Meet the New, Cool Duggars: The Hendersons of Colorado

Sure, they’ve got “only” seven kids. But the Hendersons of Aurora, CO, featured this week on their local Colorado News 9, share much in common with America’s most famous supersize clan, the 19-kid Duggars, including a penchant for homeschooling, organized chores, higher learning and even names that begin with “J.” But in the Henderson household, being open minded and experiencing a mix of other cultures is of utmost importance, as is going off to college—even for mom—and playing in the family rock-and-jazz band.

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“Does that make us, like, the city-fied Duggars?” mom Janelle Henderson said to Yahoo! Shine with a chuckle. “I feel like part of my role is to show there are other kinds of homeschoolers,” she said, adding that she has friends who are actually more like the Duggars. “A kind of modern homeschooling.”

Being African-American, she also noted, makes their story unique. “You hear a lot about the disparities in education in the African-American community, especially with boys. So often we hear about what’s not working. So when something does work it’s worth looking at,” she said.

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In the local TV broadcast, Henderson rattled off the names of her five sons and two daughters: Jayde, Jeven, Jhia, Jarec, Jake, Jenna, and Jordan, who range in age from 13 to 24. She said she was simply carrying on a “J” naming tradition that began in her family with herself and four siblings. (For the Duggars, according to a family blog post, the “J” thing was just an accident that began with the name Joshua, kept up with each new child so that no one would feel left out.)

While the Duggars keep having kids because they are members of the evangelical Christian Quiverfull movement, which promotes procreation, the Hendersons say their strong Christian faith was not the driving force.

“I used to say I was never going to get married or have kids,” said a laughing Henderson—who also happens to be a long-distance runner, model, jazz singer and graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. But when she met and fell in love with Wayde, she explained, her mind was changed; they agreed to have five kids, and wound up with seven. Financially it’s often been a struggle, she admitted, though a positive attitude and love of big family has carried them through.

Homeschooling—the type of education that the Duggars have also famously opted for—was a concept that the Hendersons stumbled upon while shopping for school materials that could supplement their first child’s preschool education, Janelle explains.

“I overheard a conversation about homeschooling while shopping in a new school-supply place,” she said. Adding that the shop owner introduced her into this whole world of homeschooling that has a set curriculum. She delved into it for that first son, and, “By the time he was 5, he was in the second grade.” In an aim to not have him fall behind, she decided to stick with the approach—for every child that came along.

And now, after 21 years of Janelle leading daily at-home lessons, it’s been paying off: The three eldest have graduated from the Community College of Aurora (after starting there at 16) and are currently continuing their education at Metro State University in Denver, where mom is also a student. Two offspring are currently attending the community college, and the two youngest are on their way. (So far, six of the 19 Duggar children have opted for the online College Plus degree path.) Father Wayde, meanwhile, who had originally contemplated a life in the ministry, is busy working three jobs, including his main one as a counselor at the Denver Rescue Mission.

“I wasn’t trying to raise extraordinary geniuses,” Henderson explained about her decision to homeschool, which she hasn’t regretted. “But in addition to teaching them, I got to know them as people. There was no way I could have done that [otherwise].” She also realized, during the process, that she was glad to have the freedom to instill her Christian values onto her children as she taught them.

Making the Henderson household run smoothly has taken discipline and cooperation, mainly in the form of a printed schedule that includes assignments for chores. But, she’s quick to add, “I like to think of myself as a balanced person. And if you’re too rigid, nobody’s going to be happy with that.”

So for bonding time that’s fun, there’s the family band, with an eclectic style that reflects what all the children like, from Kanye West to Jimi Hendrix and James Taylor. (The Duggars are musical, too, if in a different style; each child plays piano, viola, violin, harp or cello). It’s a mélange of drums, guitars, bass and vocals, and the crew either practices at home or performs in public on a weekly basis. And, while Janelle sings with them, she’s also started singing with a jazz band on her own, too.

“I delved into the mommy role, but at the same time I didn’t want to lose who I was,” she said. “I don’t want my kids to feel like it’s their burden to make me happy after they’ve gone off on their own.” 

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