How one couple became parents to their niece and nephew overnight

Back in 2016, Adam and Jade were a young couple with few responsibilities.

They’d been together for three years and were living with her parents while ‘saving’ (though they admit they weren’t doing much of that).

But almost overnight, they became parents to a five-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy.

Adam’s sister died suddenly at the age of 25, leaving three children behind. The two youngest children needed a guardian to care for them, so the couple decided to step up.

Speaking to for Adoption Month, Jade explains: ‘During a conversation driving home one evening, it was decided; we wanted to be their guardians. We moved in with my parents, Nephew* started school, we attended their mummy’s funeral and then the process of becoming special guardians began.’

Special guardianship is granted where children cannot live with their birth parents and they need a legally secure placement, but it does not end the legal relationship between the child and their birth parent, like an adoption order would.

They had meetings with a solicitor, a social worker, a Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service guardian and a judge, and finally, in May 2017, they legally made special guardians to their niece and nephew. 

They made the decision quickly and it was completely unexpected, but they were determiend to make it work and they had a great support network around them

Jade adds: ‘It wasn’t a difficult decision to make at all. We were young ourselves (25 and 27) and had no children of our own yet. No responsibilities at all really.

‘It was difficult initially as we didn’t have our own home but living with my parents and being close to Adam’s parents really supported us to transition into sudden parenthood.’

While dealing with suddenly becoming a family of four, the couple were also grieving – Adam for his sister, and Jade for her close friend, but they say that having the children helped them through it.

She says: ‘It was actually lovely in a way because their mummy lives on through them so it was like being with her every day.

‘As Niece and Nephew were only four and five when their mummy died, we knew we had to do everything we could to keep her memory alive for them.

‘We have always been very open and honest about her death and our grief in an age appropriate way. We always answer any questions they have and ensure that they never feel like they can’t talk to us about.

‘Every so often, we sit down at our dining room table to write memories we have and place them into our ‘Mummy Memories’ jar.

‘These can include anything from mummy’s favourite film to how unbelievably amazing her cuddles were. Sometimes these memories come easily, sometimes our Niece and Nephew have to think a little harder to remember something. We also like to write down reasons why we love mummy.

‘This whole process helps us to have positive, happy discussions about her. Occasionally, these conversations turn to sadness. They make us remember just how much we miss her and how much we wish she was sitting at the dining table with us.

‘If this does happen, it is also important for us to acknowledge those emotions and talk to each other about how we are feeling. It is key for our Niece and Nephew to understand that we all have those emotions and it is all part of our grief.’

Throughout, Jade and Adam have tried to be as open and honest about their mum and her death.

‘For us, there is no star in the sky or cloud in heaven,’ Jade says. ‘When Adam and his dad told our Niece and Nephew that their mummy had died, they told them facts.

‘We believe this has really helped them to understand death and hopefully helped them to process their bereavement. Particularly as their mummy’s death was so sudden. However, for some families, these metaphors can provide comfort.

‘We are not saying that how we do it is the right way; it’s just the right way for us.

‘We also think that this helps our Niece and Nephew to express their emotions and know that how they are feeling about their mummy’s death is perfectly okay. We will always communicate with them about their mummy’s death and know that the more difficult conversations are yet to come.’

Although Adam and Jade see themselves as parents, they don’t say they are their niece and nephew’s mum and dad. The children usually call them by their first name and it can be challenging to explain their situation to people.

Jade says: ‘Generally people respond so positively and say such lovely things. As wonderful as this is, I’m sure that so many people would do what we have for their family that they love.

‘Sometimes it’s a bit difficult or weird to explain our situation when someone asks “do you have children?” And I don’t want the person who has asked to feel uncomfortable if I then explain our situation. 

‘Another situation that can be challenging is when other people refer to us as “mummy” and “daddy”. It’s an easy mistake to make – Adam and our nephew could be twins! We look like your average nuclear family, but we aren’t.

‘In the beginning, we just ignored these instances as we thought this was the easier option. It wasn’t long before we realised that this was not the best way forward.

‘For some reason we thought that we would have to give a total stranger our whole life story, instead of simply saying “oh no, we are their aunt and uncle”. So easy!

‘Because of this, Niece and Nephew now have the confidence to respond in this way too. They understand that not everyone knows about our unique little family, and it’s okay to just say “that’s my uncle” without getting into a deep and meaningful conversation about it.

‘Sometimes people can ask inappropriate questions but we have learnt to just explain that we are not happy to share that certain aspect of our story.’

In April, Adam and Jade welcomed their baby Harper, and they admit that they were concerned about how having a child would change their family

Jade says: ‘We were extremely conscious of how this transition might impact Niece and Nephew and what new emotions it may present. Would it make them jealous? Or ask new questions? But it really has brought us all closer together.

‘They absolutely adore Harper and the big age gap is actually really helpful! Niece and Nephew call Harper their sis-cus and we are letting them decide whether they want to call her sister. First baby but third child has been harder than we ever expected, particularly within a world pandemic!’

Jade and Adam share their life as an unconventional family of five on their blog and Instagram @Notyour_averagefamily.

As part of that, they want to raise more awareness for special guardians and particularly the laws around the process.

Despite unexpectedly becoming a family, Adam and Jade were not entitled to any sort of leave, like they would be if they had or adopted a child.

Jade explains: ‘I think the laws in place that support special guardians are not equal to those in place for adoptive parents. 

‘Special Guardianship is meant to be something that goes in-between adoption and foster care, yet the support in place is far from similar. For example, special guardians aren’t entitled to paid leave.

‘Firstly, it just completely undermines the transition and change that those children are going through. The circumstances that lead up to a child needing to live with someone other than their birth parents is never going to be a positive story. Those children will have almost certainly gone through a significant trauma. 

‘In our own experience, having paid leave once securing a special guardianship order would have been invaluable. It would have enabled us to give our Niece and Nephew the consistent and quality support that they required following the death of their mother. It would have also alleviated the stress of working whilst adjusting to our new circumstances.

‘Ultimately, I think that special guardianship isn’t something that many people are aware of and I would like to see special guardians get the recognition they deserve.’

*Names and faces have been obscured to protect their niece and nephew’s identity.

Adoption Month

Adoption Month is a month-long series covering all aspects of adoption.

For the next four weeks, which includes National Adoption Week from October 14-19, we will be speaking to people who have been affected by adoption in some way, from those who chose to welcome someone else’s child into their family to others who were that child.

We’ll also be talking to experts in the field and answering as many questions as possible associated with adoption, as well as offering invaluable advice along the way.

If you have a story to tell or want to share any of your own advice please do get in touch at [email protected]

  • Why we’re talking about adoption this month
  • How to adopt a child – from how long it takes to how you can prepare
  • The most Googled questions on adoption, answered
  • How long does it take to adopt a child in the UK
  • Adoption myths that could be stopping you from starting a family
  • How to tell your child they are adopted 

Visit our Adoption Month page for more.

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