LoveToKnow recently had the honor of conducting a Duggar family interview with homeschooling mom Michelle Duggar. Michelle is mom to 18 children and wife to Jim Bob Duggar, as well as teacher, cook, housewife, author and the many other hats she wears on a daily basis. She was an absolute delight to interview - warm, friendly and filled with such a pure and joyful spirit that you instantly feel as though she could easily become one of your favorite people. Her ability to handle multiple tasks was apparent as she watched over a sleeping baby while answering questions.
How the Duggar Family Started
Even though LoveToKnow chatted with Michelle Duggar, the interview was actually about the entire amazing Duggar family of 18 children, how Jim Bob and Michelle juggle it all and their parenting philosophies.
LoveToKnow (LTK): First of all, thank you for taking the time out of your very busy schedule to share some thoughts with our readers. How did you and Jim Bob meet?
Michelle Duggar (MD): When I was 15, I got saved and committed my life to the Lord. It was the first time I'd ever heard what Jesus had done for me and I had a hunger to learn about the things of God. A friend went to the same church Jim Bob went to. She invited me to her church. Ironically, I do not remember meeting Jim Bob. The church ended up getting cards from people who visited and would invite them back.
So, Jim Bob, who attended Shiloh Christian High School, and his friend, who attended Springdale Public High School, were out on visitation on a Tuesday night and had gone through the three visitation cards they had in their possession. No one else was home and they prayed about whom to go see.
Fred Pearrow said, "I know this girl from school that just got saved and is a cheerleader."
Jim Bob said, "I'd better go visit her."
The mutual friend brought Jim Bob to my house. They invited me to Sunday school and talked to me about my commitment I'd made. I remember talking to the friend, but not to Jim Bob. To this day, he says that when he met me, after he left, he prayed at the doorway: "Lord, I would love to be her spiritual leader. Can she be mine?"
Jim Bob never forgot me and kept praying for me and our possible future together. A year later, he came to pick his mom up from the yogurt shop she managed and she said, "There is this girl who applied for a job. Her name is Michelle Ruark.
Jim Bob said, "You need to hire her."
I remember meeting him when he came in to fix the cash register. I asked who he was and we met and he invited me to go to his Junior/Senior Banquet at Shiloh Christian. I eagerly agreed to go.
He brought me home and we discussed the Bible for four hours. I remember when he left, I stood in that same doorway that he'd stood in a year before, looked up and said, "Father, I can't imagine anyone better than this that you have planned for me. He's such a Godly man."
From there, we believe our hearts were knit together. We graduated high school in May of 1984 and were married in July. I was 17 and Jim Bob was 19.
18 Kids So Far!
LTK: You made a decision to accept as many children as the Lord would bless you with. Would you share a little about that decision? Did you ever imagine you'd have 18?
MD: We never dreamed we would have 18! Yet, early in our marriage God really changed our hearts in the way we viewed children. We'd just had our first child, Josh, four years into marriage. I'd been on the birth control pill the first part of our marriage. I went off and got pregnant with Josh and went back on and ended up getting pregnant while on the pill and had a miscarriage. We were grieving, broken hearted, realizing we were holding one baby in our arms and enjoying him, but we'd just lost a baby. We began to search scriptures and God said children are a gift, blessing and reward from Him. We got on our knees and prayed for forgiveness for not cherishing and appreciating the gifts He wanted to give us.
We prayed: "Father please just give us the love for children that you have. We give that area of our lives to you."
We found out right after that we were expecting twins. We felt it was a double blessing. God was encouraging our hearts. We're still learning. It's really so unusual, because I breastfeed my babies, but my children are so close together. I have a baby and then eight months later I'm expecting. Just another unusual thing the Lord has seen fit to do with our situation.
LTK: You mentioned that you breastfeed your babies. How long are you able to breastfeed?
MD: I'm breastfeeding the baby until I can't anymore. About a month into pregnancy, the milk dries up. The baby is not content and by about nine months of age (longest I've been able to breastfeed a baby), we're done. The average length of time between my children is 16 to 18 months apart.
LTK: Most homeschoolers know that teaching just a few children can be a challenge, but you have homeschooled all of your children. How do you make sure every child is receiving the help he or she needs with school work and how do the older children help?
MD: As the years have gone on, we definitely have older ones that are such a blessing that will jump in and help. I think every homeschool mom probably struggles with "I feel like I'm not cutting it. I feel inadequate. This one I want to make sure I work on this and this one that." That is always something in the back of our minds as homeschool parents. The incredible thing is, having watched the older ones, all the fretting, and yet they've excelled. Why'd I put myself through that? It's par for the course.
I finally realized having these older ones, the good thing for them is they could mentor the younger ones with stuff they've already mastered. It helps reinforce their skills too.
I encouraged the older ones, "You're the fastest math drill one I know. You could really encourage Jason, who is just beginning. I'll give you flash cards and you guys sit over here 30 minutes after lunch and do flash cards and I'll give you both a treat when you're done."
It's amazing how my children have enjoyed the time they've spent together doing that. When you teach is when you really learn. I have them doing fun little things, like practicing violin or flash cards. There is a precious mentoring relationship that takes place. I've been amazed, my little guys learn so much faster when they are mentoring with an older sibling.
LTK: Another area where many homeschooling parents struggle is with reluctant learners. Any tips for motivating children to be more excited about subjects they aren't as interested in, but need to function in everyday life?
MD: I know that I have some of mine that are easily distracted or poor learners in a certain area.
I would call Jim Bob and say, "I'm a terrible teacher. It isn't working. I'm going over the same things and it isn't clicking."
He would say, "Michelle, don't give up. When I was a kid, I felt like I was behind in the classroom. Everyone else would finish their tests and I'd still be sitting there."
With the slower pupils, try not to get bent out of shape and try not to be frustrated or angry with them, because that can squelch their spirit. They feel they are discouraging or disappointing you. You are the first one that is challenged as a homeschool mom, because you can't push too hard or be too firm.
I try to find practical ways to make it as fun as I can and as exciting as I can, but still push them to go beyond what they feel they could do.
I would set a timer and I'd say, "Alright, we've gone over this concept. I want you to see how fast you can finish this page of work I'm giving you. As soon as you're finished, push the button and bring me the timer so I can see what your time was and write it on the paper."
If they eventually get it in a certain amount of time, or the writing is really neat, I'll give a reward. I'm a mom who is big on rewards. There's a benefit for working hard. You don't get a reward for nothing, but you do get rewarded for hard work, such as one-on-one time with mom for a big goal. I might take them to the store, and get ice cream and go shopping together. I may keep candy around the house and will reward them with three skittles for something they've accomplished. I'm constantly looking for ways to reward them. Other moms do charts and stickers. This was overwhelming for me. So, I did quick and spontaneous instead.
We might do school outside sometimes, because it lightens and brightens things up. We already took advantage of that today. When you called, I was outside on the porch with one of my littler guys. It's a beautiful day. I separate myself away with the one that's struggling and try to make it fun. It's hard work. They get tired. We may do jumping jacks or walk around house and then get back to work.
Scheduling and Curriculum
LTK: Could you share a basic daily schedule?
MD: We're not morning birds. We are both night owls. We work around what Dad's schedule is. We may go to bed at 10:30. We usually have Bible time at 8:30 and then the little guys are asleep around 9:00. Our day begins usually around 7:00 a.m., sometimes 8:00 a.m. After supper we may even be finishing lessons. Music practice is usually after dinner.
LTK: What type of curriculum do you use and why?
MD: We have used ACE Paces for math, English and spelling. Recently, within the last year and a half, we have started using ALPHA OMEGA SOS. Third grade and up are doing school on the computer and they really enjoy that. We have an in-house system, because we are like a school with the number of students we have. Jessa is the administrator. She keeps up with all that. They have to make a certain grade before they move forward. If they don't, she will reassign and do it again.
We also do Typing Tutor. I do Sing Spell Read and Write for phonics and have done all along. Some of my girls have helped with their little buddies in teaching reading.
Dealing with Burnout
LTK: Do you ever get burnt out from teaching, being a mom and all the million things a wife, mother and homeschooling mom has to do? How do you regain the strength to keep going when things get tough?
MD: I cry out to God. That's all I can do. I've been at that place many times and sometimes many times during a day. Especially when they were all young and I had like eight under the age of eight! I cry out to God, because He gives creativity and strength. I remember Corinthians 12:9 - "My grace is sufficient for you."
At times when I am weak and feel inadequate, He will give me a glimmer of hope and encouragement or a creative idea or time out with Jim Bob, where I can regroup and come back refreshed . Sometimes He sends Nanna or whoever else I need to hear encouragement from. He said He will hear us when we cry to Him. It's a good cry. We're not going to cry and throw fits, but there are good cries. He will meet us where we are and help us. I also seek counsel from others who've gone before me and pioneered the path I'm struggling with.
LTK: If you could share just one thing with homeschooling parents that they should teach their children, what would it be?
MD: Two things that I have always said to my children. If you do these two things, you will be a success in life. Number one, you love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Number two, love others and treat them the way you'd want to be treated. If you do and practice those two things every day of life, no matter the vocation or ministry you go into, you will be a success in life.