A little sunshine on an otherwise cloudy day

Written by Shona Reid

As a mother of seven and a fierce protector of my children – some I have given birth to, others I have not – there is nothing I would not do for them. I was reminded of this when my 8-year-old son handed me a card for Mother’s Day, thanking me for all that I do for him. At the same time, at the pit of my stomach my thoughts went immediately to the children and young people who are without their own mothers, or those who are torn between which ‘mum’ they should give their card too (if not both), and then there are other young people who don’t want to see their mum and hold guilt over this. 

In the lead up to Mother’s Day, the media portrays an image of happy families and creates unrealistic expectations of who and what our families should look like – according to society. We are inundated with photos of children and their mums, commercials of families pampering mum with flowers, breakfast in bed, and shop fronts displaying the ‘perfect’ gift. This influx often contributes to additional burden and stress for many who are already feeling guarded during this time. 

To me, mothers come in all shapes and sizes; they can be biological, grandparent, foster, a carer, an aunt or friend. Mother can also be known as mum, mumma, mummy, ma, nan, nanna, just to name a few – it can mean so many things to different people. Regardless of title, position or relationship, this person generally offers an open-door (day and night), a warm smile, and a reminder that things will be okay or at least there’s someone there when you need them.

Unfortunately, I too often spend time with and hear from children and young people who do not have this. These are children who don’t have the opportunity to live in a family environment, who no longer have contact with their birth mothers or who have never known them, and young people who are unable to see their own children. 

A care leaver who is now a mother herself reflected with me about her experience of Mother’s Day and other family focussed celebrations such as Father’s Day, birthdays and Christmas. Although she now finds herself surrounded by friends and loved ones, she still would rather not celebrate these days. 

I used to find Mother’s Day really hard and my mental health would spiral down,” the care leaver told me. 

“Over the years it has become easier but it’s definitely still difficult. It’s really complex as although I have friends and loved ones now I still find myself searching for answers and grieving the loss and hurt. I also think that once you have been removed from your birth family you never truly surrender yourself to that sort of love again, and yes, this is a survival skill and keeps you alive, but it also prevents you from ever allowing another to fully care for you when you may need it.”

“I often want to thank those who have guided me and taken me ‘under their wing’. There are several people who have fulfilled motherly roles for me at various times in my life but to do this on Mother’s Day does not sit well with me. Because I have a mum, and yes, she didn’t protect me and she wasn’t there when I needed her, but she is the person I call mum, no matter how much pain that brings,” the care leaver shared.   

I believe, most ardently, that the strength of motherhood should be celebrated and embraced, and I wonder how we can do this whilst battling the sense of emptiness, especially on days where society unknowingly amplifies the losses of children who are growing up in care without their mothers or mother figures.

As carers and people who are part of the support network for children and young people in care and detention, I encourage you to navigate these days with care, how can we be mindful and aware of the challenges and feelings of children and young people. These feelings might look like they come out of nowhere, but they are an ever-present reminder of being raised in/by a system. 

My hope is that during days like this (whether it be Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas or birthdays), we are able to take a moment to picture being in their shoes: waiting for a phone call, eagerly checking the empty mailbox, being told they are unable to attend weekend access due to staffing capacities, picturing the one family picture they loved but have lost through transit of placements, or remembering the last time they saw this family member. Then take this moment of reflection and reach out with the understanding that for children in care or detention they may find these days hard and your compassion and empathy may make it a little easier and hopeful. Let’s try to add a little sunshine on an otherwise cloudy day.

(c) 2021 Guardian for Children and Young People. Terms & Privacy Policy.

We acknowledge and respect Aboriginal People as the traditional owners
and custodians of the land we live and work on, their living culture and their unique role in the life of South Australia.