Joanie Brogan: Fighting for the Family Dinner
If Joanie Brogan believes one thing it’s this: her family is just like every other family. They keep schedules and routines; they bicker and fight; their children have rules and responsibilities. There’s really nothing unusual about the house they keep or the cars they drive. The Brogan’s are just your average, loving family. With 10 children.
Brogan and her East Lansing High School sweetheart, husband Eric Brogan, knew early on a big family was in their future. How the family became as big as it is now still remains something of a mystery.
“When we got married, Eric wanted four [children] and I said six. So, I figured we’d end up with five,” said Brogan. “I’m not sure where the other five came from. Sometimes we’ll sit there and ask, ‘where did all these kids come from?’ It’s really mind boggling at times, and we love it.”
With their oldest, Blake (19), away at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, the Brogans thought their home would be getting a bit lighter as the kids began to grow. However, with the arrival of Jocie (pronounced jah-see) in November 2009, the Brogan household is holding steady with 11 occupants.
Home schooling through eighth grade is the Brogan standard, so Grant (14), Peyton (11), Briley (10), Baylor (5) and Lydia (3) spend their days with Brogan in the classroom within their home. Trevor (17) and Natalie Rose (16) attend East Lansing High School, and Marlee (7) attends Pinecrest Elementary, a school for special needs children in East Lansing. And like most families, before the brood is off for the day, there comes a meal.
“I do a full breakfast every morning,” said Brogan. “We do a ton of eggs. I buy at least six dozen per week, and we go through them all. I just know that if we don’t get a big breakfast in, the kids are sneaking back to the kitchen.”
Brogan’s mornings, post-breakfast, are filled with daily devotionals, lesson plans and laundry — three to five loads per day to be precise. As the noon hour approaches, lunch goes just like clockwork.
“Most of the time, it’s a pretty simple lunch,” said Brogan. “Then, I’ll make lunches for the next day and prep dinner right after. I send a lunch with my husband, too. Really, what’s one more,” asked Brogan with an infectious, hearty laugh.
On the afternoon CAWLM visited their home, Brogan was preparing teriyaki sesame chicken for dinner. The dinner prep was nothing short of a team effort. Peyton cleaned and cut the chicken breasts with a butcher knife, as big as he is; Briley made the teriyaki sesame sauce (making sure to let Lydia help pour in the ingredients); Grant prepared layered dessert bars; while Baylor stuck plastic Nerf darts to Jocie’s forehead as she lounged casually in her bouncy chair near the kitchen.
“Now you get to see how we really are,” said Brogan with a smile.
But “how they really are” is far more beautiful than a family photo could ever capture. Walking into the Brogan’s home, it’s easy to feel the love they have for one another. The way each child selflessly cares for his or her siblings, the obedience they have for their mother’s requests, the way they stay close to each other, moving from room to room; everything inside their house exudes serenity and warmth. Though Brogan assures, again and again, that they’re just like every other family.
“Trust me, we still fight like cats and dogs, it can be really difficult. There are days I wish I could just flee,” said Brogan, “so I don’t want to say it’s perfect, because it’s not. But I do love [being a mother].”
Perhaps the most striking feature of Brogan is her unshakable smile and patient dedication to each task at hand. Whether she’s sharing a personal moment with her children or tearing candy out of mischievous little hands, Brogan seems to maintain the same consistent air of serenity.
Brogan’s nature doesn’t come by chance, though. Keeping her cool is something she works diligently toward — for the sake of her family and herself.
“Being patient and kind is challenging,” said Brogan. “I sometimes have to look in the mirror and see what face is showing. What face are they seeing? Because they get so much of who they are from me and my husband. I wish I was naturally sweet and kind all the time, but it’s a constant challenge.”
For a woman who could easily give 110 percent of herself to her family each day, Brogan knows balance and personal time are important to keeping her patience and kindness. When asked about a typical day in the life of Joanie Brogan, it was refreshing to hear she starts most days with an early morning walk with her neighbors, and ends most days with a bath, collecting her thoughts.
“Above my bathtub is a verse, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ I try to have a still time each day where I can just focus, read my Bible and pray. I try to be still and listen to God’s voice,” said Brogan. “It’s amazing what things come into my heart that I know I need to change or say or do or, usually, apologize for. It’s really hard to find that time.”
Between time with her children and time with herself, Brogan makes sure to take special care of the relationship with her husband. When asked what the most important part of being a good mother is, Brogan answered, “being a good wife.”
“[Eric and I] really work hard to do a date night every week. Sometimes it’s a walk through East Lansing; sometimes it’s a dinner out; sometimes it’s just coffee; sometimes it’s just going over our schedule, but we really try,” said Brogan.
Whether it’s a hot date on the town or a night in with their date books, wherever they go, the Brogans know their children are always in good hands.
“I love our community. My husband and I joke, we could leave our kid on any corner and someone would bring them home,” said Brogan. “About once a year we leave one some place and it’s the exact same scenario: we’re at a place with two different cars and we get home and one’s not there. And you think ‘how could you do that?’ It’s really embarrassing but it’s true.”
At the end of the day when the food is prepared and everyone is accounted for, the Brogans look forward to sitting down to the dinner table to share a meal — together.
“I really fight for the family dinner. I think it’s a dying tradition,” said Brogan. “Being the youngest child of seven, when I was growing up, [dinner] was one of the only times I had with my older siblings. And with schedules today, we could stop every night and grab something, but we don’t. I really fight for us to sit around the table.”
Taking time for dinner, relishing the moments you have alone, taking special care of relationships — there is definitely something unique about Brogan, though she insists there’s nothing extraordinary about her.
“I would say I’m very, very normal,” said Brogan. “People think ‘oh you must be amazing,’ but I’m not. I’m just a normal person. I have the same struggles and weaknesses as everyone else.”
But if there was one thing she could change, Brogan admitted, “I’d love to have two nights a week of not cooking.” Because, whether she likes it or not, her mastery for mass cooking certainly sets her apart.