The Hardest Number of Children is…

What’s the hardest number of children? Have you seen this topic, lately? After watching it run across my Facebook newsfeed a few times in as many months, I’ve started to ponder the question. What is the most difficult number of children? And, more importantly, why would someone even think to ask that?

The short answer, I think, is: “However many you think it is–that’s the most difficult number.” I chortle a bit at those bloggers who have estimated the lucky (or unlucky) number at three. Because, of course, all those estimating three to be the hardest number actually have three children. But what do I know?! I never had three kids. To be honest, though, I do not imagine five to be the hardest number. I think five might be just enough to let me in on a simple fact of addition and multiplication: the more children you have, the harder it’ll be (especially until they are old enough to take over the farm or take care of each other). One could  add a dozen children to my home (to babysit), and I wouldn’t find it all that difficult. This mother of five has learned to coral kids, cook in bulk, play drill sergeant, etc. with the best of them. But what I’m really asking myself is: What’s the hardest number of children to mother (pray over, study, discipline, talk to, raise)? I believe that each individual child requires intentional, individual time (even if you can’t give them as much as you’d like to). So hats off to you and your sixty-nine kids, Mrs. Feodor Vassilyev. Oh, and hats off to Mr. Vassilyev as well. 

The reason that three is perceived to be harder than one or two and harder than four or more is not baseless, though. It actually makes a lot of sense. From my experience watching friends and quizzing readers, mothers of less than four often have very high expectations. Their children are regularly dressed to the nines, and they participate in everything. Wow, it wears me out just to type that. Now, I know that any generalization is going to miss the mark quite often, but I think mothers of four are at least a little more likely to say to their children, “OK, pick one extra-curricular thing you want to do. This year.” This likelihood increases exponentially with the number of children (of course the need for outside activities exponentially decreases, because there are sports teams forming in the backyard).


It’s not true for everyone, but I think the average mom these days was at least slightly prepared for the number of children she would be raising before ever having her first. Many moms of “more” dreamed of a full-house long before filling theirs up; because of this, they’ve probably structured their lives to accommodate the lack of perfection, money, and time. Ummm…or is that just me? Motherhood is chock-full of opportunities for failure; where and how a mother surrenders to and accepts her own failure goes a long way toward embracing her joy. Mothers of more might seem less stressed simply because they envisioned parenting in organic simplicity. They weren’t planning on perfection (or they’ve long since abandoned their ideals). Often times, they weren’t planning on doing anything but parenting with their twenties and thirties (and forties?). This might sound like a terrible dunk in an icy tank of drudgery, but this mom of “many” might feel the same way about trading lives with anyone else.

For those who have hypothesized that smaller families are harder to raise than bigger families (based on watching the Michelle Duggars of this world and imagining that grace comes with the territory), here is my response to that: Here are the things that multiply with the addition of children:



I don’t know if any mom relishes the job of laundry. It’s never ending, and the washing is the easiest part. Once it’s clean and dry?! Fuhgettaboutit! So, I refuse to wash my children’s clothes until they are dirty. And many days I just order them into new underwear, cause the clothes (or pjs) from the previous day look and smell just fine. This is one of the many perks of homeschooling (nobody is gonna pick on them for wearing the same thing two days in a row). And, yeah, I take full advantage. If I were to wash my children’s clothes after every wearing, I’d be washing at least 70 articles of clothing (not counting socks and underwear) every week. That’s compared to the minimum of 42 articles required to clothe 3 kids. That’s the power of multiplication!



See laundry. Except, the dishes are all cleaned after use.



This year I bought my kids Hanukkah presents (Hanukkah doesn’t require gifts, but who doesn’t like buying their kids things!). That’s forty presents just to do something minimally! Shoes, clothes, groceries, mommy dates…this same multiplication is true (and terrifying) with everything.



Same as above.


There are some things that decrease with the addition of children, though, and it’s these decreases that might cause moms of a few to guess that moms of four or more have it easier. Come to think of it, maybe we do–though this secret is available to all moms. (Come on, friend, hand over the piping bag and the Pinterest list. It’s going to be okay.)

Of all the things that have increased in my life since having children: noise, love, stress, joy…the thing that has decreased is my expectations (see my rules for washing laundry). But oh, they started so high. Sometimes I shudder to think of the maddening run my life would be if I’d had few enough children to make my dreams remotely possible. Instead, God placed four babies into my lap within sixteen months. Then He chuckled and hid for a bit. I had to look to find Him.

Find Him I did, and I found Him in quiet moments with children who require little more than food, clothing, and shelter (both physically and spiritually). I still find Him while lying in the darkness and praying over each soul placed in my care. Time has decreased and each moment has become so precious. Standards have fallen, and grace has filled in the gaps.

Each day of parenting young children is like digging a swimming pool (the same one again and again). I wake up and begin to dig through the same ground I broke the day before. My shovel clanks against the same rocks. As the sun rises on my back, I begin to sweat. The frustration over repeated digging is almost too much to bear. “I just did this yesterday!” I sometimes moan. But by late afternoon, the water begins to run and the pool begins to fill. I can hear it gushing, but it’s not time to swim. Not yet. As the sun rides a cloud to the underside of the world, I dip my feet into the water. And as darkness comes, I float. How I love to float with my children. Of course, the morning sun will rise to reveal the same unbroken, thirsty ground…the same shovel for my blistered hands. One day, not too long from now, I’ll wake to indented ground; it’s already beautifully tilled and scarred. And someday in the future, I’ll blink sleepy eyes at a pool filled with sparkling water. Someday all my effort will show–it will stick. But not today; today it’s still time to dig.

I believe that the number of children one has does not determine the ease they’ll find in parenting them. That ease, that grace, comes only through surrender to something so hard it will break you, and something so beautiful once it finally does.

Why can’t I say bad words?

I was scrubbing dishes in the kitchen. I don’t like scrubbing dishes; bad things happen when I’m occupied with suds and my mind melts into the warm water. She pattered up behind me, and I could tell that she had news. I tell my children to come to me about anything–that they should come to me about anything. When they have ought against their brother, I point them toward forgiveness. I also teach them to work things out amongst themselves; but I’d rather hear about it, and handle it, than have them “handle it” themselves. So, now, we have a fine line between tattling to me and needing Mom. Though, even tattling works out from time-to-time.

She placed her hand on my waist and tugged at my shirt. “What is it, Honey?” I said.

Her eyes were wide with shock and tense with worry. She’d just heard something she shouldn’t hear; her sister had said a bad word. “She said the ‘sh’ word,” she mourned grimly.

“Oh,” I answered sadly, “You mean she told you to be quiet in a rude way?”

“No,” she shook her head rapidly while her eyes remained fixed and indignant.

“Oh!” I said as I dropped a dish to sink quickly beneath the foam, and I turned to run down the stairs.

As the heel of my foot hit the top step, the Lord snatched me up by the collar. I was angry; He wasn’t. My pride was hurt; His wasn’t. “My children…my children don’t curse!” Only one just had, and I needed to find out why.

I took a deep breath and walked the rest of the way down the stairs into the playroom. I walked straight toward the one with the potty-mouth. She was worried, and she squinted at the  tattler.

“Honey, where did you hear that word?” I whispered.

She told me, and I bowed my head. I was relived that it wasn’t from me (because I don’t have a perfect record), but I was sad that she’d heard it at all. It would be so great to live in a bubble!

“Well, hmmm,” I said slowly, “I’m glad that that came out! I had no idea it was in there.”

“You mean…I’m not in trouble?” she asked with a curious face.

“No, you’re not in trouble! Not this time. It’s not your fault that that word was inside your heart. It’s not your fault that it got there. If ugly stuff is inside us, it will come out when we’re mad. If it hadn’t come out of your mouth, it would have just grown and grown and caused more and more damage to your thinking. But now, we can deal with it. We can talk about it! And we can ask God to heal your thinking so it doesn’t bother you in secret or come out of your mouth again. When the bad stuff comes out, that’s good! We don’t want it to stay inside.”

She smiled; me too.

I don’t want to raise children with good mouths; I want to raise children with clean hearts. I just need Him to remind me sometimes.

Luke 12:1-3 (KJV)
In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.

Psalm 139:23-24 (KJV)
Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Matthew 12:33-35 (KJV)
Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.

This story was almost a late addition chapter in my new book, but I decided to leave it short and blog it instead. If it blesses you, please consider buying the book. Other topics handled include:

  • Why do I have to obey?
  • What is sin?
  • Why is it wrong to whine?


  • What happens when we die? you read “Little Children. Big God.”? Have you had a conversation with your children that has pointed either them, or you, toward our Maker? Have you blogged about it? Comment, or e-mail, and I’ll include your link below!

Why Mother’s Day is Overrated

I have written since we last met. It’s just not publishable yet. There are posts piling high in my mind and in my drafts folder. My grandfather is dying, I recently met up with my favorite group of girlfriends, and I have quite a bit to say about single parenting. I still have a lot to say about marriage, too, though I’ve unfairly lost the right to offer those admonitions (or at least it feels that way).

With Mother’s Day fast approaching, I’m hearing the usual chatter from wives. Many of them expect their husbands to do something big (pay attention, husbands!), and at least 50% of them will be disappointed at the close of the day. I really don’t understand that. After all, it’s “Mother’s Day,” not “Wives’ Day”. Don’t Valentine’s Day, birthdays, and anniversaries offer enough manipulation? I’m sure my sweet children will color beautiful construction paper cards, but the ones I receive on Mother’s Day won’t mean more than the ones I received today….or yesterday…or the day before that. Why do we insist on measuring love by how much obligatory attention we receive on days dictated by a calendar that some man made? It doesn’t make sense to me.

I think we’ve invented holidays to make up for our lack of time and thoughtfulness throughout the year. The guilt over our selfishness rises and rises until we alleviate it on days set aside for such a purpose. If I’m a good mom (and I think I do okay) my kiddos might one day decide to spend their hard earned money on me, or call me out of the blue, or write me a note, or take me to lunch. And I hope they’ll think of me on many random days throughout the year. If they don’t, what good is the one day they feel they have to?


As a single mom of little ones, I work hard. This week alone I’ve wiped more pee off of toilet seats, sopped up more flooded bathroom floors, graded more papers, picked up more mysterious scraps of paper trash, cooked more meals, de-gunked more stickiness, given more baths, scrubbed more dishes, clipped more nails, changed more sheets, refereed more fights, and kissed more boo boos than I care to count. Well, I don’t mind kissing boo boos. But I have said “boo boo” more than I’d like to. Motherhood is a selfless pile of sacrifice with rewards that are sometimes buried under too much laundry to be readily found. If I do it well, if I run a good race, my children will someday rise up and call me blessed. Maybe they’ll even do that on Mother’s Day. But if they decide to remember me on April 3rd or September 17th, I’m okay with that, too. Until then, I’ll do my best to set a good example by honoring the ones who have gone before me–the mothers who after years of service are finally seeing the fullness of their reward (or at least, they certainly deserve to). I hope they feel loved all year long.

{To the best Mom, Grandma, and Mother-in-law in the whole wide world!}

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Little Spills and Lukewarm Coffee

I’m sittin’ here with a cup of lukewarm coffee. Actually, it’s hot now because I got up to zap it in the microwave. When it was given to me, though, it was lukewarm. When it was given to me, a joy bubbled from the depths of my being and I knew I had to share it with you.

About an hour ago, the kids and I were sitting around watching my laptop through the t.v. streaming our favorite Sabbath preacher. That might be a lazy way to have “church,” but it’s something below zero outside–and I don’t want to know how big that something is. This was the state of my windows, from the inside, this afternoon…

…which is why I reheated my coffee.

As we sat there, and the preacher spoke on our relationship with Jesus and how everything we do should be done out of a deep desire to please Him, my youngest daughter slipped from her spot and sneaked into the kitchen. My reflex action was to address her sneakiness, but the words caught in my throat. I coughed, and I turned to eye the rustling behind me, but I couldn’t see my daughter as she crouched behind the counter. Again, I intended to rebuke her. Again, I choked on the words.

I heard the tinkling of ceramic and the clang of metal, and I turned to look a third time. I watched as a chubby little hand attached to a tiny arm slipped my favorite coffee carafe back onto the counter. She tried to do so silently. She was almost successful. I couldn’t see past her elbow cause she was still crouching on the floor. I worried she was hittin’ the java until I noticed that my favorite mug was missing, too.

I turned my head back to the t.v. as she slowly, stealthily broke cover and headed toward the microwave. Out of the corner of my tearing eye, I watched as she tried to find the right buttons in the dark. I covered my mouth to hide elated giggles as the microwave beeped like crazy. She was able to warm the coffee about twenty seconds before opening the door in frustration and removing a barely warmed mug.

She carried it over to me quietly, not announcing her presence until she was standing directly before me–holding her offering in outstretched arms. The secrecy was important to her, obeying my wishes in the absence of an order. My children already know what I like, and coffee’s at the top of the list. She wasn’t appeasing me after a bad day or earning my love or my favor, she just wanted me to know that she loves me. She just wanted me to know that she knows me. I scooped her up and I thanked her. As I eyed the trail of little spills and tasted the lukewarm coffee, I nodded along to the words of my Father as He whispered, “Just like that. I want to be loved just like that.”

Now I think I’ll zap the coffee one more time as I open the Book that shares His heart and find out more about what He loves.

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The Gift of Failure

I’ve waited a full month to write this story. I’ve told it, I tell it and tell it and I will keep on telling it forever, I’m sure. I knew I should bask for a few weeks, walk in quiet victory for awhile, before sharing it with the world, though. Now, to tell it accurately, I have to back up about nine years.

Once Papa Bear and I were married, we almost immediately began talking about children. I didn’t know I would want them so quickly, but watching that skinny Marine long for the fullness of family was the most endearing thing in the world. As I began to daydream about babies and children, I discovered something absolutely amazing about myself: I was the most incredible mother in the world!

Can anyone relate to that?

I wasn’t judgmental. I rarely, if ever, saw someone parenting contrary to my dreamed up methods and thought, “Oh, I will never let my kids act like that.” I just sat in quiet expectation and waited for my newly planted dreams to become a reality. I might as well admit that these dreams began to wilt about thirty-seconds after conception, though. I spent the first twelve of those thirty-six weeks in bed while my husband lived on Ramen and other such bachelor foods. To move meant to vomit uncontrollably, and to vomit meant to die–or to wish I would.

At twenty-weeks, doctors would learn what I’d known for awhile. The cause of my hyperemesis gravidarum was a pair of wrestling, trouble making girls. I knew then that God was giving me the gift of daughters. I know now that He was also holding out two precious children, handing them to me ever so lovingly and saying, “Here, hurry up and fail. I’ll be here when you finally realize you can’t do this.”

On my list of pre-pregnant musts and “to-dos” was a very strict no-yelling rule. I broke that one about twelve weeks into parenting in a sleep-deprived, colic-induced panic. I’m not sure I’ve ever admitted that to anyone. I yelled at my twelve week old infants! Once I had four (just thirteen months later), yelling–struggling not to yell–became a weekly battleground. I would not yell. I was not a yeller. I was not was not was not that mom!

But if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck…

I was quickly becoming the one thing I had determined never to be.

Over the course of the past six years, I’ve talked about my tone with friends and mentors and pastors. I’ve pleaded for prayer and told them how desperately I desired to be the honey-speeched mother who led her children through encouraging whispers. They’ve prayed over me, advised me, comforted me. But when I’ve woken to find the results of a midnight raid or found my favorite face wash used as Barbie’s bubble bath…I’ve still yelled. I’ve yelled (lost it, blown-up) and apologized, yelled and apologized. I’ve repented through tears. And I’ve gone to bed, on so many nights, feeling like the world’s biggest failure–at the very least, the world’s worst mom.

A month and a few days ago, after my regular bi-monthly Bible study where we’re taught all things parenting and marriage, a sweet friend and I sat up late and talked. We talked until three in the morning. We were both struggling, first and foremost, with the same issue in our parenting; we lamented our lack of success and then both agreed to pray continually for each other.

So many things can be said between eleven p.m. and three a.m., but I remember mourning one thing specifically, “I know God can deliver me from this curse of yelling, but I just wish He’d done it while my kids were too young to ever remember a yelling mom.” We both agreed on that point. We both sighed.

When I finally crawled into bed that night, it was close to four a.m. I felt certain I had ruined my Wednesday before it really started, and I mumbled half a prayer before falling asleep mid-breath. I woke up at seven with the same hair color, the same stretch marks, and the same ten extra pounds as the day before. I wasn’t taller or shorter. But before I opened my eyes I saw a picture in my mind. It was of a simple glass jar, and scrawled on the front in black Sharpie was one word: “Mean!”

I was as happy as a pig on Hanukkah. I knew God was showing me something important! I sat up in bed and asked Him about what I had just seen, and then I ran to the living room to greet my children and to tell them about our new plan.

I stuffed about twenty tickets into a large brown envelope, and I wrote the following on the front:

If I yell at you, put a ticket in the jar.

If I receive ten tickets in four days, I owe you an “I’m sorry” party.

If I receive zero tickets in four days, we’ll have a victory party!

I’ll empty the jar every fourth day.

I explained the plan to the kids, and they were all excited to help. Everyone was rooting for a victory party, and we threw our very first one only four days later. Two weeks and no tickets later, I sat in tears in my bathroom and talked with God about what had shifted. What had happened? It was then that He revealed to me the day He’d chosen to give me our simple, vastly ineloquent no-yelling plan. Some people call it the Day of Atonement. It’s also called Yom Kippur. From now on, I’ll call it the day I stopped yelling–the day I stopped trying to stop yelling–the day God stepped in and took over. It’s now the day I stopped apologizing to my kids for something I couldn’t change and instead let them battle with me. If think you’ve known joy, just wait until your six year old zooms through the living room, eyes your jar, and elates, “Mom, it’s still empty!! We’re beating the Devil!!” If you think your children respect you because you’ve done your best to hide your sin and struggles, just wait till you’re washed in the respect that comes after laying bare your flesh and allowing them to witness your victory.

When you come to my house, you’re welcome to take a peek in the “Mean!” jar. It’s right out for all to see. Right now, there are two tickets in there. I earned one while I was trying to take a shower in the middle of the day and the other one while I was trying to pay a bill via an automated system. I’m so excited I get to empty the jar tomorrow morning! I’m a human being, and that’s OK–or at least, it’s been paid for. He knows all about my failure. He knows all about what I can’t do without following step for step in His plan. When He gave me my wonderful children, God winked at me and said, “Here, fail.” For it is only in my failure that I learn, and it is only in my weakness that I fall broken into the arms of my Savior.

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Why Bedtime Isn’t Scary

Alternately titled:

This is Just an Elaborated Version of the Last Paragraph of Last Week’s Post–Because You Asked For It

I have a few friends who are also single mothers under similar circumstances. It’s funny how that happens. Wherever you are in life, you will find others who are right there, too. The thing I’m hearing most from my single mom and military mom friends is, please explain to me why you don’t hate the evenings. Aren’t you worn out and frazzled by then?

And no, I don’t hate the evenings. Actually, I think they’re ah-mazing.

I know I’ve blogged this before, but I’d rather rewrite the post than search back to look for the old one. Ha. Also, I’m hoping I’ve learned something since then.  So first and foremost, you’ve got to eat dinner early. And I don’t mean you can never drag your kids out to a late night at church or what-have-you, but as a regularly scheduled thing, it works best to feed small children about the same time your great-grandparents get hungry. And I know, that probably means you’re gonna want to eat a second dinner later on. I highly recommend keeping chopped veggies and pretzels around the house. You’ll thank me later.

If your kids are old enough to bathe and brush their teeth while you clean up from dinner,  go ahead and bring out the nice plates. If not, go with paper ones. Either way, I plan to be done with my housework about the same time I tuck my kids into bed. It’s not productive to clank around while little ones are sleeping, I tell you!

My kids love story time, so we have a nightly deal. If they’re in bed, teeth brushed, pjs on, water drank in and peed out, even one minute before seven o’clock, I’ll read a few chapters of our current book crush. If not, there’s no punishment, just a skipping of the coveted reward. After story time, we spend a few minutes sharing, praying, and counting blessings. Everyone’s lying down at this point, which inevitably makes them sleepier than they were willing to admit a few minutes before seven.

After praying, I hit play on the best present I have ever, ever bought myself. It’s the NIV on CD, and it’s how we fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning. They fall asleep while I lie there with them. This is the most important part! Over the past few years, I’ve periodically made the mistake of trying to get on with my evening immediately after tuck in time. It doesn’t work. And it especially doesn’t work without someone here to help me tag team. In fifteen minutes of lying still I can accomplish what forty five minutes of to and fro oftentimes couldn’t. And this way, I get to listen to the Word while they drift to dreamland and I recharged for a full evening of phone talking, blogging, writing, coffee drinking and just a general doing of ma thang.

Of course, you don’t have to do things this way. And maybe you have kids who just, I don’t know, fall asleep when you tell them to and I should be reading your blog (maybe I should–leave blog addresses in the comments!). But if you have normal kids, this tip’s for you.

What’s the one tip you think everyone should know about bedtime for kids?

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A Little Excited!
I have an announcement to make; and it’s big, y’all. Really big. In fact, it’s so big that most of you will either shake your heads in disbelief or mumble something like, “Oh, the naive little fool, she’ll see.” But I refuse to be dissuaded from my excitement, you will not pop my bubble.

Cause, y’all, my kids’ room has been clean all week long! And it’s staying clean…forever.

I’m not even joking, the transformation from somewhat messy to completely clean hasn’t taken more than a five minute clean up before bedtime–all week long! They like being in there. They play in there. I’m placing this right between water to wine and the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. It took a full day’s work on my part, but oh, was it worth it!

The problem we were having was with clothes, mainly. Even after years of purging, they still just had too much stuff (first world problems). Now, they have plenty of clothes, just not so much that each drawer is filled to the top, therefore preventing them from finding an outfit without pulling everything else from the drawer.

I ordered the march while finishing every scrap of laundry. They piled clothes on the living room floor. Clothes from their drawers. Clothes from their closet. Clothes from under their bed. Clothes from…well, you get the idea. The pile was massive enough to warrant to ordering of not one, but two Amazon movies.

I made careful piles, making sure everyone had enough pieces in each size. Not too much. Nothing with stains. Nothing with holes. Nothing they insist on wearing to church even though it’s the absolute grubbiest thing they own. What remains now, fits perfectly. And bonus, they look extra cute every day.

Tomorrow, I’ll get pictures. But I just couldn’t wait to share the news.

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