Jen Hatmaker's Parenting Tips for Busy Moms

This author, speaker, blogger, pastor’s wife, TV personality and—whew!—mother of five reminds us that no parent is perfect. You can only do your best.

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Posted in , Aug 13, 2015

Author and TV personality Jen Hatmaker shares insights on how her faith informs her parenting.

I have a confession, y’all. You might not guess it from reading my books or watching My Big Family Renovation, my family’s show on HGTV, but I am the worst end-of-school-year mom ever.

My five kids, ages 9 to 17, are good students. I care about their education. By May, though, I’m spent. Final exams, bake sales, a last-minute Benjamin Franklin costume. There’s only so much I can take. It’s hard enough being a working mom (I write, speak and blog) and a pastor’s wife. Throw algebra into the mix and things will get ugly.

Two years ago, I lost it. I just could not check my kids’ homework one more day. Their schools require parents to sign off on homework every night. There’s even a signature sheet right in their homework folders. I posted a photo of my fifth grader’s folder on my blog, my signature morphing from pretty cursive in September to barely legible in March to blank spaces in May.

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I must’ve struck a nerve. Parents all over the country commented. That post was shared almost half a million times on Facebook. The Today show even called.

Hearing from all those stressed-out moms out there, I realized I had some advice to share. Here are a few tips from a mom who’s had her share of triumphs, tears and, yes, homework.

Reach them where they’re at
Did I mention that my husband, Brandon, and I have five kids? Gavin, Sydney, Caleb, Ben and Remy—three extroverts, one introvert and one who can’t pick a side.

Every morning, they stagger into the kitchen, rubbing the sleep from their eyes. Here’s how our conversations usually go down:

Me: Whatcha got going on today?
The Kids: Don’t know.
Me: What’re you doing in school?
The Kids: Can’t remember.

Sound familiar? Kids aren’t the best conversationalists. Sometimes you have to get in there and find a way to connect.

Sydney, 14, is our family’s deep thinker. The two of us can sit on the porch and talk theology till the sun goes down. She’s got fierce convictions. Two years ago, she became a vegetarian. Last spring, she went vegan. Bless it. In a family of meat lovers, that girl sure knows how to march to her own beat! I’m not giving up burgers, but I love to cook. So we bond over testing vegan recipes.

READ MORE: PARENTING TIPS FROM THE JONAS BROTHERS' MOM

Ben, 11, is our athlete. He can throw, pitch, tackle, you name it. When he gets home from school, we take out our exercise mats and have ourselves a little workout party. Put on music, use weights, do crunches. He’s the best workout partner.

Your kids are whole human beings with their own extraordinary talents and interests. Enjoy them exactly the way God made them. Start with what you have in common.

Life isn’t a Pinterest board
Holler if this has happened to you. You haven’t washed your hair in a week. Pulled an all-nighter baking cupcakes for church. Packed the kids saltines for lunch. Then you check your Facebook feed and some supermom has posted a photo of the lunch she just made her kids—dolphin-shaped sandwiches leaping into a sea of kale.

Bless that mama’s heart, but let’s get real. Raising kids is messy! One afternoon I was driving home, the car packed with five starving kids. We live in a small town outside Austin, Texas, the kind of place where everybody really does know everybody. A mile away from the house, Gavin and Caleb started fussing.

“Children, if you value your lives, you will cut that out right now,” I said.

More squabbling. I pulled over.

“Gavin and Caleb, get out.”

“What?!”

“You heard me,” I said. “You know the way back.”

Two shell-shocked boys tumbled out of the car. I peeled out, tires screeching all the way home. Ten minutes later, Gavin and Caleb trudged through the front door.

Okay, maybe I freaked out a little. But it’s good to keep the kiddos on their toes. It’s okay to show them you have limits too. Sit your arguing kids nose to nose until they get over it. (They won’t make it one minute before bursting out laughing.) Creative discipline, y’all.

Because at the end of the day, parenting is hard. Forget about crafting the perfect family image. We’ll all mess up more times than we can count. Yet somehow, your kids will be okay. They’ll turn your missteps into funny stories one day.

READ MORE: THE ART OF PARENTING

I think moms should schedule a mini-meltdown once a month. Just saying.

Put your Sherlock cap on
God knows I’m a bit of a free-range mama. I don’t hover. Who has the time? They want to slide down the banister? Fine. But they’ll drive themselves to the ER.

Sometimes, though, you have to play detective with your kids. Know when to step back and when to intervene. Brandon and I adopted our two youngest, Ben and Remy, from Ethiopia three years ago. One day this past winter, Remy seemed off. “Something’s going on there,” I told Brandon. “She’s a little wobbly.”

Remy and I plopped down on the couch for some girl talk. “Baby, what’s bothering you?” I asked.

The whole story came out. Remy’s third-grade class was studying inherited traits. Her classmates could say, “I got my blue eyes from my mom” or “I look just like Grandpa!” Not Remy. I had no words to ease her pain. Instead, we boohooed on the couch together. At bedtime, we prayed extra hard for her family in Ethiopia.

It’s tough for some kids to share what they’re hurting over. You might not have all the answers for them. But if your kids know you’re there, even for a quick crying sesh on the couch, they’ll come back whether they’re 8 or 18.

Say sayonara to screens
We have “no-screen time” in our house for a good chunk of the day. No TV, phones, tablets or laptops. When summer rolls around, though, I panic. Two whole months. How in the world will I be able to entertain five kids without screens?

That kind of pressure didn’t exist when I was a kid. The second school was over, Mom told my brothers, sister and me to get outside. She left snacks out on the patio and told us to drink from the hose if we got thirsty. We played for hours and only went inside for dinner. The next morning, we were back outside again.

READ MORE: MOTHERHOOD AND MIRACLES

Whenever I’m stressing, I stop and think, “What would Mom do?” Like last summer. Caleb and Ben were slumped on the couch, bored out of their minds, staring at the extinguished flat-screen in the living room.

“Get outside,” I told them.

“What are we gonna do?”

“I don’t know. Figure it out!”

An hour later, I looked into the backyard and nearly passed out. They’d climbed a tree and were skateboarding down its long, low-hanging branches. Well, I got what I asked for!

Let kids be kids. It’s not on you to entertain them 24/7. They don’t need screens to get creative. They have their own minds.

Serve together, stay together
Brandon is the pastor of a small church in Austin. Our kids attend service every Sunday. But I want them to see faith in action beyond the pulpit. Seven years ago, we changed up our church Easter celebration. We put on a huge feast for the homeless downtown. Worship and barbecue, it doesn’t get better than that.

This year, we went further. We discovered that many in Austin’s homeless community needed decent shoes. So our church collected new sneakers and work boots to distribute at our barbecue. We collected almost 1,400 pairs of shoes—filled an entire moving truck!

We had two lines of shoes going, one for women, one for men. A deaf woman was having trouble explaining the footwear she needed. My friend called over my 17-year-old, Gavin. He’s fluent in sign language.

He knelt on the floor and fitted the gal with the perfect pair of sneakers. He visited with her for a while. You should have seen her face light up at having someone carry on a real conversation with her. You should have seen mine.

You do all these things for your kids. Teach them how to read, chew with their mouths closed and pray before bed. But you never know what’s going to stick. You can only prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.

The Lord knows, we get so many things wrong as parents. Then there are those beautiful, blessed moments we get things right. I’m so grateful for those moments. I hope they carry my kids till they have kids of their own.

Watch as Jen reveals how her faith informs her parenting decisions.

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