Stephanie Williams McKnight, named by American Mothers, Inc. as the California Young Mother of the Year, followed the promptings of the Spirit to lay the foundation for her family before she had even found the gospel.
She obtained special permission from the dean of California State University-San Bernardino to take up to 26 credit hours per semester while working as well.
"It was a very busy time, but I knew that I was doing it for a reason," McKnight said of her college years."Looking back, I see that it was a total prompting from the Spirit to get me in the right place at the right time."
She joined the church when she was 21. She had always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom because of her mother's example of commitment to motherhood.
Her final year of college was a busy one — at age 22 she finished her master's degree and married Mitch McKnight. She also became a mother to her husband's two daughters from his first marriage.
At age 25, McKnight is the youngest Young Mother of the Year for 2013. She lives in the small town of Ramona in rural California with her husband, two daughters, two sons, a dog, some chickens and a covey of quail. Her dream of being a mother has now come true, although she never realized it would include farm animals.
"I don't know how this happened," she said with a laugh.
Taking care of the animals is a family affair, and the quail and eggs are considered part of the family's food storage. McKnight is already signed up to teach a class on quail-raising for the school 4-H club when her daughter joins next year.
McKnight continues to use her teaching degrees. She recently began home schooling her daughters. She says this was an inspired decision that has also allowed her to keep teaching, which she enjoys.
She keeps her active, growing family on track by focusing on Christ. She gave one example of teaching her children about kindness by using examples from the scriptures.
"I don't want to just tell them, 'No, it's not right to be unkind,'" she said. "I also want to tell them why from a biblical perspective."
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Drawing on companionship from her Relief Society sisters in the Ramona Oaks Ward, especially the examples of her visiting teachers, has helped guide McKnight as a mother. She joined the church less than four years ago but this support along with her love for her family and the Savior make up for any lack of church experience. She tries to visit the women in her ward regularly, cultivating those friendships that will strengthen them both.
"I hope my children remember that I always tried to be an example for them of living a Christ-centered life," she said.
Working to first gain the trust of her two daughters and then add her sons into the family was not easy. However, McKnight began working hard to lay the foundation for her family years before she knew them.
"The whole LDS perspective on raising children is that it isn't something that ends," she said. "This is a process that is going to keep us together for eternity."