Living With Kids: Heather Deyo

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

Heather Deyo is goals. She’s mostly raised her kids and has only her youngest child still at home. Her house is gorgeous but she is already making plans to downsize. And she is the perfect example of living life well — her kids are successful and all-around decent human beings, she has done incredible work to help survivors of human trafficking, and to help with the HIV/AIDS crisis in South Africa. Heather is well-read, well-traveled, and has deep well of parenting wisdom to share. I’m so excited for you to meet her. Welcome, Heather Deyo!

Hi! I’m Heather Deyo, and I live in Jacksonville, Florida with my husband, Seth, and our twelve year old son, Tommy. Seth is the chief financial officer for a finance company, and I’m a Development Director for an anti-trafficking organization.

I’m different from most of the Living with Kids moms in that I’m on the tail end of living with my kids. Seth and I are parents to four great kids but our first three are college-aged or older, so now it’s just us, Tommy, and too many pets, living under this roof.

We met 27 years ago as CPAs working for a large public accounting firm. In a very non-accountant-ish move, we got engaged three weeks later, and married a few months after that! I have no idea what we were thinking, but hey, it worked. Our favorite thing to do together is anything outdoors — swimming, going to the beach, hiking, white water rafting, exploring new places, or just taking the dog for a walk. Seth is in amazing shape and has off the charts energy, and I’m just competitive enough that I try and keep up! 

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids seriesHeather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

I grew up in Durban, South Africa, during apartheid. My ancestors moved there from England in the 1800’s so we were fully South African, but my parents were progressive and unsupportive of the apartheid government. We had an easy life surrounded by family and friends in a beautiful home on the Indian Ocean. But my mom says that she could never forget the fact that our ease was built on the backs of others’ pain, and they didn’t want my younger brothers doing mandatory military service for a government they opposed.

We emigrated to the U.S. when I was in high school. We were an English-speaking, financially comfortable family from a relatively stable country, so it should have been easy, but it was one of the hardest experiences of my life. Despite apartheid, from which I was largely sheltered as a child, I had a magical, nature-filled childhood and was close to my extended family. Although we went back several times, this was well before the days of modern technology, and communication was rare and expensive, so it felt like a complete break-up. But my parent’s willingness to give up their lives of privilege and comfort for their principles made a life-long impression on me. May I be so brave when it counts! 

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

Seth is kind, patient, calm, and loyal, and is the least pretentious person I know. He has a great sense of humor, and is smart as a whip. No one sails through 26 year of marriage without some hard work, but we’re a great team and are each other’s best friends. He grew up in the upper Midwest, in a tiny town surrounded by cornfields. His only brother was born with a congenital condition and had severe cognitive and physical limitations, so patience and service were the cornerstones of Seth’s childhood, and it shows.

Our kids adore their dad. We have a secret text thread where we share the endearing things he does, which are many. His latest discovery is Bitmoji. Seeing a 50-year-old executive sending his grown kids heart bitmojis is the best.

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

Will, 24, is our oldest child and is married to beautiful Faith. To have Will for a first child has been a gift. He has a strength of character and a level of integrity that makes me feel that “my work here is done.” He’s considerate, humble, loving, and extremely goal oriented. He and Faith live in Brooklyn, New York where he’s a tech guy and Faith is a tour guide at the Tenement Museum (she’s incredible, ask for her tour if you visit!). Will chose a rigorous high school which allowed him to graduate early from college, so he’s been working for his company since he was 21. We miss them terribly, but they’re great about keeping in touch with all of us, and now we have an excuse to go to New York!

They’re passionately involved in local politics and live out their principles and beliefs in a way that inspires me. Faith lived with us for two years while Will was in college several hours away, and we’re all very close to her. She’s incredibly artistic and is an all around brilliant, thoughtful, and creative person, and our lives are so much richer since she’s been with us.

When they got engaged they asked if we’d have the wedding at our house because it was the place that meant the most to them. It took a little convincing, and a lot of work, but I’m so glad we made it happen. Last Thanksgiving weekend we had over one hundred family and friends here for a ceremony, dinner, and dancing. All of our family flew in, and between them and the other guests, mostly Will and Faith’s friends, we had a blast!  It took me and the house about a month to recover, and I’ve officially told my other kids they’re not getting married at home! 

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

Max, 22, is a senior in college here in Jacksonville and is the most creative, and probably the strongest person I know. When he first told us he wanted to be a creative writing major we were not thrilled about it — he was always a math kid and we are two accountants; we had high (and boring) hopes! But he’s got some crazy talent and has already been published in some great literary journals and is making a name for himself in that world. He lives in an apartment about 30 minutes from our house and although he loves us and his baby brother dearly, the washer and dryer at our house is the greatest lure home.

Anna, 19, is our only girl and is a velvet hammer. She’s kind, gentle, and compassionate, but she has a core of steel and knows her worth and her mind. She went to a performing arts high school for vocal performance and theater, but shortly before college she decided to change directions and took herself off on a self-planned, self-funded, hair-raising (for us) service gap year around the world. It was a life changing and liberating experience for her.

She’s now a freshman in college about 3 hours away, and will probably end up doing something medical or humanitarian, although she has so many interests it will be interesting to see which one wins out. She and I are really close and have an intuitive bond. This separation is hard, but it’s good for me to see her as a strong, autonomous young woman, not just my sweet little girl. 

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

Tommy is our baby and is the most agreeable, least angsty pre-teen I’ve ever met. I’m sure we over-parent him since he’s the only one still left at home, but he’s loving and patient with us and never complains. He’s easy and easy-going, has a wicked sense of humor for his age, and gets on with school, with sports, with people, and with life. Sometimes I feel like we’re the grandparents rather than the parents; he doesn’t require a ton of direction or discipline and we all adore him.

We’ve done this enough times to know that the high school years may bring a new story, but we’ll coast on this joy as long as it lasts! He’s so much younger than the others that most people think he was an oops, but he was actually the most planned of our kids! We thought we’d have another after him, but I wasn’t good at late in life pregnancies, so we called it a day. Seth calls Tommy “the best decision we ever made” and he’s right, it is SUCH a gift to get to do this whole parenting thing all over again! We’re far more relaxed with him, and have a much better idea of what’s important and what’s not. 

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids seriesHeather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

Our four kids are so different but they’re all close, which is something I never thought I’d say when they were in middle school! (Why do kids decide they’re best friends when they go to college?!) They’re also all funny and all hard workers. Sometimes life throws you a bone and I’m so glad that no matter what we’ve faced as a family, we’ve rarely been boring or lazy! 

Few families escape major challenges and ours is no exception. Since Max, our second child, was a little boy, he’s struggled with a severe panic disorder, OCD, depression, and other mental health issues. His onset was early, and he’s been in treatment since he was seven. We had many hard years, and I wouldn’t wish the pain Max has suffered on anyone, but I’m convinced his illness is one of the reasons our family is so close.

When he was young, a psychiatrist told us that a child’s mental health issues resulted in damaged marriages and families over 90% of the time. As young parents, that was a scary statistic and one we were determined to beat. We chose our activities carefully, and intentionally built a large circle of supportive and understanding friends who carried us through many difficult seasons. Of course, people aren’t perfect, and sometimes we’ve been stung by words, actions, or judgements of others, and on occasion we’ve had to make hard decisions about relationships.

As the young parents of a child with mental health issues, it was easy to second guess our every decision, and to waste time and emotional energy sifting through well-intended but mostly useless advice and opinions. The silver lining of this is that we now have a well developed intuition and confidence about what works for our family on every level, not just in relation to mental health. 

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

One of the greatest challenges in raising any child with chronic illness, either mental or physical, is teaching them how to take ownership of it themselves. So many kids go off their meds, or ignore their health in other ways when they leave home. From an early age, Max had a say in decisions about his health. We, he, and his doctors were a team of partners, each sometimes pulling more weight than the others, but as Max grew into adulthood, the medication decisions became his. We also made him practically responsible for his care, filling out his own paperwork and managing his medications. We all do a lot of research and trust that we’re on the cutting edge of available treatments. As a result he owns his health and takes it seriously.

Despite the curve ball life has thrown him, he’s one of the most emotionally healthy people I know. He’s realistic about his challenges but doesn’t have a victim mentality. He knows that some people have it easier, and that others don’t. He’s honest, communicative, considerate, and has strong integrity and healthy boundaries. He’s true to himself and his needs when making life decisions. He’s respectful but not a pleaser and is successful in his life. He has great relationships with us, with his siblings, with his friends, and with Emily, his lovely girlfriend of five years. He’s confident and accomplished and people are often shocked to find out that he’s struggled so severely.

Mental health trials can come in the most unlikely packages. As he’s matured we’ve let him take the lead on telling his story — there’s such shame around mental health issues and while we never wanted to play into that (we’ve always treated his condition in the same way we would if he had, say, diabetes) we also didn’t want to make privacy decisions for him that he may have resented in adulthood. But he’s very open about his story, and through that he’s been great at breaking the stigma in our community. 

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series 

Florida is a quirky state, but for the most part we love living here. Jacksonville is in the northeast of Florida, on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a city of about a million, bisected by the beautiful St. John’s River. We followed Seth’s career here in 1997 when the city was still very provincial and Southern. Things have changed, and we now have a great local culture with excellent sports (Go Jags!), entertainment, food, and beaches. If you can put up with blazing heat in September and the occasional hurricane, Jacksonville is a terrific and affordable place to live.

Our neighborhood is aptly named Deerwood — we share this space with many deer and beautiful birds. Deerwood was started in the seventies and no two homes are alike. It has everything from traditional brick. to modern like ours, surrounded by huge old oaks, magnolias, maples, birch, and dozens of varieties of palms. The route to my house is covered in a canopy of oaks — it looks like something out of a fairytale.

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

We’re five minutes from the three major highways, and 20 minutes from the beach. Ten years ago our neighborhood was fully suburban, but as the city has built outward we’re now a hybrid. Turn left and in half a mile you’re in full suburbia with public tennis courts, parks, and fancy grocery stores. Turn right and you’re soon in an urban setting with city busses, ethnic groceries, diverse people and languages, and tight parking.

When we moved here 20 years ago I was worried about a lack of diversity, and I’m ever conscious that we live in the South where sadly, some attitudes lag. We’ve happily landed in the middle of Jacksonville’s large Indian community and have loved the friends we’ve made and the diversity it’s brought to this part of town. 

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

I found our house in the weirdest way! Years ago I got hopelessly lost in our now-neighborhood and remember driving by this house and thinking what a cool house it would be to live in. A few years later I drove by the house again and saw a for sale sign in the yard. On a whim I rang the doorbell, and three months later we were living here! We weren’t even looking to move and didn’t look at any other homes. This was in 2007, right before the bottom fell out of the market, but we got it for the decent price of $527k.

Our house is 4200 square feet on close to an acre with a pool, but it was leaking like a sieve, the floors were peeling up, it had iridescent purple tile, and a backyard that looked like a gator-haven. Over the next few years we did several major projects, and spent over $150k on mostly un-glamourous stuff — sealing the whole house, cleaning dumpsters-worth of dead landscaping out of the yard, pool refinishing, new roof, floors, kitchen, pipes, wiring, etc.

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

Our main requirement when picking materials was “does it hide dirt and is it indestructible”, but we also try for pretty, cozy, bright, and modern. I’m a huge believer in the impact that both nature and design have on mental health so we took out walls and added big windows so that every room has a full view of trees or water.

We’re picky about what goes on the walls and surfaces. Everything means something to us, and nothing is precious or bought just to fill an empty shelf. We all love handmade and regional/traditional pieces, and prefer clean lines and lots of negative space. I’m the queen of repurposing, most things in here are on their second or third lives.

We didn’t rush filling the house and collected most of our things over years of life, travel, and experiences. I don’t ever want it to look like we just ordered it all from a catalog! I don’t believe in bricks and mortar having a soul, but if I did, this house would have a good one. We’ve hosted birthday, graduation, and pool parties, reunions, tons of house guests, and even a few wedding receptions and house concerts, and given our kids a great place to come home to.

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

We’re incredibly fortunate to have a family home in rural Italy. It’s a beautiful and serene place that was originally a fifteenth century Jesuit monastery. It’s not fancy at all, in fact it’s very basic, as you’d imagine a monastery to be. But it’s set in a stunning Umbrian village and the home — actually three small buildings — wraps around a flower-filled and peaceful garden.

When my big kids were young we spent weeks there at a time each summer. We’d take very little from home, just some books and clothes. The village is tiny, and there’s not much to do so we’d take long walks, make good food, read and draw, and the kids were so content. Those summers taught me that you can live with very little in terms of space, clothing and personal possessions for a long time and that simple is often best. 

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

I’ve kept our village experiences in mind as our children and their possessions have left home. I’m largely driven by the principal of no-waste: no wasted space, no wasted possessions, no wasted experiences, and I can’t get past the feeling that this, our Florida home, is wasted on our now-smaller family. It’s been the perfect place to raise a large, active family, but I don’t want to waste my later middle age years taking care of empty spaces, and I sense our time here is winding down.

Of course, when that time comes we’ll be so sad to say goodbye, we love this house so much, but I’m excited  to make new memories, take on new challenges, and get out of my comfort zone! I have no idea where we’ll end up but I want it to be an adventure, just like living here has been.

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

In 2006 Seth and I took the kids back to South Africa. I hadn’t been back in a long time and was devastated to see the ravages of AIDS. A few years later, not having a clue what I was doing, and with the help of my church, family, and a few visionary friends, I started an HIV/AIDS project in a township of 50,000. The project grew quickly, and the next five years of my life were crazy, back and forth to South Africa and long hours trying to build something from nothing. Although it all worked out beautifully, I cringe now to think of how culturally clueless I was.

Early on I started to look for a local South African charity to partner with. Eventually we were able to roll our organization into a fantastic locally managed organization which has taken it to a level I never could have imagined.

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

Before I could launch into my next project the 2016 election happened, and I was forced to confront some uncomfortable decisions about my future role in the southern evangelical church. We’d been part of the church for our entire marriage, but remaining would mean compromising many of the things we stood for. Here in the Bible Belt, there wasn’t an obvious roadmap of how to live a life of faith, following the teachings of Jesus outside of an institution that no longer matched up with our beliefs. But we are nothing if not fully responsible for our own actions, and while we’ve thankfully kept close friendships with people we love we’ve sought out new ways to serve, learn, and deepen our faith.

We still go to church, but without the construct of the evangelical church to lean on, I’m even more reliant on my personal faith. I’ve had long periods of anger and sadness about the way this country has gone, but my Christian faith is one of forward momentum and if I dwell too long on what’s happened I get stuck. Life is short and my faith and momentum are strong, and I don’t want to waste that!  

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

My time in the township in South Africa — especially working with the courageous women there — was the inspiration for my work now, fighting human trafficking and gender violence. I work for Her Future Coalition and we focus on cases of extreme abuse at the epicenter of global trafficking, in India and Nepal.

Our survivors come to us at the moment of rescue and stay with us until they are recovered enough to rejoin society, which usually takes several years. We always work hand in hand with local partners, with full healing and independence as our goal. We’ve helped thousands of women and girls in the last decade, and have an incredible success rate, which I attribute to our full circle approach and long term commitment. 

One of the loveliest (and most design-related) aspects of our work is our jewelry program. We have trained over one hundred survivors as goldsmiths, a profession which previously has been practiced only by men.  Our jewelers create incredible, modern designs inspired by their own experiences and perspectives, and they take pride in being pioneers as some of India’s first women goldsmiths.

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids seriesHeather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

My work at Her Future involves a lot of strategy work and some fundraising. Our work is, by its nature, sometimes sad and difficult, but the joy of seeing survivors thriving is a tremendous counterbalance to the challenges. Last year some of our survivors marched in the Indian Women’s March — it was an amazing moment of victory for women who had been so terribly abused. Women are so brave and it’s a great time in history to be working for women’s rights. I meet the most incredible people in my job: amazing survivors, change makers, people of deep faith and action. I’m inspired every day! 

I’ve learned the hard way that I do my best work if I take care of myself. Service work can cause compassion fatigue and burnout. Self-care for me isn’t about spa days and lunches. It’s about family and friend time, reading, prayer, exercise, being in nature, all the things I should be doing anyway! Lately it’s also about turning off the news. The stories I hear in my job provide enough fuel for action, I don’t need more!

I’ve learned to surround myself with emotionally healthy people who support my work and the fact that I work. I’ve been a working mom, and a stay at home mom and I’ve been praised and criticized for both. At the end of the day, I’ve done what’s worked for me and my family. Other people’s value judgements typically say more about their lives than yours. 

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

I swore I’d never be one of those older moms who forgot the sheer work of having little kids. A long time ago an older mom told me that when my kids were grown, I’d give anything to have my worst day with them again — but she was wrong! I loved parenting little kids but it’s demanding, and it’s not hard because you’re doing it wrong, or because you’re not appreciating it enough, it’s hard because it’s HARD. I can’t see a young, frazzled mom without wanting to tell her that easier times are coming soon!

Those years go fast but it’s almost impossible to see that when you’re in them. I adored my babies beyond words, but I didn’t especially like the baby stage. I like my sleep, and although my infants grew up into delightful people, three of them were difficult babies and I wouldn’t want to go back to that stage! 

I did enjoy having young school aged kids, they have so much energy and curiosity and are still un-self-conscious and affectionate. We traveled a lot and homeschooled during many of those years and I’m glad I got to spend so much time with them when they were at their sweetest! 

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

Our home during those years was chaotic and messy, and the house took a beating, but overall that was a sweet and easy phase of steady parenting. We treat our kids like full humans and expect them to treat us and each other the same way. We didn’t want kids who yelled, so we tried not to yell. We didn’t allow slammed doors so we didn’t slam doors. I expected my children to stop and listen when I spoke, so I stopped and listened when they spoke. 

A child feels their feelings so strongly and I never successfully addressed a behavior, no matter how wrong it was, without first acknowledging the emotion. Obviously we’re not perfect and like any large family there were squabbles and we all blew it, and still blow it, from time to time. We give each other a lot of grace!

I had a little trick I used a lot in those years when things got heated and I could tell the wheels were coming off my bus, I’d ask myself how I’d feel if I heard my children talking to their children in the way I was talking to them. That’s such a reality check! 

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids seriesHeather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

My favorite phase of all though, was and is, the teen and young adult years. Truthfully, the thing I like most about this stage is that, on most days, it’s really fun. Life with my big kids around is like a party. Sometimes a party where you wish the guests would call it a night, but always a hive of activity: friends, books, music, opinions, conversation, and ideas. And older kids make you be your best self. You can’t be a hypocrite around your teen. They have a frightening capacity for calling out anything inauthentic so you’d better be ready to walk your talk!

This stage has lots of bumps in the road, but navigating those bumps helps make a healthy adult. In general, I’d say we push our teens hard in terms of character, guide them loosely with life direction, and pretty much leave timing up to them. The most important thing for us in raising teens is being good listeners and being able to gently reframe hard situations into a bigger perspective without minimizing their emotions. Those years involve so many decisions: media, dating, friends, morals, activities, college, careers, etc. There’s a lot! 

We had a strategy that seemed to work almost 100% of the time when key decisions were on the table. Seth and I would first talk, pray, and do our homework, then we’d sit down with the child for a private, low key chat about the subject. We’d listen first, and we’d spend some time discussing their feelings and making sure they felt heard. Whether we started or ended on the same page, none of us left those sessions feeling angry, even if the issue involved discipline. I have no idea why this worked so well, but I suspect it’s because the child always felt heard, respected, and that they’d had a say in the outcome. 

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

For less consequential things, we just had to get out of the way and let the child figure it out. I wish we’d done this more. Parenting teens is often an exercise in restraint. It’s natural to want to save them from pain, hardship and their occasionally foolish selves, but overprotection can easily slow the natural course of life and learning. Sometimes you can give a kid just enough help to sink them!

I hope my kids remember us as emotionally whole parents who weren’t trying to raise carbon copies of ourselves. I hope they remember the joy they brought us in getting to raise them and how much we hugged and loved them. I hope they remember how we made each other laugh, the trips we took, and the adventures we had. I hope they remember this as a house filled with books and music, and how into their passions we were: Lego, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, basketball, singing, animals, guitar, comic books, music. I hope they remember the parties and sleepovers, that our home was a safe and fun space for so many people, and mostly for them. I hope they remember Type 2 fun: that you don’t have to be having fun to have fun.

I hope they remember, until their dying days, that we got them a dog even though I don’t like dogs.

I hope they remember the really goofy things, the talent shows, theme nights, bake-offs, and that I re-upholstered the sofa and made them corny outfits out of the extra fabric, just to get them home for a family photo shoot.

I hope they remember that the greatest gift is when you get to choose your hard and that not everyone gets to. I hope they remember that not every battle is theirs to fight, but that some are. I hope they remember how important education is, but that they forget how we often made it the most important thing. I hope they forget how we often majored on the minors and focused on ridiculous, short term things.

I hope they forget how much I yelled at the dog.

I hope they forget about the times we made them honor and respect people who turned out to not be so deserving, and about the times we made them be silent and obedient when instead we should have been empowering them to stand up for themselves. I hope they forget the times we picked form over substance. I also hope that all memories of me feeding them pop tarts or lunchables is forever blotted from their memories.

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

My absolute favorite thing about living with my kids sounds so cliche, but it’s the ordinary days. We’ve done some big things, traveled the world, and braved so many literal and figurative mountains and valleys together. Those are great memories but they’re not what’s made us us. Funny conversations, small celebrations, movie nights, long chatty dinners, beach days, being goofy together, those things are my favorites.

I already miss the fun and the bustle. I miss looking over and seeing Will studying at the kitchen table, recounting a steady stream of interesting facts while I made dinner. I miss him convincing me which book I should read next, and then telling me so much about it that I didn’t need to. I miss him making me “Mom’s Music” playlists and his almost-empty LaCroix cans all over the house. I miss coming home to a kitchen full of Faith’s laughter and baking experiments. I miss my daily dose of education about women’s rights from a quiet, tiny, young woman who’d always had to stand up for herself. I miss Max’s hilarious raps and his many creative projects all over the house. I miss the way he energizes a room. I miss Anna walking in the door from school with her giant smile and throwing her long, skinny arms around my neck. I miss her gentle and loving tone, and her beautiful singing when she didn’t think anyone was listening. I miss seeing them talk each other through hard situations and the sympathetic glances they’d give each other when one of them was in trouble with us. I miss them arguing about Kanye and debating authors, movies, coffee beans, and who Tommy likes best. 

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series

I wish someone had told me that there’s joy at every stage, and that just because one phase is passing by, doesn’t mean that the next one won’t have great things too. I spent so much time in a mild state of panic about my kids growing up and leaving home, but here we are, most of them gone and life is still good. I wish I had known how awesome it is to see your kids turning into successful, healthy, loving adults who you like, and how much that would make up for the missing. I wish I had known how naturally an abundant life has a way of filling empty spaces with great things if you let it. I also wish someone had told me how much our kids were listening, how much impact we were actually having. So many times we felt like we were pushing a boulder uphill for nothing. But the benefit of having older kids is that you can actually start to see what worked. If we’d known how well it was working the boulder would have felt lighter. 

Today’s young parents have it harder than we did. Social media, Pinterest, the constant news cycle, it’s all added an extra layer of stress to parenting. But in many ways it’s made parents, us included, get our heads out of the sand about important issues. It’s so much more important to know why you believe what you believe than it was two years ago. I wish I’d spent more time teaching and modeling for my older children what standing up for your beliefs looks like. I wish I’d been a better example of living outside the echo chamber. I wish I’d introduced them to more progressive people in our faith, more thought leaders, more courageous people who were standing up for justice rather than protecting institutions.

They’re all extremely passionate, involved, socially conscious young people, but I regret not encouraging them more in that. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of living in our tiny corners of the world, and it’s taken me a long time to figure that out. We’re doing it differently with Tommy. We’ve talked more about oppression, immigration, economic models, culture, politics, what consent looks like, his personal responsibility as a white male in today’s world, than we did with our older boys. We’ve largely chosen Tommy’s school based on it’s diversity. Our older kids went to diverse schools too, and we were happy about that, but didn’t necessarily make it a goal. I’m thankful my older kids figured it out, and in some ways brought me along with them, and I’m glad for an opportunity to do it better this time around. 

I wish someone had told me how great it was, down in your bones life-giving, to get to this stage and be best friends with the people you raised. 

Heather Deyo's home in Jacksonville FL, featured by top design blog, Design Mom on their Living with Kids series


Wow! What a life you’ve built! Thank you, Heather.

I can’t wait to see what the next chapter of Heather Deyo’s life holds. If she managed to do all of this while raising amazing human being, I can only imagine what is coming next. And this house really is a stunner. Exactly what you want a house in Florida to be — big open windows, loads of light, wide open spaces, and tons of comfort.

I am so impressed with the way Heather has gotten involved in causes that have mattered to her. What a gift to be able to have helped so many individuals. It’s wonderful to imagine the impact that kind of work has on the world. I also loved Heather’s advice about turning off the news sometimes. It’s so easy to feel like in order to be engaged you have to be 100% up to speed on every tragedy and every scandal, and sometimes it gets to be too much. Heather’s advice to find the thing that motivates you and stick to that is wise and timely.

I also really loved what Heather Deyo said about different phases of life. Some of them are just hard! I think any parent knows that is true, but a lot of times we feel guilty that we aren’t enjoying a current phase more, or taking more advantage of it, or really cherishing every moment. There are definitely unforgettable moments when kids are small but sometimes when I see parents wrangling a group of toddlers I feel like I have a bit of PTSD. Hah! What phase are you in? Is it a hard one?



Macrame Lamp Shades and Plant Hangers

Jewelry from the women helped by Her Future

Heather Deyo’s Home in Italy is for Rent


Photo credit to Lyndsay Almeida. You can follow Heather on Instagram or learn more about” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Her Future Coalition. // Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram.

Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at

68 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Heather Deyo”

  1. This is hands-down the best LwK tour I’ve read. Heather has remarkable wisdom and insight—thank you so much for sharing with us!!

  2. Wow I loved this SO much! I am in the hard toddler season (can I hear an amen from all the parents of 2.5-year-olds?!). My husband and I have found the baby/toddler years so tough that we said for a long time that we are “one and done” but reading all about her amazing kids and the life they’ve built together is definitely adding weight to my “maybe one more” side.

  3. Wow I loved reading this. What an interesting woman. I am not a mom but I loved reading her insights about raising awesome kids.

  4. I really loved reading what Heather had to say. We will be welcoming our third child into our lives in January. There is going to be a 7 year age gap between my current baby and our new baby. I often wonder how differently my husband and I will parent our new child considering how much older, wiser and more practiced we are at parenthood than we were when we had our daughter and son. I found it so interesting reading Heather’s experience at parenting Tommy. Thank you!

    1. Thank you Cherie, and congratulations! I’ll bet you’ll LOVE the age gap and the chill that comes with age/experience. The baby keeps the older kids attached to the family for longer than they may naturally be, another plus. Good luck with it all!

    2. I have an 8 year gap between #2 & #3 and we love it! The big kids genuinely love their little brother and I’m so much more calm! I’ve enjoyed the little kid phase so much more. I do worry about him turning out a little spoiled. He has a pretty charmed little life. But we all just adore him!

  5. Heather, I loved reading this. I have kids that are elementary school age – and while I loved the toddler years, these years have become amazing – and I can’t wait for the teen years – to see what they like and don’t like. I’d love to know more about how you homeschooled and traveled…

    1. I’m with you, I loved those elementary school years, everything felt pretty low stakes during that time. DM me on Insta if you want to hear more about our homeschool/travel years – they were fun!

  6. Heather, I really enjoyed reading this! Your home is beautiful and spacious and light -filled but the best part was your insight on raising young adults. I am at essentially the same stage, oldest is 22, lives in NYC. Youngest is 20 and a senior in college. We’ve tried to raise our children in much the same way as you and I think we succeeded because they are wonderful adults. It has not been without challenges and I miss them so much because I truly like being with them. There is definitely a satisfaction in knowing that you’ve raised good people! Oh, and they became best friends in college so that part was funny to me. Thanks.

    1. Thanks Joy! I love hearing of other families who like their grown kids so much. Did your kids also learn to clean their rooms when they went to college? :) So much of the fruit comes after the pruning, arghhhhh!

  7. Best LWK yet — and not necessarily because of the (admittedly very nice) house. Her words resonated with me and I’ve spent more time mulling over them than anything else I’ve read recently. Thank you, Heather and Gabby.

  8. linda montgomery

    Heather is a good friend and the real deal! Their kids are the kind you really like to spend time with and know you will learn something interesting. I am blessed by her friendship and the honesty of this article.
    Life is tough and Heather has balanced her life, Seth’s life, and the kids’ lives with seeming ease. For anyone intimidated by the beauty and neatness of their house (“oh, mine could never look like that” “she has the perfect house so no wonder her life is great”), I have gone there many times when her house looks like all of ours! She (and her home) clean up very well! Thanks for sharing, Heather. Great photography, Lyndsay!

    1. check’s in the mail

      hahaha- I went to extra effort not to stage for the photos but it was wayyyyy cleaner than normal, AS YOU KNOW!

  9. I agree with the others who have said that this is the best LWK yet. Heather, you write beautifully, and I thank you for sharing so many amazing reflections and insights with us. I will come back and read this again when I need inspiration!

  10. What a great read! Thanks for really “walking the walk” when it comes to sharing your thoughts about illnesses of the brain with the same straight forward lack of shame we handle illnesses in other parts of our bodies. Chronic illness, especially for your children, is such a difficult thing for families to face.

    1. Yes it is Jenny, it’s so important to have a support system. So much of healing is just a matter of bringing things out into the open. And Lord, hasten the day when all chronic illnesses are treated equally!

  11. Rosemarie Gunsauls

    What a great honest, inlightling story. . You certainly have accomplished a lot, can’t wait to see what else you do.
    Sure wish we could get a better handle on mental illness in this country.. life is tough enough without that.
    Loved it …keep up the good fight.
    Rosemarie Gunsauls

    1. Thanks Rosemarie, and thanks for being supportive of my projects over the years! And I agree, we have a long way to go. xoxo

  12. This is one of the best Living with Kids. I barely even looked at the pictures, I just wanted to keep on reading. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Absolutely one of my favorite Living with Kids. Maybe because we’re “older parents”, we too have 4 kids-our oldest is 20, then 2 teens, and a 10 year old. Our youngest sounds so similar-easy going, fun, kind, and a lot of times we say we feel like the grandparents because we just enjoy him :) Loved the pictures of the house-but even those were so secondary to all the wonderful words of wisdom.

  14. Heather…thank you for sharing so candidly about your life and your family. It is a beautiful picture of how families are never perfect, but still can be really good! I agree that it is sooo much fun hanging with your adult children and watching them fulfill their dreams!

  15. So super inspiring! My oldest is only 6 so we feel eons away from having adult kids, but Heather makes the journey sound so appealing. I also love how she’s balanced raising a lot of kids with a very challenging and deeply meaningful career. And I laughed about the poptarts and lunchables; we are definitely in that stage where dropping the kids off to school on time, having fed them anything, feels like a small daily victory.

  16. This was my favorite LWKs yet. While her home is lovely, and I’m truly envious of her close access to the beach, her thoughts about her faith are something I will be pondering for some time. Since 2016, I’ve been wrestling with what does it mean to say I follow Christ and how does that translate to acts and positions I support. Heather, thank you for submitting this and sharing your heart so fully.

    1. Thank you Whitney. It’s a hard convo, and lonely at times. There’s so much need in the world though, I hope you find your place. xoxo

  17. Love this. A clever, readable writing style recounting a beautiful life.

    FYI, while in China, we had a South African friend who started an orphanage for unwanted babies with disabilities. It looks to me like South Africa breeds a strain of people with noble hearts. : )

    1. Thank you Mom (I recognize your name, you’ve got amazing kids! :))
      I’m biased but my South African friends are some of the most loving, giving, compassionate people on the planet and are so “can do”. I always learn so much when I’m with them!

  18. Best LWK! Loved every minute..great writing, insight (mom of 5 older kidsstill finding their way), and my fav was the dog comments. So so true!

    1. Thanks Sheila, I will say my kids are still finding their way too. Life is such a wild ride and with five kids I bet you find yourself hanging on for dear life now and then. xo

  19. My daughter (now 13) has early onset ADD, anxiety, depression and possibly OCD. We’ve been trying to do everything we can for her for years but it’s been very taxing emotionally for me and my husband. I’m glad to hear that your son has managed to succeed and thrive in spite of his mental health struggles. So inspiring!

    You have a beautiful home!

    1. Awww Melissa, my heart goes out to you. Puberty plus mental health issues make for a tough time. Those were brutal years for us/Max, but it got much better later. Not that the issues went away, as much as he/we learned how to manage them. We cut ourselves a lot of slack in those years, if we needed to collapse, cancel, regroup, we did. 13 was about the age when we started to be very open with our friends, and they were all so understanding and loving – you’ll be surprised how compassionate people will be if you’re vulnerable. Feel free to DM me on Insta or FB if you’d like!

      1. Thank you! ♥ I do feel like being open has been helpful. It makes my daughter a better advocate for herself. She’s never hidden the fact that she takes medication and goes to therapy and frequently talks to the counselors at school. My son also has ADHD and by sharing info about that on Facebook, several of my friends have recognized the signs in their own children and they’ve been able to start getting help. It’s such a change from our own childhoods where learning disabilities like my husband’s were ignored and mental health issues like my mom’s were swept under the rug.

  20. Your home is beautiful, but I especially appreciated your discussion of your son’s mental illness. We’re dealing with some behavioral, emotional, and physical challenges with my nine-year-old son, and I was especially struck by your efforts to keep your son in the loop and the conversation about his treatment. I will follow those guidelines for sure.

  21. Thank you, want to echo all the other comments. Heather, I would love to sit down with you and ask you about EVERYTHING. Is your writing anywhere else online? You are the person I want to be!

    1. Hi Dorf, thank you but I PROMISE I’m not the person you want to be! Let’s both be, like, Beyoncé or someone who doesn’t do her own laundry/carpool/floors. :)))
      No, you’re sweet to say but I don’t get much time to write – I wish!
      Feel free to DM me.

  22. I love LWK posts and look forward to them every week but THIS… wow! I barely looked at the (albeit GORGEOUS interiors and photos) house and just sat with Heather’s words for such a long time. #goals as the kids say :)

  23. This is by far my favorite Living with Kids segment yet. I too just wanted to read Heathers words and saw the house photos afterwards. She has so much wisdom and candor and I honestly feel like a better person for reading what she said. I’ve got some new ideas about how to work with my kids thanks to this house tour; thank you so much for introducing Heather to me and to all of us.

  24. LOVE the LWK segments, but this is the first that brought tears to my eyes! Your home is lovely, Heather, but beyond great style, you guys are serious family goals! We’re nearing the end of toddlerhood, and it’s bittersweet but families like yours make me so look forward to all that lies ahead. I’ll definitely be saving and re-reading this one again.

  25. I have to admit that I looked at the first couple of photos and almost didn’t continue reading. I didn’t think I had much in common with this house and the woman who lived in it…..but that was my own shortcoming because I learned so much from her about the mother (and woman) I want to be. I also struggle with my religion post-2016 election and I’ve had to reimagine my own faith. I have a feeling I’ll come back and re-read this post more than once for inspiration as I help guide my own teens through the next few years.

  26. Wow. This LWK blew me away! Heather has a gift with words and parental wisdom. As a mom of a 5- and 2.5-year-old, I sometimes get discouraged and have a hard time imagining the future. I am so over toddlerdom. I loved her statement, “If we’d known how well it was working the boulder would have felt lighter.” I hope my two children are as noble, creative, and kind as Heather’s. I hope she will share her next journey once it occurs.

  27. I loved this post so much. It has started my day over here in South Africa (yay for SA!) and although I don’t know Heather, her words made her feel like a really good, wise friend – I wish I could sit down for a chat! I needed to hear her words on the importance of letting our kids sort their own battles out sometimes. “Parenting teens is often an exercise in restraint.” I want to swoop in there and fix everything like an Amazonian battle mother but I have to step back and just support. Thank you for being so real and for sharing your insights. (and your gorgeous home!) xxx

  28. Wow, what an amazing fellow human! And the first Living With Kids where I didn’t see photos at all while scrolling down – I was SO Immersed in her words!!

  29. I don’t have kids yet, but I’ve been a babysitter for years. I’ve recently started doing some occasional after-school babysitting (until bedtime often) for a family that I’ve watched for a long time. Their youngest just turned three and this is the first time I’ve watched her, but the older two are in middle and high school, and I’ve watched them since they were about 2 and 4. It has been SO much fun to see the older two grow up and get the chance to know them as mature and wonderful older kids. I’m not necessarily there to “babysit” the older two, but they’re around and we play board games or play outside or even just talk a lot. It makes me feel a bit better about the prospect of raising kids and maybe enjoying the teenage years (if/when I have kids, that is), despite always thinking I was more comfortable with younger kids.

  30. Lachaka Dionyssopoulos

    This is my favorite Lwk installment ever! I always love scanning the photos of the home first but not this time. The content was the star. So much wisdom here that I printed the article and highlighted my favorite sentences and what spoke to me most. Please share more from women who have made it to other side share in this space. As a mom two tiny people, it’s encouraging to hear from other women who have gone before that this age wasn’t their favorite either and that it’s ok! I carry a lot of shame about not loving this stage of parenting even though I’d take a bullet for my tiny humans. It’s refreshing to read that it’s ok and doesn’t make you a terrible mother. I practice gratitude daily and am in love with all things one and four year old. But I too love sleep and miss the days not being frantic pretty much all day. Ha! This article inspired me to cast a vision for my family and to take that seriously because the later years will be here before I know it. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day to day struggle of littles and all the things that come along with that like judgement, opinions and non-support; that we totally forget to dream for our kids, our families and what life will be like after the dust settles. This Lwk… a blessing. Well done.

  31. Heather, thank you for sharing. It was a beautiful post. I agree with many of the commenters, I was so focused on the content of this LWK that I nearly ignored the photos! I’m only a few years away from having an empty nest myself. I found babyhood so challenging but am appreciating these teen years, especially as I know now how quickly they will all pass. I grew up in a southern evangelical church, but left as a young adult. I’m thankful for your perspective on Christianity. It gives me hope when times feel so dark. Thanks again.

  32. So much wisdom and hope. What an example! I think i skipped over photos just to read more of her words. Her way of raising emotionally intelligent and empathetic children is just so inspiring. Total parenting goals here

  33. Heather, thank you for sharing your wonderful story. I really enjoy reading your post. I am so touched about your story with your second son. I know it’s not really easy but your family managed to pull through. Your family story is really heartwarming and inspiring.


  34. This post brought tears to my eyes. My 5 year old daughter was diagnosed with depression last week… to say I am heartbroken would be an understatement. I so need to see the carefree, silly, bubbly, redhead that I knew just a year ago but she is missing right now. I’m so sad for her and I’m petrified of this journey. Reading your honesty about Max’s experience gave me hope. I would love to soak up your wisdom on navigating this part of our life.

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