will be difficult and disrupt the family. There are some who are delightful to have around and never cause problems. Most girls fall somewhere in between. In spite of their problems, most are more than willing to make an effort to fit in with the shepherding family.
Sometimes, success or failure depends on the shepherding family and the wife in particular. Like a child, the girl may "put the mother to the test" to see what boundaries she must respect. If the girl is confronted in a firm, but loving manner, she will probably respond accordingly. I would like to illustrate this point by sharing a conversation I had with a woman who had taken in two girls on separate occasions. Joan told me that it was a terrible experience for her. Both of the girls treated her with blatant disrespect. Her own children saw this and began to treat her in the same way. She felt intimidated and helpless in the situation (her husband, by the way, had not been in favor of their becoming a shepherding family in the first place). It is very likely that if these same girls were in a family where this attitude was not tolerated, they would have modified their behavior.
Finally, a woman who desires to take in a girl should have a good self-image. This is not to say that she never feels inadequate or insecure. She should, though, have a secure understanding of who she is and of her value in that position. When a woman has low self-esteem, she tends to lose objectivity, focusing on her own feelings of inadequacy rather than the needs of the girl. If she is rejected or the arrangement simply does not work, she will most likely take it personally.
The lack of self-esteem also makes the wife susceptible to manipulation. Manipulation is often encountered in this type of service. It can take on many forms. Helplessness, a martyr complex, aggressiveness and deceitfulness can all be used to manipulate. In any case, it is important that it be recognized and not tolerated. When a woman allows herself to be manipulated, she ultimately loses the respect of the girl. This is reflected in the relationship and interferes with her ability to help the girl.
Chapter 7 - The Husband
The importance of the husband’s role in the shepherding home cannot be overstated. Most fathers already have the attributes needed for this work. Yet, there are new questions that should be well thought out before beginning. The following section will give an overview of these ideas.
First, examine for a moment your motivation. Why are you interested in starting a shepherding home? Do you have a legitimate desire to help a girl through a difficult time? Do you wish to provide a family atmosphere and spiritual guidance? Especially, do you want to provide her with a father image she may never have had? Or are you simply going along with your wife’s little project? This attitude will lead to disappointment and frustration for all parties. This is not to be confused, however, with initial uncertainty about becoming a shepherding home, nor with a husband’s normal concern for the welfare of his own family. Genuine indifference on the husband’s part will cause real problems. You may find yourself at some point between these two extremes. Consider carefully, with your wife, why you want to become involved. It is crucial that this decision be reached by both husband and wife together.
After the husband has make the necessary mental commitment, it should be realized that there are other commitments as well. The most difficult of these is time. The typical profile of a husband of a shepherding home is a working man with a wife and children. These elements alone make for a full life. The addition of another family member necessitates a careful balance of attention toward all aspects of the family. Another possible commitment is the use of your money. You may find funds that were previously "extra" just are not available as before or the direction of your efforts may change. It would be quite difficult to balance the effort involved in climbing a career ladder with taking unwed mothers into your home. It is an easily verifiable truth that wherever a man’s treasure is, his heart will be found there also. These changes are not necessarily negative. They represent some sacrifice and a good deal of sharing. Your understanding of yourself, your family and life will become richer and more mature. The rewards of this work far out last those of most of life’s other activities.
What qualities in a man make him best suited for shepherding? If a simple quality was chosen, it would be patience. Being slow to anger is a must. To be understanding of a girl’s background is a prerequisite to helping her. Expect and believe the best is possible in a person, but be realistic enough to know that failures may come. A man must also be self-confident enough to tolerate occasional rejection and defeat. You kindest act or most caring gesture may be discarded by a troubled woman. You may find that your emotions swing according to a girl’s progress. In summary, there is a need for quiet strength, a tolerant nature, and the patience to watch planted seeds grow very slowly.
The position of husband and father comes with many built-in responsibilities. Most of you have felt the normal burdens of a family: the need to be the financial provider for the group, the desire to give your children the important things in life, the concern of the family toward certain goals. None of these diminish when a young woman is brought into the home. In fact, they take on a new importance. A greater awareness is needed to successfully perform both the regular and new responsibilities.
As the head of the home, it is needful, first to have established your family goals and priorities without reference to an additional member. What is important for each member individually and for the group as a whole? What are you doing to achieve these ends? Without these things clearly in mind at the start, it is quite possible to lose sight of your primary function while helping another.
Secondly, monitor the effects that a new member has on your own children. From frequent communication with your wife and children, be alert to possible disruptive effects that the new arrangement is having on your family. On the positive side, your hope is that the children will view the girl as a new "big sister" (we have seen this happen often). On the negative side, however, you must judge the situation for bad effects. When these are evident, it is necessary to act. Constructive confrontation can be a learning experience for both the girl and your own children. Be alert and know where your family is headed. Your watchful care can make the shepherding experience an invaluable learning tool for your children which you will want to repeat.
Another new responsibility is that of becoming a girl’s father image. She may view you with an eye of distrust from the first day. It is very likely that she has been betrayed by men a number of times already. If she respects you when she leaves, you will have earned it. Without a doubt, one of the basic things you will teach her is what a real father and husband is. This is not a paper and pencil lesson. By every word you speak and every action you carry out, the lesson is taught. If you say one thing and do another, the message is clearly received. This is not to say that you should play-act a role. This type of behavior should already be a well established pattern in your life.
The last responsibility is diligence in being fair to all in your household. The cornerstone idea behind making the young woman a functioning part of the unit is treating her, as much as possible, as one of your own. Your own children will be the first to notice and complain about special treatment of others. For both the sake of her understanding and your children’s attitude, maintain an unbiased viewpoint toward both responsibilities and privileges.
One area which falls to the husband in his role as the head of the home is final discipline. This is not the general day-to-day confrontation usually handled by the wife because of her more intimate contact with the woman. Instead, this comes in response to an attitude of the girl that is not easily changed or an action that has come close to irreconcilable breaking the bond of trust involved. The situation cannot be tolerated and still maintain family order. At this point, few options are available.
To deal with these instances, it is helpful to understand the nature of the contract between the family and the girl. She was probably desperate when she arrived. You probably feel as though yours is the only family on earth that would care for her. Yet she is making a free-will choice of action if she refuses to modify her behavior. We have always presented girls with a choice; "If your behavior or attitude changes, then you may remain". In this manner, leaving is a clear choice instead of a demand. Very few have carried through the negative choice by leaving, yet it is amazing to see how quickly a girl with nowhere to go suddenly finds relatives or friends who will take her in!
The important point in final discipline is that you recognize when it is needed. You have made all reasonable attempts to reconcile the problem. Perhaps your pastor or other professionals were consulted. You have confronted the issue and tried to show why it is so important to the family that it not continue. Your family is beginning to show the harmful effects of the problem. It is then time for choices to be offered. Final discipline should still be done in love. It is indeed sad for it to be necessary at all. Neglecting this responsibility however, could bring disastrous results to what you value most.
One remaining crucial caution for the husband concerns showing physical affection toward an unrelated girl in the home. It is natural to want to demonstrate that you care for someone by touching or hugging as well as by verbal communication. However, consider the special circumstances of your relationship. The girl will generally have come from a background where nearly every display of male attention is interpreted as a sexual prelude. Even inadvertent body language is included in this. Perhaps without even conscious effort, she evaluates all male output in this way. A husband, on the other hand, is probably openly affectionate with his children. He gives little thought to expressing his love physically to them. These opposite viewpoints can, and have, led to disaster. A number of cases have come up recently in which a husband has been wrongly accused of making sexual advances to the young woman under his care. Occasionally, a court case has developed. The husband suffers damage to his credibility, reputation and ego. The family suffers embarrassment at the very least. Any progress made with the girl is lost. Yet, all this is preventable if you plan your actions ahead of time and discipline yourself to follow the plan.
1. Establish limits on familiarity between the girl and yourself. As she begins to feel like a real family member, you will notice certain new behaviors. If your family is accustomed to lounging around in pajamas on Saturday morning, she will probably be inclined to do the same. If your children enter your bedroom unannounced, she may see no reason to act otherwise. It is up to you to set the requirements in order to create a sufficient barrier.
2. Under no circumstances should a husband encourage or permit the girl to sit in his lap. It does not matter how good his motives are nor whether the whole family is present. The message received by the girl will be very different than the one intended by the husband.
3. Try to plan activities so as not to place yourself and the girl at home alone. This cannot always be avoided, but use discretion. Do not put the girl or yourself in any situation that might even appear questionable.
4. Avoid all use of sexual innuendo in your speech. In today’s world, many words and phrases we use carry a secondary meaning concerning sex. Do not give an opportunity for misinterpretation of your speech.
5. You have every right to require respectful dress from anyone living with you. Do not allow low cut blouses or skin-tight pants. The girl’s dress habits fall under your legitimate responsibility.
6. Save hugging in reserve for special times. A hug can transmit how much you care about a person. In certain emotional times, it would be difficult to communicate your feelings any other way.
Do these guidelines seem too strict? Do not ever think to yourself "it can’t happen here". Instead, for the benefit of the girl and your family, expect the worst. Scrupulously apply a system of barriers against the possibility. Overcompensate for the lack of physical affection by verbal praise. Reward good traits with favorable comments. When you respect traits in a girl, tell her. When she improves in any way, let her know. Do all you can to show your love, your care and your respect without the use of physical means.
Chapter 8 - The Children
It has been said that no success in life can compensate for the failure with one’s own children. This should be kept in mind by anyone involved in ministering to others. It is possible to become so involved in another’s problems that we fail to see that our own children are in need. In a shepherding family situation, the effects on the children depend on many variables, including the ages of the children and the attitude of the girl towards them. For this reason, we can only give general insights and suggestions that might prevent or minimize problems.
The concerns will vary for children of different ages. If you have a teenage daughter in the home, the girl and your daughter will probably view each other as peers. If the girl has come from a promiscuous or violent background, she will most likely share her past experiences with your daughter. Because the girl does not have the same value system as you, she may glorify the very experiences that you have taught your children to avoid. It is for this reason that we would discourage couples with a teenage daughter who is in rebellion from becoming a shepherding family. If your teenage daughter has sound morals and you decide to serve as a shepherding family, you should discuss with her how to deal with this situation.
If you have a younger teenage son (thirteen to fourteen), you might still consider taking in girls who are over twenty-one. If you have a son fifteen to nineteen years of age in the home, we do not recommend serving as a shepherding family. There are many reasons for this.
1. It is not fair to your son to place him in a close living situation with a teenage girl or young woman.
2. In some cases, the girls you take in will have few moral values and a very unhealthy attitude toward sex. Even if your son has the highest of morals, it would not be fair for him, in his own home, to have to contend with the type of temptation that could be placed before him.
3. Regardless of the girl’s morals, it is not fair to her to be in a close living situation with a young man, especially during this very awkward time in her life.
When you have younger children in the family, the considerations are different but equally important. Each family has its own beliefs about discipline and rules for younger children. So not assume when a girl comes into your family that she understands proper discipline (see section "Discipline of the Children"). If you see an attitude or action on her part that is hurting one of your children, take steps to resolve it immediately. Likewise, if your child harasses or is rude to the girl, the child needs to be corrected. Not only does this teach your child proper respect for others, it assures the girl that you do not practice a double standard.
As so many girls come through our home we have realized the importance of maintaining a feeling of unity among our immediate family. To reinforce this feeling, we have a family night once a week. During this time, we do activities that allow us to focus all our attention on our children (television is not suitable). While the girls are not excluded, they are not very enthusiastic about a game of "Candyland" or playing paper dolls. Even when the girls do join in, the focus is on our own children.
An important consideration for parents of pre-teenage daughters is to assess the image your daughter is forming toward premarital sex and pregnancy out of wedlock. In our effort to make the pregnant girl feel loved and accepted, we may be sending the message that we are rewarding her for her actions. Parents should discuss this with their daughters (and sons) and clearly define the difference between compassion and condoning wrong actions.
There are definitely positive effects that taking a girl in can have on your children. Your children will have the opportunity to witness acceptance and compassion in action. They will have a much clearer understanding of Christ’s teachings about giving of ourselves to help others and to practice the Christian principles which they have been taught. Our children have formed loving relationships with many of our girls. There have been many mornings that our two older children have surprised the girls with breakfast in bed or have left them notes telling them they were loved. Our oldest daughter has spent many nights sleeping next to a new young mother in order to help care for her and the baby. The girls have responded to this attitude with appreciation and attention toward the children. One of our most cherished memories of this time in our life will be the affection we witnessed between the girls and our children.
Truly, in this type of ministry, a child can learn the joy of giving and the real meaning of Christian love. While there are some negative effects on the children, we feel that these are far outweighed by the positive ones.
Chapter 9 - Legal Considerations
Each state has different laws concerning what constitutes a shelter home, about licensing requirements, and about sheltering minors. If you are serving as a shepherding home under the authority of an established pro-life organization, this group should have your state’s laws researched and be functioning accordingly. If you are acting autonomously, you should know the legal ramifications of being a shepherding home before you begin.
Generally, anyone can take one adult into their home without the need of state licensing. After this, each state sets its own limit on the number of non-family residents who may reside in a home before a sheltering license is required. Even if you are within legal limits, you need to consider your personal liability before proceeding.
If you become licensed as a state foster or shelter home, legal liability is dealt with through the state agency. If you do not become licensed, there are still steps you can take to protect yourself against lawsuits. The most important document you need is a liability release form. This form should be signed by the girl if she is an adult or by her parents or legal guardian if she is a minor. In both cases, it must be notarized to be valid. According to one pro-life lawyer, this will provide the best protection against lawsuits. It does not mean that you cannot be sued, but the document would deter a lawyer from initiating legal action.
If the girl is a minor, the situation is more complicated. In some states, it is not even legal to take in a minor unless you have a foster care license. In Arizona, up to five minors can be taken in at a time without a license. Each case must be a private agreement between the shepherding home and the girl’s parents or legal guardian.
Under no circumstances should you house a minor without the consent of her parents. If she has been reported to the authorities as missing, you would be harboring a runaway. Legal action could be taken against you. Occasionally, we have had cases of parents trying to force minors to have abortions. While this is illegal, it is done all too often. Instead of complying with her parents wishes, the girl runs away to a shepherding home. At this point, each family must decide what course to take considering the risks involved. Having faced this situation ourselves, we can offer some guidelines for your consideration before making the decision.
1. If at all possible, do not pick the girl up and transport her to your home. In some states, this act would change the violation from a misdemeanor to a felony.
2. Call a pro-life lawyer and appraise him of the situation. Ask him about your legal standing.
3. Call your state child welfare service or local law enforcement agency and relate the situation to them. Doing this is your best protection against prosecution. Although all states have different laws concerning minors, most would consider forcing a minor to have an abortion to be emotional abuse. If the parents did not relent, there may be grounds for placing the girl in a foster home. If she is placed back with her parents, make sure she knows her legal rights and has someone to call for assistance if her parents continue to pressure her. The ideal solution would be for you and the parents to agree that she remain with you through the duration of her pregnancy.
Because of her minor status, a girl cannot sign any legally binding documents for herself. These must be signed by her parents or legal guardian. If you have a minor living with you, it is difficult to secure her parents signature on all necessary documents during her stay. There is a legal method that can be used to allow the shepherding family to sign for a minor. This ability is extremely important when dealing with pregnant girls who may need emergency medical care. A document should be drawn up which simply states that the shepherding family parents have been granted the right by the girl’s parents or legal guardian to sign in their absence for needed medical care. If the girl is attending school, a similar document can be written giving the right to sign for educational needs. Both of these documents must be notarized to be valid. The shepherding family wife should carry a copy of these documents at all times for emergencies. Also, a copy of these documents should be given to the school and to the medical facility where the girl receives her pre-natal care. These documents do not mean that you are the "responsible party" for the girl. Even though you have the authority to sign in specific matters, the parents remain legally responsible for the debts and actions of their daughter.
Payment of Medical Bills
The question of who will pay the medical costs always arises. If the girl wishes to adopt out her child, the new parents happily cover all costs in most cases. It should be noted that if a girl changes her mind about adoption at the last minute, an urgent problem could develop concerning payment of the bills. An even more difficult situation can occur in this case if the new parents have already paid some of the expenses. Rarely is a girl in a position to pay back any part of the money. In any case, it is important to know about alternate sources of money that may be available to the girl.
Each state has its own medical assistance program. Accordingly, the requirements for qualification differ widely. It has been our experience that most adult young women who are in need of shelter do qualify for assistance. The situation is not quite so simple if the girl is a minor. If you are serving as a shepherding family for an established crisis pregnancy service, this group should know the eligibility requirements in your state. If you are acting independently, you should check with your state social services to find out if a minor, not living at home, can receive medical assistance. If it is not possible for her to receive state aid, yet neither can she live at home, then she can be referred to the state social services, child welfare division. This agency should be able to place her with a licensed home and provide proper medical care.
At this point, some people may be tempted to pursue a midwife assisted home delivery due to the reduced cost. From personal experience we must say that this should not even be considered as an option. Minors in particular should be in a hospital environment with a qualified doctor and proper emergency equipment. In our experience alone, two girls have needed emergency treatment during delivery that was only available at a hospital.
Chapter 10 - Health Considerations
Venereal disease has become epidemic in the past decade. Understandably, there is reason for concern for the health of your family. Your best defense is knowledge of the subject and the use of a few precautions.
The only sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is also transmitted by normal contact is herpes. The others listed below are transferable only through sexual contact and therefore, do not pose a threat to your family. These diseases can cause serious health problems for a girl and her unborn infant. For this reason, you need to be aware of the symptoms and the cures for these diseases.
There are two forms of the herpes virus: Simplex I and Simplex II. In the past, recurring cold sores on the lip were caused by the former and genital sores by the latter. This is no longer true. As it was put by a public nurse, "With everyone doing everything to everybody everywhere there is no longer a distinction between the two types". There is no known cure for the disease caused by either strain of the virus.
The herpes virus enters the body through mucus membranes near the eyes, mouth, and genital areas. At the point of entry, a painful sore erupts. On the first episode, this can be accompanied by a fever and flu-like symptoms. The virus then travels through the nervous system and remains dormant in the spinal column until the next outbreak.
The herpes virus itself is contained in the fluid within the blister-covered sore. As long as there is liquid draining from the sore, the condition is contagious. The duration of this phase is from seven to ten days.
The herpes virus is not airborne. It survives and is transferred on moist, warm surfaces. It dies almost immediately on cold, dry surfaces. It can be transferred through touch since the fingers provide conditions conducive to its survival. If the eyes are infected, blindness can result.
The herpes virus is particularly dangerous to infants from birth to one year old. In babies, the virus affects the neurological system and can cause retardation, neurological damage and even death. A girl with herpes, either genital or oral, should not be placed in a home with an infant under one year old. Neither should a shepherding home take in two girls if one is infected and one is not.
If a girl does have herpes and it becomes active during her stay, the risk of spreading infection can be minimized by following some simple precautions. The most effective precaution is frequent hand washing by the girl and by those who come in contact with her. She should also do her own laundry and use her own towels. Paper cups and paper towels in the bathrooms would also help.
A pregnant girl who has vaginal herpes should be routinely checked from thirty-six weeks on in her pregnancy. If the herpes becomes active around the time of delivery, the baby should be taken by caesarean section. However, if the herpes in inactive at the time of delivery, a vaginal delivery is safe.
If a girl has either oral or vaginal herpes that is active when she brings the baby home from the hospital, she should be extremely cautious in handling her baby. Hand washing should be done carefully and often, especially before nursing. If the herpes is oral and active, she should wear a surgical mask when holding her baby. Remember that these precautions are only necessary during the blister stage of the outbreak. The condition becomes non-contagious when the blisters dry up, even if the sores are still present.
This STD is epidemic in this country. The only symptom is a sore on the cervix of the woman that remains about one week. Gonorrhea is particularly dangerous to women because the sore cannot be felt and there are no other immediate symptoms. Women usually discover the condition when a pelvic infection has resulted. If it is not treated in time, sterility can result. Gonorrhea is cured by antibiotics. To test for its presence, a culture smear must be done. This test is routinely performed by county clinics on pregnant women. However, many private doctors will not perform the test unless it is specifically requested of them. Gonorrhea in the pregnant woman can cause blindness in the newborn. To prevent this, silver nitrate drops are routinely applied to the eyes of all newborn babies.
This STD has only recently become a major health concern. It is now the leading cause of pelvic inflammatory disease and sterility in women. The test to detect it is not readily available at this time. A new simple and inexpensive test is being developed and should be available to doctors and clinics in the near future. Chlamydia is also successfully treated with antibiotics. There is some indication that infants born to infected women may develop lung and eye damage.
While this STD does not pose a serious threat to the woman, it is extremely uncomfortable. The symptoms include itching in the genital area and a foul-smelling discharge. As with the other STDs, this condition is successfully treated with antibiotics. The trichomoniasis bacteria has been found in infants born to infected women. Consequently, the infants suffered from fever, irritability, vaginal discharge, and failure to thrive.
If a girl comes to you who has been sexually active, we recommend that tests be run for the above listed STDs. Usually county clinics are equipped to run these tests at little or no cost.
Warning Signs in Pregnancy
While most girls experience problem-free pregnancies, some develop minor or even major medical problems. For this reason, be aware of the warning signs for potential problems.
1. Severe or continuous headaches.
2. Dim, blurred, or otherwise impaired vision.
3. High blood pressure.
4. Repeated vomiting over an extended time period.
5. Fever or chills.
6. Swelling of the face, fingers or ankles.
7. Abdominal pain or pain when urinating.
8. Leakage of fluid or bleeding from the vagina.
If the girl develops any of these symptoms, a doctor should be consulted immediately.
Chapter 11 - Caring for the Relinquishing Mother
When a girl brings her baby home from the hospital, it is everyone’s natural reaction to rejoice. How should you react if she comes home empty handed? The shepherding family and the shepherding family mother in particular have been the main source of stability and emotional support for the girl. Therefore, they are in an excellent position to help her through this difficult and awkward period. They can also be instrumental in facilitating healthy grieving and healing. It is helpful to consider the following important aspects of a relinquishing mother’s situation.
Making the Decision
Deciding to relinquish a child for adoption is a difficult one. In the past, when a girl became pregnant out of wedlock, it was almost a foregone conclusion that she would give her baby up for adoption. The pregnancy was usually kept secret. The girl simply disappeared for a year to "visit relatives". Today there is a much greater social acceptance of unwed mothers and their children. In fact, it is the girl considering adoption who meets with criticism.
The decision to adopt is usually made only after great soul searching. The girl most often has a genuine concern for her child’s welfare. Thoughtless or negative comments about adoption only make her decision more difficult and compound her feelings of guilt. While a girl cannot be completely sheltered from these comments, the shepherding family parents can take steps to minimize them.
When she is with a Christian family, a girl’s social circle usually consists of members of the church that the family attends. This type of contact can be very supportive and comforting. Unfortunately, it can also be the source of great distress. One unfortunate example comes to mind. We had a young woman who was agonizing over whether or not to relinquish her baby. She was shattered when a woman in the church stated, "I think it is gross for anyone to give away their own flesh and blood". When a family decides to take in a pregnant girl, these plans should be discussed with members of the church and other friends. It should be made known that some of the girls may be considering adoption. Love and support should be encouraged and thoughtful consideration should be given to the girl’s feelings. These people should be asked, though, to refrain from giving their opinion on such important issues as whether or not to adopt.
A girl choosing to relinquish will also face criticism from her peers. This usually happens if the girl is attending high school or a school for expectant mothers. Little can be done to prevent this type of criticism. A warm and supportive atmosphere at home, however, can lessen the impact of these statements.
When a girl comes into a family, she may have already made up her mind to adopt or she may be undecided. In either case, she should confirm or make her decision only after she has worked through all aspects of relinquishing. Many crisis pregnancy services or Christian adoption agencies offer counseling to assist her in making this decision. If no outside counseling is available, there is an excellent set of booklets entitled, "My Baby & Me" available through Loving & Caring, Inc., Box 146 Millersville, PA 17551. These are in a wordbook format and help the girl examine all factors involved in keeping or relinquishing her baby. Some thought provoking books for her to read are "Should I Keep My Baby" by Martha Zimmerman, "Just Like Ice Cream" by Lissa Halls Johnson, "Why Was I Adopted" by Carole Livingstone, and "Dear Birthmother" by Kathleen Silber and Phylis Speedlin. These may be obtained through Christian bookstores.
After the Decision Has Been Made
Some girls wait to make their decision until after the baby is born. Most make the decision to relinquish sometime during their pregnancy. If the latter is the case, a girl’s attitude toward her pregnancy will differ from the girl who plans to keep her baby. The girl who plans to keep her baby willingly puts up with the discomforts of pregnancy because the end result makes it all worth it. The relinquishing mother has no such comfort. It is not unusual for a relinquishing mother to be angry with, or show no interest in, her pre-born baby during pregnancy. Often times these feelings can be successfully worked through if she is able to verbalize them. For this reason the shepherding family and other close associates should not be afraid to refer to the pregnancy and the baby. Their attitude will encourage the girl to assess her feelings and to talk about them.
The shepherding family is in an excellent position to help prepare the girl for the emotions she may experience after the adoption. In relinquishing a baby, a girl goes through much of the same grief process as one who has lost a child in death. The difference is that this loss is the result of a conscious decision on the mother’s part. This, of course, can result in tremendous feelings of guilt. Accompanying this may be grief, anger, ambivalence and depression. These emotions should be discussed beforehand so the girl is not overwhelmed if she experiences them after the birth of the baby.
Within the shepherding family, the nobility and selflessness of the act of relinquishment should be stressed. It is our experience that a girl’s attitude toward the issue of adoption is influenced by the attitudes of those around her. This is not to say that she will not experience grief and guilt if she is in a supportive atmosphere. Yet, positive reinforcement significantly lessons these feelings and speeds along the grief process
Well before the baby’s due date, the girl’s coach (usually the shepherding family mother) should discuss the following concerns with her:
1. Does she wish to hold her baby after birth?
2. Does she want photos of the baby’s birth or afterwards?
3. Would she like to write a letter to her baby?
4. Would she like to write a letter to the adoptive parents?
5. Would she like to buy or make a gift to go with the baby?
The ideas listed above have proven to help facilitate a healthier grieving and healing process. Holding the baby allows the girl to focus her grief and to say farewell to her infant. Writing a letter to the child explaining why she chose to relinquish him helps to ease the guilt. It also assures her that her child will know she acted out of love and in his best interest. Sending a gift with her child is like sending a little part of herself. It is comforting to the relinquishing mother to know as much as possible about the adoptive parents. Many agencies now allow the girl to choose the couple she wants from a number of prospective couples presented to her. She is allowed to know all the pertinent information except who they are and where they live. There is also a growing acceptance of allowing the girl to meet the adoptive parents. This is not advisable in all cases, but can have a very positive outcome in some. Some girls may not wish to follow any of the suggestions mentioned above. If this is the case, their wishes should be respected.
In the seventh month, the girl and her coach should attend childbirth classes to prepare for labor and delivery. During the last month of pregnancy, a visit should be made to the hospital and labor room. Arrangements should be made in advance for the girl to be placed on a non-maternity ward for recovery or to be taken home as soon after delivery as is safe. This prevents her from being in the same room as the other happy mothers and hearing the babies cry in the nursery.
At the Hospital
Upon arrival at the hospital, the coach should take the initiative to inform the hospital personnel of the girl’s plans to relinquish. This will prevent many comments that would be painful to a relinquishing mother.
Immediately after the baby’s birth, the coach’s focus should remain on the girl and not shift to the baby. At this point, the girl may be curious about the physical appearance of her baby. Her natural curiosity should be satisfied by giving this information. After the baby’s birth, a girl who did not wish to see her baby may change her mind. The coach should be supportive and offer to be there when she holds her newborn.
After the Baby is Born
Immediately after the baby is born, a relinquishing mother may experience ambivalent feelings because the baby is so close at hand. This period of time is when the coach can be the most helpful. Physical contact and talking can be a great comfort. As a shepherding family mother, I have coached all of our girls through labor and delivery. I remember one in particular who had chosen to relinquish her baby. After the baby was born, she was settled into her hospital room. We were both exhausted but were unable to sleep. I laid down beside her on the hospital bed and we held hands. During this time, we talked about feelings, emotions, past experiences and future hopes. We also imagined the joyous reception her baby would have when the adoptive parents were given their newborn daughter. This was a very special experience for me and a great comfort for her.
Bringing the Girl Home
By the time the girl is brought home, she and the shepherding family mother are comfortable discussing the experience they have shared. Those at home may not know how to react. The shepherding family parents should prepare those at home. Flowers and gifts should be encouraged. Family and friends should be assured that it is acceptable to ask questions about the delivery, birth and the baby. This is an important aspect of the grieving process. The importance of this was shown to us by another of our relinquishing mothers. She had attended church with us throughout her pregnancy. A few weeks after the baby’s birth, she returned - obviously not pregnant. She was deeply hurt that no one even inquired abut her labor and delivery or about her baby. Even though these people acted this way out of ignorance, she saw it as lack of concern and caring.
During the recovery period, the shepherding family mother should spend extra time talking with the girl and be more physically affectionate than normal. If the girl likes animals, the gift of a kitty or puppy can help her focus her unspent mothering emotions. A week after her baby was born, one of our girls purchased a puppy. Never has there been a more held or loved animal!
We all tend to see adoption as a negative experience. While it is a difficult one for the relinquishing mother, it can also be a tremendous time of personal growth. In the end, a girl can actually feel better about herself, finding a new sense of self-worth because of her experience. It is a blessing for a shepherding family to witness this growth in one for whom they have cared.
Many times, when one mentions "private adoptions" the thought that comes to mind is "baby-selling". While this despicable practice does exist, most private adoptions are legal and done with the good of the mother in mind. We have participated in two very successful private adoptions. Although the experiences were tremendously rewarding, it is only fair that we share the problems involved. The first of these is payment of the girl’s medical expenses. Most doctors and hospitals require a deposit well before the due date. In this case the adoptive parents would pay the deposit and then the balance after the delivery. The biggest problem with this arrangement occurs if the girl changes her mind at the last minute. The hospital will not refund the deposit, nor will the girl be in a position to pay the balance. Even though the girl is sure she wants to relinquish, there is always the chance for last minute changes of heart. If this happens, not only is the money forfeited, but the adoptive parents suffer emotionally because of the great disappointment. Another problem posed in private adoptions is that of obtaining adequate counseling for the girl before and after the adoption. If you are affiliated with a pro-life group, this counseling may be available. If not, we recommend the workbook mentioned earlier from Loving and Caring, Inc.
There are many different types of licensed adoption agencies. While they are all licensed by the state, their policies and procedures can differ significantly. We recommend that you affiliate with a Christian adoption agency that places infants only into Christian families. Even after an agency is located, review their adoption policies before your selection is made.
The major concern in looking for an agency is whether they allow the girl to know about the adoptive couple. Many agencies even select five to ten suitable families and then allow the girl to decide between them. In our experience, the grieving process is much healthier if the girl can visualize the adoptive parents and their surroundings. We encourage photos of the baby as it grows to be sent to the girl through the agency if at all possible. We would not consider an agency that does not offer any information about the adoptive parents to the girl.
When an agency handles the adoption process, the pressure of the many details and of the legal proceedings is removed. An excellent Christian agency that has offices in most major cities is Bethany Christian Services. For more information, you may write them at 114 Annapolis Street, Annapolis, MD 21401.
Chapter 12 - After the Baby Is Born
The length of time a girl remains in the shepherding home after the birth of the baby is up to the family or the guiding organization. Whatever time period is chosen, the same problem seems to arise - where does the girl go from here? Some girls have definite plans, but we have found that the majority do not. This problem should be anticipated well in advance of the baby’s due date.
We have found that many girls have unrealistic plans for their future. For example, they might talk of moving to the city, getting a well-paying job, going to college, etc. When faced with such questions as "where will you live", "how will you pay for tuition", "who will watch the baby"; they have no answer. It is the job of the shepherding family, not only to shelter the girl during her pregnancy, but also to help prepare her for the future. When the time comes for the girl to leave, she needs to have a place to go, a plan of action, and some type of income.
Because each situation will be different, it is difficult to even offer suggestions. We recommend the Loving and Caring workbooks mentioned earlier. These are excellent tools usable to help a girl realistically anticipate the demands of living on her own. Many states offer jobs and housing for low income individuals. Aide for Dependent Children (AFDC) varies from state to state, but is a good starting point.
The future is a subject that should be discussed from the start of a girl’s stay in the home. She should know from the beginning when she is expected to leave. This knowledge helps prevent her from putting off these hard questions until after the baby is born. Definite, workable plans will give her a sense of direction and a "new Life" to look forward to.
After reading this booklet, you may feel as though this undertaking is just too complicated or risky for your family. We would like to express again that the experiences we have related are taken from five years in this ministry and represent many girls. Likewise, the rules and regulations that we suggest evolved over a period of time and were created in response to the problems that we have encountered. Many of these rules and regulations are used only if the girls need them. As we stated earlier, it is always better to start with firm rules and relax them later if they are unnecessary.
It has been our goal in writing this booklet to help prepare families for what they may encounter when taking a girl. The positive aspects of this ministry could have doubled the size of the booklet. But, you do not need to be prepared for the blessings -- simply enjoy them as they come. It is the negative aspects for which you need preparation. If you are equipped to deal with problems in a realistic and constructive manner, even these can turn into blessings!
We understand that every person, couple and family is unique. It is not our intention to impose rigid rules and regulations upon you, but rather to offer helpful advice that can be adapted to each family’s needs. We urge you, if you feel led of the Lord and have the basic foundation necessary within yourself, your marriage and your family, to open your home and your heart to a pregnant girl in need.
In closing, we would like to share with you the inspiring stories of five of our girls. Keep in mind that the changes that occurred in these girl’s lives did not happen quickly. In all cases, there were many areas that had to be confronted for them to mature.
It is right to expect behavioral changes on the girl’s part from the beginning. But the changes that are important, the changes of the heart, take time. Do not be discouraged if a girl does not respond immediately to the family affection and love that you offer. A lifetime of hurt and rejection takes more than a few weeks or even months to mend. And always remember that even though we provide a loving and nurturing environment, it is God who works the changes in the heart.
Tina came from a family where drugs and alcohol are freely used. At fifteen she became involved in partying and sexual activity. She had a poor relationship with her parents. One night, coming home drunk from a party, Tina fell on her knees and cried out to God. She was not even sure if there was a better way of life, but she begged God to show her if it existed. He answered her prayer and she came to live with us a few months later. She accepted Christ and started to grow as a Christian. The next year, she decided to go home and try again to live with her family. At the end of the school year, she called and told us she was pregnant. We told her to come "home" immediately and thus started our "We Care" ministry.
Tina adopted her baby to a loving Christian couple. When they came to pick the baby up, Tina was there. She handed her baby to the adoptive parents and prayed a blessing upon them to raise her child. Years have passed and Tina is now a college student. She is dedicated to Christ and committed to a righteous and chaste life-style. She has spoken often to pro-life groups and other teens about adoption as a positive option to abortion.
The couple that adopted Tina’s baby returned home and, because of their experience, started a Crisis Pregnancy Center. To us, Tina is like a daughter and we eagerly look forward to her visits "home".
Helen ran away from home at sixteen and spent the next four years on the streets. She hitchhiked across the United States many times and lived only for the moment. Her involvement with drugs and rock music reduced her to a state of paranoia and psychosis. It was in this condition that she became pregnant.
Helen is now a Christian. Her daughter Adrienne is eighteen months old. Helen lives in a tiny apartment three miles from us. She has become a stable young woman and is an excellent mother. She is dedicated to her Christian walk and believes that chastity is the only way of life for a single young woman. Helen has become a dear friend and a permanent member of our "extended" family.
Anthonett’s life was shattered when, as a child, she witnessed her mother’s violent death in a shooting incident. With her mother went all the love and security she was to know. She was adopted by an unloving family. At sixteen, she became pregnant. When Anthonett came to our home, she responded like a hungry child to the love and affection we offered. Little more than a child herself, she had to grow up quickly to assume a mother’s role. Her son, Moshe, is now a year old. Anthonett is a Christian and is growing in the Lord. She recently received her GED and is studying to be a medical assistant. Life has not been easy for her but Anthonett now has a foundation in our Lord and the knowledge that she is loved both by Him and by us.
Niki has lived with us for over a year. Although she was never pregnant, the same principles found in this book were applied in her case also. Niki’s childhood was very unhappy. An only child, she was often left alone. She was raised in an adult world of parties and drinking with no guidance or direction. At fifteen, she moved in with her father and stepmother, hoping that things would improve. Instead, her situation only became worse. Niki finally ran away and ended up at our home. Her parents asked us to keep her. When she arrived, she had serious emotional problems. She was in counseling sessions once a week and was prescribed mood altering drugs to be taken three times a day. Even with this, she was experiencing severe anxiety attacks two to three times a week.
In the past year, a miracle has occurred in Niki’s life. During the first month she was with us, she accepted Christ. After two months, the counseling and drugs were discontinued. Shortly thereafter, the anxiety attacks ceased. Niki is now a lovely Christian young woman. She graduated from high school and will be going into the Navy soon. We have become the family she never had. No matter where she goes, our heart and prayers will be with her and our house will always be her "home".
Dianna is a very gentle and quiet Apache girl. At sixteen, she was raped and became pregnant. Even though she had never seen any pro-life material, she knew that abortion was wrong. When she came to us, Dianna was deeply troubled and very frightened. Six months later, she delivered a beautiful little girl. Her daughter was adopted to a childless couple. Dianna is again a happy teenager. What began as a tragedy, God turned into a triumph. Because Dianna chose to give her baby life and a mother and father, she has found a new sense of self-worth. She has only positive feelings about her experience. Dianna plans to finish high school and go on to college. We have grown to love her and will miss her when she leaves us.