NOT YOUR AVERAGE FAMILY (BEING SPECIAL GUARDIANS)

EMOTIONAL, INSPIRING, LOVE & MARRIAGE, MOTHER OF ALL LISTS, MUST READ, THOUGHT-PROVOKING

Social media opens my eyes to so much: constantly reminding me that often people are contending with challenging situations that hadn’t even crossed my mind. One such example of that comes from @notyour_averagefamily who find themselves a ‘Special Guardians’ of their Niece and Nephew. This is their journey:

In August 2016, a very special woman passed away suddenly, leaving two young children without a Mummy, an Uncle without a Sister and an Aunt without a friend. Two and a half years on, our not so average family has had to adapt and adjust continuously. Dealing with bereavement, impossible questions and unexpected challenges are part of our everyday lives. Here’s a list of our journey so far:

  • Following the sudden death of their Mummy, we decided that we wanted to be the adults that would take care of our Niece and Nephew.

  • After many meetings, it seemed that Special Guardianship was the best option. We worked alongside a CAFCASS guardian, family law solicitor and social worker who completed a Special Guardianship assessment report.

  • Special Guardianship would mean that our parental responsibility could not be reversed (unless we returned to court) but it also maintains links with their birth parents, whereas adoption removes this connection.

  • This was granted in May 2017! But far more than securing Special Guardianship occurred during those first 9 months.

  • Those first few days were such a blur.

  • We were dealing with our own grief, the children’s grief, all the while thinking “how on earth are we going to do this??”

  • In the space of three weeks our Niece and Nephew had lost their Mummy, moved homes, gone back to school and attended their Mummy’s funeral. They were so brave.

  • But “what about their Dad?” we hear you cry.

  • He has never chosen to be in their life. He has never met Nephew. He had the opportunity to attend our court hearings and contend our applications, but he chose not to participate.

  • We answer any questions they have about him honestly and as knowledgeably as we can.

  • Special Guardianship gives us a higher level of parental responsibility over birth parents. This means that if he did change his mind at any point in the future, he would have to take us to court.

  • Becoming Special Guardians obviously changed our lives dramatically.

  • We went from living at home, doing what we want when we want and napping anytime, to being responsible for two young children in the space of a few days. Obviously, this has affected our relationship in a big way.

  • We do try to allocate time for each other in the evenings or at the weekend but we tend to find ourselves sitting on opposite sofas, watching the TV and scrolling through Instagram. It isn’t difficult to slip into this routine.

  • Before becoming special guardians, spending an evening like this wasn’t necessarily an issue as we had all the time in the world and we also didn’t have to organise a babysitter if we wanted to be spontaneous!

  • But now, as most parents will understand, the weeks just fly by at a ridiculous speed and we sit there thinking “when was the last time we actually did anything together?!” It can be so easy to get caught up in the chaos of family life.

  • Obviously, as soon as we became Special Guardians our families really wanted to ensure that we kept our relationship positive and exciting.

  • Not only is that important for us and our sanity, but it’s equally important for our Niece and Nephew.

  • We want them to feel part of a safe and secure family unit, which would be extremely difficult if their guardians didn’t actually like each other anymore.

  • Uncle’s Sister’s last words to us were “go and have fun you two!” And that’s exactly what we plan to do.

  • We have received invaluable support throughout from a variety of different sources.

  • First and foremost, both of our families were, and continue to be, utterly amazing. They would do absolutely anything for Niece and Nephew and help us so much. Whether this is babysitting when we want or need a night off, doing the school drop off and pick up or taking the kids to the park. We wouldn’t have been able to do any of it without them.

  • Our friends have been our rocks. They have always allowed us to talk openly about what we are going through and been there to take us back to our lives before being Special Guardians.

  • Starting our blog has also been an amazing support. We wish we had done it sooner.  Connecting with so many diverse families and sharing stories has made us realise that we are not alone. That every family is unique and some of the struggles we have are struggles that most families experience.

  • As her death was sudden, it wasn’t easy for us to process it and deal with the gaping hole that she left behind.

  • Somehow, having our Niece and Nephew live with us helped us to deal with our initial grief. Probably because we had to stay strong for them, but also because their Mummy’s memory lives on through them.

  • This doesn’t mean that it was easier in any way though. We had to support each other immensely during that time, reading each others signals and ensuring that we had enough space to process our grief as well as trying to help.

  • We have to do this on an ongoing basis as grief hits you in the most unexpected moments.

  • When Uncle and his Dad told our Niece and Nephew that their Mummy had died, they told them facts.

  • We believe this has really helped them to understand death and hopefully helped them to process their bereavement. Particularly as their Mummy’s death was so sudden.

  • We also think that this helps our Niece and Nephew to express their emotions and know that how they are feeling about their Mummy’s death is perfectly okay.

  • We will always communicate with them about their Mummy’s death and know that the more difficult conversations are yet to come.

  • We have never shied away from this subject (which, surprisingly, some people think is the best option) and have always encouraged discussions of this nature.

  • We are advocates for encouraging our Niece and Nephew to talk about their Mummy.

  • These conversations frequently occur naturally, but sometimes we allocate time within our busy week to sit down and talk about our memories.

  • In our opinion, talking about their Mummy, about her personality, about the memories we made and the things we miss, helps us all to process our grief and never let those memories fade.

  • Despite these conversations happening regularly, we were conscious that these memories may gradually grow faint and disappear.

  • Every so often, we sit down at our dining room table to write memories we have and place them into our ‘Mummy Memories’ jar. These can include anything from Mummy’s favourite film to how unbelievably amazing her cuddles were.

  • Sometimes these memories come easily, sometimes our Niece and Nephew have to think a little harder to remember something.

  • We also like to write down reasons why we love Mummy.

  • This whole process helps us to have positive, happy discussions about her. But sometimes these conversations turn to sadness.

  • They make us remember just how much we miss her and how much we wish she was sat at the dining table with us.

  • We also think it is really important for us to acknowledge our emotions and talk to each other about how we are feeling. It is key for our Niece and Nephew to understand that we all have those emotions and it is all part of our grief (are you noticing a theme here?)

  • We all know that as we grow older, we forget more and more. We hope that in ten years time, they will be able to read through everything in the Mummy Memories jar and think about all of those different things that may have turned fuzzy over the years.

  • Becoming a special guardianship family hasn’t been without it’s challenging situations which we’ve had to try and overcome.

  • From day one, we have tried to appropriately explain to our Niece and Nephew that their family is more than likely going to be different to many of their friend’s families. That all families are different and we aren’t the only ones.

  • We frequently ask our Niece and Nephew how they feel about having a different family. They usually respond by saying that they feel okay but that they miss their Mummy.

  • Another situation that can be challenging is when other people refer to us as “Mummy” and “Daddy”. It’s an easy mistake to make.

  • In the beginning, we just ignored these instances as we thought this was the easier option.

  • It wasn’t long before we realised that this was not the best way forward. For some reason we thought that we would have to give a total stranger our whole life story, instead of simply saying “oh no, we are their Aunt and Uncle”.

  • They now understand that not everyone knows about our unique little family, and it’s okay to just say “that’s my uncle” without getting into a deep and meaningful conversation about it.

  • Our Niece and Nephew know that we are their Aunty and Uncle but tend to call us by our first names.

  • Let’s get this straight: we will never, ever be their Mummy and Daddy. It’s pretty surprising the amount of people that think that would be the case.

  • As expected, our relationship has been changed quite dramatically since becoming Special Guardians.

  • We feel so honoured and privileged to see our Niece and Nephew grow up.

  • Whenever we see them achieve something new we are just filled with so much pride. It never fails to amaze us how much they have overcome in face of such heartache.

  • Seeing them proud of themselves and their successes, not matter how big or small, is just so wonderful to see.

  • It’s also often in those moments that we see their Mummy shine through too.

  • There is no doubt in our mind that she would be unbelievably proud of them.

  • We will obviously have to consider how “not so average” our family will continue to be in the future.

  • Many people ask us whether we want our own children one day. The answer, obviously, is yes.

  • However, this will probably happen at a later date than we originally had in our mind. Theoretically, it will be like having a third child, so we want to make sure that the timing is right not only for us but for our Niece and Nephew.

  • Being called Uncle and Aunty and Mummy and Daddy and Niece and Nephew and Cousin will undoubtedly be complex.

  • We will continue to face challenges as a family but hope the our honest approach to parenting will help us tackle those positively.

  • We definitely worry about how their bereavement will impact their future and how they will deal with the trauma they have been through.

  • This is particularly true of the teenage years. Being a teenager is difficult enough without the added impact of childhood bereavement. Will they resent us and the decisions we have made? What questions will they ask us? How will it affect their future relationships? Their exams? Their life choices?

  • It is clear that we just need to take each day as it comes.

  • We just really hope that everything we have done since their Mummy passed away will help them manage their feelings and emotions and, despite the trauma they have been through, mean they have a happy childhood and adulthood.

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3 Comments

  • Reply NJMT April 30, 2019 at 7:04 am

    Such a powerful story! I’m in awe of the strength of that family x

  • Reply CB April 30, 2019 at 7:28 pm

    I’m a special guardian too. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m thrilled it’s being talked about. My experience has been that it’s almost impossible to find families that look like mine online. It makes all the difference to me

    X

  • Reply Meg May 1, 2019 at 4:05 pm

    It’s difficult to find the words to comment on a story as heart wrenching as this. Niece and Nephew are blessed to be surrounded by love with people who continue to celebrate their Mummy and not try to replace her. Well done Aunt & Uncle for embracing this unexpected responsibility with open arms and open eyes, you are amazing. ♡♡♡♡

  • Leave a Reply to CB Cancel Reply