Do you ever wish you could sit down with a parent who is more experienced than you…
and ask the hard questions?
Take in their wisdom?
Learn from their mistakes?
Soak up their encouragement?
Charley’s Circus was born alongside the beginning of our family as we set out to document our journey of intentional parenthood.
Our heart is to raise beautiful little people with an awareness of their Creator, a deep confidence in how much they are loved, and limitless possibilities with what they can accomplish as world-changers.
But how do we even do those things? How do we give them what they need? Cultivate kind and generous hearts? Train them up as leaders dependent on their Heavenly Father? How do we face the current challenges of the world while raising these precious little souls?
At Charley’s Circus, we deeply value intentional parenting and look up to parents who have gone before us and have raised incredible kids. We believe that we can learn so much from experienced parents, especially those who love Jesus and value raising children in a Christ-centered home.
Thanks to a handful of absolutely amazing parents we look up to, we’re sharing with our readers – in a series of interviews – that sit-down heart-to-heart honest conversation that so many of us wish we could have. We’re bringing the wisdom, the heart, and the encouragement to you!
When we grow from children to adults and then have our own children, we may decide to do things similarly as our parents, or completely different. We have the freedom to do things our own way, but we also don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We don’t have to grasp blindly in the dark. There are others – many, many others – who have gone before us and have wisdom to share. We can take or leave anything we choose. But hopefully we walk away with this most beautiful reminder – in this parenting journey, the small moments add up – and they matter.
For our next interview, I am excited to introduce someone dear to my heart.
I met this special soul in Haiti, where for a life-changing time, we both poured out our hearts side-by-side. I knew there was something special about her then, and my love and admiration for her has grown exponentially ever since. Here, we find ourselves with SEVEN more children between us (I need to catch up!), and a friendship that runs into the deep, tender places that can only be shared between those who have had their hearts squeezed and stretched and broken in the dark places of the world that few ever venture.
I am so pleased to introduce to you this next
World-Changing Parent: Tracy!
Tracy lives on the outskirts of Austin, TX. She is the wife to her main squeeze, Chris and together, they have the gift of loving, raising and discipling 10 children. Tracy has a heart for kids from hard places, intentional parenting, and missions. She dreams of someday using the bathroom by herself, getting fit, watching her kids grow and fly, and having a gaggle of grandchildren (who are we kidding? Ten kids is going to equal a lot of grandkids)!
1. What is your favorite thing about being a parent?
I am so very thankful to say that I have too many favorites to even begin to share them all. First and foremost, we have the privilege of sharing Jesus with our kids and there is no greater honor. After all, He shared our children with us…now we get to share Him with our children. From an earthly perspective, another favorite thing about being a parent is that each stage and age seems to be my favorite!
2. What’s your favorite thing about being a parent to babies and small children?
I think the nurturing and bonding of a tiny babe is probably my favorite thing about being a mommy to a newborn. My favorite thing about the parenting small children would be the gift of seeing the world through their eyes. The wonderment and curiosity along with the joy and rapid learning of the world around them is just so amazing.
3. How does your family strive to live in awareness of God’s presence?
I think this starts with me and my husband (Chris) knowing God, His will for us, and having relationship with Him and those around us. Ultimately, our goal is to glorify God in our marriage, family and community….if we are doing that, it is really hard to be unaware of his majesty and presence. We talk a lot about knowing that God is with us all the time and His love for us never ends. The importance and magnitude of this statement is imperative when you look at our family makeup. We have biological and adopted children and some of them come from hard places. Knowing that is a Heavenly Father that loves, protects and abides in you (and you in Him) is huge.
4. What kinds of traditions or daily habits do you incorporate to teach your children about Jesus?
One of the greatest gifts I hope I can give our children is the gift of Jesus being a part of everything we do. While we fail as parents and sometimes give in to the busy-ness of a large family and crazy schedules, I want our kids to grow up and remember me reading my Bible, journaling, talking about God’s creation and His love. We pray together as a family before meals. We pray for our children, with our children and over our children when we are thankful, fearful, disciplining, and living life in general. I want them to remember some of our not so “daily” traditions like the Resurrection Eggs at Easter, the Christmas Eve reading of the story of Christ’s birth gathered around Daddy each year, the snack bags given to the homeless, and character trait focus that we do with our kids each year.
5. There is so much junk out there that can be harmful to the hearts and minds of our kids. We often can’t even watch a sporting event on TV without a commercial that’s unsuitable for a small child popping up. What are your thoughts about protecting your children’s hearts from the evil of the world while simultaneously knowing we are also called to equip them to push back and fight against this darkness? What practical steps have you taken?
Honestly, we watch very little TV for several reasons. In the younger years, we believe it is our responsibility to protect young hearts and build a strong foundation of character based on God’s truth. Screen time of any kind has been proven to hinder more than it helps a growing mind. Our younger children get very little screen time…instead, we are talking a lot, playing a lot, being outside a lot, and using our imaginations a lot. As our children get older and their foundation is a bit more solid (and as we as parents are able to discern that), we allow more freedom in that area, while keeping lines of communication open and age appropriate boundaries set. Our older kids use screens more often than our “littles”…unfortunately it is very integrated in their educational setting at school. We have firm boundaries set for our two oldest children as they have phones (the importance of this is something I could go on and on about…the enemy has a hold on our society in powerful ways through phones). But anyway, I hope that by teaching our kids God’s truth rather than just withholding TV or screens in general has given them a different perspective that will carry them when darkness tries to surround them and tempt them into areas that our culture views as acceptable and part of the norm. Teaching what IS GOOD is so valuable in comparison to just avoiding what is bad (or even not so good).
6. How do you make efforts to keep your marriage healthy and make your relationship a priority in the midst of raising young children? What practical steps do you take?
Oh gracious…this is so important and has not always been easy for us. Hubby and I try to have a date night once per month. Time away to have uninterrupted conversations, set goals, reset emotionally and reconnect is so important. We also try to get away for a long weekend (3-5 days) twice per year. Please hear me say that when our children were little, we did not have this area of our marriage perfected. One of the saving graces when our kiddos were younger was that they went to bed earlier which gave us some evening time together. As our children have gotten older, bedtimes have gotten later and our priority for date night away from home has increased. And now…our big kids can stay home with our littles….and that is such a gift!!!!
7. The stereotypical worldly picture of siblings is often one of rivalry and even jealousy. How do you make efforts to raise your children to be friends, have each other’s backs, and exist alongside one another as if on the same team?
Our family is asked this question so often! Our children are literally each other’s best friends. People see that and wonder what in the world we have done to make this happen! While I would like to say that we deserve the credit for this, I think the credit is God’s alone. Rarely have we corrected our children in how they treat one another. We didn’t realize how truly blessed we were in this area until our older kids were old enough to start noticing that many of their friends didn’t necessarily get along with their siblings. They would come home shocked at what they had seen themselves or heard about from their friends. I think our kids are naturally very relational and drawn to each other. The older five kiddos have also had experiences that make them appreciate life so much more as our family has had the gift of doing some incredible, adventurous, difficult and powerful things. This has drawn them so much closer together. Our family is truly remarkable and such a sweet gift from the Lord…we do not take lightly this gift we have been given. And it brings us such great joy to watch our children love each other so incredibly well.
8. How do you teach your kids about “tough topics” and encourage them to choose family values instead of following cultural norms?
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Ask lots of questions. Practice scenarios. My husband and I have the gift of working at our local public high school, so we get to see and hear all of the latest “tough” stuff. Those conversations are not difficult for us to have with our kids because we want them to always understand that they, also, can come to us to talk about tough stuff. Sex, drugs, alcohol, friendships, peer pressure, mental health, dating and so much more are regular conversations at our house. The more relaxed my husband and I are about these continuous convos, the more relaxed our kids will be with bringing them up to us.
9. How do you encourage open lines of communication for your teenage children? What has helped the health of your relationship during that time?
My heart could go on and on about this. I believe this answer to be a direct correlation of communication and health of the relationship with the kiddos were little. If I am consistently shaming my kids, expecting them to stuff their feelings, or directing them away from me when they are little, how can I expect something different from them when they are teens? When we give our children empathy, allow them to feel their feelings and draw them nearer to us, guess what happens? By the time they are teens, we have already done so much of the hard work in building healthy relationships. In our family, our teenagers are rarely in their rooms…family life occurs in common areas and we are always communicating. We spend time with our “bigs” each night after our “littles” have gone to bed. Phones are put on the kitchen counter after school and are left there until morning (obviously they check them periodically for a text but truly do not engage for extended periods of time). We play lots of games around our kitchen table, have family meetings once per week (this is truly a gem of a time), and we spend one on one time with our kids often! We constantly hug them, tell them we love them, make sure they feel like we believe in them and cheer for them. The truth is…the stereotype given to teenagers is just not completely true. This is the age where we begin to see the fruit of our labor and our kids are truly beautiful and want to change the world. So we stand beside them and coach them through these years while treasuring having them under our roof for a few more years!
10. What would you do differently if you could start all over?
Believe that I didn’t have to be perfect or have perfect children. We have a multigenerational family…meaning that our ten children spread across 15 years. I tell our older children often that I am sorry I didn’t know what I was doing when they were little bitty but I am sure thankful for God’s Grace through it all because they are incredible humans. I used to believe the lie that my children’s successes and failures defined my worth….and now, I experience so much freedom in knowing that our failures often lead to our biggest successes. We tell our kids often that we are thankful to walk through their mistakes with them so that we can all learn together.
11. What are some things (or just one thing!) you are really proud of as a parent? What do you feel like you have done well?
Love….we have loved well. I know for a fact that our kids (all of them) know who Jesus is and they know love. They are safe in our home (and some of them have not always had safe homes) and are able to trust. Trust, love, and feeling safe and connected are all things that allow our children to grow. I want our children to know love so well that it is a part of who they are. And when it is a part of who they are, I want them to share it. After all, that is what we were created for ultimately. To know and share Love.
12. What are you looking forward to as your kids get older?
They are already becoming some of our very best friends! It is so much fun to enjoy our kiddos as they get older! We love hearing them talk about what God is doing in their lives and dreaming about His future for them. We have had some of the greatest conversations lately with our oldest two kiddos and I wouldn’t trade that for the world! While we are already saddened knowing they will leave our nest soon, we can’t help but feel so excited about the life ahead of them.
13. What advice would you give to families considering fostering or adoption?
It is not for the faint at heart but do it if you feel you are being called to it. The timing truly belongs to the Lord because there are way too many factors to “prepare” for. If my husband and I would have waited until we were ready, we would have missed out on sooo many blessings; specifically our sibling group of four kiddos that we most recently adopted. Six of our children are foster or adopted and our lives will never be the same because of them. Both our bio kids and our adopted kids have more bravery, grace, perseverance, grit, love, and compassion than any other people I know. They have been in the trenches together and will always have each other. They are bound not by blood but by true heart. They worked hard to be each other’s siblings and God has gifted them with the neatest relationships. Their stories are not all picturesque but their stories are inspiring and heroic. Our big kids have sacrificed so much to know and understand the bigger picture of what it looks like to live out the gospel on a daily basis in their home. I remember the day we sat the big kids down to talk about adopting our “littles” and asked where their hearts were. Our oldest daughter spoke up and said “is there a chance that you guys would let them go after we have grown to love them so much?” God used her in that moment to show us just how special all of these children had become to each other. As our other bigs chimed in and nodded in agreement; at that moment it was even more obvious than ever before…we knew our family was made by God alone and was truly remarkable.
14. What preparations were most helpful to your family to transition into caring for foster children?
Lots of family time. Lots of communication. Lots of understanding how we are all orphans in need of a Savior; and how that translates here on earth to us providing a home to those in need. Fostering has been a part of our lives since our oldest son was 18 months old (and he is now 16), and our very first foster son is still a special part of our lives. In some ways, our children have know foster care as a part of their lives forever. Another thing to remember is that when we are in the will of God, He does a lot of the heart work in us without us even knowing what He is working on. He can do that for our kiddos too!! Also, we have always involved our kids in the physical preparations required before a child enters our home. It provides ownership to them and allows their heart to begin to feel some of the feelings that come along with someone new joining your family.
15. What are some of your favorite parts about being a foster & adoptive parent? Have any heartwarming stories?
*Our sweet 6-year-old Matthew has been through so much trauma and has worked so very hard to deal with the things swirling through his heart and mind. But on a regular basis (at least once per month or so), Matthew will come to me or my husband and tell us thank you for being his mommy and daddy and allowing him to live with us. While our hearts break that he ever had to endure what he has, our hearts soar knowing that he knows love now and is able to appreciate that love so much.
*Obviously our family cannot go anywhere quietly or without drawing attention (ten kids, ages 1 to 16…nothing quiet or inconspicuous there). One of the things I love to see when we are out and about is that people are drawn to our older kids to ask questions. They often have the hand of a little one in theirs or they are holding one of the babies. I constantly hear them speak so much truth over our family and themselves as siblings. They have joy in this journey and are not afraid to share it. They account for the challenges (because there are plenty) but the challenges are not the focus.
*We have a little boy with high functioning autism. Our lives are so much brighter because of him. He often makes announcements everywhere we go to people about who knows what…the weather, his latest art project and even the success of another sibling’s potty learning. Thank goodness, one of our best friends is his teacher and adds “filter” to some of his stories at school.
Any other encouragement for parents of small children, foster/adoptive parents, or future parents?
God is so sweet to give us the gift of loving His creation and His children. Enjoy the moments as they are fleeting. When things are hard, ask for help. Don’t be too hard on yourself, but evaluate your “why” often. Always give another hug, say another i love you, and point out the good more than you do the bad. Your children are watching you in awe and wonderment. When they make mistakes, connect with them before correcting them. Connection is key. Consider time in before time out. Words can build and tear down…building is always better. We can discipline our kids, teach them lessons, prepare them for life, and give them all the love in the world…but sharing Jesus is our greatest gift to them. It’s ok to own our parenting mistakes and ask for forgiveness because that is real life. Give freely and often and draw your kiddos in every chance you get. They need you and want you more than they can express, no matter their age.
As a bonus, we had the pleasure of hearing a few words from Tracy’s oldest two children, Kynlee and Carter. They shared with us their favorite things about being a foster/adoptive family and a few heartwarming stories from the point of view of a sibling in a gaggle of children. 😉
One of my favorite things about being in a foster/adoptive family is the way our community has supported us through the thick and thin. I can’t tell you how many times people brought dinner, supplies, gift cards, and everything in between. We could not have built the relationships with these kids without the help of our community.
One of my favorite stories is the night before we had a home study, it felt like half of our town was here building, decorating, cleaning etc. Without their help there was a possibility that we wouldn’t have passed. I’m so thankful for all of those people who contributed to putting the final touches to our house!!
I love building relationships with our kids because they have taught me so much about Jesus and the love He has for us. All of these kids are different from each other yet love each other so much. Having our little ones as my younger siblings has taught me that it’s okay to be different and to be strong in who you are. Despite the trauma and hardships they went through as babies they have grown up to be truly remarkable kiddos and I can’t imagine my life without them.
My favorite part of being a foster sibling is being a part of kids’ lives when they haven’t always had a sibling that wants to be a part of their lives. A lot of times, foster kids haven’t spent their whole lives with their biological siblings, so it’s very important as a foster sibling to fill that hole in their hearts with a positivity they’ll never forget. I am the oldest in our family and have the privilege impacting a lot of hearts.
A heartwarming story I have is probably re-meeting one of the foster kids that my parents had when I was younger. I didnt remember him that well because I was so young, but meeting him and knowing he was the guy who was my older brother at one time was really cool.