By Gabrielle.

When Susan wrote and expressed interest in participating in a Living With Kids tour, she mentioned that she lives in Tulsa, that she teaches at a University, that she has two teen girls and a son, and that she strives to make her home a place to teach her kids the importance of hospitality.

Hospitality? That goal made me think and think and think some more, and I love it more each time. It is a learned skill for a lot of families, don’t you think? Inviting others into your space and making them feel like…well…mi casa es su casa. Easier said in Spanish than done! Perhaps Susan’s words will inspire you to open up your life a little, which I think would be a very lovely development. Welcome, Susan! I’m so glad you’re here!

Q: Introduce us to your favorite people.

A: I am so blessed to get live with my wonderful husband, Brian, and my three children. I am originally from Colorado, and currently work as a faculty member at a University here in Tulsa. Although I don’t have a lot of free time, decorating and being creative with my home is a true love of mine.

Brian and I met in college and have been married for 22 years. Brian develops and manages cancer treatment facilities throughout the Southwest.  He is an amazing husband and father and very involved in the kids’ lives. He rarely misses one of their events. He keeps us laughing and sets the tone for the fun in our family.

I have two teenage daughters in high school. Ashlyn is 16 and Madelyn is 14. Although close in age, I love how different my daughters are from each other, both comfortable in their unique personalities. If I had one word to describe each, Ashlyn, is sugar and our younger daughter Madelyn is spice.  Ashlyn is sweet, responsible, and super organized. She actually likes organizing junk drawers and closets! What an utter relief to delegate these tasks to her! She is a great sounding board for design and has her own flair for decorating. Madelyn is witty, independent, and quite adventurous. She has a competitive streak which makes her a great athlete, but don’t underestimate her love of all things girly. She also has a passion for shopping. In fact, I recently put her on an allowance to teach her the importance of saving, budgeting, and patience when it comes to her love of shopping malls.

Then there’s our son Dylan. He’s ten and all boy. Dylan was a surprise addition to our family, but we’re so glad he’s here. Sometimes things have a way of working out just as they should, as my husband and I were really on the fence about having a third child. Dylan loves all things sports. You’ll often find him watching YouTube videos analyzing plays from the great athletes. He’s quite observant and has his own sense of style. He’s definitely the strongest personality of my three, a leader in the making with a few rough edges we’re working through. I never imagined how fun it would be to have a boy, and I’m so glad to experience parenting both genders.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: We had lived in our previous home for nearly 16 years. My husband and I moved into that home before we even had kids. It was a lovely, one-story home that served us well when we had young children, but we had long outgrown that house as the children were getting older, and knew we needed a house with more space. We needed more areas for the kids to just hang – especially with their friends. I never wanted to discourage my children from having their friends over even though our space was limited. My husband and I distinctly remember times at the old house where we hid out in our bedroom to give our kids space to interact with their friends in the living room.

We looked at existing homes for nearly two years and just couldn’t find a home with a floor plan that worked for our family. We also found many of the existing homes needed a lot of love and remodeling TLC.  We determined that a new construction would actually fit better in our budget, and we wouldn’t need to spend even more money on renovations in addition to the purchase price of the home. We wanted a house with a game room and all three children’s bedrooms upstairs. We also wanted an open downstairs floor plan. So we drew up the plans and found a builder.

Unfortunately the building process was not a smooth one for us. Our builder mismanaged the timeline and budget. The house should have been done in nine months, but a year-and-a-half later it still wasn’t finished and already 25% over budget.  After numerous delays and budget increases, our builder basically walked off the job and left us with an unfinished house. We moved into our filthy, unfinished house the week before Thanksgiving in November 2013. So, moving day wasn’t the day I had been dreaming of for nearly five years. We felt completely ignorant and unequipped to take on the responsibilities of finishing the house, in addition to our full time jobs and raising our family.

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But God bless my husband for rolling up his sleeves and doing what it took to get the house finished! We approached a builder who happened to live in our neighborhood and whose kids went to the same school as ours. He was gracious to share contractor names with us. Brian was on the phone daily lining up contractors to finish the guttering, outside painting, dirt work, sod, pool, and endless odds and ends. Finishing this house felt like a never-ending job. It was certainly one of the most taxing and stressful times we have experienced. But nearly one year later, we are on the other side of it. We are starting to breathe again, enjoy the house, and get back to the place of gratitude for this home that we can create to be uniquely ours. How fortunate we are!

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: Considering that I am from Colorado, and my husband from Washington State, we never thought we would settle in Tulsa after college. But what a wonderful city to live in, especially with children! Also known as Green Country, Tulsa is situated on the Arkansas River at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. The best part of Tulsa is without a doubt the people! Tulsans are kind, friendly, hard-working, and family-oriented.

Between public, private, and home school co-ops, Tulsa provides numerous choices in education. And talk about cost of living! I don’t know that our house would be in our means in many other cities. As far as activities, Tulsa has something for everyone including live music venues, two world-renowned art museums, opera and ballet companies, and even an outstanding zoo and science museum. From enjoying one of Tulsa’s numerous restaurants, to attending a high school football rivalry game, there’s always something to do in our great city. Some choose to live in the trendy parts of town such as Cherry Street, Brookside, and Utica while others prefer the suburbs of South Tulsa. We actually live just 20 minutes outside of Tulsa in a more rural community. Horses and peacock-lined roads make for a fun commute to the grocery store. Tulsa definitely feels like home.

Q: What was the one design element that you wanted to be sure your family home included as it relates to living well with your kids?

A: The design element that I was going for was creating spaces that would facilitate family time and teenager time with friends. I’m not sure those are design elements, but they were serious considerations when creating our spaces. For example, when thinking about the layout in our downstairs living room, in the back of my mind I was thinking, “Do we all have a comfortable place to sit down and watch a movie?”  So two couches and two recliner chairs became the starting point.

When my children have their friends over I wanted there to be spaces that they could all just hang out and feel comfortable to linger. This took some thought and intention, and we ended up with a game room with a television, large sectional and game area and a large backyard with a pool, trampoline, volleyball court, and fire pit. Teenagers need a safe comfortable place to nurture their friendships. I wanted our house to be that place – and fun, too!

I also had to be mindful of the family budget, so I had to be creative to repurpose what we already had. I’ve spent many hours in the garage sanding, staining or repainting furniture pieces. In terms of art, many of the pieces hanging on our walls are items that are very meaningful to us. We framed special items such as my children’s artwork from school, their baby clothes, or my father-in-law’s letters to his parents when he was eight years old and had to spend eight months in the hospital. We’ve found good deals on art pieces that we almost loved. We’re not afraid to paint over the colors we don’t like, and make our own contributions to the art piece.

Q: What’s your favorite time of day in your home? When does it work for everyone best? How does the room decor contribute to this harmony?

A: Without a doubt, our favorite time of day in our home is the evening. After busy days at school and work, this is our time to regroup and relax. We strive to sit down at the dinner table together as a family and catch up. The open floor plan on the first floor allows us to all be together during the evenings. I can be preparing dinner while the kids are doing homework in the office or watching TV in the living room.

When we moved into our house with a second story game room, we thought our kids would spend a lot of time up there. To our delight, they still spend most of their time in our main living area. Our outdoor living space is also an extension of our main living area and a great place to enjoy family time in the evenings. Be it swimming, sitting out on the patio and watching the sunset, or sitting by the fire pit, evenings have become one of our favorite times in our house to relax, catch-up and recharge. Oh, and as a special surprise we’ve discovered is all the fireflies and hummingbirds that visit us at dusk.

Q: You teach at a university. Tell us all about it!

A: When I’m not at home with my own kids, I head off to work and spend my days with my college kids. I am a faculty member at Oral Roberts University, a Christian university in Tulsa. You know what they say about the best part of teacher’s job don’t you? May, June, and July! Just kidding, although summer vacation is a pretty great part of my job.

I’ve been teaching at ORU for the past 18 years. I feel beyond honored and privileged to be in this position. I’m not sure there’s any job that is more fun then teaching college students; they keep me energized and young, and I really feel I’m walking in my true strengths in this position. I teach for the Communications major and I do my best to invest knowledge and new skill sets into my students’ lives, but I must say that my students do just as much of the teaching as I do. I learn a lot from them, and I always marvel at their excitement and vision to go make a difference in their world.

I also have some of the most wonderful co-workers! This job truly has offered me the best of both worlds. I get to have a fulfilling career that offers much flexibility and margin for the other roles in my life. My schedule affords me the ability to always pick up my kids after school. And, of course, I am off during summer and winter breaks, too. I truly feel so blessed when it comes to my job.

Q: We always love a conversation about working and balancing kids…especially teenagers! How has the transition into the true teens – with more responsibility and shared trust – affected your family life?

A: Although not always easy to keep all my plates spinning, I recognize that this is the season in my life that I fully embrace as organized chaos. This season is not easy, and most days are completely exhausting, but I also know that this season will not last forever. In another decade, my children will be in a whole different place. Soon they will not need their parents as much, and we will not be able to spend as much time together. So I will treasure this time with every ounce of gratitude that I can muster. I love watching my kids grow and mature into young adults, who are working hard and making good decisions.

As far as the transition to the teenage years goes, I wish I could say I was one of those sentimental moms, all teary-eyed when my first-born drove off by herself for the first time. All I remember thinking was, “Woo Hoo! I now have a third driver in the family!” I realized that this might just free me up from several hours of driving each week, taking my kids to and from school and their many activities.

Although I respect my daughter’s privacy, another trick to ease my worries of my newly independent teen is the wonderful little App called Find My iPhone. Let me assure you, this provides much peace of mind for a parent dealing with a new driver. We are able to make sure she arrives safely to her locations – especially at night. But I must commend her for doing an excellent job in communicating and always letting us know where she is.

Q: You mentioned that you strive to teach your kids about hospitality and nurturing friendships in your home. Tell us how you do it and why is that an important life skill to you?

A: I find that hospitality is such a dying art in today’s society. We just don’t seem to invite others into our homes like the generations before us did. I know, personally, I shy away from opening up my house because sometimes life feels chaotic and I’m just too darn busy to make time to have others over. And also, I feel that my house has to be perfect before I invite others in. I realized that I had to let go of both of those excuses. I’m trying to teach my children that one of the most important things in our lives are our relationships. But we must nurture them.  So we have been more diligent to open up our house and invite others in. We never regret it.

When my children ask if they can have friends over, I never want to say no. I may have to suggest an alternate time, but I never want to say no. Teenagers like to be together, and they need somewhere safe to hang out. I’d much rather they be at our house then some of the alternatives. Hospitality is a skill set that can be learned, and I want my kids to learn it while they are young.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? 

A: Although every season of raising kids has its own joys and challenges, I just love the current stage we are in with our kids. Perhaps it was the fact that I had a toddler on my hip for twelve years straight that I was ready to transition out of the baby/toddler phase. Those were some hard years!

I have wholeheartedly embraced parenting my older, more independent children. I am somewhat surprised by how great the middle and teenage years are! Based on what you hear about raising teenagers, I had always braced myself for the challenges of the teenage years. So perhaps I am surprised that I am actually enjoying these teenagers of mine immensely. We have our share of teenage moments with attitudes and drama, but on the whole, they are so much fun! We laugh, we get to do things together, we plan for and dream about the future. But best of all, I don’t have to do their laundry or scrub their toilets anymore!

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: I wish someone had told me how caring for my own children would teach me so much about God’s love. Faith is an integral part of my family’s life, and my love for my children is a reminder of God’s love toward me. I love my own children so much. I care about every detail of their lives. I take pride in knowing they are provided for and well cared for. There’s nothing I wouldn’t sacrifice for their well-being.

Through this, I gained a deeper realization that the way I love my own children is the same way that God loves me – except His love is even better, deeper, stronger, complete!

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Thank you, Susan! Those of us with teens understand the importance of giving them an area in which they’re comfortable and interactive and safe. I love that even before you had the space, you and Brian were hiding out in the bedroom to afford them that luxury. Oh, the things we parents do!

For those of you with teens, how’s it going? Can you even believe how life is speeding by…especially fast if you’re in the passenger seat with a new driver at the wheel?! Do you have any Find My iPhone-esque apps or tricks that help you keep an eye on them? Please spill!

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.