Insights From Mothers Navigating Chaos With Grace

compiled by Lois Szymanzki, photography by Nikola Tzenov

Embrace the Chaos: Mothers of Many Discuss the Mayhem and Joy


Kelly and Paul Guest

With nine children, ages 14 to 28, Hampstead residents Kelly and Paul Guest have learned to embrace it all — the chaos, the joy and even the unexpected.

Embrace the Chaos Guest Family 2024

The Guest Family

“When we were dating, I told my husband I wanted the Brady Bunch, three girls and three boys,” Kelly said. “He said, ‘Are you nuts?’”

Changing her husband’s mind wasn’t hard. After all, Kelly’s own plans had changed — she was once a nun.

“I went into the convent after two years of college and was a nun for five years,” Kelly shared.

With the help of Mother Superior, she realized her need for family. Looking back, she wouldn’t change a thing, she said.

“I can’t believe I’m saying that,” Kelly said with a laugh. “There were days when I was crying in the shower because I’d just found out I was pregnant again. I was sick through all my pregnancies, and especially with our twins. If only I had known at that moment the joy I have now. It was so worth it.”

Embrace the Chaos Guest Family 2024

As a Mother’s Day surprise the Guest kids created a funny Yelp review card for their mom.

“People come over, and they see the calendar with the meal and the chore lists,” Kelly shared. “In a big family, you always need help, plus they (the kids) need to learn responsibility and to take care of the things they are given.”

Keeping track of more than half a dozen active kids can be challenging even for the most organized parent.

“The boys played baseball, and in between games, we would go to my mom’s for lunch. Veronica (age 8) told my husband she was going to the bathroom. I thought he had her. He thought I did. When we got to the game, we realized she was missing.”

Finding herself alone in the house, Veronica walked to an aunt’s house, which was also empty. A neighbor called the police, and now Veronica proudly tells everyone she got to ride in a police car. It was a harrowing, albeit brief, experience for Kelly, but fortunately, all ended well.

Embrace the Chaos Kelly Guest Family Book 2024

Kelly Guest turned her research and experience into a book.

Kelly turned her research and experience into a book called “Saintly Moms: 25 Stories of Holiness,” which was recently published.

She said the little things bring the most joy.

“Watching them become best friends, help each other and get along is the best,” said Kelly, “and the way they love on me and their dad.” Then there’s Mother’s Day.

“I never ask for anything, but the kids make me breakfast in bed, even still,” she said. “They bring eggs and French toast, my favorite. They make cards, and they’re so creative. Once, it was a whole scroll!”

For moms with growing families, Kelly advises to expect to be overwhelmed but plan to embrace it.

“The gift of a sibling is the best gift you can give your child, and multiple children are the best gift to yourself,” she said. “There will be difficult days, but there’s even more joy. You get through those difficult days; later, they become the best family stories. Embrace the chaos!”


Gail and Dean Cook

Taneytown residents Gail and Dean Cook say having 10 children wasn’t in their original plan, but they have no regrets.

“My plan was to have two children, properly spaced so only one would be in daycare at a time,” Gail revealed. “Then, when I was pregnant with the second one, God spoke to us to sacrifice our desires to him and to give him control. When you allow God to work his will, his plan is much better than you could have ever imagined.”

Embrace the Chaos Cook Family 2024

The Cook Family Photo Supplied.

Gail and Dean agree that it wasn’t always easy.

“It was a lot of work and sacrifice. We had to do without, but the blessings are so much more than the sacrifice,” she said.

“We had to stay united and communicate well to manage this many. I would tell them (the kids) we are a team, and every member of the team has to do their jobs for us all to survive,” Gail shared.

Homeschooling added new challenges, and Gail said she washed three large loads of laundry each day. They went through a loaf of bread daily and 10 pounds of peanut butter a month.

When asked about unexpected moments, Dean laughed. “We got home from church, and we thought we had all nine kids around us,” he said. “Then someone called and asked, ‘Did you forget something? We have your daughter Bethany standing here with us!’” That’s when the Cook family instituted a sound-off system, where each child responded by name in age order.

Gail treasures special occasions, like Mother’s Day, with her family.

“Mother’s Day is glorious,” she said. “One of our children is out of state and can’t always be here, but he calls. The others all come over. They give me the choice of what we do for the day. We have had picnics; we’ve gone to a baseball game. We do whatever I want. There’s such joy in seeing all my children together and just being with them.”

Gail advises moms of growing families to persevere because it gets better.

“I always felt tired and overwhelmed when they were young,” she said. “But you have to know that it will get better, and you will have immense joy simply from being their mom.”


Lauren and Paul Ambrogio

With four boys and one girl, ages 4 to 16, Lauren and Paul Ambrogio of Finksburg always hoped for a big family.

Embrace the Chaos Ambrogio Family 2024

The Ambrogio Family

“I was the oldest of five, so I had this in my head,” Lauren says. “Now, just watching them interact with each other brings joy. You watch in wonder as your 16-year-old is learning to drive a car, but you still have a 4-year-old who will crawl in your lap and ask you to read a book.”

There are challenges, too.

“It’s the practical things, like the groceries, feeding everyone and doing laundry every day, except for Sunday,” she said.

More challenges come with homeschooling.

“At least I don’t have to get them up and out the door every day, so that’s a relief,” she said. “It’s just getting everyone motivated to do what they need to do.”

Two days a week, the oldest three children go to Regina Caeli in Westminster, joining other homeschool students who use the same curriculum. There, they continue to work on studies that began at home.

Embrace the Chaos Ambrogio Family 2024

Lauren Ambrogio reads to her youngest son.

Being the only girl, their daughter has to persuade the youngest to play with baby dolls, but Lauren said she can hold her own on a campout, too. Once a year, Paul takes them all camping while Lauren stays home to refuel.

On Mother’s Day, Paul makes breakfast.

“The kids make cards for me. Sometimes we go for a hike or a walk. It’s my choice of what we do. My husband will make dinner, too. It is just about spending the day together.”

Lauren saves every card the children make for her. She says she would do it all again.

“There are so many joys,” she said. “It’s watching how gentle my oldest is with my 4-year-old. It’s watching their relationships develop, looking in when they hang out or play outside. It brings so much joy.”

No regrets; that’s the theme.

“Looking back, I would have had more if I could have,” she said. “Right now, I don’t know how I will be able to handle it when my oldest goes to college.”


Amanda and William Sullivan

Amanda and William Sullivan of Sykesville are the proud parents of three boys and two girls, ages 13 to 25. After she had her son, Amanda didn’t plan to have another.

“Then I had four more,” she said. “I had come to want a big family.”

Emotion filled her as she spoke.

“They always have a friend in each other,” she said. “Seeing my kids grow up together with faith and their love for God is a blessing. Smaller families sometimes need to plan playdates, but that’s not something I had to worry about. Our children have each other.”

There’s lots of love but also chaos.

“There are toddlers and babies, and everyone needs something at once. My husband says we have to play zone defense because we are outnumbered. It’s a chaotic mess, but it is our mess, and we have loved it. People would say, ‘You sure have your hands full,’ and I would think, ‘Yes, but they are full of love.’”

Amanda’s first son was born when she was 18, and the relationship did not last. Having to split holidays with his dad was one challenge she faced. Sickness is another.

“When they get the stomach virus, and they are all throwing up, and you are not sleeping, you think it will never end, but it does,” she said.

Getting them out the door to public school is sometimes challenging, and then there’s math.

“I had brain surgery,” Amanda revealed. “Now my memory is a little bit messed up. I have trouble with math because of it, so my husband helps them with math, or their siblings help. That’s another benefit. The older kids help the younger kids. I don’t ever need a tutor!”

This mom of five finds a silver lining in it all.

“It’s double the joy,” she said of her big family. “There’s so much love. Of course, there’s fighting, too. They’re siblings. But when they don’t know you are watching and you overhear a conversation, or you see them being kind to each other, or they come home from school and share a story, and you can see they are sticking up for each other and they have each other’s backs—that is a sweet thing.”

Mother’s Day is simple.

“I like to be at home, so it’s about spending time together,” she said. “Sometimes the kids will have a Happy Mother’s Day printout that they color and hang on the wall, and some years they make me breakfast.”

What’s her advice for new moms?

“Everybody says to enjoy these moments while you can, and time does fly by. You blink, and then they’re graduating high school, so take that time to enjoy,” Amanda said. “Give yourself grace, too. It’s hard to be a mom, and there’s no how-to book. Just remember, other moms had the same troubles, and even though sometimes it’s hard, it really is a blessing.”