The Sansone family, by the numbers: six boys and three girls, ages 15, 14, 12, 10, 9, 8, 5, 2, and 8 months; four in braces, two in preschool, one in high school, four taking piano lessons. One Saint Bernard dog. One swing set behind their house on three and a half acres. One homemade ice-skating rink in the backyard. One Texas-size table big enough for everyone to sit around. And two parents who call each one of their children a gift: Jim, a 42-year-old lawyer who co-owns a real estate development business, and Kathryn, whose passion is to do what I believe is the most important spiritual work on earth—mothering. The three of us sat beside a fireplace and talked.
Start reading Oprah's interview with Kathryn Sansone
Note: This interview appeared in the May 2003 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.
Oprah: Growing up, how many children were in your family?
Kathryn: I'm one of three girls, and my husband is from a family of eight. We knew we wanted children—we just never talked about having nine. After our oldest child, Jimmy, was born, we wanted him to have a sibling. With every child we were blessed with after that, we just adjusted and were thankful.
Oprah: Are you Catholic?
Kathryn: Yes, I converted from Greek Orthodox when I married.
Oprah: So is your large family a religious thing?
Kathryn: No. I've always just loved children. Before I got pregnant the first time, I was an elementary school teacher. I got pregnant on my honeymoon.
Oprah: Did you leave teaching after your first baby?
Kathryn: Yes, I left after I had Jimmy. As a teacher I always wanted to bring out the self-esteem in a child, and that's what I want as a mother, too.
Oprah: I felt that the moment I met your kids. Each one has such a strong sense of self.
Kathryn: Thank you—that's such a huge compliment.
Oprah: One child is as well behaved as the next. To raise children like this is one of the hardest jobs on earth.
Kathryn: We're still working hard at it, especially now that we're getting into the teen years, with all the crap that's going on out there. We've put parental controls on our computer, and we took off the instant messaging. Otherwise I might not know who my children were talking with.
Oprah: What's your dream for your children?
Kathryn: My dream is to raise self-confident, respectful, responsible human beings who can give a lot to the world. After I drop off the kids at school every morning, I go to a monastery and sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament and give everything over to Our Lady and to Jesus. My prayer is always the same: "Use me." I get a lot of strength that way. I want to do the best for the kids, and since I've got so many, my mind is always in a million places.
Oprah: How do you keep everything organized?
Kathryn: I'm an organizational fanatic. I created a locker room that the children pass through when they come in the house. Each child has a personal locker, and every day when they arrive home from school, they dump their stuff there—backpacks, shoes, soccer uniforms. I organize them by season: In summer I put their swimsuits in the locker room, and during winter the hats and gloves go there. As for keeping their clothes organized, thank goodness for school uniforms! I lay out their clothes on their dressers the night before, and until last September, I made all their lunches. I also try to get any school papers and tests signed and ready to go back in the morning.
Oprah: How many bedrooms in this house?
Kathryn: One for us, four for the kids. They're all doubling up—two boys, two boys, two boys, and three girls. But they only use two of the four bedrooms because they all end up sleeping in one another's beds.
Oprah: What are mornings like around here?
Kathryn: Very smooth. The key is the big shower we had designed for the kids. It has four showerheads, so we just throw the boys in there together.
Oprah: Hold on a sec—I think Anthony needs something. [Five-year-old Anthony opens the door.] Anthony, what do you need?
Anthony: I need my dad.
Oprah: Goodbye, Jim. Okay, Kathryn—what were you saying about the shower?
Kathryn: After the shower, they drop all their clothes down a chute to the laundry room. Then they dress, and we all have breakfast.
Oprah: What kind of breakfast do you prepare?
Kathryn: I'll make eggs and French toast, bagels with cheese, and I'll throw some bacon on the George Foreman grill. That thing is a huge hit.
Oprah: You cook like that every morning?
Kathryn: On school mornings. I usually don't make a big breakfast on weekends. Sometimes Jim cooks.
Oprah: Do you take all the children to school?
Kathryn: My husband drops off our high schooler, and I take the other five in our SUV at around 7:30. By that time, a caretaker comes in to watch the three youngest children.
Oprah: What do you do when you're back home?
Kathryn: I spend 30 to 45 minutes alone every day—that was my New Year's resolution. It's outstanding.
Oprah: Has that made a difference in the rest of your day?
Kathryn: Huge. My kids have even noticed. They say, "You seem calmer, in a better mood." I've always been into getting my workout, but I still felt unbalanced because the spiritual part wasn't all there.
Oprah: How long are your workouts?
Kathryn: Thirty minutes of cardio, another half hour for weights. After quiet time and a workout, I take two of the children to preschool.
Oprah: What do you do with the rest of your day?
Kathryn: Depends on the day—but I can tell you that I never sit down. I check to see that all the beds are made, I clean the bathrooms, I straighten the house. Some days I go up to the children's schools and help with hot lunches there. Other days I make lists of groceries and keep track of what the children need. When you've got eight kids in school, somebody always needs a pen, a backpack, shoelaces, or a folder. I tell the children to write down what they need and put it on my desk. A few weeks ago, my sixth-grade son left me this note: "Mom, could you please xerox the World Book of Greece?" I thought, "This can't be right." When I called the teacher, she clarified the assignment: My son needed a copy of just the section on Greece in the World Book.
Keeping up with all their appointments is a challenge. We've got four in braces, and the orthodontist wants to see each every four weeks—and they're all on different schedules. They also have appointments with the eye doctor and the dermatologist, and then there are regular checkups. And of course, the baby always needs to go to the pediatrician for shots.
Oprah: Do you have any cleaning help?
Kathryn: I have a housecleaner come in every other week.
Oprah: Other than your quiet time and workout, is there any other part of your day just for you?
Kathryn: I find time between 7:30 and 3:00, when most of the kids are at school. When I pick them up, I want to be ready for them. Three o'clock is hell hour around here—that's when the homework and all the "Can so-and-so come over?" start. Some of the kids have four or five hours of homework, which they start before dinner. And after school, I coach my son's basketball team.
Oprah: Would you define yourself as a supermom? If this ain't super, I don't know what is.
Kathryn: I don't define myself as a supermom. I define my husband and me as superparents. We do this together. I could never handle this alone.
Oprah: What hours does your husband work?
Kathryn: He leaves early when he drops off our son, and he's home by 6:30.
Oprah: Do you all sit down for dinner together?
Kathryn: Yes. We just bought a big round table. The children help: One gets the pitcher of water, another sets the places. I've taught a couple of them to barbecue.
Oprah: What's for dinner—chicken nuggets and fries?
Kathryn: I usually do a salad, maybe something from the grill, and I cook a lot of pasta. I make vegetables of some sort—and, of course, there's hot bread.
Oprah: Please don't tell me you make the bread.
Kathryn: No. It's Pillsbury all the way. At the table, we all tell what our day was like—my husband and I want to get our kids used to public speaking. Then if we have time and everybody's in the mood, we play American Idol. Three of us will be the judges, and the others will put on outfits and sing for us.
Oprah: You do all this during dinner?
Kathryn: After dinner. That's our time to just relax and hang out. Then they hit their studies again or we've got sports practices.
Oprah: Do you ever feel overwhelmed?
Kathryn: At times I can be overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle of everything.
Oprah: Are you a yeller?
Kathryn: Oh, yes—I yell.
Oprah: But you don't feel like you're going crazy most of the time?
Oprah: And you don't feel like you've lost yourself to your kids?
Kathryn: Not at all. Jim and I go out alone during the week, and our kids watch one another. We go for coffee on Saturday and Sunday mornings. We tell them, "We're going out, and don't call us on our cell phones." They know that's our time.
Oprah: All that and you still look great. Are you all made up when you're preparing breakfast every morning?
Kathryn: Gosh, no. I literally just brush my teeth. And unless I'm meeting someone for lunch, I often stay in my workout clothes and sneakers all day.
Oprah: Do you put on a little makeup before Jim comes home?
Kathryn: I make myself look presentable. Maybe I'll throw on some lipstick. I'm always clean. I don't make up my face and go to the malls all day—I'm too busy for that.
Oprah: Friends with two kids say it's difficult to make each one feel important. How do you make nine feel validated?
Kathryn: On vacations my husband and I set aside special days for each of them—one may go to breakfast with us, for instance. And every day, I find one-on-one time while we're riding in the car. I'll say things like "I'm proud of you" or "You're awesome." There are always opportunities to give each child attention: One can help me cook, another can be my special laundryperson, and someone can drive with me to the grocery store.
Oprah: Kathryn, we have another visitor—hi, Jimmy. [Fifteen-year-old Jimmy passes through the room.]
Kathryn: Jimmy, say goodbye to Oprah.
Oprah: Where are you going?
Jimmy: I'm going to my brother's game. Bye, Oprah.
Oprah: Nice to meet you. Good luck through adolescence—may it treat you well.
Jimmy: Thank you.
Oprah: All the kids seem to like one another so much.
Kathryn: They love one another. And in a sense, they've raised one another.
Oprah: How do you feel about your role as a mother?
Kathryn: I feel like I'm being used for a higher purpose. I've been blessed with a lot of strength. When I pray for guidance, I feel like I get it—and I try to filter it to them.
Oprah: Do you think you could do this without a spiritual foundation?
Kathryn: Never. Maybe I could do it for a bit, but not for the duration. And raising the children is really a partnership. Jim and I have known each other since we were 16 and 17, and we both come from strong families. We're lucky to be blessed with so much support from our extended families.
Oprah: Do you want more children?
Kathryn: I'm 40, and I'm not getting any younger. But I never want to just say never. [Laughs.] I probably won't say no even when I'm 55 or 60.
Oprah: Do you take precautions not to get pregnant?
Kathryn: Yes—we watch it. I know my body really well. With the baby being just a few months old...
Oprah: You don't want another one right away.
Oprah: What do you say to moms who feel overwhelmed with just two or three children?
Kathryn: Do more for yourself—it's okay. It's not selfish. Exercise. Spend quiet time. It will empower you to do the work you're supposed to do. I see a lot of parents who do so much for their children that they just spin out of control. But to take care of others, you really do have to care for yourself first.
Oprah: What is your wish for yourself this Mother's Day?
Kathryn: To be thankful for all the blessings I've been given—truly.
Oprah: I bet Mother's Day is big in this house.
Kathryn: It's a fun day. The kids go out and shop for flowers; they bring me breakfast in bed—and every year, I just cry over their cards. They tear me up. One year one of the boys gave me a card that said "I thank God every night for putting me on this earth with a mother like you. You're the best mom a kid could ask for. I love you, Mom." For me, that is the greatest gift. That's all I could ever want.