Making Home Work: The Dooly Family Keeps It Real
The Doolys will define themselves
Daddy is a law enforcement officer. Momma is an educator. They have four beautiful children, two girls and two boys. They’re engaged, loving, busy and they’re a – screeeech! – stop right there! Steven and Dustin Dooly would never let anyone describe them as “typical.”
That comes from a mindfulness this couple shares. Both of them try, hourly, to maintain an open-hearted awareness, a golden-rule resolve to be honest and to treat others as they would like to be treated. But when they chose to create a family both by birth and adoption, they knew “typical” would not apply to them.
The two are first to say it isn’t easy to live your faith, principles and love out loud as a policeman and a high school teacher, or as parents, and that they do it imperfectly. Easy? Comfortable? Humbly, that’s not how she sees their parenting.
“No, this is awkward and hard,” said Dustin, who describes herself as the more assertive and blunt personality and Steven as quieter, more observational. “Do you know how hard it is to go to someone in humility and say, ‘I have no idea what I’m dealing with. Could you please help me understand?’ And he’s better at it.”
“I’ve got more experience not having a clue what I’m doing,” Steven said, breaking up her intensity with humor – his great talent.
What they mean by help includes the care of a family therapist for all six of them and support they accept gratefully, from friends of every color.
Because there it is, all over the outside of them. “Everyone can see us coming,” Dustin noted, with their two black and two white kids. They love their children equally for who they are inside and also face the possibility the world may regard two of the Doolys based on their outsides.
Dustin is “typical” in this way: Mothers are only as secure as the current state of the child they’re most worried about at any given moment. That’s why she thinks everyone should have a family therapist. “Sometimes one of us needs her, sometimes it’s all of us,” she said.
Steven and Dustin started out a little differently and, perhaps, the harder way. They married in 1995 after she graduated from Alma High School and she pursued much of her education by commuting to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Anna Kate was born after Dustin earned her master’s degree; she completed her doctorate the same year Barrett was born. Dustin taught at Alma and then became head of Fort Smith Montessori School.
Steven, who is older, seriously contemplated youth ministry as a career, then chose law enforcement. Mash up a blur of late nights and long hours as Phase 1 of their marriage.
In 2011, after much prayer and preparatory counseling, the Doolys explored adoption. When they learned their prospective son, Bryce, had a baby sister, little Avi also became their daughter.
Already deeply engaged with family, school, friends and the community, the Doolys more than doubled down to embrace and lovingly care for their children.
It included placing their trust in a therapist.
“That’s an important part of how we make it work,” Dustin said. “I think too many families know that they’re struggling and they need help, but have a stigma about needing help with mental health. We’re constantly knowing that we do,” she explained. “With adoption, children – at every new level of maturity – have a new understanding about loss, at different ages. They have to reprocess that at different times,” she said. “We had our therapist in place before the kids came home.” Dustin had sought an adoption counselor and grief/loss counselor – and fortunately found those abilities in one person.
Therapy is helpful to every member of their family, applicable to every kind of relationship they have with one another, Dustin stressed. “In our home it sounds like this: ‘Sounds like you’re really struggling, is that something you’d like to talk to (their therapist) about?’ The kids consider her a friend.”
And she quickly shoots down – hard – any notion she’s “Super Mom.” Recently, after the brothers had a big, messy fight, Dustin admitted in a hilarious Facebook post that she completely “lost it” and handcuffed them together with the threat they would stay that way until they made peace – which happened quickly. That was definitely done without the recommendation of a professional therapist, she pointed out. Mothers are gonna mother on some days!
Many home snapshots reveal a Dooly family propensity to dogpile happily on top of one or both parents, or each other. It proves they (mostly) all get along rather well.
This school year is one of big transitions for the Dooly family. “The littles,” as the family calls the boys and Avi, have attended Howard Elementary, a school they chose because it is led by black administrators and teachers. Bryce will move on to Darby Junior High, where his older sister attended.
Anna Kate will graduate from Northside High School in May and is enrolled in the Honors Program at the University of Arkansas. She expects to rank second in her graduating class. This is her year – being captain of the cheer squad, along with milestones such as prom and graduation to come.
Dustin, who teaches French at Northside, is present for some of these senior moments. Her dad does not miss many of them, either. And try to tell Avi, at 6, that she isn’t an official cheerleader.
Their father also marked a graduation, earning a promotion to sergeant in the Fort Smith Police Department. He supervises patrol officers and intends to lead them to more community involvement.
Steven surprised Anna Kate this summer by joining her in time to fly back from Germany, where she spent a few weeks with an exchange student the Doolys had hosted. As the oldest, Anna Kate has known all four international girls and one boy whom the Doolys have hosted. As if they weren’t busy enough.
Dustin and Steven highly value travel. They budget to give the kids broad experiences in balance with material things.
At Christmas, the parents pulled off a really big surprise: a family trip to Chicago. For “the littles,” it was the first trip to a major city. They saw all the landmarks, took pictures at Wrigley Field, visited the museums and saw the touring production of “Hamilton.”
It is one of the busiest school years yet for all of them. Dustin is enormously grateful to Steven’s mother, Delona Dooly Nash, for driving the children to school for many years. Anna Kate now drives herself, but their grandmother chauffeurs the three younger kids to and from school.
Their home schedule is a little different now that Dad has a new shift. The day still starts for almost everyone at a 7 a.m. breakfast. Everyone has after-school chores and homework responsibilities to be done before Dustin comes home.
Barrett and Bryce, and now Avi, play on Boys & Girls Club athletic teams and the family makes time to attend church and activities at Community Bible. They love the diverse church family and Sunday afternoon services.
The magazine asks families how they “make home work.” Steven and Dustin are unusually honest and open about their lives and challenges they perceive. Perhaps they do it imperfectly, as they claim, but it is certain they do it with unstoppable love.
– By Lynn Wasson
This article appears in the March 2018 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.