Two Sheffield mothers explain why this Christmas Day will be extra magical for them and their families
A FOSTER baby is bringing extra joy and meaning to Christmas for Laura Edwards and her family.
As the world celebrates the birth of one child, Laura, her husband and their three children will helping one baby on its path through life by giving it a stable, loving home for its first Christmas.
Laura gave up her career as a doctor when she had her third child and instead of having a fourth baby, she and her husband Meurig became foster parents for Sheffield Social Services.
In the last two years, they have cared for four babies at their home in Crookes.
Their first foster baby stayed for a year. Their current child arrived at a few weeks old and has been with them for several months. The midnight feeds and broken nights that young babies bring haven’t daunted Laura; far more important to her is the feeling that her family are helping another.
“This will be our third Christmas with a foster-baby in our family,” says Laura, mum of Grace, aged 9, Connie, 7 and Evie, 5.
“Part of our role as foster carers is to mark special occasions so that when the child goes back home to their birth-family, or to adoption, they have a record of times like Christmas and birthdays.
“For babies who won’t remember these occasions, it’s even more important to take plenty of photos, keep a careful record of what presents were received, keep Christmas cards sent to the baby and so on, so that as they grow up and try to make sense of their past, they have things to look back on.
“We want our foster babies to know that their first Christmas was just as special and just as celebrated as those of our birth children.”
Laura, 33, says fostering has taught her family a lot about the problems others have to cope with.
She says: “When I was growing up, Christmas was a special family time. My sister and I have happy memories of warmth and love and presents and chocolate and turkey.
“It’s easy to believe that every family is ‘just like us,’ but fostering has opened our eyes to how different other people’s lives can be. They may not have had the privilege of a stable and loving family upbringing, or had good parenting examples to follow. So when they themselves become parents, life can be difficult.”
She appreciates how difficult it can be for birth parents who cannot spend Christmas with their children.
“It can be a hard and lonely time; regular contact sessions with their children may stop over the Bank Holidays,” she explains.
“So we try our best to share our build-up to Christmas with them; we send photos of the baby with the Christmas tree and exchange cards and gifts from the baby and from us. Messages go back and forth about advent calendars and carol services - little things to help to share what Christmas is like in our home.”
Laura and Meurig have to ensure their own children don’t feel sidelined.
“We can run the risk of getting too caught up in making Christmas special for our foster baby and its parents, so we have our own Christmas traditions that we play out each year. The family make-up may be different each year, but the celebration of Christmas stays the same.”
The Edwards family begin the celebrations at the start of Advent with calendars and visits to church to watch the candle procession. They go school plays and parties are attended. But the decorating of the Christmas tree is their most treasured family time.
“We love our Christmas tree decorations. Every year we go shopping and the girls and the foster-baby all choose a bauble for the Christmas tree,” she says.
When the baby moves on, it takes the Christmas bauble with them as a memento.”
‘The more work I did, the better I felt, - how going back to work changed one mum’s life for the better
Maxine Waldie is bubbling with festive joy as she goes about her last-minute Christmas shopping.
She can afford to buy presents for her son and she’s no longer alone in life; she’s got a new man. Without a doubt, her old sparkle is back.
“I couldn’t be happier than I am right now,” she says. “I’ll be celebrating Christmas with all the things I never thought I’d have again.”
There’s one reason for her new-found happiness. After ten years of unemployment, Maxine is back in the world of work. And it’s a great place to be, says the 48-year-old Asda check-out girl.
After having her youngest child Ryan 11 years ago, Maxine devoted herself to motherhood.
“But after a few years, she was telling herself it was all she was any good at.
“I took a few knocks in life and with each one, my confidence got less. I wanted to work, but didn’t dare to try for a job. Filling out application forms was too scary and difficult. And the thought of getting an interview brought me out in a cold sweat.”
She convinced herself she had no skills.
“When I first met her, she told me she was thick,” remembers Tina Chantler, a support worker with Scoop-Aid, Sheffield’s information, advice and advocacy service for lone parents.
Maxine had been referred to them by Chapeltown Job Centre. “I was very sceptical they could help me; I thought I was beyond that.”
Tina suggested Maxine take a college literacy course, but on the day she was too terrified to go. “So Tina came to my house and drove me to Sheffield College. When I had to do an exam she stayed until I’d finished; just knowing she was there made such a difference,” says Maxine, of Howbrook, near Chapeltown.
She passed with flying colours and found enough confidence to take a food and hygiene course, then, with Tina’s help, start applying for jobs with local supermarkets.
Asda gave Maxine what it didn’t realise was a lifeline - five hours a week at its Chapeltown store. “I was a nervous wreck at first - I was sure I’d do something wrong.
“But got over that because the other staff were so lovely. In a year my life has changed so much. I asked for more and more hours; the more work I did, the better I felt about everything.
“Work not only brought much-needed money in, it made me feel I was contributing to society and that gave me self-esteem.
“I am a different person now. I know I can do what I set out to do and I’m not afraid to voice my opinion, because it’s just as good as everyone else’s,” she says.
That’s all thanks to Scoop aid, explains Maxine. And so is the fact that she will be sharing this Christmas with someone special.
“For the first time in a long time, there’s a man in my life. I’ve known him for several years but we’ve only been dating a matter of weeks and he’s wonderful.
“The woman I was would never have dared to accept his offer of a date.”
Based at Norfolk Park, SCOOP AID was formed 36 years ago when individual groups of lone parents formed the Sheffield Committee Of One Parents.
In the last three years, SCOOP Aid has helped over 1,500 individual lone parents to win struggles against debt, unemployment, a lack of qualifications, low confidence, depression and panic attacks.
Contact them on 0114 2537670 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org