When Shannon first wrote to me, she told me her lovely, lovely story and then said, “If the stars align and you decided to share my story, I will definitely take better pictures. I had to hurry and submit them before I lost my nerve, so they’re unedited.”

And I replied, without even looking at the photos, “I don’t care where you live. You’ve got an inspiring story to tell, and I can’t wait to share you with everyone.”

It was true. But then I saw her photos and squealed. Girl’s got some style! So please join me in welcoming sweet Shannon. You’re going to love this one.

Hi! I’m super excited to be here with y’all, and to have the opportunity to share my home and story!

My name is Shannon. I’ve been a stay at home mom for 20 years. I recently opened an online shop selling mainly vintage home goods and art. My husband and bestie is Jad. He is an E-Commerce Executive, but most importantly he’s Dad and Pop to our big brood. Together we have seven kids. Here’s a quick introduction…

Adara is 21. She’s feisty, driven, independent, and most of all, a mama’s girl. She currently lives in Texas, but is soon moving back home to Georgia, which makes me all kinds of happy!

Joshua is 17. He’s heartfelt, intellectually gifted, has the ability to make me laugh to the point of peeing myself (TMI?), and loves body building.

Savannah is 16, and a dancer, pianist, nerdy smart in all the best ways, and wears her heart on her sleeve.

Adrian is 12 and Jad’s stepson from first marriage. He’s an athlete, sweetheart, and honor roll student. He lives with his mama out of state, but we see him as much as possible.

Sydney is 11. She’s a play actress, singer, pianist, and known for being a little mommy around here, and loves interior design just like I do!

Ian, aka Lover Boy, is eight. He’s a little charmer, sweet as pie, and a giant goofball.

Adeline is two. She is bossy, silly, dramatic, and a daddy’s-girl through and through.

My story begins when I was a teen. Two weeks after turning 17, I gave birth to my first baby, Adara. I had her with my middle/high school sweetheart, Jad. Though Jad and I loved each other, we were young and still had a TON of growing up to do. A few months after our daughter was born, Adara and I moved to Utah to live with my grandparents and have a fresh start.

Fast forward two years, I married a man named Mark. We were married for 16 years and had four amazing children together. After living in Utah for several years, we moved to Georgia for Mark’s job, where we eventually divorced.

Shortly after, Jad and I rekindled our relationship. We were both at a crossroads in our lives, both now single with him having recently gone through a divorce, as well. There we were, having come full circle. We were no longer kids grappling with who we were, or what we wanted in life. We were now in our mid-thirties – okay, late thirties – and each had a better understanding of who we were and where we wanted to go with our lives.

We quickly fell hard in love again. In some ways it was like we picked up right where we left off all those years back, yet so much had changed. Most importantly, together we had this whole gang of kids, and we were determined to make it all work! So Jad made the trek from his beloved California to Georgia to be with us.

The icing on the cake was becoming pregnant! 19 years after having our first baby girl, I gave birth to our sweet Adeline. The cherry on top of the icing was getting married this past summer. We did so in my grandparents’ backyard in Utah nestled in the foothills of Provo canyon under an arbor my dad built for us. Our kids made up our wedding party, and our closest friends and family were there to celebrate with us. We ate tacos and danced into the night with the people we loved most. It was nothing short of magical.

We live in the suburban town of Johns Creek, Georgia, about 40 minutes north of Atlanta. It’s a sweet spot here in the South, having excellent schools and affordable housing. We live in a culturally diverse area, which I love. The best part is, we live just 20 minutes from my best friend, which makes all things more fun!

Though we live in the South, I wouldn’t say our area, known as the metro Atlanta area, provides a very southern experience. Most of us are transplants from other states or countries. Family that comes to visit us are usually disappointed with the lack of southern drawls. Ha!

Johns Creek and its surrounding cities are made up of beautiful tree-lined streets, winding country roads, classic homes, and all the modern conveniences one could want. We have a gorgeous paved trail, called the Greenway, that’s shrouded in trees and spans for miles. It is used to bike, run, rollerblade, and to take leisure walks. It provides a lovely escape that’s practically in our backyards.

The biggest downside to living in Georgia is the distance we live from our extended families.

As I’m sure you can imagine, our home is all hustle and bustle. For the most part, it’s not a quiet or peaceful house, and we’re okay with that. It’s super important to Jad and I that our home is a place our kids WANT to be. Their friends are always welcome. We have an open kitchen and pantry policy, which keeps them coming. It’s really just a sneaky maneuver to keep a better eye on them.

For the sake of writing this for many to see, I’d like to say that the secret to keeping order around here is due to the organized chores the children all do to keep it so. However, the truth is I’m terribly inconsistent in the way of assigning routine chores! One non-negotiable with our children is that they pitch in when asked. If asked to clean their rooms, or help a sibling with homework, etc. we expect them to do it. Pitching in and showing love through service to one another is what keeps our family tight-knit and functioning as a whole.

I think it’s safe to say that divorce isn’t easy. It encompasses so many hard things; heartache, change, and grief, to name a few. Mark and I fought for our marriage over the years, but ultimately decided to divorce. Albeit difficult, there was peace in the decision.

The most difficult part to deal with was the feeling of guilt over hurting our children. They felt sadness I couldn’t mama bear away, and it broke my heart to know I’d inflicted this pain upon them! That was the hardest pill to swallow. We said all the things to the kids you’re supposed to say to comfort them, reassuring them that this was in NO WAY their fault.

In hindsight, if there’s anything I wish I had done differently during that time, it’s that I would have stepped outside myself more. I would have tried harder to put myself in their shoes. I would have spent less time busying myself to keep from facing the guilt of it all, and more time embracing them. Even if words weren’t exchanged, just to have been more present with them in those quiet moments when their minds may have wandered and got the best of them. I don’t say these things in an effort to throw a pity party for myself, but in an effort to be honest with y’all…and myself.

Mark met his (now) wife soon after we divorced. I’m very proud to say that the four of us parents are a powerhouse team! We all work well together for the betterment of our kiddos.

In the beginning of this new arrangement there was some push and pull, and a learning curve, but we quickly got the hang of it. It’s fundamental to us all that the kids never feel torn between the households, or us as their parents. Our oldest, Adara, refers to us as “all of her parents” and it speaks volumes. We’re a family of sorts!

To me, one of the most unique and beautiful aspects of our story is that Mark loves and helped raise Adara as his own, and in return, Jad is now doing the same with mine and Mark’s children. I’m in awe of my husband, Jad (aka Pop), for how he endlessly serves our children and for genuinely loving them all as his own.

I also feel love and admiration for my children’s step-mom, Katie. Without hesitation, she took on five extra kids, in addition to her own daughter, and all the responsibilities they bring. No small feat.

A subject I want to touch on involves our son, Josh. He is this lovely, brilliant kid, who has struggled with drug addiction in recent years. In an effort to respect his privacy, I’m not going to get into too many specifics about his addiction, but I do have some things I’d like to share on the subject.

I’m going to start by telling you that denial is a very real and powerful action! It took a good bit of time for me to get to where I was ready to accept the reality of the situation. I’ll never forget the first time Jad told me Josh was an addict. I’m pretty sure I looked at him sideways and may have scoffed a bit, too. Not only was I in denial, but I unknowingly enabled him as well.

My intentions were pure and I acted out of love for my son, however, there’s a distinction between the goodness in my intentions, and whether my actions were in-themselves good.

Some examples of how I enabled him are: making excuses for his behavior, brushing off his behaviors in the form of denial, and helping him clean up (so to speak) the messes he found himself in. I would do so by writing school excuse notes as to why he didn’t show up to school, or by reaching out to his teachers in hopes that he could make up a missed test. An even bigger whammy was telling the police officer not to arrest, or pursue charges against our son – because, after all, us parents had it “under control.” 

All these things were done in an effort to protect our son, but we robbed him of the consequences of his actions, and ultimately learning from them. As soon as denial was no longer a part of the equation, we acted quickly. Josh spent three different stints in rehabs over the course of several months. (Feel free to contact me for recommendations.) In his last rehab stay, we learned that drug addiction is a disease. We also learned that once you know you have this disease, you have a responsibility to act accordingly and take care of it.

I’m thrilled to say Josh is doing just that! He is doing well, and we are healing as a family. With our support he chose to move out of state to live with his grandparents to start anew. We miss him dearly, so we talk on the phone and FaceTime often. Admittedly I’ve gone through a bit of a grieving process. I’ve not only had to grieve him leaving the nest early, but also the last couple years that Josh wasn’t himself.

That being said, he is where he should be, and we are all so very grateful for that.

A perfect day for me would start in jammies and end in jammies. I couldn’t help but laugh at myself as I wrote that, but it’s the dang truth! The kids take the bus to and from school, so some days I can actually pull it off!

Wrangling a toddler and the laundry alone can keep me pretty busy on a typical day. In order to keep the house from getting too cluttered and messy, we use a ton of hooks, small storage containers, baskets, and even a set of old school lockers.  Most everything has a place, which helps me from feeling too frazzled by the sheer amount of stuff we accumulate.

We certainly span the gamut of emotions around here. We cry, raise our voices, and argue, but we also laugh a ton. I’d say we speak in strange unidentifiable accents a good portion of the time, and Jad is known to bust out a cool (actually totally dorky) signature dance from time to time. It’s a whole lot of fun around here, and I hope that’s one of the things the kids remember most about our home.

I hope walking in the front door feels like a warm embrace, a place they can be themselves and feel most at ease. I’m not naive to think that all of their memories of us as their parents will conjure feelings of joy, but I very much hope that what stands out most is our infinite love for them.

My most favorite thing about living with my kids is the fullness I feel.

The kids certainly bicker, but they also love each other so deeply, and so often choose to spend time together. Nothing warms my heart more than observing the love they have for each other. It’s a ridiculously beautiful thing, and I’m grateful for it.

I wish someone had told me not to expend so much emotional energy worrying about what others thought – or better yet, what I assumed they thought – of me and my choices as a mother. 

I would have fretted less about whether my neighbors believed I was doing my children a disservice by not having their afternoons chock-full of extra-curricular activities, or whether the conservative ladies in my congregation would judge me for allowing my daughter to wear a tank top. 

I would have had more conviction and confidence in the ways in which I rear my children.

–-

Hers was a really good story, wasn’t it? And I’m not sure what you gleaned from it, but here’s the underlying message I loved the most: Shannon forgives herself. She forgives others. And she’s grateful. All little reminders I’m keeping. Because forgiveness all around plus a thankful mindset is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and the world around us.

Also, I must send Shannon an extra thank you hug for sharing her son’s struggles. Your generosity will save someone. I can feel it.

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me know! We love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.