Two and a half years ago, our world changed forever. 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. In the chaos that followed her sudden death, we decided to become Special Guardians to our Niece and Nephew. Our family is less than average and each day brings new challenges, grief that knocks you sideways and questions that can be difficult to answer.
Our journey towards becoming Special Guardians began two days after our Niece and Nephew’s Mummy died, when we had a visit from a social worker. She was rather matter of fact and explained that our situation should be dealt with by a solicitor, who would support us with the legal process.
Three days later, we met with a family law solicitor. We were told that because there was no will appointing a guardian, an application needed to be made to court. This application would be for a Child Arrangements Order, which simply decides where a child will live and would give us parental responsibility. This was submitted the following week, with a court hearing arranged for a few months later.
In the meantime, we were appointed a Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) guardian, who would act as our Niece and Nephew’s guardian during the court proceedings. She visited us three times at our home (we were still living with Aunt’s family at the time) and then submitted her application to court, advising that the Child Arrangements Order be made in our favour. We were granted the Child Arrangements Order but then the CAFCASS guardian suggested that we also apply for a Special Guardianship Order (which our solicitor had never mentioned and we had never heard of).
Special Guardianship would mean that our parental responsibility could not be reversed (unless we returned to court) but also maintains links with their birth parent, whereas adoption removes this connection. We were then appointed a social worker who would complete a Special Guardianship Report on us. We met with her six times, during which she spoke to our Niece and Nephew as well as other family members, and her final report was 60 pages long!
Before we knew it, our final court hearing was here. Along with our solicitor, CAFCASS guardian and social worker, we met with the judge for the final time. After hours and hours the judge finally concluded. He said that he heard something in our case that he has never heard in court before… we had said that looking after our Niece Nephew is a “privilege”. It honestly and truly is.
A big part of our role as Special Guardians is ensure that our Niece and Nephew’s memories of their Mummy stay alive. 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 lets those memories fade. We have never shied away from this subject and have always encouraged discussions of this nature.
These conversations frequently occur naturally, but sometimes we allocate time within our busy week to sit down and talk about our memories. 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. This whole process helps us to have positive, happy discussions about her. Occasionally, 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. If this does happen, it is also important for us to acknowledge those 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.
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 friends’ 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. As always, we talk with them about how these emotions are normal and that we miss their Mummy every single day too.
Another situation that can be challenging is when other people refer to us as “Mummy” and “Daddy”. 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 “we are their Aunt and Uncle”. Because of this, Niece and Nephew now have the confidence to respond in this way too.
Being a Special Guardianship family has obviously come with its challenges and we are sure that it will continue to do so. But more than anything, we just hope that we are making their Mummy proud.
A Guest Blog From Adam and Jade
Adam and Jade are 30 and 27 and live in Warwickshire. In addition to being Special Guardians, they enjoy city breaks, documentaries and messing around with their Niece and Nephew. They also have a blog which aims give an insight into the life of a not so average family, childhood bereavement and all the adventures along the way. You can follow their journey on Instagram and on their blog.w