Celebrating Foster care Moms on Mother's Day
"God has blessed us and given us so much more than we deserve and it's only right that we give it back. Adopting a child through therapeutic foster care is our opportunity!"
Dennis goes all out on Mother's Day. Every year, he makes an extra effort to show how much he appreciates his wife Elizabeth, as an aunt, and as a Godmother. He celebrates the woman she is and the mother that she will become one day. The cards Dennis gives to Elizabeth are always so beautiful. Dennis doesn't know that every year Elizabeth always steals some time alone to reflect. It's during that time she thanks God for the amazing man Dennis is and is so grateful for the way he sees her. This is also a time for Elizabeth to sit and imagine what their lives will be like once they finally are blessed with a child of their own. Mother's Day is always an emotional time for Elizabeth. She explains, “I never share this with people, but it's difficult to look on social media and not get emotional seeing pregnancy announcements or ladies taking "mommy and me" pictures with their little girls and not feel some type of way. For some, Mother's Day can be a painful reminder of the struggles of trying to conceive, family and friend’s constant fertility advice and prying, and personal challenges. That's been my story for years. Thankfully, this year, my story is different.”
Eight years ago, Dennis and Elizabeth were sitting in his mother's living room discussing plans for marriage, children, and future goals. Six months later, they were married and beginning their lives together. Fast forward to April 2019. Elizabeth was sitting in a meeting and sharing with someone that they were finally in the place to revisit the idea of adoption. Elizabeth said, "This person told me that there was a place upstairs that assisted families with adoption. I stood up, pushed in my chair, dismissed myself from the meeting, and went to search for the office." Elizabeth checked every door upstairs until she found the door that read Southern Christian Services. Since then, Dennis and Elizabeth have been on a roller coaster ride transitioning from a family of two to the Conerly family of three!
Tell me a little about yourself and where you came from?
Elizabeth: I enjoy helping others. My faith and relationship in God is my strength. Spending time with my family, friends, & loved ones is my love language. I don't believe that you have to spend a lot of money to have a good time. I'm content with spending quality time with my family. We don't have to be doing anything fun or exciting as long as we are doing it together. I've spent my entire life on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. My family is here. My Church is here. This is home.
Dennis: If I had to describe myself, I would describe myself as mellow and calm. I follow peace with all men. I prefer others before myself. I just like to chill. I enjoy nights in at home with my family. I'm from New Orleans, LA. My family and I were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. We established ourselves in Gautier, MS.
When did you know you wanted to become foster parents and later adopt?
Elizabeth: It seems like since forever that I've wanted to adopt. I love helping people and improving their quality of life. I knew for certain around age twenty-two that I wanted to adopt. My family suffered the loss of three members within a three-month span. My niece left behind her two-year-old daughter. I wanted so dearly to put her daughter in my car and bring her back with me to Mississippi. Realistically, I knew I could not yet provide for her on my own. The next year, Dennis and I got engaged and married. During our period of engagement, we both discussed and agreed that we wanted to adopt in addition to having children naturally. We couldn't afford a pricey adoption so we researched ways to adopt that would allow us to add to our family and not create a financial hardship. This is why we chose to adopt from foster care. I've worked with children in several different capacities. As a teacher, I would become instantly attached to my children. I would be so devastated once they moved on or left the facility. This was one of my greatest fears when we began. I did not want to create and build a bond with a child, and then become separated from that child. We are a family of faith, so we trust God and his plan for our lives.
Dennis: Growing up in the projects, I saw a lot of brokenness and struggle. I was raised primarily by my mother. There were many people like me without fathers. I didn't have one myself. I played park ball and went to school. My coaches were like father figures to me. They came from where I came from, but they overcame adversity and returned to help others like me. I always wanted to give back like they did, and this is my opportunity.
What is your parenting style like?
Elizabeth: My parenting style is a mix of trial and error coupled with nonnegotiable. I believe in learning, growing, and adapting as you go along life's journey. There's no way to plan for the inevitable, this is where trial and error comes into place. I'll try reaching, connecting, and disciplining my child and that method may work today, but it may not work the next time. I just do what works best for me in that moment. I used to use this saying a lot at the beginning of our placement. "We do not negotiate with terrorists!" Now, our placement was trying in the beginning and we experienced several tantrums, meltdowns, and everything in between. In the heat of the moment, I would stop in my tracks, lock eyes with my husband, and turn towards our child and say, "We do not negotiate with terrorists!" Dennis and I would break out laughing. This helped keep us leveled and it would catch our child off guard. She would stop and look at us crazy and just walk off. One day she asked me what that meant. I made eye contact with her and I told her that meant that I couldn't begin to listen to her and what she wants until she started following the family rules. That was the time for me to explain why her actions were breaking our rules (We speak with respect/We respect others). She would say things like, "If you let me stay up, I'll be good tomorrow." I explained to her that she couldn't trick me into allowing her to stay awake and her trying to trick me wasn't respectful. I would then let her know that tomorrow she could watch two more episodes of her favorite show, but she had to go to bed right then in order for me to keep my end of the deal. She stopped crying, she got a chance to express herself, I explained the rules, and we agreed on a better tomorrow. It's moments like those that keep us afloat when things got rocky.
Dennis: My parenting style is consistent and diligent. I desire to provide my child with the structure and care she/he needs. I seek to always be available to him/her.
How would you describe your relationship?
Elizabeth: In the beginning, she didn't trust us. In her mind, we wouldn't let her go home and be with her family. It took a while for her to identify us as safe people and then as her people or family. She wouldn't let us touch her, hug her, or get too close. Three months of being present and consistent, we went from Mr. Dennis and Mrs. Elizabeth to Mommy and Daddy. Now, she won't go to sleep without giving us kisses, loving, and hugs. She takes my hand and won't let go during long car rides. She often tells us that we are the best parents that she never met before!
Dennis: Our child really likes playing with me. We have a good relationship.
What are some of your favorite memories and special family events together?
Elizabeth: We first met our child at an adoption celebration event. She spent the majority of the event running from me and trying to find her social worker, it was literally one of the best days of my life. When she talks about that day, she only remembers the fun she had. We spent this past Christmas together as a family. We watched movies, baked together, opened presents, and visited family. She got excited each time we introduced her as our little girl. The best time that we had was when we were decorating, setting up, and getting ready for her fifth birthday party; she couldn't believe everything was about her and for her!
Dennis: I enjoy every moment of our family time together!
What type of activities and interests do you do together?
Elizabeth: We go to church as a family (Pre-COVID-19). She loves going to church and playing with her friends. We also have girl's night and that's when she, my Goddaughter, nieces, and myself will all go out to eat and spend the evening shopping for costumes and dresses. We enjoy going to the movies, going to parades, walking and riding bikes, cooking, FaceTime calls with long distance family members, and writing letters to our friends and family.
Dennis: We enjoy doing gymnastics and Circus So Lei acts.
How has adoption affected your lives?
Elizabeth: COVID-19 has put a halt on our adoption finalization. The thought of adoption has changed me forever. I want to make up for all the time that I didn't spend with my child before she came to us. I can't wait for more memories and more firsts. I want to always be emotionally, physically, and spiritually available to her.
Dennis: Now that our family has grown, I have to buy more stuff. I'm outnumbered! The best part of this is that we have outgrown our home and will be looking for a new one in the near future.
What would you like to share with other families who are thinking about fostering and/or adopting a child?
Elizabeth: Do it. Give it a try. It may be difficult. You may have some tough days, but it's worth it in the end.
Dennis: If you're going to do it, do it. Be informed. Pay attention during training. It will prepare you for what's ahead! When it gets rough, keep going!