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