Every Sunday I sit in the back of the sanctuary with my husband and wiggly toddler and gaze at the Mullins' pew full of well-behaved children and I think, "how does she do it?". And that's exactly what I wanted to share for this "Mom of the Month" feature - a look inside the life of a Christian mom raising nine children (with no T.V.), homeschooling them, and keeping over two dozen animals. I know you're intrigued, so let's dive right into the interview...
1. Tell us how many kids you have and their ages:
Nine children ages 26, 25, 22, 19, 16, 14, 12, 10 and 8. Seven sons and two daughters.
2. In one sentence how would you describe your mothering style?
A dear friend told me that I practiced “intentional mothering”: I consciously seek to make deliberate and purposeful choices for my home and family life.
3. What is your biggest struggle as a mom?
I volunteer too much! I blame it on being born and raised in Tennessee, the Volunteer State. It is my nature that when someone says, “Who will help?” my response is, “I will help you!” I am always working on something, sometimes stretching me thin, as Bilbo Baggins said, “Like butter scraped over too much bread.” There is very little margin in my life between commitments, and yet I always worry, “Am I contributing enough? Is there something more I should do?"
4. When you’re having a tough day on the mom front, what Bible verse inspires you and gives you peace?
When having a tough day, I try to focus more fervently on the goodness of God. I will sing Psalm 46 (“God is our refuge and our strength” and Psalm 27 (“The Lord is my light and my salvation”) in my mind. But if I must select one verse, I would say Psalm 27:13. “I would have lost heart if I did not believe I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living."
5. What is the highlight of your day?
At the end of the day we always gather together in the living room. After a time of talking, unwinding, and recapping the day, we have family worship. What we do for family worship has changed in different seasons of our life, but currently one of us prays and we read the Bible. This is such a sweet time, and an important time to reconnect. After worship, the little ones go to bed. The older ones might stay up and read.
6. What keeps you focused and energized?
I could not get up and homeschool my children each day if I did not have the conviction that this is the way God wants me to raise my children. I think about that often. To me, “not homeschooling” is not an option.
7. Since your kids are older now, can you tell us what an average day was like when they were little ones (to provide encouragement to those of us in the newborn/toddler season)?
I honestly miss having newborns and toddlers. They are such amazing little humans!
Typically I would rise before the children and spend that time in having prayer and coffee with my husband, quiet time for myself, taking care of paperwork. I always intentionally woke my children up, usually at 7 a.m. I found waking them in the morning, instead of letting them sleep in, set a template for the day. They would roll out of bed, still in pajamas, and we would have morning worship. The content of that time has changed as my children have grown, but always included prayer and Bible reading. We might also sing songs or hymns, or I might ask questions from the Children’s Catechism. For many years I read from Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening and Chequebook of Faith. (Currently, we are working through Daily Readings by JC Ryle.) At that time I would usually be holding and nursing the baby. The children would then get ready, eat breakfast, and do a few morning chores, with the goal of starting school by 8 a.m.
The little ones stayed by my side. It is so natural for little ones to crave being in the presence of Mom. If I were reading aloud, they would sit on my lap or next to me looking at a picture book. If the big kids are writing, the little ones might be coloring. I always kept board books in the schoolroom in a basket along with quiet toys. I deliberately removed all projectile toys and toys with electronic sounds, and I rotated quiet toys. They might have Duplos for a while, then next week they might play with plastic dinosaurs, then wooden blocks, then race cars. Don’t think for a moment that the room was quiet or tidy! The schoolroom cycled through “trashed” then “picked up” several times throughout the day. And it wasn’t a room full of silent scholars either! My older children can testify to the amazing ability they had concentrating in college thanks to years of having siblings crawling under their desks or making explosion noises as the “rebels” launched an assault on a dollhouse full of dinosaurs. I never tried to get the little ones “out of my hair”, and I have never used electronics as babysitters. In fact, my children have been raised without television and are not allowed to play video games. (I can think of no reason to ever play video games. We know they are harmful to our minds, our bodies, our relationships. I don’t believe they are ever a legitimate way to redeem the time.)
My babies typically napped around 10 a.m., and that is the time when I tackled tougher subjects with my children, such as phonics or math. We would break for lunch at noon. For many years my husband was able to come home for lunch, which was always a delight to the children and a help for me in case I needed a little advice from “the principal”. I usually used the lunch hour to prep for dinner. The children would play outside until school resumed at 1. When we completed our school day, my children were free to play or read. The preschoolers and babies would have a nap around 3. For many, many years I would exercise on the treadmill every day for an hour, starting around 4. I had a playpen, and the only time I ever used it was when I was treadmilling. If a little one was awake, I would put him or her in the playpen. I could see the child, the child could see me, and the child knew that he or she would not be parked there forever and ever. After exercise, I would shower and get cleaned up before my husband came home. My little ones usually played at my feet while I made supper, and I always sacrificed a lower drawer in the cabinets for them to play in. Again, it is not so much that I had to entertain or distract them. They just want to be near Mom, and wanted to mimic what I was doing. After supper, the older children cleaned the kitchen; my husband or I bathed little ones. Afterward, my husband would read aloud to all of the children, then we closed the evening with family worship. I put my little ones to bed when they were tired - not rocking them to sleep, nursing them to sleep, or lying down with them- and they fell asleep in their beds without any special effort.
7. What tips can you give mothers who are homeschooling older children with younger ones (not school age) who need attention too? And How did you deal with unmotivated learners (if you had them)?
Incorporate your little children into your school day. Do not try to separate them or isolate them from your school activities. Usually, they are content to be with Mom and the older siblings. Have a place where you “do school”, and have toys that are kept and only played within that place. Do not have an “us and them” attitude to your school, but fold those little ones into your life. Can you imagine the joy the older children will have when they see the baby take his first steps? Or the delight in your own heart when you see your early reader “decoding” a book aloud for your toddler? For sanity, plan “pick up” times throughout the day so that your school work is not buried in an avalanche of toys.
The problem with an unmotivated learner is not an academic issue, but a heart issue. Just as I am called to be a wife and mother, my children are called to be students, and it is expected that they will apply themselves to their schooling because that is where God has placed them at this point in their lives. They need to do their schoolwork the best they can, not just because Mom expects them to, but because God commands it. If a student is refusing to do what they are capable of doing, it is an issue of rebellion and not a learning problem. Does that sound harsh? I believe in Providence, and I believe that God made me the mother of these children. He did not give them to the Queen of England. He did not give them to subsistence farmers in Bangladesh. He gave them to me and I need to have confidence that He expects me to parent them, with humility and love.
While I am an advocate for homeschooling, I honestly do not believe that everyone has to homeschool her children. I believe that I am called to homeschool mine, and I believe that every mother is accountable to God for the choices she makes in educating her children.
9. What's your favorite rainy day activity?
My family LOVES playing board games, and a rainy Saturday is a perfect excuse to play long games, like Axis and Allies, Risk, or Settlers of Catan. We are also voracious readers, and everyone might be curled up on the sofa with a book. My husband might read aloud for hours while the children work a puzzle. We also enjoy cooking something complicated or special, such as homemade pretzels, chocolate fondue with strawberries, homemade fresh mozzarella cheese, French macaroons, crab cakes…
10. How many animals and bees do you have? What inspired you all to get them and in what ways has it helped your family?
We literally have more animals than I can number! We have a cat named Betty who is almost 22 years old. We have a cockatiel and a parakeet, who for many years mimicked my daughter’s harp practicing. We have two momma goats that we milk daily, and I make cheese several times weekly. We have nine chickens who keep us in eggs. We have a dozen quail - impulse purchase, long story. We have two doelings (young female goats) and we will breed them when they are ready. We have a lamb, an American Blackbelly sheep, whom I bottle-raised and who adores everything about me. (Everyone needs a sheep. Wonderful for self-esteem!) And we have an enormous livestock guardian dog. He is an Anatolian shepherd, weighs over 125 pounds, and continues to grow and act like a puppy. Finally, we have four beehives, and each hive contains thousands of bees.
I have always loved animals and raising them is a source of joy to me. I marvel at honeybees, I am amused by the sheep and goats, and I am entertained by the birds. The care and nurturing of animals is an amazing way to teach responsibility (and the facts of life) to children. We have not always had so many animals, but we are in a season of life where we can and want to. I would not recommend this to young families who are in the thick of baby-bearing. Right now I have children who are old enough to learn animal husbandry and truly contribute to our little farm. Chickens are low work/high yield, and I would recommend those for a young family, but goats are much more demanding. (There is a saying that goats sit around all day, thinking up ways to die.)
We don’t have to raise these animals, but as in many things, there is “joy in the doing”.
11. Tell us two recipes: your go-to weekday meal and one you serve for dinner guests.
When it is six o’clock and I missed planning supper, my go-to recipe is quiche. I try to always keep deep-dish pie crust in the freezer, and I always have eggs! The basic components of quiche are pie crust, 1 1/2 cups of cheese (maybe feta or cheddar or swiss or goat, or one of those pre-shredded blends), 4-5 eggs, 1/2-3/4 cups of half and half or whole milk, and 1 1/2-2 cups of “other” (sausage, mushrooms, and onions; spinach and tomatoes and bacon; pancetta, tomato, onion, olives; ham and broccoli). Below is my basic quiche recipe and a ridiculously delicious recipe that I got from Publix, Dijon-Onion Crusted Pork with Creamy Caprese Salad.
- Pre-cook pie crust according to directions (may be frozen, the rolled-up kind, or homemade)
- While crust is cooking, brown meat and saute vegetables like mushrooms, onions.
- When pie crust is ready, remove from oven, and spread cheese on the bottom.
- Layer your “filler” ingredients on top of the cheese.
- Whisk eggs and milk (or half and half) in a bowl. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. May add a pinch of nutmeg or tarragon or herbal blend. Pour into pie shell evenly.
- Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes.
- Let rest about five minutes before cutting. May be served hot or room temperature.
One quiche serves 6. I typically make four and have left-overs. My favorite combination is spinach (don’t pre-cook, just layer it in shell), feta, and onions. My kids love sausage, mushroom, and tomatoes.
Dijon-Onion Crusted Pork
1 tablespoon canola oil
3/4 cup french-fried onions, coarsely crushed
large zip-top bag
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 pork tenderloin (about 1 lb)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 oz sharp white Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup roasted garlic Alfredo sauce
1 (6-oz) can mushroom steak sauce
Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat baking sheet with oil. Place fried onions in bag and crush; add panko. Cut pork into 1-inch-thick slices; coat pork evenly with mustard, salt, and pepper. Place pork in bag; shake to coat, then press with fingertips to coat pork evenly. Arrange pork on baking sheet; bake 10 minutes. Turn pork pieces over; cook 6–7 more minutes or until pork is 145°F. Meanwhile, shred cheese (1/3 cup). Combine Alfredo sauce, mushroom sauce, and cheese in saucepan, stirring occasionally, or until cheese melts and sauce is hot. Serve sauce with pork. I serve with rice or polenta.
My children LOVE this, and it is reliable and impressive for company. I quadruple the recipe.
Creamy Caprese Salad
8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed
2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt
1/4 cup basil pesto sauce
Cut mozzarella into bite-size pieces. Chop tomatoes. Combine in medium bowl: yogurt and pesto sauce until blended. Fold in cheese and tomatoes until evenly coated. Serve.
12. Finally, what is the best tip you would give a new mom or one considering a large family (Lord willing)?
I can not think of any other task as worthy as striving to leave a legacy of faith in my children. We know that in the Bible and throughout history, God has grown His church through Covenant families, and the years we spend child-rearing is just a portion of our lives. Just step back and behold the amazing thing that God will work in your family! Whether He gives you one child or many, savor the milestones and keep perspective during the challenging times. (For example, it is better for a child to learn self-control from you when she is three years old than learn it the hard way when she is thirty-three.) God knows what He is doing. We have to trust that He will equip and enable us to do the work He calls us to, and with humility, love, and grace.
Cynthia Mullins is a wife and mother of nine. She currently lives in Savannah, GA. She is the president of the Family Education for Christ.