NORMAL — Michelle Duggar doesn’t claim to be a professional parent, but the mother of 19 had plenty of advice for more than 3,000 moms at Friday’s opening of the Hearts at Home Conference at Illinois State University.

“I want to encourage moms like others encouraged me,” Duggar said during a break between conference sessions at Braden Auditorium.

Describing parenting as a “journey,” she and her husband, Jim Bob, shared what they have learned along the way during their joint keynote address and a “Practical Parenting Tips” workshop. The workshop encouraged mothers by giving them a glimpse into what isn’t shown on the couple’s weekly TLC reality show, “19 Kids and Counting.”

“You really can’t eat off our floor,” said Michelle Duggar, describing how breakfast cereal often hardens on the floor. “The reality of life is we are a big family that makes big messes.”

And, while their children may seem to always get along on their show, they do argue and bicker, she said, adding there have been days when she felt she “refereed all day long.” The Duggars stressed “getting along” early, encouraged their children to think about how others feel and required them to apologize to each other.

The investment has paid off, Michelle Duggar said.

“The older ones are best friends because of the years we spent working with them when they are young,” she said.

It was Michelle Duggar’s story about how she decided to always speak in a soft voice that impressed first-time attendee Cindy Penn, who traveled from Collierville, Tenn., to hear the couple speak.

“I love the fact that she chose self-control,” said Penn, a mother of four. “It inspires you to keep working and not give up.”

Hearts at Home CEO Jill Savage said talking about the spectrum of mothering moments — from the awesome to the frustrating — helps moms feel they are normal.

“All moms have the same needs,” said Savage, who noted the organization, once targeted at stay-at-home moms, now strives to reach all mothers.

It’s the connection to other moms that inspired Crista Albertson of Alpharetta, Ga., to organize a group of 13 friends and family members to attend Friday’s conference.

“We are all going through trials. I don’t feel alone,” said Albertson, a mother of four who has attended all but two of Hearts at Home conferences in the past 15 years.

While moms share needs, so do children. Michelle Duggar said she hoped moms would take home one very important lesson.

“Love your kids, because they grow up so fast,” she said.

The conference continues Saturday on the ISU campus.

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