Sue, together with her husband, are Special Guardians to their Grandson. He came to live with them on a permanent basis back in 2012; he is now 13 years old.
Why did you decide to volunteer for Grandparents Plus’s Someone Like Me service?
When we were in the process of obtaining the order for our Grandson we talked to friends and family about what we were doing. It soon became clear that opinions fell broadly into two groups; those who thought it was a marvellous idea and those who thought that we were completely mad to throw away our life as we knew it.
I quickly came to realise that unless you are faced with the situation for yourself, you can have no real understanding of the internal conflict that you feel. You have so many questions like; what is the “right” answer when you are faced with the dilemma and who is the right person to become the carer for the child? As our little family goes through life together, the challenges that we have faced continually change and evolve. We’re very different from a regular family.
About 2 years ago our local authority invited all special guardians to a coffee morning and it was after attending that, and subsequent meetings, that I suddenly found kindred spirits. We have since formed our own carers group and it really helps to be in a group of people who understand the life we share, who don’t make judgements and provide a shoulder to cry on. They are people to laugh with, share with and have empathy for. When I heard about the Someone Like Me project I felt that it was something that I could help with, as I know how much it means to talk to someone who understands the complexity of being a kinship carer.
Why do you think it’s a good idea to volunteer right now?
We now find ourselves in unprecedented times; when our normal support networks, periods of respite and the little stolen slivers of ‘me time’ are difficult to find. These are just some of the reasons why now is a brilliant time to be involved with the Someone Like Me project. Whilst the challenges of lockdown are common to everyone, being a kinship carer has a unique set of challenges that only someone who is a kindship carer can understand.
Kinship care can be an isolating experience at the best of times. When you don’t fit into the social network at the school gates. When you don’t have anyone else who can babysit and give you an evening out. The challenges of contact with birth parents. Lockdown has taken all these challenges to a whole new level. Some children are desperate to go out and socialise and some refuse to go outside at all. As for homeschooling, it is 40 years ago since I was in school and the way children are taught now is very different. Only another kinship carer can have any idea about the range of emotions that we are all experiencing now.
Who have you been able to help as a volunteer?
I have spoken to a lady who has two grandchildren and who was finding the whole situation extremely challenging, and she felt that it must be something that she was doing wrong or missing. It was good to share that we are constantly adapting, trying to find our way through life as a kinship care family. There is no one single magic answer and I think she found it reassuring to know that.
Another lady spoke of the guilt that she felt over the decisions that she now had to make, including the lack of contact with the birth parents. She expressed feelings of guilt because she felt desperate to have some time on her own without the children, guilt because she didn’t feel that she measured up to all the Mums at school. I reassured her that we all feel inadequate and the feelings shift throughout the days and weeks, and we all question what, why, and how we are managing in these strange times. I also reinforced the fact that as carers our mental and physical well being is just as valid as those we are caring for and we must all try and be kind to ourselves. She said that she had enjoyed the opportunity to talk to someone who understood the pressures of kinship care first hand.
There are so many carers out there who are struggling with a whole range of situations that the coronavirus has just made worse. What that carer needs is a listening ear and someone to say “I hear what you are saying and I understand how you are feeling”. You don’t have to have all the answers to everyone’s questions, but let that carer know that they are not alone, that there are other people out there who are making and sharing that journey with them. It may even enrich your own journey.
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