I was delighted when Katharina reached out to me about sharing her home on Living With Kids. She and her family built their home in the German countryside. The details feels smart and carefully chosen, and the whole home is beautifully put together. As I looked at the photos, I noticed the European influence — the scale feels different than American homes, and there are nooks and crannies to discover. Katharina has wonderful things to say about understanding what makes us happy, and how we spend our time. It was a refreshing read for me this week. Welcome, Katharina!
Living With Kids: Katharina Tieben-
I am Katharina, and my husband, Christian, and I live in a village close to Hannover in the North of Germany, Europe. We have three little boys, Johann (10), Anton (8), and Emil (3). Life is turbulent, loud, wild, funny, and sometimes really exhausting.
Today, I am so very glad that my husband and I decided to buy this little patch of land in the countryside where we built our house in 2006. To be frank, living in the countryside had not always been part of my plans for the future. I am a city girl, and my siblings and I grew up in the suburbs of one of Germany’s biggest cities, Cologne.
I loved living close to Cologne, where life was exciting, vibrant and had so much to offer. Back in those days, when I was dreaming about my future, I would envision myself living in a fancy apartment right in the center of the town, with all the opportunities and advantages a big city like Cologne had to offer.
Well, as life goes, things changed. Christian, my future husband, and I first met on a summer holiday in Spain. At that time, I was still living and studying in Cologne, and he had just finished his degree in business. He was working in the North of Germany, and he was very clear about the fact that he wasn’t about to move somewhere else. That, by the way, is something I have always loved about him. He is a super loyal person, deeply rooted in his hometown and very close to his friends and family.
Though our relationship had some kind of a rocky start, it soon turned out that this was IT. So, as much as I loved “my town”, Cologne, I decided that I was going to move. I finished my degree and found a job as a translator in Hannover, close to the little town Christian came from.
As our relationship grew stronger and it became more and more obvious that we wanted to get married, have children and build a future with each other, buying or building our own house became part of our plans as well. Both of us had been lucky enough to grow up in homes with plenty of space, nice backyards to play in and friends and schools close by. And that was what we wanted for our future kids.
One day, a friend took us to a nice little village outside Hannover and showed us a lovely piece of land surrounded by cornfields and within walking distance from the forest that forms a natural border to the neighbouring small town. This was exactly what Christian and I had had in mind when we were daydreaming of building a home for us. So, we bought the land and built our house.
I enjoyed the process of designing a house for our future family, and I loved how this house eventually became our home. Now, that we’re raising three wonderful little boys in this place, I have really come to appreciate living in the countryside. The kids can go to school by bike, and little Emil and I enjoy our morning walks to Kindergarten. It’s not very often that I get to spend one-on-one time with the kids, so going on a walk with my youngest in the morning is a ritual that is important to both of us.
As far his older brothers are concerned, I think that living in a village where there’s not as much traffic as in the bigger cities, and where school, friends and hobbies can be reached by bike so conveniently, makes them quite independent and teaches them useful lessons for their future lives — even if, at his point, it’s maybe just learning to keep track of the time.
In 2013, my husband had to deal with some major health issues, and as a consequence we started thinking about the right priorities in our lives. That was when we began to talk a lot about our individual ideas of living a good life, about things we could do to make it easier to relax and to re-energize, and about taking a slower approach to living.
We also noticed the importance of taking a couple hours off now and then — without feeling bad about it. It’s so much easier to appreciate and enjoy all those little but valuables moments in life when you’re getting the chance to take yourself out of the hustle and bustle of life with three kids for a while, to get away from the busy, demanding lives we’re all leading — even if it’s just taking a walk or sneaking away and reading a couple of pages in a favourite book.
By the way: It was quite a surprise to find out how hard it can be to actually identify what’s good for you. I guess it’s because we’re so caught in the duties and chores of our every-day-lives, that we easily forget to take care about ourselves. I think that we all have it in us. Deep within our souls, we know what helps us to relax, we know what we love to do. We only have to learn to listen to that voice. Sometimes, it is not easy. Life is busy, and most of us are under a lot of pressure – from outside as well as pressure that we put on ourselves.
It was then that I started to think actively about what I could do for myself to relax. Though I really enjoy being a stay-at-home-mom, taking care of the kids, of our home and the family, I sometimes feel the need to do something that connects me to the outside world, something that offers me a kind of creative outlet and gives me the chance to connect to other people.
I have always liked decorating our home, as well as loved (and still do love) reading books and magazines on interiors, and one day not too long ago I decided to open an account on Instagram and to share some of my ideas about interior design.
My intention is to create a place where my boys can be themselves, enjoy their lives, grow and thrive. To me, “home” means far more than just a place to live. Home means warmth and comfort, a haven where the boys know they are, and will always be, loved and respected. For who they are, not despite of who they are. But I also want to create a home that I love to live in myself, a home that is a refuge as well as a source of inspiration, a place that allows me to relax as well as to gain new energy for this crazy life out there.
Of course, it is not very easy to throw all of these ideas into the mix and actually get the perfect result in the end. My husband and I had (and still have) to find the right mixture of our individual design preferences. While I prefer a calm and timeless style with muted colors and rustic elements made of wood or stone, my husband likes the style of the Swinging Sixties, all with bold patterns and a colorful mix of orange, green, brown and red.
For a beginning, I guess we have managed to solve this design conflict quite easily by deciding to style most of the rooms in a more classic, set back kind of style, while he is having his way in his office — including a vintage tea-cart, his collection of LPs, and Elvis Presley posters on the walls.
We do share a love for furniture with a story, though. We prefer things that become even more beautiful through age or wear. You can find several pieces of vintage furniture in our house: Some have been painted, others haven’t, some have been given to us by parents and grandparents, some we have bought at flea markets or brought home from garage sales. These pieces do not only tell stories of former times, they also make our home personal and our design style individual.
As for the kids, designing their rooms hasn’t been that much of a problem. They simply need enough space to set up their LEGO and PLAYMOBIL worlds and to get creative with their respective projects, like working with their science experiments kits or creating hundreds of tiny drawing for their own comic-style books.
Though I really want my kids to feel like our home is a place to enjoy and to have fun, I still think that it should be a place for us grown-ups to feel comfortable in. And, at least for my part, feeling comfortable requires a certain amount of order. I simply find it hard to relax while looking at piles of toy cars, stuffed animals or costumes the boys use to play dress-up.
I guess that’s one of the reasons why I prefer a clear and simple decorative style, with not too many objects and eye-catchers. I am easily overwhelmed by all the stuff that keeps appearing in our living-room-area throughout the day. Keeping my decoration simple gives me a sense of still being in control — strange as that may sound.
Don’t get me wrong here. I don’t expect my home to constantly look like one of those homes that get pictured in glossy lifestyle-magazines. It’s a real home for real people. In my opinion, our home should, above all, serve the purposes and needs of our family.
I still have to admit, though, that I feel very much drawn to those glossy lifestyle-magazine-homes. I guess that’s because I have always associated order, cleanliness and calm with feeling of, well, yes, of control. Living this turbulent live with three little boys means there are lots of thing I actually cannot control. That’s not always easy for me.
I tried to set up a fixed schedule for the boys’ chores. Picking-up and cleaning their rooms, for example, was supposed to happen every Friday afternoon. But then, seeing how many hours they spent being creative and using their imagination to set up huge LEGO- and PLAYMOBIL-scenes, I often couldn’t bring myself to forcing them taking it all down again. To be honest, another day or two usually do not matter that much when it comes to hoovering the floors.
One thing I do insist on, however, is that they clean their bathroom every Saturday morning. When we moved into this house and were on a tight budget, we kept the kids’ bathroom very simple. Now, that the boys have to take care of this room, I am quite happy about it’s simple design, because it makes cleaning so much easier. Since I am a stay-at-home- mom, my boys are home from school at 1 p.m. most of the days (this is the usual schedule for Kindergarten and elementary school).
The German school system is a bit different from the American: From the age of three to six, the kids attend Kindergarten, which is followed by Grundschule (elementary school) for kids between six and ten. After the fourth grade of elementary school, kids can choose between different school types for higher education, according to their individual performance.
This kind of system does put a lot of pressure on the kids: They need the highest possible school degree (the “Abitur”) if they want to go and study at a university. Very often, pressure is very high on parents as well, which can lead to a very competitive atmosphere already in elementary school.
I, for my part, try to put not too much pressure on my boys. I think they are still way too young to become part of this treadmill. It’s not always easy not to compare their performance with the performance of their classmates, or to be patient when they find it hard to concentrate on their homework. But then again, they are still little boys, right? So, I try to let them be little, and to say “Yes” more often than “No”.
Of course, I firmly believe that my kids are smart enough to make it out there (what mom doesn’t?), and that they’ll one day be leading successful lives. Above all, I want them to be happy, though. And to be happy, you need to know what you love doing, and to find out what you’re really good at. That process takes time, and I guess that having a childhood that leaves enough room for just being yourself, for simply being a kid, is the key.
I love it when we’re sitting around our dining table, talking about what happened in Kindergarten and school, and I am so happy that my boys still ask for my advice so very often. For my part, I do my best to make them strong and self-confident and to help them to keep an open eye for needs and worries of other people as well.
As far as living with my kids is concerned, I am still struggling to find the right balance between letting my boys be kids (i.e. playing, shouting, having fun and meanwhile creating a huge mess all over the house), and keeping up with my own standards of having a home that is organized, clean and uncluttered.
Sometimes I catch myself picking up after my boys all day long, to create that particular state of order I want my house to be in — just to discover that this state lasts, well, maybe a couple of minutes. Perhaps you’re rolling your eyes, but it took me quite a while to figure out that that having it picture-perfect is not what counts. And, even today, it’s still not always easy for me to lean back and let things happen — and to simply enjoy this precious, special time with my kids.
I know that creating childhood memories is not about living in a super organized house and moving around in clutter-free rooms. Or about a mom who’s constantly reminding her kids of their chores. It’s about the absolute certainty of being loved. Of being safe. And of knowing that there’s this place you can always turn to, whatever trouble you might be in. That’s home.
I guess that, as far as creating a home for your family is concerned, it doesn’t make such a big difference whether you live in the U.S. or in Germany or any other place. Design styles might be different, the floor plans of the houses we live in, the way we typically spend our every-day-lives, and, of course, individual standards. But in the end, it’s all about creating the home that’s just right for your family, isn’t it?
Thank you, Katharina! Your home is dreamy. I can just imagine sitting out on that beautiful patio, or cooking breakfast while one of the little ones plays on the swing in the kitchen. It truly seems like a magical place to grow up. Even the sloped ceilings in the bedrooms make it feel whimsical and cozy and the same time.
I really loved when Katharina said this, “It was quite a surprise to find out how hard it can be to actually identify what’s good for you.” Isn’t that the truth? I think so many of us get caught up doing the things we think we “should” do, either because we think they’ll make us happier or because we are trying to live to make someone else happy. I should go the the gym more, I should do more volunteering at my kids school, I should have this kind of car. It can seem almost impossible to be still and quiet in our souls and listen to that inner voice that really knows what we want and what makes us happy. But it is in that space that we find our point of power. When we are living the way our heart truly wants to, I believe we are able to create the life that we want.
Is it easy for you to follow your inner voice and do what you know to be right for you? Or do you find yourself getting caught up in the expectations others have for you (or your own self-imposed expectations)? What things do you do to help you find stillness and connect to your inner self?
Katharina’s lovely Instagram can be found here. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram. Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.