How I Parent explores the ins and outs of modern day parenting with moms and dads from all over the world, who are raising their own unique families and sharing their best advice and most heartfelt lessons with PEOPLE. Want to be a part of it? Email what makes your family so special to email@example.com.
Name: Tricia Goyer
Location: Little Rock, Arkansas
Occupation: Homeschooling mom, podcaster and author of 70+ books
Family situation: Our family grew from 3 to 10 kids after my husband and I adopted one child through private adoption and six kids through foster care. I’m currently homeschooling six of them. I also podcast, blog and write books on the side. My husband also works from home full-time and helps take care of the children. I wake up between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m. to write while they’re still sleeping. I record podcasts and answer emails in the afternoon after our school day is done. I have no nanny, but my college-aged son is teaching his teenage sisters math and science. When I travel for speaking engagements, we often take the whole family in our 12-passenger van.
Parenting “philosophy” in a sentence: If I want my kids to follow their dreams and live life with confidence and gratitude, I need to model what that looks like in everyday life.
What was your journey to having the family life you have today?
I was a teen mom, and I had my oldest son when I was 17. After I met and married my husband John, we had two more kids right away. I became a mom of three by age of 22. As our older kids neared adulthood, John and I were still young and we felt we had more to give. That’s when we decided to expand our family first through a private adoption.
We were approached by a family friend who knew a young mom who was looking for a family to place her baby with. We accepted and I was there in the room at the hospital when our daughter was born. It was a really special experience for me. Once she got older, John and I decided to adopt siblings so she could have other kids to be raised with. We thought about private adoption again, but it was very expensive so we decided to look into foster care.
Just in Arkansas alone, there are around 600 kids whose parents’ rights were taken away for various reasons. Some people are afraid to foster, because they believe that you have to make visits with their biological families or the kids could — at any moment — get taken from your home. But there are so many kids whose parents’ rights have already been relinquished and they’re just waiting to get adopted.
After we had taken classes and gone through training, John and I were first matched with a 2-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl, who we then adopted. Later, I started thinking about the needs of teenagers. So many families are afraid to adopt teens and sibling groups from foster care because they assume they will be a lot of trouble or that they’ll run away. Since we already had the experience of raising teenagers, my husband and I decided to adopt two groups of siblings. We knew it was going to be hard but we wanted to give these kids a chance and welcome them into our home.
Our first two adopted siblings both had speech issues and needed occupational and physical therapy as a result of the environment they were being raised in previously. They had a lot of trauma to work through so they were learning basic skills like riding a tricycle and how to feed themselves — that type of stuff. But then we started them in trauma therapy to help them deal with their emotions. We know that all kids get angry from time to time but we wanted to help our kids deal with triggers they developed from their past. We found a child trauma specialist in Little Rock and took them once a week for a couple of years.
Sending them to therapy really helped me as a parent too, because even though I had already raised three kids, I had never dealt with kids that had experienced trauma. Once we adopted our other children, we took them to the same therapy center, but saw different therapists. For example, our three younger ones have dyslexia, so we took them to reading therapy as well.
Although it hasn’t been easy finding different specialists and driving everyone to their appointments, it’s been so worth it because I want my kids to start healing before they turn 18 and they have to live on their own. It’s tough to learn how to deal with life, so we want to do as much as we can to help them while they’re young. I took my experiences and wrote a book called Calming Angry Kids so people could learn about my kids’ transformations and what it took to get them to where they are today. A lot of what I’ve written in the book is also about how I believe therapy helped them learn how to be calm in stressful situations.
As a working mom of 10, there are days I literally have to stop helping with a math page to run into my room to take a radio interview by a national media outlet. I’ve been on video calls when my youngest child has run through my bedroom to use my bathroom. I don’t stress too much about it because if I did, I’d never get anything done. I trust that the people I work with understand that this is a real family filled with busy, noisy kids. Also, since I try to write before my family wakes up, I’ve developed two important skills: focusing and writing fast. Those two skills have helped me get more done in a few hours than most people get done in a day.
How did your upbringing influence your parenting style?
My mom was very involved in my life. Even though I didn’t know my biological dad until I was an adult and my stepdad was very distant, my mom was always there to support me. She was that mom who was always volunteering at our school and showing up to my games when I was a cheerleader. Her efforts helped me see how different life could be when you have an involved parent. That’s why homeschooling became so important to me. I wanted to focus on my kids’ character and internal motivation, too. It’s a hard world out there, and my kids will soon be adults who need to know how to navigate it well.
What’s your favorite thing about parenting?
To be honest, road trips and board games! I love opening up the world to these kids. One highlight was seeing our four teenage daughters burst into tears when they got out of our van and saw Mount Rushmore. They were in foster care for eight years and didn’t think they’d get a family, let alone be able to travel like that.
What’s the hardest thing about parenting?
There are many things that make having a big family challenging — the cooking, messes, and all the activities — but I realized that the hardest part was dealing with the grumbling. Life would be so much easier if no one complained. John and I suggested a “grumble-free” challenge to our kids and promised a family cruise if we worked on learning to be grateful without grumbling. We had many failures, but many successes, too. I realized that our efforts were paying off after standing 10 hours in a line at Build-a-Bear, only to have the people right in front of us receive the last stuffed bears! We were able to turn our disappointment into humor. We learned that grumbling is really a lack-of-gratitude issue, and every day we work at trying to be more grateful. I’ve also been able to take this experience and write about it in my new book, The Grumble Free Year.
With the holidays coming up, what are traditions that are meaningful to your family?
We love the holidays because we love spending time together as a family. We love decorating our tree together and we have a tradition of reading the Christmas story from the Book of Luke every Christmas morning with the kids. I also help out a teen mom support group; every year, we’ll do a Christmas program for them. We’ll pick a teen mom’s name and her child (or children) and go shopping for them and help prepare gifts.
What’s the best advice you can share with new parents?
Live the type of life that you want your kids to duplicate. You can tell them how to act, and you might have some success with that, but showing them will go much further.
What would you want your kids to say about you as a parent?
As a former teen mom who has now written over 70 books, I would want my kids to say, “If mom can do it, I can do it too.”