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My Occupational Thesaurus Contribution

Realistic Character Occupations: 
My Experience as a House Parent at a Home for Abused and Neglected Children                                                                                     

To win readers over we need to write characters so authentic they feel like real people. How do we do this? By brainstorming a character’s backstory, personality, needs, desires, and their day-to-day world. Lucky for us, one aspect of their daily life is a goldmine of characterization: the type of work they do. 
Think about it: a job can reveal personality, skills, beliefs, fears, desires, and more, which is why Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi created The Occupation Thesaurus, a writing guide that profiles 124 possible careers and the story-worthy information that goes with each. To help with this project, I’m sharing my experience as a house parent below, in case this career is a perfect fit for your character!

You can find the full list of Contributed Occupation Profiles and check out The Occupation Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Jobs, Vocations, and Careers at Writers Helping Writers.

OCCUPATION: House Parent

As a house parent I was responsible for the normal running of a household, such as making meals, getting kids to school, taking them to doctor’s appointments and all the other everyday things that parents do for their children. But there is a whole other layer to house parenting. The kids in the home are not usually related to each other so their interaction with each other is different from those of siblings. They have emotional issues and can “act out.” They may have learning disabilities and hate school. All of these issues (and many others) require compassion, understanding, and patience to deal with. One has to learn to act rather than react and some children will deliberately try to make you angry or stir up trouble with the other children.

I had no training and learned as I went, but this was in the early days of this kind of childcare. Nowadays job training is available both on line and on site. One does not need a college degree to be a house parent. I think the most important thing that’s needed is common sense and an ability to not take things personally.

Compassion, baking, cooking, housekeeping, basic first aid, CPR, creativity, detail-oriented, empathy, equanimity, gaining the trust of others, good listening skills, hospitality, intuition, leadership, reading, making friends, making people laugh, networking, organization, out-of-the-box thinking, peacekeeping, reading people, teaching/tutoring, counselling, understanding, patience, consistency, discipline, self control

Child who refuses to get up in the morning and go to school
Child who is afraid to go to bed at night
Child who keeps getting suspended from school
Co-house parents who don’t get along, or one house parent who pits a child or children against the other house parent
A child or children who sneak out at night to have sex or get drunk or take drugs
Taking children on their first camping trip
Teaching a child basic personal hygiene and/or basic house work
Administration not listening to certain concerns a house parent may have about a child
Breaking up a fight between children
Consoling and/or counselling a child who is sad, upset, depressed, angry etc.

Working with abused, neglected, and emotionally disturbed children is not for everyone. It isn’t easy, but it can be very rewarding. There’s nothing like finally connecting with a child who’s spent his or her life mistrusting adults. If you don’t have the right personality for it, it can be emotionally draining. Burn out and turnover is high. The key, I think, is to not take things the children may say or do personally. They are acting/reacting in the only ways they know how. Your job is to teach them new ways to respond to situations (both good and bad) and one of the best ways to do that is through your own example of how YOU deal with those good and bad situations. Are you calm when a child cusses you out or do you yell back? Are you calm when a child has an accident – say gets a cut that will need stitches or breaks a bone – or do you get somewhat hysterical and don’t know what to do? Are you able to laugh and enjoy small things or do you tend to be more serious all the time? Do you secretly judge the children or accept them as they are? Do you have favorite or do you work hard to treat them all with the same compassion? When doing chores around the house do you sit back and direct the children on what they need to do or do you help out too? Do you cuss and then demand the children not to cuss? Do you smoke and then demand the children not smoke? Leading by example is the best teacher of all.

Have any questions about this job? I’d be happy to answer. Just leave a comment below!

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