by Sherida Mock
Life for Jen and Brandon Hatmaker is hardly slow. The couple, who lives in Buda, just south of Austin, are both authors and tour the world on speaking engagements. They are also parents to five children. They are working to launch a nonprofit called the Legacy Collective. And a few years ago, they tackled renovating a 100-year-old farmhouse. In spite of their hectic schedules, they found time to sit down with us and talk about their family life.
AF: Tell us about your family.
Brandon: Jen and I have been married for 23 years. We met in college. We had our first kiddo, Gavin, then we had two more: a girl [Sydney] and a boy [Caleb]. Then we adopted two more about 5 years ago from Ethiopia; Ben and Remy are 13 and 10.
Jen: We’ve got one in elementary, one in middle, two in high school and one in college. It’s very weird.
AF: Are you originally from Austin?
Brandon: I’m from Colorado. Jen is from Kansas. We met at Oklahoma Baptist University. I was a junior; she was a freshman. She chased me.
Jen: Oh, brother!
AF: What brought you to Austin?
Brandon: We had been doing student ministry, and we had an opportunity to come here. We fell in love with Austin. It’s home.
AF: Brandon, what’s your new book about?
Brandon: It’s my second book. “A Mile Wide” addresses the idea of “a mile wide, but an inch deep” religion. It digs into what Jesus said about living in and serving your community. I think a lot of people are searching for a faith that’s more than just going to church. I wrote “A Mile Wide” to help people experience freedom in their faith, which leads to a fuller life. So many times we see religion as not good news. I think there’s something wrong with that.
AF: Jen, tell us about your new home and accessories line.
Jen: It’s the Jen Hatmaker Collection with Glory Haus, a fabulous company out of Marietta, Georgia. The artisans for our leather products are coming out of homelessness and/or abusive situations. I’m thrilled about that. For me, it’s not just a matter of putting out some really great products, but it’s job creation for some really capable and smart and worthy women who were in trouble.
AF: What was it like to do the HGTV show “My Big Family Renovation?”
Jen: We couldn’t have expected it or planned it in a million years, but HGTV came to us with the proposal. We bought this old house. It was built in 1908, and it was a disaster—a hot mess.
Brandon: We lived in the house as we restored the whole thing.
Jen: It was, of course, during the coldest winter in memory.
Brandon: No heat, no kitchen.
Jen: No electricity. Brandon and I lived in a room off the garage. Our boys lived in a camper on the back of our property. And our two daughters lived in just whatever room was not under construction. But it was really fun, and this old house is such a dream.
Brandon: It was the first thing we did as a full family, after our adoption. Jen: It just feels like this is our place. It’s a joy to live here.
AF: You both have so many projects. How do you manage your schedules?
Jen: We constantly adjust. At this point, we only have kids in the house for eight more years. It’s not that long. It’s funny how much they need us as teenagers. While they may not need our physical parenting as much, they need our emotional presence a lot more. We are trying really hard to balance that well.
Brandon: We’re intentional about when we travel. Right now, we don’t travel during the week at all. So we’re here in the mornings when they get up, and we get to pick them up from school.
Jen: Our life is definitely unconventional, but in general, we treat our weekdays the way other people treat their weekends. Our kids are very used to the rhythm.
AF: Have you always had this much purpose?
Jen: We have both always leaned in hard to what we feel our purpose is here. This is our one life, and we want to use it well and spend it well.
Brandon: There’s a point where as a parent, you go, “If what I’m doing has no significance, why am I doing it?”
AF: What do you do for family fun?
Jen: We are lake people, big time. A few years ago, when all our kids were turning into the teen years, I remember saying to Brandon, “Our days of children’s museums and parks are over. We need a new way to pull our teenagers in tight.” So we bought a used boat. My parents also have a 350-acre ranch a couple of hours away from here, with cattle and four-wheelers and no internet. We love it out there.
Brandon: We made a decision a while back that for gifts, we’d give experiences. We want to create memories together. I think we’re going to look back and say, “Wow, that was significant.”
Jen: Destination Christmas, instead of a bunch of presents under the tree. When our kids turn 13, they get a surprise trip somewhere with a parent. If it’s a boy, they go with Brandon. If it’s a girl, they go with me.
Brandon: It’s kind of their coming of age trip. I take my boys back to where I grew up in Colorado, and we just do outdoor stuff and talk about growing up, character, integrity and what it means to be a man. It’s a fun trip, but it’s also purposeful.
Jen: Well, I took my daughter to New York, and we shopped [laughs].