Mom to many: Casselton teacher, mother of 9 says she’s never lonelyCasselton, N.D. - In that hectic time between the final school bell and dinner, Tanya Parker pauses to shoot some hoops with her boys and play piano with her soon-to-be stepdaughter before quizzing another future stepdaughter on her spelling words and making sure another daughter is caught up on her math homework.
By: By Tracy Frank, INFORUM
Casselton, N.D. - In that hectic time between the final school bell and dinner, Tanya Parker pauses to shoot some hoops with her boys and play piano with her soon-to-be stepdaughter before quizzing another future stepdaughter on her spelling words and making sure another daughter is caught up on her math homework.
As a kindergarten teacher and mother of nine, Parker is always on.
A painted phrase stenciled above the dining table where three children work on homework proclaims, “Love, laughter, and friendship always welcome here.” It’s a sentiment that seems to ring true in Parker’s home.
The 38-year-old Casselton woman has two biological children, three adopted children, and three who will become her stepchildren when she remarries in September. She also has a step-daughter from a previous marriage who Parker says will “always be my daughter.”
Parker went through two miscarriages and a stillbirth before she had her first biological child. She started fostering before adopting, and two of her adopted children are also biological siblings.
“I have a very blended family,” she says with a laugh.
Parker says she adores the unconditional love that comes with being a mom.
“They can cheer me up on a bad day and put a smile on my face in an instant,” she said.
Mark Robinson, Parker’s fiancé, says she has treated his kids like her own from day one.
“She doesn’t favor anybody,” he said, adding that when she goes shopping, she comes back with outfits for all of the kids, his included.
The kids were even part of Robinson’s marriage proposal. During family game night, they spelled out ‘Will you marry me” on the Scrabble game board with the ring as the letter “o.” They’re also going to be the bridesmaids and groomsmen at Parker and Robinson’s wedding.
“It was so important to us that they were all on board with the marriage,” she said.
The good, bad and busy
The hardest part of mothering so many, she says, is getting in the middle when her kids are fighting.
“They all have their moments, but they’re fairly well-behaved kids,” she said.
Parker, who has three siblings, says she has always wanted a big family.
“I have always loved working with kids,” she said.
Parker is in her 15th year teaching kindergarten at Central Cass Elementary School. She has also worked as a babysitter, nanny, cheerleading advisor and Sunday school teacher.
Parker says she sometimes wishes her kids got her earlier in the day because after a day spent with 18 5- and 6-year-olds, she’s used up a lot of her patience. And as soon as her students are dismissed, her own kids are waiting at her classroom door. Still, Parker has a calm way of handling her kids, even during the craziest part of the day.
To de-stress, she takes quiet moments for herself and says she doesn’t need long. A drive to the grocery store without the radio on or running home to her empty house for her lunch break, she says, is enough.
Organization is key to managing meals, medications and everyone’s activities. Parker has a color-coded desk calendar she says is her Bible. And she takes a picture of the calendar with her phone so she has it wherever she goes.
Their stairwell is lined with photos of the kids in dance, gymnastics, baseball and football. Activities, Parker says, are important for peer interaction and keeping kids out of trouble.
When she cooks a hot dish or lasagna, she makes two so she can freeze one, if it doesn’t get eaten first.
Parker says she’ll spend a whole Sunday planning meals and that they should buy a cow with as much milk as they go through.
As busy as she is, Parker says it’s important to take time to make each of her kids feel special. That’s why she plans big, themed birthday parties for them until they turn 10 and takes them on one-on-one outings called “Mommy Days.”
“Their personalities shine when it’s just one of them. I wish I could do it more often,” she said. “Because we do have such a big family, I want each and every one of them to feel like it is their day and it’s all about them.”
And the kids seem to appreciate the extra effort.
“She’s lots of fun,” said 8-year-old Jaxon Parker.
“I like how she brings me to get my nails and my toes done,” 9-year-old Jayden said. “Sometimes we go to get haircuts together.”
Jayden and her mom are also shopping buddies, they said.
“We’re divas,” Jayden said.
Sometimes Parker worries her kids might be at a disadvantage having so many siblings.
“Then I see them go off and play and always with somebody different,” she said. “They always have a different buddy.”
With so many kids, laundry becomes a daily chore, so she teaches her kids to be independent. They all know how to start a load of laundry, and they put their own clothes away, she said.
Her sister, Tamie Maddocks of West Fargo, says Parker is a wonderful, caring mother.
“She’s even-tempered, patient and kind. She’s not afraid to admit when something she’s doing isn’t working and is able to make adjustments,” Maddocks said. “She is teaching them what it means to be gracious young people that will grow into fine adults one day.”
While she sometimes feels overwhelmed, Parker says she also feels so blessed and she is never lonely.
“I sleep well at night,” she said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526