On August 31st 2016, our family’s world was changed forever. Adam’s sister, who was 25 at the time, died suddenly. She was an amazing Mummy to three children who were aged 4, 5 and 6.
Two of those children, our Niece and Nephew, needed to be cared for, as their other parent had made the decision not to be in their lives. Looking back, those first few days just seem like a blur.
Not only were we dealing with our devastation, supporting the family and putting on brave faces, we also had to make a decision: where would our niece and nephew live?
During a conversation driving home one evening, it was decided; we wanted to be their guardians. This is where our journey to becoming a blended family begins.
We honestly did not have a clue about how and where to start this process. But fortunately for us, we met with a social worker a few days after Adam’s sister passed away. Unfortunately, that particular social worker scared the life out of us. She emphasised the fact that we still lived with my parents would go against us. That getting our own home should be our priority.
This made us panic immensely. She also said that this was a private law matter and that we needed to book an appointment with a family law solicitor. Which can be translated to: this is going to cost you a lot of money. Regardless, we made an appointment to meet with a local family law solicitor.
It is worth mentioning that at this point, our Niece and Nephew had moved in with us at my parent’s house. We moved the house around so that they could have their own bedroom and bought them a bunk bed.
Child Arrangements Order
Although the social worker’s words were in the back of our mind,
living like this was best for everyone. It meant that we were supported during the biggest transition of our lives emotionally, physically and financially.
We were told that because there was no will to appoint a guardian, an application needed to be made to the court. This application would be for a Child Arrangements Order, which simply decides where a child will live and was submitted the following week, with a court hearing arranged for November 2016.
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. Our Niece and Nephew’s Dad made the choice not to participate in any of our court proceedings.
During the hearing in November 2016, we were granted the Child Arrangements Order with no hiccups. Our CAFCASS Guardian suggested that we also apply for a Special Guardianship Order, which is more secure than a Child Arrangements Order.
We definitely agreed that is was the best option. 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. It is sometimes referred to as in the middle of foster care and adoption.
Special Guardianship Report
A date for our final hearing was confirmed for May 2017. In the meantime, we were appointed a social worker who would complete a Special Guardianship Report. We were told that this would be a far more rigorous process and to prepare for a lot of in-depth meetings and personal questions, not only for us but our family members too.
We completed six detailed interviews which were rather draining, but when we received her 60-page report it was overwhelming. To see in black and white such lovely words reassured us that we were doing the best for our Niece and Nephew.
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 second and final time. We both had to go up onto the stand, which we weren’t expecting and answer questions the judge had about our report. 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. It was that we had said that looking after our Niece and Nephew was a privilege. It honestly and truly is.
Open & Honest
Over those first nine months of suddenly becoming parents, we also had to prioritise supporting our Niece and Nephew with their grief and bereavement. Since day one, we have always aimed to be open and honest with them about their Mummy’s death but also ensuring that we are age-appropriate. We want them to know that their feelings and emotions are normal and it is okay to feel that way.
We never want them to feel like they are alone in their grief. Because of this, we ensure that we never hide our own emotions from them. We miss their Mummy every single day and it is important for them to know that.
One way that we do this is with our ‘Mummy Memories’ jar. Every so often, we will sit together and write down something about their Mummy. This could be a memory we have with her, something she liked or something that makes us smile about her. We occasionally open up the jar and read the memories which they love.
Being a Special Guardianship family comes hand in hand with a lot of challenges. One 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”. So easy! Because of this, Niece and Nephew now have the confidence to respond in this way too.
They 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.
We frequently ask our Niece and Nephew how they feel about having a different family. It’s pretty impressive how many films provide us with this opportunity: Finding Nemo, Harry Potter and Despicable Me to name a few. 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. Once, Niece responded by saying “but we are lucky because one day we will get
to live with our cousin and no one else gets to do that”. Yet again another example of how children can find positivity out of anything.
It’s as if Niece could predict the future… we are expecting a baby!! First baby but third child is a slightly terrifying but also equally as exciting.
Niece and Nephew cannot wait for their first cousin to arrive and couldn’t have been more excited when we told them.
They have wanted to be involved in every aspect so far, constantly asking if the baby can hear them and reminding me to be careful of the baby. It’s been overwhelmingly lovely.
Obviously, once the baby arrives it is to add another element into our family structure and we can’t predict what the impact of this will be. But we are confident that Niece and Nephew will adapt brilliantly. There is soon to be a lot of different names in our house;
Aunt, Uncle, Niece, Nephew, Cousin, Mummy, Daddy and Son/Daughter.
We wouldn’t have it any other way.