How a family lives together varies by country and culture, but the standard family with husband, wife and children is no longer the norm. In this series, people talk about their families, with this week: Kirsten Wijers and Vincent Koster offer a home for children who can no longer live at home.By Hannah Koenig
Wijers (34) grew up in a house full of children who came and went. Her mother was one of the first matriarchs in the Netherlands and the founder of Wilmahuis in Zoetermeer.
The doors to her own house have also been open for two years. Together with her husband Vincent (50) and sons Lenn (7) and Riff (4), she offers a home to brothers Julius (13) Giovanni (7) and toddlers Jace-Lynn (2) and Giuliano (2). Vincent has two sons (18 and 16) from a previous relationship.
Caring for others is in Wijer’s blood, and as a child she was surprised at how things went at friends’ homes. “That after a day of playing, you were told at five o’clock that you couldn’t join the dinner, because that was not expected. At our house at 5.45 pm the phone rang and half an hour later there was a new child on the doorstep. . Then you grow up in a completely different way. I’m flexible and used to sharing everything I have.”
Due to the lockdown I was home with all the kids and Giuliano (2) came along as a six week old baby.
Safe at home with structure
After Wijers had worked for years as a social worker in various local communities, she decided three years ago to continue her work at home. Currently, she provides a home for four children.
“The families these children come from are loving, but there are often complex issues that prevent them from living at home. We give them a safe home here with structure, boundaries and clear frameworks.” Her husband Vincent was a chef and recently became a family man after completing his education.
Her sons Lenn and Riff love that she is always home. “Mom doesn’t work, I hear them tell friends. My mom used to be always available, and I really liked that.” The choice to become a parent herself was easy, and she is proud of what she has achieved in just a few years, but the start was anything but easy.
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“The beginning was tough,” says Wijers. “The first child that came to live with us was a boy with very complex problems. Because of the lockdown, I was soon at home with all the children. Giuliano joined us as a six-week-old baby. Those were tropical years, but now there is peace and stability in our family.”
The couple have their hands full with the two toddlers, whose daughter, Jace-Lynn, was born with Down syndrome. That didn’t stop them from going to Croatia last summer with their car, caravan and children. “We try to go out with all the kids during the school holidays.”
The family is now back at school. “We live by the clock. At 8.10am I get on the cargo bike and drop off the oldest children at three different schools. At 2.30pm everyone is home and we all drink lemonade. And at 5pm we eat. That structure is important for the children, and we maintain it every day.”
No thankless work
When the older children are at school, Wijers looks after the little ones at home. “After school, we take the children to swimming lessons, speech therapy, physio and football. As a family parent, in addition to looking after the children, you also have contact with the parents, and you monitor the moments when parents and children see each other.”
Wijers calls it parallel parenting. “We do together what is best for the child. For example, a mother can go to the hairdresser with her child, but sometimes there is no more than half an hour of supervised contact. It is not always easy; it is sometimes complicated for mothers, that I play the role of mother in this family.”
The work never stops
She is proud of how understanding, open and loving her own children Lenn and Riff are. “It’s not natural to share your parents with children who just walk into your life.” The home situation also has advantages: the boys are always with their father and mother.
As a family parent, your work never stops. “There’s no door you can close behind you. You’re literally ready day and night, and of course sometimes I run on empty.” Still, Wijers wanted nothing else. “It’s what I’m good at and the best I can do with my life.”
How long will Julius, Giovanni, Jace-Lynn and Giuliano stay? “What the future holds is different for each child, but they live here as long as our family is the best place for them. And all children can stay with us until they are adults.”