For Tracy Mulkey, living in a two-principal family with four kids truly is a balancing act.
The principal of Emerson Elementary, who is married to Bruce Mulkey, the principal of Adairsville High, said having a routine as well as help from her family — Emilie, 20; Katie, 18; Braden, 10; and Brylie, 9 — enables her to keep the scales of her personal and professional lives balanced.
"I have a very strict routine, and I am very hard on myself during the school year," Mrs. Mulkey, 42, said. "I don’t allow myself down time in the afternoon. I normally leave work around 4 [p.m.] and head straight to Pine Log to pick up the younger children. Then they do their homework while I cook supper and do laundry. I normally try to go for a run while the kids have some electronic time. Then we do baths and bedtime."
Mulkey, 47, said his wife "makes a lot of sacrifices for all of us."
"There are nights that she gets in bed after midnight and will be up by 5 the next morning to make sure a uniform has been washed or to make sure that the house has been straightened up," he said. "You know that line in the song, 'most mommas ought to qualify for sainthood?' That sums it up. She's a saint."
Emilie, a junior at Georgia Tech, said her mom has "definitely been a huge inspiration to all of us, and she’s taught us that you can definitely balance work and family."
"She was at every game, cheer competition or awards day growing up," she said. "She works so hard at her job and taking care of all of us. There are definitely days where she’ll work for 12 hours but still come home and make dinner for all of us. She expects a lot out of us, and both of our parents expected us to help out … and I think that brought us closer as a family."
Katie, a senior at AHS, called her the "most selfless woman I know," while fourth-grader Braden said she is an "awesome mother because she pays for all the stuff for me like clothes, food and sports."
Mulkey, who's been a school principal for 10 years, said he was "extremely proud for her" when she was named principal of Emerson before the 2015-16 school year after being an assistant principal for six years.
"She's always supported me and put my career first so I was so excited for her when she was given the opportunity at Emerson," he said. "She's worked so hard and been through some things that many people haven't, personally and professionally."
His wife is a "very proud person" and doesn't talk much about her family struggles when she was growing up, but her parents' serious health issues kept them from working regular jobs. Mulkey said.
"Tracy and her siblings did without a lot growing up, but it made her a stronger person," he said. "She worked for everything she had when she was growing up, and nothing was easy for her. Her approach hasn't changed today. No one is going to outwork her as a mom or a principal, and she makes it look easy. She's a natural."
But as well as she's done professionally, "nothing is more important to Tracy than her role as a mom," Mulkey said.
"She'd sacrifice her career tomorrow if it was what needed to be done for one of our kids," he said. "She celebrates their successes and agonizes when they have setbacks. She can be really tough on each of the kids because she has high expectations, but each of them knows how much she loves them."
Mrs. Mulkey called motherhood the "most rewarding and most challenging job I will ever have" and said she "wouldn't be able to juggle all my responsibilities" without her "wonderful children."
But there was a time about three years ago when she said she found herself constantly nagging and complaining about her kids.
"God intervened in my life, and the book, 'The Power of a Praying Mother' by Stormie Omartian showed up — literally showed up," she said. "My life and relationship with my children literally changed. Instead of being a nagging mama, I became a praying mama. My relationship with my oldest daughter, who is most like me and very independent, has been changed the most. No longer do I feel like she hates me."
Mrs. Mulkey said she was "absolutely not ready to be a mom at 21, but I quickly learned."
"I had Katie two years later, and for the longest time, I felt like a single mom because Bruce was a high school football coach," she said, noting she's worked hard to be the best mom she can be. "I am such a better mom to Braden and Brylie because of the mistakes I made with Emilie and Katie."
She also said she went through a long period where she "resented the pressure of having a full-time job and the responsibilities of being a mom and wife."
"The pressure and stress really got to me, and I just broke down and gave it to God," she said. "I started praying, and God showed up in a big way in my life, and I turned my resentment into thankfulness. I am so thankful I have a family to cook for and pick up after and take from one event to another."
With the Mulkeys, who will celebrate their 22nd wedding anniversary in July, both being principals, their schedules often require them to attend after-school and evening events that take away from their family time at home.
Most of Mrs. Mulkey's school activities are done by 4 p.m. each day, but as a high school principal, her husband has athletic and fine arts events in the evening as well as a few monthly community events to attend.
"Normally, Bruce and I are only home together as a family a couple of nights a week," Mrs. Mulkey said. "While we do make sacrifices for our jobs, we try hard to balance our priorities."
"We can usually find a night or two that everyone is at home so that we can spend some time together," said Mulkey, noting finding family time takes a lot of planning. "Like most large, active families, that usually centers around dinner."
But they also manage to turn some of their work-related responsibilities into family time.
"Tracy will take the kids to programs at Emerson from time to time, and the kids really enjoy coming to games and concerts at AHS," Mulkey said.
Spring, however, is "a blur for the Mulkeys" because of all the high school events taking place, Mulkey said. "A high school in the spring has something going on almost every night, and Tracy turns into a single mom for about six weeks," he said.
The pace eases in the summer, but because principals work year-round, they have to be at school four days a week.
"We do take some time off and take a vacation to St. Simons [Island]," Mulkey said. "We've been going there every summer as a family for 15 years. We enjoy eating the same meals at the same restaurants and beaching at the same location every year. The beach is Tracy's special place."
But regardless of the season, the Mulkeys set aside Sunday to spend together.
"Sundays are definitely sacred for us," he said. "We don't make it to church as often as we should, but that's a day that we set aside for each other. We usually have a big breakfast, and we're usually going to cook a big dinner at night. This time of year is special because we've opened the pool for the kids, and we light the grill almost every Sunday."
Mrs. Mulkey's workout and jogging time that she enjoys also is sacred time, Mulkey said.
"All she asks for is 30 minutes a day for herself, and the kids work very hard to make sure she gets it," he said.