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story.lead_photo.caption Naomi Meeks of Conway, an adoptive mother of eight, was named 2020 Arkansas Mother of the Year by the organization American Mothers Inc.
(Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

Naomi Meeks has had a busy time riding out the covid-19 pandemic.

And little wonder. The Conway woman and wife to former state Rep. David Meeks is the adoptive mother to eight children ... all of whom are under 10 years old.

"Wow. She must be Mother of the Year," one might well remark upon finding this out. As a matter of fact, that's the very title Naomi Meeks holds. She was named 2020 Arkansas Mother of the Year, an honor bestowed by American Mothers Inc.

The award was established in 1935 by the American Mothers Committee of the Golden Rule Foundation. "The recognition of an 'admirable' mother was made to provide an inspiration to the nation who would represent a mother's unconditional love, inner strength, and courage," according to the American Mothers website. Every year, the organization, which has local chapters and state associations, names a Mother of the Year from nominees across the 50 states, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

In 2014, Meeks and her husband opened up as a foster home and went on to adopt three brothers, then ranging in age from 2-4, in 2015. Three years later they adopted a sibling group of five, then ages 2-7.

Here's a closer look at this amazing mom, who has certainly earned her title ... and the spotlight on this Mother's Day.

How did you find out you had been named 2020 Arkansas Mother of the year? How did you feel when you found out?

I received a call in the middle of December from American Mothers Inc. letting me know that Gov. [Asa] Hutchinson nominated me. ... I was absolutely shocked, honored and completely speechless.

You are a "PK" (preacher's kid) and the eldest of four children. Do you feel your upbringing prepared you for "such a time as this"? If so, in what ways?

I loved growing up as a PK! We were always helping in the community and ministering to families through various outreaches. We dealt with people from all kinds of backgrounds and situations. We originally met our sibling group of five during one of our church's outreach programs.

What first led you and your husband to open your foster home in 2014, then adopt? What is it in particular that inspired your passion for keeping together siblings who are up for adoption?

My husband and I had dealt with infertility for years before we decided to look at adoption. We were chosen by a birth mom in Florida in 2013, but she ultimately decided to keep the baby. We knew that we wanted to adopt, [so we] started looking at our options within Arkansas. During his time in the Legislature, David had learned about The CALL, Children of Arkansas Loved for a Lifetime. We originally wanted to [adopt a sibling group only, not foster one]. But after attending an informational meeting, [we found] our hearts changed. We learned of the huge need for people to [foster] sibling groups. The thought of being separated from your parents and your siblings in the same night just broke my heart. ... We both knew that this is what we wanted to do for as long as God would lead us.

Naomi Meeks of Conway (shown with her husband, former state Rep. David Meeks, and their eight children) became a champion of adoption of sibling groups during her time as a foster parent ... and went on to adopt two sets of siblings. “The thought of being separated from your parents and your siblings in the same night just broke my heart,” Naomi Meeks says. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

Our first placement was a risk-placement adoption for three brothers, 1, 2, and 3 years old. It was a rough few months at the beginning with the growing pains, but our families really stepped up to help out. Once our chaos lessened, we fostered several other kiddos, and at the time of our first adoption, we were fostering a teen mom and her baby. We have had several other siblings come into our home, and each of them will forever hold a very special place in my heart. Not one day goes by without me thinking of each kiddo that walked through our door.

Even with your desire to keep siblings together, did you have any idea when you began your journey that this ministry of adoptive motherhood would include eight?

I have always wanted a big family, but I had no idea that would include being a mom to eight kids all currently under the age of 10. I really love my big family!

What are the children's names and ages, eldest to youngest?

JD and Esther are both 9 years old. Their birthdays are 10 days apart.

Ben and Sarah are both 8 years old. Their birthdays are 6 weeks apart.

Zach and Matthew are both 6 years old (7 in June) and they are 11 days apart.

Jacob is 5 and a half, and Noah just turned 4 years old.

How welcoming was Group One to Group Two?

We had a family talk with our three boys before we made any plans to adopt again. They were really excited when we were telling them about the five. JD loved that he would be the oldest (even if it was only by 10 days). They all would have someone their age in the house and they would have sisters! The boys had been asking for sisters for a while. The merging went really well. They sometimes drive each other crazy, but they really do love each other.

In the beginning, we did a lot of bonding exercises and family fun to really help everyone get along. We still have game nights and try to do a lot as a family. We also made our mental health a priority. Most of us, myself included, see counselors regularly to help work through trauma and other various issues that arise. We have been blessed with some great people to lean on when things get overwhelming.

How have you been able to manage your large family during covid-19, social distancing and stay-at-home orders? How have you handled the children's home schooling, their restlessness, their "personality clashes" while all together at home? Have you mapped out a "system" for keeping the family on track, and do you have anyone helping you?

We have actually been doing fairly well with staying at home. At the beginning of the quarantine, I decided that we were going to do our best to stay on track, but not at the expense of our own sanity and relationships. Our school and teachers have been absolutely amazing in helping us stay on track with our school work without being overwhelmed. [Among] our eight, we have ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder], sensory processing disorder, language disorders, anxiety. We incorporate a lot of activities to keep it fun. We have a semi-set schedule with a lot of time playing outside, computer schoolwork, reading and writing. Some days we get it all done, some days we get nothing done.

What kinds of looks/comments do you get while out with such a large family, and how do you deal with them?

We get all the looks! We get a lot of shocked looks, a lot of "bless your heart" and "you have your hands full" [looks]. And bless those sweet parents who tell me I'm doing a great job when my kids are touching all the things in the store! We do a lot of grocery pickups these days, so we haven't had a lot of those comments lately.

How do you and your husband manage to keep the fun, and spice, in your marriage in light of your special ministry of parenthood?

It really is hard work to keep our relationship going strong. Parenting eight kids with trauma and special needs can be incredibly wearing on your relationship. We do our best to wake up before the kids and do a devotional and pray together before the day begins. We also have an amazing support system with our families, friends and church. If we need a date night or weekend away, they will step in and help with the kids to make it easier on us.

What is your advice to adoptive-parent hopefuls, especially those who want to adopt large families?

I would encourage everyone to attend an informational meeting in your area. The CALL and DHS [state Department of Human Services] hold meetings each month. They will have all the information you will need to begin your journey. I would encourage you to have an open mind and heart. There are so many children and teens out there that need a loving home, whether it is a temporary foster home or a forever adoptive home. I also realize that not everyone can foster or adopt, but there is always a way to help. Giving, teaching, helping, praying ... everyone can serve these children in some way.

High Profile on 05/10/2020

Print Headline: Mom of 8 kids under 10 named Mother of the Year

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