Cindy Clark went back to BYU when she was pregnant with her 8th child, and her oldest daughter, Paige, took over the cooking and cleaning at home.
“The Arab-Israeli conflict was on my mind, and I was very much pro-Palestinian,” she says. “The Middle East was a passion for me, and I took Arabic classes.”
Despite her best intentions, Cindy never finished her degree. But her love of education got passed on to her nine children. Plus, Cindy has earned “honorary degrees” in politics (she was on the Provo City Council), in community involvement (she was the Provo High School PTA president) and in religion (she and her husband, Steve, returned a year ago from being LDS mission presidents in St. Louis).
Now her grandchildren call her “Umi,” which is Arabic for mother, and she was a temporary Umi to an additional 200ish faces while wearing a missionary tag for three years.
“We treated our missionaries the same way we treated our children — with love and happiness,” she says. “They depended on us and confided in us. We heard it all.”
Religion has always been both the “walk” and “talk” in the Clark home.
“I can’t talk about my family without mentioning the background of the gospel,” Cindy says. “It was the center of our family life.”
Cindy herself was also at the center of it all, until she and Steve found themselves 1,300 miles away. Cindy missed the births of seven grandchildren during her mission, and she came back only once when her father passed away.
Strength of Youth
Raising nine through their teenage years came with a dose of tears and devastation. But Cindy’s strategy was all about communication. When she would learn of a child’s difficult decision — such as burning a bra at school —she would ask them to explain why they were feeling this way.
“What kind of reaction do you want us to have?” she would ask them.
She worried “often if not all the time” about her children, but they were an open and involved family and ties were tight.
And still are.
All nine of the Clark siblings live in Utah, and seven of them live in Provo.
Come to Momma
Now that Cindy is back to being an on-site mother and grandmother.
“We’re very kissy and huggy in our family,” she says. “I’ll call up my kids and tell them to come over. We’ll lay on the bed, and chew on licorice or taffy -or whatever is in their dad’s drawer. Yes, I love my grandchildren and having a house full, but I long for time with just my own children. It’s heavenly.”
From the first to the last
With nine children over a span of 17 years, Cindy’s parenting strategies also grew up. She says she doted on her first child — and has continued to hover over the oldest daughter all her life.
And the last child?
“She was my best friend. We had a lot of fun, and we had a non-traditional relationship. We did everything together.”
But when they were all under her roof, Cindy’s strategy was to manage the kids in three groups: the Peewee League, the Junior Management and the Senior Management. After Sunday dinner, for example, the jobs were divided and assigned to the three age groups. “Detail 1” would clean up; “Detail 2” would put the dishes in the dishwasher. “Detail 3” would sweep the floor and clean the counters.
Cindy and Steve would also create “one-on-three” time by going out with their children by age groups.
“We would ask them how things were going for them in our family and what we could do to help,” she says.
What goes around
Now Cindy’s children are parenting her.
“I’m no longer the mother mothering,” she says. “I’m the mother receiving. It’s lovely. I’m learning from them about technology as well as physical and mental health. They are right there to give me good advice.”