I have nine kids. I also homeschool them. Most people assume that puts me at Supermom status, right along with being insane. I don’t know if they think I accomplish a lot or believe I’m exceptionally good at managing kids and chaos.
Either way, they’re wrong.
First of all, I’m not management material. It takes a specific set of skills, and I lack most of them. If anything, I make the chaos worse.
As far as getting a lot done? Let’s just say I’m not one of those large-family homeschooling moms that have her kids up and dressed at 5, breakfast served by 6, school done by 12, chores done by 1, then fills the remainder of the day with co-ops, music, sports, and family time.
Oh, and with picture-perfect kids that are always smiling, reserved, polite, and obedient.
My kids wear mismatched socks, fight over whose mess is bigger, and throw out comebacks that could make you cry. You have to build up a certain level of emotional armor to make it in this household. They’re all cute, sweet, and smart, but let’s just say they follow a little too closely in our footsteps.
We won’t be that homeschooling poster family any time soon.
I tried to be that kind of mom.
I tried to be that kind of mom for a long time, well into the fifth or sixth child. I set schedules, stood over kids doing schoolwork at the table, and had everyone eat together. That might not sound monumental, but it is. Large family cooking is like having a dinner party for every meal, only with lower standards and pickier guests.
I had the same plans and rules as most other families and tried to do all the “typical” homeschool-y things. They say there’s no right way to do it, but homeschooling culture seems to have one primary line of thinking, and most everyone just happens to adhere to it.
That should’ve been a red flag. I don’t like boxes and have never wanted to be put in one. I don’t “fit in” or follow the masses, and I don’t want my kids feeling like they have to, either. But I was young, trying to do what I thought was best because it’s what worked for others.
Despite my efforts, life would always challenge me and win. Someone would get sick, we would travel, or there’d be a hectic few weeks of appointments (I was usually pregnant or had a baby to care for). That schedule I worked so hard to keep would collapse like a house made of cards: inevitably and completely.
Part of me would be relieved. Finally, an excuse to let my guard down and relax a little— and it’s not even my fault. However, I would feel guilty as days turned into weeks with no schedule filling the void. I didn’t know why it was so hard for me. Other moms do it — and not just do it, but thrive on it, like it’s natural for them. Why was it such a fight against nature for me? I didn’t have the time or energy to think it through, but it ate away at me.
More kids usually mean a tighter schedule.
For large families, an almost military-like structure makes sense on paper. As much as I would hate it, I truly understand how beneficial it could be. My husband reminds me all the time. But the more kids that came along, the wider the age gaps became and the harder it got — especially with teens.
The baby wouldn’t have the same schedule as my teens, and my teens wouldn’t have the same schedule as my younger kids. No one woke up at the same time, was hungry at the same time, or went to bed at the same time.
The more I tried to get life to fit into some sort of structure, the more it fought me. I’m not even kidding. The problem was, it also meant fighting with my kids. Everything was a battle as I tried to get a bunch of tiny individuals to comply with my idea of how they should spend their time. School, chores, meals, and playtime meant stress, tears, arguing, and fighting.
Sometimes I would take it out on the kids. If only they would be quicker to obey, have fewer questions, or stop trying to do things, not on the list. Just. fall. in. line. Don’t question, just do.
Deep down, I knew it was me and not them. Of course, kids don’t always listen, but ultimately the issues stemmed from my brain doing its own thing. I’m kind of like a living oxymoron. I can only handle so much clutter and noise before it pushes me over the edge. But at the same time, I hate micromanaging, am highly distracted, forgetful, and value good conversations over much else. The two extremes shouldn’t be compatible, yet here we are.
You can see how it would be problematic. There’s a constant supply of toys, laundry, dishes, noise, and kids wanting my attention. Plenty of distractions to sidetrack me and too many opportunities for my brain to get overwhelmed. No wonder schedules are so hard.
Accepting defeat — and myself.
Changing course was never a conscious decision. There was no lightbulb moment steeped in wisdom and self-acceptance. It was more of a quiet defeat, a hesitant acknowledgment that this way was not our way.
I slowly stopped trying to force things and allowed our days to flow. Does someone want to talk to me for an hour? Ok. Do kids want to play a game? Go ahead. Teen #1 is growing, extra tired, and didn’t sleep well? Fine, sleep in a little later.
Schoolwork at the table stopped. No one was learning anything, and it added nothing but drama. I knew there was a better way and that they would discover more on their own. The more I read about how kids learn, the more convinced I was.
All of this came with massive amounts of guilt and me questioning myself. At the time, I didn’t really understand the reasoning behind the changes. It felt like failure and laziness like I had given up on my most important job. Despite that, I knew I couldn’t continue to enforce something just to fit everyone else’s standards.
There’s nothing wrong with structured and well-managed families. I think they’re incredible. But I had to acknowledge and accept that I am not that kind of mom. It’s about priorities, and I had to admit where mine was.
When it comes down to it, I know I’ll talk to my kids and put off laundry. I’ll let them play a board game together and skip the repetitive bookwork. I’ll let them paint or play outside while their room is in disarray. I want them to boldly march to their own drum, make their own trail, and question things — even authority figures. Why smother that?
Relationships, individuality, and creativity almost always trump anything on a schedule. Not that those other things don’t get taken care of, but they’re easily bumped.
I want the freedom to choose what’s important at the moment. I don’t want to miss a learning opportunity or life lesson because it’s “not on the schedule,” or there’s no time to fit it in.
Life is the perfect teacher.
This lack of rigidity led to less structure, which led to fewer rules and, ultimately, less opportunity for my kids to mess up.
Don’t get me wrong — in no way do my kids get away with poor behavior. Freedom comes with responsibility, and they are well aware of that. Saying there are fewer rules doesn’t mean there are no rules or low expectations.
That being said, they have room to make mistakes. Instead of seeing purposeful disobedience, I see a glimpse of the humanity that’s in us all. Something that rears its ugly head when we’re tired or stressed or hurt. Something that is defeated with grace, not fear.
I’ve learned the hard way to always get the story behind the behavior. Doing this saves me from needing to apologize later. I’m almost always wrong when I assume my kid’s motives.
I’ve also learned (again, the hard way) that I can’t expect kids to have better control over their emotions and actions than most adults do. It’s made me own my mistakes and be more aware of how I respond. I can’t tell them not to yell at each other while I’m yelling. I can’t tell them to talk respectfully to each other if I answer them with impatience or annoyance. I can’t tell them to not hit while spanking. Life is a great teacher. You’ll learn whether you want to or not.
Since I’m not doing it for them, my kids get to make more decisions (age-appropriate).
Removing that structure forces personal responsibility, time management, and a good work ethic. It’s a work in progress.
Instead of ushering kids from one task to the next, I talk to them about what they’re working on, what their plans are, and how they’re doing. We have time for in-depth conversations about Fortnite, friends, politics, social issues, or the future. It can be for hours over lunch or well into the night. We have the freedom to adjust accordingly.
These discussions have become even more critical as the kids get older. I worry less about my teens because I have a good idea of how and what they think. And, because they know I’ll hear them out, they’re open to what I have to say.
The goal isn’t the finish line.
I no longer focus on the finish line because the journey to get there is just as important.
It’s like the difference between a manager and a guide.
A manager hires employees that will help the company meet its goals and will avoid/discourage anything that gets in the way. Complications are considered bad or unnecessary. Personal details don’t matter. You’re either an asset or a liability.
However, a guide’s job is to walk alongside you, pointing out little details and important facts- anything to make the occasion memorable and full of discovery. The whole purpose is to learn and experience something new. When an obstacle is in the way, you go around it or find a new trail. It comes with the territory.
I want to guide my children through life. If I only seek to manage their actions, I’ll miss out on developing their character and our relationship. We can grow together and take those things that look like setbacks and use them to propel us forward.
Finding peace (not really).
As I said, I didn’t know why I struggled so much or why nothing ever clicked. I had to let go of my expectations anyways (they were never mine in the first place). The answers started to manifest as soon as I allowed myself the freedom to be okay with it. I quit fighting what’s important to me and found myself in the process.
I’ll be the first to admit that this method is far from perfect, and I still struggle. We walk a fine line between freedom and hell.
My poor, patient husband has let me make the decisions (or lack thereof) regarding our home, partly to avoid insanity. He is very much schedule- and order-driven. He sees the good, the bad, and the ugly and helps me strike some sort of balance.
My home is full of people always eating, talking, yelling, laughing, playing, learning, working, and fighting. Instead of controlling it, I’m learning to enjoy the ebb and flow. I can see the beauty in our chaos, and I love it, but there are still times when it gets to me. Daily.
I will inevitably demand order, or at least a few minutes of quiet, at random times. The irony is that I’m usually yelling for it. Hey, I’m not perfect. I’m a work-in-progress, too. The only difference is now I don’t have to pretend to have it all together.
Adrienne Koziel is a wife and mom. Muy Thai, freelance writing, and blogging for The Zoo I Call Home fill in the rest of her time.