How this mother of 10 — together with 6 with fetal alcohol dysfunction — conquered pandemic parenting
When schools closed in March 2020 at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, Alicia Dougherty was suddenly home … with all of her 10 children.
Between live lessons and asynchronous work, the family’s school day often didn’t end until 9 p.m. “We had to switch to business WiFi,” says Dougherty, whose children are 3 to 10 years old. “It still didn’t work. The children’s WiFi is switched off several times a day. “
While her husband Josh, a teacher, was teaching his own high school special needs students about Zoom from his home office in Pittsford, New York, Dougherty had to imprison the rest of her brood, many of whom have specific educational and behavioral needs, to keep everyone safe was focused and learning. “They pretty much all needed me one on one,” said Dougherty.
Fortunately, Dougherty, 40, has a special education degree himself. But finding the physical space and patience to give each child the attention they needed was a huge challenge.
Eventually, the children with the most behavioral and educational needs returned to personal school four days a week and the teenagers were in school two days a week. The change made Dougherty’s school-related multitasking a little easier, but the week felt like a logistical nightmare.
However, Dougherty persevered. She often reminded her children of one of her family mottos: “Doughertys don’t give up.”
After their marriage in 2003, Josh and Alicia Dougherty experienced infertility and 11 miscarriages, which led them to the decision to adopt their first child, Alex (now 15), from a foster family when he was 5 years old. Six days later, they found out they were pregnant with Zoey (now 9). The couple gave birth to three more children and adopted five more children, including two biological siblings.
All six of the Doughertys’ adopted children have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), a group of conditions that occur when alcohol passes from a mother to her baby through the umbilical cord. FASD can lead to a mix of physical, behavioral, and educational problems.
Little did the Doughertys know Alex had FASD when they welcomed him to their home; he wasn’t diagnosed until after the couple sought an explanation for Alex’s behavior. Then the Doughertys became “the go-to nursing home” for children with FASD. Dougherty said, “We recognize that we are well equipped to address the academic, educational and therapeutic needs of children.”
FASD manifests itself in “toddler-level tantrums” and insomnia in the adopted Dougherty children. Dougherty said the most difficult aspect of FASD is the children’s lack of executive skills, these are the mental processes that enable people, among other things, to make plans, focus attention, and remember instructions.
“You don’t really solve problems for yourself. You can’t follow multiple step instructions. And often they cannot even go through a single-stage direction. They could lose their focus because it is not specific enough for them. I literally have to be their leader, ”Dougherty said.
Know Your Value spoke to Dougherty to find out how she survived (and continues to survive) the pandemic, how the family is preparing for a new school year … and if there is room at home for another Dougherty.
Dougherty called the remote school days at her home in Pittsford, New York “intense”. The teenagers did their work in their bedrooms, as did their 9-year-old. The “triplets,” birth son Dash, 7, and adoptive twins Jordan and Jason, 6, were in the same class at school; They borrowed laptops so that each child could have their own screen. Dougherty had to set them up in three different areas of the house to keep the sound from echoing. Bodhi – her biological 4 year old with autism – had remote occupational therapy, speech therapy, and special education sessions. And Harlee, her youngest 3 year old, “just hung out,” laughed Dougherty.
Dougherty didn’t have a lot of outside help, so she didn’t have a lot of downtime. Her husband was teaching, her parents were in self-quarantine and her mother-in-law had health problems. She cleaned houses on the weekends to earn extra money to support the family.
“In general, it’s hard to be foster parents. It’s hard, ”said Dougherty. “These children have many problems, many trauma, and you are helping them deal with them and heal from them. There are definitely moments when we wanted to stop. But we will prevail and we will carry on. And then we use that and turn it around for our children. If they’re frustrated with homework, we remind them that “Doughertys don’t stop”. You have to go on. You can do it.”
One thing the Doughertys loved about surviving a pandemic together was all of the family time they could enjoy. “We didn’t spend time together to be around the clock,” said Dougherty.
But in the summer of 2020, the Doughertys realized that constant togetherness without a structure was a bit too much. Dougherty said, “We were crazy. With 10 children at home, we’ve all lost our minds. “
Dougherty noticed that her kids were busy with TikTok. “I didn’t even know what it was called then,” she said. Dougherty made an account and one day she made a video. And she made another. “We’d find a dance to learn or something funny to re-enact and make us laugh. Then we started posting videos and found that they made other people laugh, ”she said.
Now Dougherty and her family post a video almost every day, and her TikTok account has 1.8 million followers watching Dougherty’s large-scale family prep, daily routines, and viral challenges.
A new school year
This September, the oldest nine children are going to school in person, while 3-year-old Harlee stays at Dougherty’s home. The lack of distance school printing made their days less complicated, but the reintroduction to face-to-face schooling made their days longer.
On school mornings, Dougherty sets her alarm clock at 3 a.m. so she can be awake to have coffee, prepare breakfast and lunch, and check backpacks for homework and water bottles. The teenagers wake up at 6 a.m. and leave at 7 a.m. Then she wakes the next group of children to get them out the door at 8 a.m. Gloves and even snow pants.
“From 6 in the morning to 8 in the morning it’s just going to go, go, go, madness. And then I breathe, ”said Dougherty.
How does she do it all? “I won’t go to bed until 11:30 pm,” said Dougherty. So I have about 20 hours a day. You can do a lot in 20 hours! “
A dozen of a baker?
Josh and Alicia Dougherty have a second family motto: “There’s always room for one more.” Though Dougherty said of biological children that “the factory is closed!” she and Josh will “keep fostering and adopting.” Indeed, they were approached to take another foster child into the family. “We’re trying to find out,” said Dougherty.
Regardless of your family size or circumstances, Dougherty said, “If you feel overwhelmed, just take it day at a time. And if that’s too overwhelming, just keep breaking it open. Take it for an hour, for half an hour. Choose a bright spot in your day and focus on it instead. Humor and laughter can seriously get you through these crazy stressful moments. “