By Dom Galeon
When I entered the coffeeshop where I was scheduled to meet with Joy Tanchi Mendoza, it felt like I stumbled into a scene from Modern Family. Well, except this time there were more kids around than any of the families have in that comedy show. Plus, these kids seemed so much nicer that those in the show. I found Joy surrounded by her five beautiful children, each busy with one book or another, presumably doing homework. Each of Joy’s kids is homeschooled, so every school work is, well, homework.
In any case, watching Joy manage her five kids, asking them to move to another table to give space for me, is like observing an expert. But she doesn’t see herself that way, even with almost half a dozen children. “You never stop being a mom,” she says. For Joy, being a mother is akin to going through a television series with multiple seasons, each with its own set of adventures. “I think every season, there’s a different challenge. I think that the amazing thing about being a mom is God gives you so many different personalities [through your kids] to stretch you and to help you to grow. When I had my fifth, I was like ‘okay this is going to be easy.’ But it was the most difficult. That’s when I realized, I’m never going to quite get or perfect being a mom. There’s always going to be something that I need to learn, about my children and about myself—something that I need to change in my character, where I need to grow.”
This understanding of motherhood, one that is built around a strong faith in God that allows her to look at the task of raising her children as a “privilege,” is very much characteristic of who Joy is. For some, particularly those who know her story and the horrible ordeal she went through at such a young age, this remarkably strong faith often comes as a surprise. But not for Joy, who tells me she doesn’t quite consider her experience to be unique.
Joy retold this story in her book When A Good God Allows Rape, in whose introduction she wrote: “When I was the victim of rape…so as a teenager, I came to an important crossroad. A faith choice had to be made. Would I allow this tragedy to define my faith? Or would I allow faith to define this tragedy?”
She chose the latter. “I think in life, it’s really about the way we respond because we can’t always control the circumstances around us, or what happens to us,” she said. “But we can definitely choose to respond in certain ways, and I think that determines whether we remain a victim or whether we will be victorious. And I don’t think that healing is right away necessary. You can make certain choices, like in my case, I had to choose to really believe that God is still good. I had to choose to forgive. And then I had to choose to use my story for other people and not just for myself.”
Instead of being put down by that harrowing experience, Joy chose to get up full of faith and hope, moving forward by helping other people instead. Ultimately, it’s what’s enabled Joy to become the mother that she is to Elijah, Edan, Titus, Tina, and Catalina.
In the same manner that Joy takes care of her children, she has also not lost sight of her relationship with her husband Edric. To keep their love for each other burning, Joy says, “we have to be very intentional about making sure we preserve our identity as a couple.” It’s as simple as keeping their bedroom theirs, she explains, and opening it only to the kids on weekends. “We just committed as a couple that, as much as we’d love to be around our kids, that we would say this is our room. This is mommy and daddy’s room and this is our private space.”
“And then having date nights,” Joy adds, which was a little difficult at the beginning, with the kids wanting to tag along. “Edric would tell them, ‘You know, we can love you better if we love each other.’ And then we’d really develop and spend time with one another and build our own relationship. So then I guess that gave our kids a sense of security that, when mom and dad love each other, they’re going to love us more.”
“We just have to be intentional and I have to make sure that my life doesn’t just revolve around my kids. If Edric needs me, I have to make him feel like he’s important, that he’s my priority, that I will attend to him and not neglect him,” Joy adds. And it’s really quite amazing how she manages to balance her time between her kids, especially since she’s also their homeschool teacher, and her husband.
A huge aspect of their parenting style is centered on living and cultivating a certain culture at home, one that promotes the kind of values Joy and Eric want their kids to grow up with. An example would be having clear rules about the use of gadgets, which Joy really limits to what is only necessary, and spending time wisely.
Indeed, it seems to be working. Joy remembers a how her son Edan told her about the time he played too much video games. “He didn’t have to tell me, I didn’t ask him about it because I trusted him, but he just had a conscience call,” Joy recalls. “And I think moments like that, when you see that your children are developing convictions or making wise choices about the use of their time, and even just seeing them laughing and playing with each other” are the greatest moments—her most memorable joys!—that she will always cherish as a mother.