Monica and I are sitting in the same living room where she and my own mother played with baby dolls and did homework together, 30 years earlier. There are six young children running around, playing chase between the rooms of the one story house, shrieking with laughter whenever one gets tagged. She is sitting cross-legged on a big comfy chair, hair thrown up in a messy bun, a sippy cup in one hand and her cell phone held tightly between her ear and the other. The noise clearly doesn’t faze her. She’s finalizing a business deal with a contractor for her restaurant before we begin our MamaSpeak interview.
Living in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, Monica Henning visits her own mother and father here in Montana every summer with her husband Joe and their children — all 10 of them, plus one on the way. Although her two oldest no longer live at home (one is a Marine deployed in Kuwait and the other has two children of her own), they join the family in Montana when life allows. Between (almost) 11 kids, owning 8 rental properties, and building one bar & restaurant, Monica has her hands no less than full. I was able to sit down with this #supermom and talk about all things mom and business.
Monica Henning, 44
Dutch Harbor, AK
Occupation: Stay-At-Home Mom of 10, Real Estate Manager, and Entrepreneur
Children: Joseph (age 22), Teressa (21), Trey (17), Seth (15), Blaine (13), Kirsten (12), Jetta (9), Cache (7), Rogue (5), Lincoln (2), Baby #11 due in September!
Looking back on your 10 children and now gearing up for #11, what do you think has been your best mama moment so far?
I know it’s cliché, but the best mama moment would be right when they’re born, each and every one of them. It’s really cool to see how each of them is so different and yet all look so much like either Joe or me. It’s actually crazy — Lincoln (currently age 2) looked identical to Seth (age 15) when I first laid eyes on him. I was like, “Wait, I’ve seen that baby face before”.
So what would you say is the biggest difference between when you had Joseph, your first, and Lincoln, your tenth?
Honestly, I think your oldest always has this special feeling. It’s not that they’re your favorite or that you love them more, but there’s always just the subtle special feeling you have for your oldest kid. I think it’s just the way it is. I believe it’s because they’re your first real love in life. Everything is the first- the first diapers, the first all-nighters, the first steps- so it’s all new and exciting. That is the biggest difference. I know what I’m doing now, as opposed to then, when I had no idea what being a mother was gong to be like.
What is the thing that surprises you most about motherhood?
All the work! And no paycheck! It’s so much work. It is almost harder to have one baby than ten because with your first you’re overwhelmed with so much to do — the breastfeeding, the diapers, and then they grow up and it’s the school and the sports and the friends. The most surprising thing is just how time consuming it is and how many things need to be and can be accomplished in a day.
How would you describe your mothering style?
I’m definitely a relaxed mom. I let them do what they want, and then if they do something bad that’s where I step in. I have no rules, no curfews, nothing. To me, rules are kind of common sense. People say, “Oh, you have to teach them all these rules,” but by the time they are 5 years old, most kids know you can’t poke people, hit people, or bite people. I mean, even my 2-year-old knows that. They know what is right and wrong. That’s my job to teach them as their mother.
What else do you do besides your full time job as a mother of 10 – soon to be 11? And how do you balance that?
I own five residential and two commercial properties. I also just established a bar/restaurant from a block of rock and dirt. It’s definitely difficult, but my key to success is working from home. Say I decide to start a new business or buy a new estate. I have an office in my house and I always make sure any project I take on can be done out of that office. Managing contractors, ordering materials, filing permits, and all the work I do with the State or the City is done over the Internet or the phone. I work in my pajamas!
I love what I do but I have an agreement with my husband that one day if I want to go back to work out of the house, he will stay home for a minimum of a year. I was almost tempted to put it in writing and get a notary to sign off on it! Joe is a good guy though. He’s okay with that deal.
What have you learned about entrepreneurship and its relationship to motherhood and the working mother?
It has become very clear to me is that this is a man’s world. A lot of people simply don’t believe that I’ve done it — that I manage the properties and built the bar & restaurant. They’ll say “Oh, your husband actually did the work.” And yes, my husband is very good at his job, but even to this day people that know us personally still don’t believe that it is me who takes on the bulk of these projects.
I can do a whole project and hire a contractor and lay our business plans and my husband will still get credit for everything that I’ve done.
How do you do that? Is it frustrating, or have you just accepted it?
I definitely feel humbled. And honestly in a way I think it makes him feel kind of embarrassed… he’s a big shy guy. He will never be the one to correct someone in conversation, and I know that.
Aside, I think there’s a huge amount of people who don’t think most women can do the amount that I do and that’s what’s frustrating. There are women like me, with jobs and kids, that deserve to be celebrated. Once we as a society come to terms with the concept of the successful working mother, this “non-recognition” will no longer be a problem we face.
What is your best advice for being a mom entrepreneur and a mom of 11?
Be relaxed. I know it’s overused advice, but it’s necessary. I don’t try to control everything and everyone. There are top priorities in business in the same way there are top priorities in motherhood. For motherhood, I have to provide the necessities for my children, including attention and love. For business, I have to respect deadlines in order not to lose entire projects. Prioritizing is so important. God and family is always first. As for the business, I have to prioritize deadlines and paying bills for my properties before I can worry about hiring a new bartender.
Lastly, what is your response to critics who believe it is their job to tell you that you have too many kids?
An argument I hear a lot is that I am contributing to the overpopulation of the world. I keep up on the scientist Steve Mosher from the Population Research Institute. His job it to study the world’s trends in population and has exposed that the whole myth of overpopulation isn’t true. I just tell people they should look into it a little more.
And as for those people who say I won’t be able to care for all my kids and give them each enough attention and love, I say that they simply don’t know what they’re talking about. I would love for someone to ask any of my kids, “Does your mom pay enough attention to you?” and my kids would tell them that I ask too many questions and I’m around too much.
Whenever they ask for money I always say, “I will never give you money, but what I will give you is whatever attention you want.” If you want to hike, I’ll be there. If you want to sit and talk, I’ll be there. But material stuff I will not do.
This is a guest post by Soren Chargois, a rising junior at Duke University and current Mamachic Intern. During the school year, she produces content for Duke Student Broadcasting, watches collegiate football, and tries new recipes. At home in Montana, she has helped raise her youngest sister, and in the process started following several mom blogs and parenting websites, and is even in her local “babywearers” Facebook group in order to stay up-to-date on the latest parenting trends and information.