In the days approaching this Mothering Sunday my thoughts as a foster dad are with three mums.
There's the mother who will spend her first Mothering Sunday apart from her children, hoping, perhaps praying, that her children are safe and well with us, complete strangers to her.
There's Mrs B, the foster mother and mum to many, who from the moment she wakes on Mothering Sunday will cherish and care for these children of another woman as if they were her own. And this year, as never before, my thoughts are with her mother who has been like a grandmother to all the children in our care, and whose life, due to illness, is now measured in months or even weeks, rather than years.
The children in our home will not be waking up early, full of excitement, to prepare breakfast in bed for their mum. They won't be running in clutching daffodils or a box of chocolates. They will not be joining their families for a celebratory Sunday roast, nor taking a walk in the park, hand in hand with mum, to enjoy the early spring sunshine. At the end of Mothering Sunday there will be no bedtime story with mum and no goodnight hug with her.
For children in care and for their mums this really is one of the toughest weeks. The commercial behemoth that is Mothering Sunday is relentless and inescapable. The message about mothers and motherhood is clear and simple, and the pressure on children whose reality does not chime with the narrative presented by television and radio, or displayed in shop windows and restaurants is intense. It can seem harsh, cruel even, when your opportunity to spend time together is limited to a contact session lasting a couple of hours, in council offices or the local library, days before Mothering Sunday itself. And so the build-up to Mothering Sunday becomes a period of introspection and self-doubt, when a resolution to the current uncertainty seems further away than ever.
It is a challenge for foster parents, particularly mums, to respond with sensitivity to an increase in children's anxieties around Mothering Sunday, finding the right tone to reassure and encourage, without making promises that might not be kept. It can be difficult to witness the love and care that a child commits to a handmade gift for a mum that might not be appreciated in the way that it deserves. And how to make time, physically and emotionally, for one's own children, who want to demonstrate their love and affection for their mum on Mothering Sunday, without causing distress for the foster children? Over the years our daughters have been selfless in their willingness to share their parents, particularly their mum, but I know there are moments when they do wish they had her to themselves.
This is a particularly poignant Mothering Sunday for my wife, as her own mother approaches the end of her life. It has been a painful reminder that while we are busy helping to give young people a fresh start, our own lives march on, regardless. These have been difficult weeks, during which a priority has been to protect our foster children from the upset that this news will bring. Learning how to cope with loss in an important part of growing up. But at this point in their lives it is imperative for this loss to not become their loss. While there is a part of us that cries out for a release from this responsibility, our commitment to the children and our belief in continuity of care means that this decision was never in doubt. And with the joy that they bring, every hour and every day, they have already repaid us many times over.
Without ever knowing it they will make this a very special Mothering Sunday for us.