By Erin Williams
Juggling the responsibilities of a mother can be a challenge. There’s play dates, permission slips, getting everyone fed and clothed – not to mention trying to make time for yourself.
When you’re the mother of ten kids, however, you learn to pick up a few tips and tricks along the way. Just ask Kathryn Sansone – wife, mother, author, and all-around multi-tasker. The “Shape-Up Mom” and St. Louis native rose to popularity when she was an audience member-turned-guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and later gave an interview to O, The Oprah Magazine, about how she does it all. Her words of wisdom were subsequently chronicled in the book Woman First, Family Always, and she always makes it a point to practice what she preaches. Currently, she is working on the development of a nutritional protein product just for women.
“My effort to stay fit is something that is instilled in me,” Kathryn said. “I have had six C-sections, and putting time in at the gym (Emerge Fitness Training in St. Peters, Missouri), and eating a healthy clean diet is what it takes.”
In this interview, Kathryn sheds light on the strong familial foundation her life was built on, how she makes times for the members of her family – and why it’s important to set boundaries and priorities that are known and attainable – like a weekly date night with her husband of twenty-seven years, Jim.
“As women, we are natural caregivers, taking care of our children, spouse or significant other, and never ourselves,” she said. “It is not selfish to take care of yourself. Everyone will benefit if you feel good about yourself, have more energy, and are fit and happy.”
Erin: You grew up in St. Louis as one of three girls with a father who was a former football star at St. Louis University. What was life like in your household?
Kathryn: My first experience with physical fitness was seeing my mom and dad take walks and jogs together. Growing up, I always played sports, and realized early on that I was gifted with athletic ability – thanks to my parents. In college, I walked on the SLU volleyball team as a junior and played three seasons. My parents were (and still are) very supportive of us, always came to my games and go to my kid’s games today.
My dad, Dan Demmas, never talked about how great and tough he was during his football years. He went to school at night, worked in the day and played football in between. My dad always instilled a hard work ethic in us all that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.
We had chores that typically boys would do – clean out the garage, cut, trim, edge and hose down the front yard every week.
Erin: What made you realize that you could make a career out of helping others get into shape? When you turned forty, you went to a taping of The Oprah Winfrey Show, which led to her interviewing you for O, The Oprah Magazine. How did that happen? In your effort to stay fit while having children, did the idea of becoming famous and making your lifestyle into a brand cross your mind prior to being featured in the magazine?
Kathryn: When my husband and I would go out with our babies in tow – kids six years old and under, we would be stopped by people asking, ‘How do you do it?’ I found myself giving advice to those who asked, mainly to women. When I turned forty, and went to The Oprah Winfrey Show, she asked me to come to the stage after I asked a question about weight lifting, and told her that I was pregnant with child number nine. It was all over the Internet after that!
Erin: Your children range in age from nine to twenty-seven. What is a day in your life like?
Kathryn: My average day changes according to my kids’ schedules. During school days, I wake up between 6:30 a.m. and 6:45 a.m., make my kids breakfast most of the time, drive them to school, go to church most days, and work out after that. I also have household things to do, I work on my business…and make sure that I am taking care of all things needed for ten kids. I pick the school children up at 3 p.m. I have never had a carpool, because we always had too many kids. I feel that is when they need you the most, and they talk to you about their day when it is fresh. I feel blessed that I can stay at home with them and have that time to take them to and from school. We come home, do homework, prepare dinner, and take to and from sports practices and games. Every one of my children play sports in school and all but one (so far) played in college. I have three that play a fall sport in college, and we love to go to all their games. My schedule only adjusts to follow them as they go to college, and we watch their sports activities. I am also getting good at setting up apartments – different than a dorm room.
Erin: How are you able to spend time with both your children and your husband, Jim?
Kathryn: The real beauty of a big family is that everyone kicks in and loves each other ten times more that any one or two parents can do. It’s a village. My husband and I are very cognizant of each and every one of our kids and their needs and wants at any given time. Time together, cell phone-free is a must. Family dinners are the secret to our family’s success. Dinner is every night of the week (as much as possible), where we can all spend time around the table and share and connect.
Making time for Jim is another must. Coffee dates are regulars for us. Sometimes at night when we are too tired to go out, we take showers, get dressed and go to another room for our date and lock the door so no one bothers us. Again…cell phones are not allowed! We both make a big effort to take a date night once a week at least. Plus, kids like it when their parents go out and actually like spending time together. It makes them feel more secure.
Erin: Is there really any “good” excuse in not being able to make time to be healthy? What do you do in order to continue making yourself a priority?
Kathryn: The only real excuse would be if you were sick, God forbid. Everyone is VERY good at making excuses, especially myself. It is all about priority. What is really important to you? Making time for myself has to be on my list of things to do. When I am not taking care of myself, I am miserable to be around. My kids and husband notice. I don’t like myself either. So, the method to my madness is to go to church, get a workout and take a bath before bed. That’s the trifecta. If I can get all that in, it’s like I’ve won the lottery and my sanity.