Each year, we ask our readers to nominate incredible local moms in our Awesome Mom Contest. We're always blown away by their stories and it's almost impossible to select a winner. When we contact the three finalists, they're always so honored to be chosen. Truly, it is our honor to highlight just a few of the countless moms out there who knock it out of the park every day. We hope you'll be as inspired as we are by these three Awesome Moms.
WINNER: Donna Pittman
As the middle child of seven siblings, Donna Pittman grew up in what many would consider a big family. However, the number of children in her family growing up doesn’t really compare to the houseful she now has. Donna and her husband, Raymond, have added quite a few members to their “Pittman Posse,” as she calls it, 23 in fact.
They have 12 children ranging from age 43 all the way to 9 years old and 11 grandchildren from newborn to 22 years old. When you add in the four sons-and daughters-in-law and friends, Sunday family dinners really draw a crowd. Every Sunday, Donna cooks for 30 plus people.
“Our home is home base for everybody plus half the football team,” Donna said jokingly.
Ma, as she’s is known to many in and outside of the family, was a foster parent for many years, opening her home to children in desperate need.
“We did therapeutic foster care,” she said. “The kids came from such broken homes often with complicated medical issues.”
The Pittmans got their start in foster care in large part thanks to their oldest biological son, who befriended a child in a kinship foster situation.
“His mom left him with his aunt,” Donna said about the then 8-year-old boy. “The aunt didn’t really want him so he was placed in a shelter. He kept running away and showing up at our house. I’d call the shelter and they’d have to come pick him up. One day, my boys asked, ‘why can’t he just stay?’”
And so it began. The family eventually adopted him and nine other foster kids. Some joined their family as babies and others as teenagers. Their family is a diverse tapestry of cultures and races as well as developmental abilities.
“We are a multicultural family,” she said with pride. “We are all so different and it has made us all more accepting of others.”
To care for her children’s special needs, Donna has spent countless hours in classes, trainings and doctors’ offices.
“People tell us all the time that we are crazy,” she said. “But, it is just my life. It hasn’t been easy but I wouldn’t change it. If I can change the life of one child then I have really accomplished something.”
Pittman doesn’t let her family’s busy schedule or unique challenges slow her down.
“She is at all the basketball games, football games, tumbling meets, cheer meets and even watches all her grandchildren so they never have to go to daycare,” said Jennifer Jones, one of Pittman’s daughters-in-law. “I have no clue how she does it. I am in awe every day and I am a better mother for knowing her.”
The Pittman home is a direct reflection of their family. They’ve outgrown it many times and have added on here and there to make room for the new members.
“We outgrew our dining room so we made a bigger one,” Donna said. “And, now we’ve outgrown that one. We’ve added several bedrooms over the years, too.”
Donna has some wise words for anyone considering foster care.
“Go for it!” she said. “It was a whole new world and I am blessed because of it.”
For those wondering how she does it all, she graciously said there is no secret to it.
“There is always something that needs to be done,” she said, “so I just keep chugging along.”
To honor Donna for winning our contest, Donna will receive accommodations and spa treatments at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center in picturesque Sulphur.
FINALIST: Danielle Howell
Fourteen years ago, Danielle Howell entered motherhood with a bang when she found out she was expecting triplets. Multiple birth pregnancies come with risks and Howell spent the last few weeks in the hospital on bed rest. While in the hospital, she suffered a pulmonary embolism causing the babies to experience oxygen deprivation.
After a lengthy stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), Howell and her husband, Duane, brought home three baby boys: Jacob, Keegan and Harrison. Upon leaving the hospital, the doctors cautioned the new parents about the effects of oxygen deprivation and the many unknowns that come along with it.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” Danielle recalled. “The doctors said the boys might not ever walk.”
So when the boys hit such milestones as rolling over and their first steps, the Howells were overjoyed. As the boys grew, they began to notice signs of genius that soon turned to signs of concern. They began to notice autism and other developmental delays.
Danielle organized play dates, resource booklets and lunches with mothers of newly-diagnosed children and learned everything she could to help her children succeed.
“We are always looking for ways to help our boys to be as independent as possible,” Danielle said. “So many people tell me that God gives special children to extraordinary parents. But I am the one that is blessed to know them.”
In the mix of doctor visits, therapies and counseling appointments, the Howells welcomed another baby, a girl named Libby, four years later. Danielle continued to stay home with her kids. But as the boys grew into teenagers, Duane proposed a change. Because the boys were growing and getting stronger, things became difficult for Danielle. Duane suggested he stay home and his wife go back to work, so the couple swapped roles.
Danielle had taken a break from her teaching career when her boys were born. At that time, she was a first grade teacher. Now using many of the skills she learned to help her boys, she works as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher in the Putnam City school districts, helping elementary kids succeed socially and academically.
“I wasn’t sure I could do both,” Danielle said.”I used to pour everything I had into my (school) kids. I wasn’t sure I’d have enough left when I got home.”
But Danielle found she has many sources of inspiration to keep going; mainly her kids, both those at home and at school.
“They are all my heroes,” she said. “When I think about my kids and what they have to overcome, I have no business worrying. They don’t take anything for granted so I don’t either.”
Danielle balances her days between work and home by making the most of every minute. Between softball practice for Libby, Special Olympics practice for Jacob, Keegan and Harrison, church and homework, their days are very full. Recently, though, they have added something new: farming.
Jacob, Keegan and Harrison got involved with a program connected with FFA (Future Farmers of America) called Ag for Everyone. The program allows children with special needs the chance to care for livestock and also to compete in livestock competitions.
“It was so good for them,” Danielle said. “No one told them they had a disability and they did great. We love the responsibility factor, as well.”
So one year ago, the family packed up their home and moved to Tuttle to start their very own farm.
The Howells have lofty goals for their farm including making it into a family fun destination for families with children with special needs. For now, their farm is a place of freedom for their four children with room to roam. The four and half acre plot is also home to chickens, ducks, cats, rabbits, potbelly pigs and a bloodhound.
“It’s hard and a lot of work,” Danielle said, “but it’s worth every second for what it does for our kids.”
Parenting children with special needs can look different than traditional methods and the farm is just one of the many ‘workarounds,’ as Daneille called them, the Howells have discovered.
One of Danielle’s best pieces of parenting advice can apply to all children, whether they have special needs or not.
“We decided we are always going to assume our kids can,” Danielle said.
And that has been a very powerful tool.
FINALIST: Stephanie Rogers
Like all the moms we talk to after they’ve been nominated in our annual Awesome Mom Contest, Stephanie Rogers does not feel all that awesome.
“I don’t think I’m doing anything special, really,” the 31-year-old mom said. “I just try to be the best mom I can be.”
Her nominator, Leslie Willis, said otherwise. She’s married to Stephanie’s ex-husband, Aaron, who shares 50/50 custody with Stephanie.
“In today's time where the ugly word ‘divorce’ has left families broken and rendered children caught in the middle of their parents’ emotional trauma from their broken marriage, so many blended homes have had to suffer the disheartening effects of that divorce,” Leslie wrote in her nomination letter. “Many step-parents and step-siblings become victims that are unable to healthily blend together as a family due to this ‘war’ that was waged when divorce began. It takes a very special type of person and parent who can put away their bitterness, hurt, pain and maybe even brokenness to be strong enough to ‘let love rule’ for the sake of their children.”
To Leslie, Stephanie is that special person who lets love rule. But how does she manage to put past hurt feelings aside for the sake of her son?
“I think a lot of people in a blended family just put on a happy face and act civil but they don’t really feel that way,” Stephanie said. “They just go through the motions but they don’t really let the other person in. I decided to just get over it and just encourage everyone to love each other.”
Stephanie and Aaron’s son, Reagan, is 7.
Even after seven years, Stephanie admits she doesn’t feel she has parenting down yet.
“I feel like I’m very undeserving to be nominated,” Stephanie said. “I give it a good try and sometimes you climb into bed at night feeling like you really failed that day. You start playing through in your head if you gave him enough hugs that day, told him no enough times or yes enough times.”
On days she feels like that, she said it’s her son’s constant love and forgiveness that keep her going. That and a healthy dose of advice from her mother and grandmother. The best advice she’s ever received, she said, was to be aware about how fast time would fly when raising kids.
“Cherish every stage and every moment because you never know when it’s going to be the last time you get to wash his hair, push him on the swing or help him with his bike,” she said. “They outgrow the need for you to do those things so fast.”
Some other favorite advice Stephanie has received from her grandmother over the years is to be patient and take deep breaths and to be as much of a hands-on parent as she can.
“Try to get down on the floor and play with them as much as possible,” Stephanie said. “If they’re knee-deep in Play Dough, you should be too. Just have fun with them.”
Stephanie said she truly feels like she, Aaron and Leslie are a “small army” raising Reagan.
“She’s really hard not to like,” Stephanie said of Leslie. “She’s really, really great and we get along really well so it makes the whole divorce and shared custody thing so much easier.”
Whether Stephanie believes she’s deserving of the Awesome Mom title or not, she realizes it’s rare for a blended family to be able to operate in the positive light they operate in and she feels fortunate to be where she is.
“Your kids are always watching,” she said. “So whether I like my situation at the time or not, I always have to remember to model what I really believe for Reagan.”