What I Learned as "Mother" to a Dozen Boys
Peggy Vaughan

I first became a "mother" in 1957—which was 5 years before my first biological child was born. It happened quite unexpectedly. James and I had been married a couple of years and were college students at a small liberal arts school in Mississippi. At that time, I was taking a reduced course load because I also worked full-time in the Alumni Office of the college.

On weekends we typically visited the Children's Home that was across the street from the school—where we played with the kids, sang songs with them, and generally tried to brighten up their day. Over the course of our visits, we became especially attached to one particular "cottage" of boys. When their housemother suddenly had to have surgery, we were asked to temporarily come in as "houseparents" until her return—which made a lot of sense, since the boys already knew us and were comfortable with us. As it turned out, she was never able to return and our brief stay turned into almost 2 years! (We didn't leave until James graduated and we moved to another state where he was to attend graduate school.)

Our boys ranged in ages from 8 to 12, and we had our own little house, which was large enough for a dozen boys. They attended public schools and we had a central cafeteria, but everything else about parenting them was our responsibility. We were in charge of the basic physical stuff (clean clothes, clean rooms, etc), and we were also responsible for overseeing everything any parent faces: homework, getting along with each other, etc. But our most important task—and the one we were best at—was giving them lots of love.

Frankly, at 21 years old, I didn't realize how little I knew, or I would have been too fearful of undertaking such a responsibility. But it turned out to be a blessing in that we gave them what they needed most—someone who cared! While you normally think of boys this age as not wanting to be hugged or anything related to being "mushy," these boys constantly wanted to sit beside us, hold our hands, and generally be close. They were not orphans; most had been placed there because of family issues related to poverty, neglect, or abuse. It was supposed to be a "temporary" situation, but most of the same boys were there the entire time. Others came for short periods as their circumstances changed.

Sunday of each week was "visitation day" and the boys anxiously waited for that day to come. Ironically, it was inevitably a disappointment—no matter what happened. Those who had no visit from a family member were understandably disappointed, but those who DID were invariably upset when the family member left again. This was one of the reasons we had originally begun visiting the Home prior to moving in—just to be a "visitor" for those who didn't have anyone. In fact, once after we became houseparents when we were to have a week off, we took two of the boys with us on our own time off to visit our parents. (Since all the other boys had gotten to go out for a short visit with a family member during the summer, we couldn't bear to see these two be left out.)

When the time came for us to leave, it was very hard—but it was clear that all of us had benefited enormously from our time together. And for me, it began a pattern of recognizing the importance of a commitment to the well-being of all children. While being a parent and grandparent are clearly the most important things in my life, I also know that all of us can make significant contributions to the lives of children in many different ways.

We've all heard the slogan: "the children are our future." I would go further and say they're also our connection to the present. Being involved with children brings a special focus on the here and now that can enrich our lives on a daily basis. And the best part about whatever we do to benefit children is that it also benefits society as a whole. If we give all children the time and attention they need when they are small, they'll be more likely to grow up to be responsible people who are capable of caring for others in return.

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