Terri and Michael Hawthorn adopted seven siblings on Dec. 3 — bringing their number of children up to 13
In 2016, Michael and Terri Hawthorn took in twins Lacey and Layna, then 8 years old, as foster children.
Little did the Hawthorns know, that act would mark the beginning of a journey to their “complete family.”
“By the second day that Lacey and Layna were here, they were calling me ‘dad.’ They were calling Terri ‘mom,’ Michael recalls to PEOPLE.
“Just a couple more days after that they started telling us that they loved us. I told my wife I was in trouble. Having two cute little girls calling me ‘dad’ and telling me they love me — I didn’t know how I could let them go,” he says.
Over the next few years, the Hawthorns briefly took in many of the twins’ siblings but were heartbroken each time officials with the Arkansas Department of Human Services moved them to other homes while working to permanently place the children.
“When DHS kept moving them out of our house, it just kept ripping our hearts,” Michael says. “Before we ever even dreamed of adoption, Layna was asking if she could live here forever.”
By May, however, all of the siblings had gone to live with the Hawthorns in the family’s home in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Joining Lacey and Layna were siblings Dawson, 15; Kyndall, 11; Addiley and Arria, both 9; and 8-year-old Nixson.
After her first day with the family, Kyndall asked the couple to adopt them.
In September, the Hawthorns began the adoption process and it was finalized on Dec. 3.
“They really got a hold of us early on, to be with our family,” Michael says now. “We were already a family before the adoption was finalized. All the court hearing and the paperwork did — it just made it legal and finalized it. But we already looked at them as being part of our family a long time ago.”
“We knew two years ago that we were gonna adopt them,” Michael continues. “We promised we wouldn’t give up on them.”
In April the Hawthorns also adopted two young children who are not related to the seven siblings adopted his month: Korgen, 3, and 1-year-old Haizlee.
Along with the Hawthorn’s four biological children — Ryan, 32; Blake, 28; Jordan, 25; and 20-year-old Micah — their family has grown to 13.
Just weeks after the adoption went through, the Hawthorns gathered for “our first Christmas as a complete family,” Michael says, and the day couldn’t have been better.
“There was a lot of excitement on our part and their part,” he says. They all told us that this was the best Christmas that they’ve ever had. They’re as cute as can be.”
Terri is a stay-at-home mom and Michael works with his son Blake’s landscaping business.
Michael says it does get a little cramped in their five-bedroom home, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We knew they weren’t going anywhere a long time ago,” the doting dad tells PEOPLE. “For them, they have the security now of knowing that they’re not gonna get moved out of our home.
“It’s been a relief for them knowing that they’re here now and not going anywhere.”