4 minute read
She is 44 and lives in Norfolk with her husband and 8 year old daughter who has had no local authority involvement at all. She regularly speaks at events about her experiences in the hope of changing the way families involved in the system are perceived and hopefully treated. She is a Trustee of Family Rights Group and member of their parents panel, an expert panel made up of family members with lived experience of the system.
I’m standing in front of an empty drawer. A kitchen drawer he never ever uses. I thought I had found the perfect hiding place. I should have known better. Its all gone.
What was in that drawer that was so important? Money.
Money I had been saving for months. Money for my children’s Christmas presents. And now it was gone. All of it. Gone. There would be no presents this year. A nightmare scenario at any time but this year it was beyond devastating. You see my children were in care. The plan was for them to be adopted. Despite the fact I was fighting this tooth and nail, this was most likely going to be my last Christmas with them. And I was going to turn up empty handed. Yet again I was going to be judged and labelled a bad mum when I had tried my absolute best. I would be the worst mum because what kind of mum can’t give her child a gift for Christmas?
I guess most people would think all I had to do was tell the social workers that the money had been stolen. Surely, they would understand and help me? The only problem is that the person who stole the money was my partner, the father of my youngest child, and I was more scared of him than I was of anyone and anything else. There was no way I could tell anyone. I would have to take the blame, accept responsibility for failing my children. Again.
That’s what happens when you are experiencing domestic abuse and involved with children’s services. You weigh up who can hurt you the most and choose the least terrifying option. And no matter how terrified I was of losing my children or of the social workers who were going to judge me, I was more terrified of the man who had already tried to kill me once before. So I took the blame.
I had a few days left before I saw my children and I had a few pounds in my purse and I could go without food for a while so that would give me a little bit extra. So off I went to the pound shop to see what I could find. A cheap doctor’s kit for my eldest and some plastic building blocks for the youngest. Not much but it was better than nothing. I then went home and dragged out all the toys I could find in my son’s bedroom and wrapped anything I could find that looked half decent. There was nothing of any value as my partner had sold anything that was worth anything months ago. I found a couple of Simpsons DVDs and wrapped them too.
I turned up to contact a few days before Christmas. You never get to see your child on Christmas day if they are in care no one thinks it is important for you or your child. I walked into the same dirty and cramped conference room where I always had contact. My eldest sons beautiful face lit up when he saw me, sat there in his adorable little Santa hat. But as he sat and opened his gifts his face fell. Yet again I had failed and disappointed my gorgeous little man. His younger brother was less fussed but as he wasn’t yet a year old that wasn’t surprising, he was quite happy to play with the wrapping paper.
I made the most of the situation, plastered a smile on my face and tried my best to explain why I was regifting my son his old toys. I could feel the judgmental gaze of the social worker in the corner of the room, watching me with disgust. I knew what she would write in my sons file. I felt like a complete and utter failure as this could be our last Christmas together and I had let them down big time.
That was indeed my last Christmas with my sons. Christmas 2003. 15 years of missed Christmases. 15 years of remembering his face. 15 years of hiding my guilt and shame at my pathetic inability to stand up for myself and my children.
Last Christmas. Worst Christmas. For me anyhow.
My sons went on to have a happy Christmas. Year after year. With strangers. Strangers who became family. Someone else got to make their face light up on Christmas morning. Someone else didn’t let them down. Someone else got to be Santa. Someone else got to be their mum.
Last Christmas. A Christmas I pray my children will never remember. A Christmas I know I will never forget.