By Grace Moore
Andrea Mills started her own YouTube channel in 2015, when her second-to-youngest child, Claudia, was three months old. Today, nearly 47,000 subscribers tune in to watch videos about her faith-based family life.
Andrea and husband Tom have lived in their three-bedroom home in Moorcroft for 19 years; the house started with two bedrooms and one bath. However, as the family grew, they separated the basement into Tom’s home office, a real library for home school study and a bedroom for the four boys.
The girls sleep upstairs and will enjoy bunk beds, too, as soon as they are completed; young Hannah still sleeps in her parents’ room until she can have her crib in with her sisters. The couple plan to add a second bathroom downstairs soon.
Besides Tom and Andrea, there are nine kids including Thomas, Asher, Judah, Justus, Eden, Solomon, Sophia, Claudia and Hannah; the oldest being 16 and the youngest, four months.
Andrea home schools the children and they study the Bible as a family. These are not popular ideas in today’s ‘mainstream’ society; a fact recognized by the couple, but Andrea knew that they were not the only people trying to maintain a simpler family based life style.
“Tom and I have a different perspective on a lot of things than a lot of people so I started sharing what we think and about our lives,” she says.
“I always wanted to teach and…when I found You Tube, I started looking for other moms like myself and other home school and large family moms out there and watch[ed] some of their videos.”
The Mills family is unique in this area, says Andrea. “There are a lot of families, but not a lot of them home school, and there are a lot of home school families, but none of them are big families. So it was really neat finding people on You Tube who were more similar to my situation.”
In the beginning, Andrea had a lot to learn. “I didn’t know how to edit, I didn’t know anything about making videos,” she shares.
However, she did not let that stymie her. She utilized free editing software and a 30-day course on how to start a You Tube channel to give herself a head start and jumped right in.
“I started making videos and putting them out there and on my Facebook page so, hopefully, somebody would watch it. Within probably a month or two, I had about 60 subscribers and I was so excited about that,” she says.
Then, the family went on vacation to California.”I was videoing every day of our vacation. All of a sudden, stuff really started exploding; when we went on our trip, we had about 1000 subscribers and when we got back, we had about 3000,” she says.
Andrea made a series of videos about the family home and how they fit 11 people of varying sizes and ages into a three-bedroom-one-bath-house. Andrea took her viewers on a virtual tour and the video showing her sons’ room went viral.
“That’s really when people started finding my channel. That video had about four million views,” she says.
A lot of the attention and comments that specific video received was and is still negative, though, says Andrea. Another channel that advocates an alternative lifestyle actually campaigned against Andrea and Tom’s child rearing based on the video.
“[They called on] their viewers to call the Department of Family Services (DFS) and DFS came to our house because so many people called to say that we were neglecting our kids; [The agent] came to the door and said, ‘Clearly, the things these people are saying are not true’,” she says.
“Just by looking in the door, she knew that the claims were ridiculous. I cried all day when that happened.”
Andrea says that most people who have found her channel admit that the boys’ room is the first video they watch. It’s not all bad, says Andrea, “By the end of the month, I’ll probably have about 47,000 subscribers.
For a shy person in her day-to-day life, it may seem strange to share so much of her world with the public at large. “It’s just me and I’m living my life and showing what we’re doing. So people can watch if they find it helpful,” she says.
When she and Tom were trying to conceive their youngest, for example, Andrea shared her solution of progesterone cream and received many comments thanking her for the advice as it helped others in a similar quandary. She also shared parts of the delivery on her channel with overwhelming reviews.
In answer to the negative comments, Andrea admits that there are people out there who are “just awful; I used to try to reason with [them], but there’s just so much to do that I don’t have time to deal with them”.
On the other hand, she says, most people are supportive; when their youngest, Hannah, was born, people sent baby gifts.
“I had a stack almost to the ceiling in the bedroom of gifts that people sent for her. We did a live video opening them so everyone could see and it took like an hour and a half,” she says.
Andrea’s family has become, in many peoples’ minds, an extension of their own.
“People have said that they have adopted us and every birthday, we literally get presents and cards in the mail for whichever kid whose birthday it is,” she says.
People have thanked Andrea for her message of a home-based life for changing their perspectives and giving them hope for their own dreams of a different future.
“Every week we get letters from people saying wonderful things about how much we’ve changed their lives,” she says.
One lady said in the You Tube comments that whenever someone asks her about home schooling, she refers them to her ‘friend, Andrea’. Andrea says she encourages that type of response in her viewers because she too seeks those who understand what she has sought for her family and with whom she can connect.
Andrea has been surprised at the variety of people who watch and comment on her videos.
“I assumed that it would be just people like me but, for instance, there is a group of single men who comment on almost every video. I think they feel like they’re a part of our family because of the way I do my videos. That makes them feel like they are really connected,” she says.
“The other day I had a comment from a girl who said ‘I’m a 21-year-old dancer in Las Vegas and I have no idea why I can’t stop watching your channel; it just gives me so much hope’.”
Andrea has received comments such as, “I’m a Muslim, but I still love watching you,” and, from atheists who subscribe, “I see everything completely different than you do, but I can’t stop watching your family.”
“That’s what I get the most joy from,” Andrea smiles. “When people say ‘Watching your family gives me hope for the world’, ‘It makes me feel so hopeful ’, ‘You have no idea how much you’ve changed my life’, ‘Wow, it opens our eyes to a different way of seeing the world’. I don’t really understand how that’s happening, but it is.”
In today’s society, the old-fashioned values and grace maintained and taught within the Mills home are something of an anomaly, but have proven of value to a wide range of individuals who seek a different way of seeing things and hope for something perhaps not formerly recognized. Andrea recognizes that nothing lasts forever, but says as long as the family feels that God is saying this is what he wants them to do, they’ll keep on doing it.