About a year ago, we connected with a 16-year-old we shall call Sheryl. She was pregnant with her first child and she struck us a young woman who was scared but also very excited to be a mother. After she delivered, a medical social worker contacted us expressing concern that Sheryl lacked family support and was fending for herself and her baby.
When we checked in with Sheryl, she was extremely reluctant to be linked to social services or welfare. We suspected that she feared being reprimanded by authority figures, but she insisted that she was well and could not see the point of troubling others. She also assured us that while she was living with a father who had challenges of his own, she had many friends and “aunties” in the neighbourhood who have been supporting her brother and her ever since their mother passed away when she was 8. Sheryl’s brother is currently doing National Service and only home on weekends, but Sheryl regards him as an important source of support. He is sensible, gets along with others and is well-liked in the neighbourhood.
Eventually, for the sake of her child, Sheryl agreed to have us co-ordinate a meeting among people she trusted and had her best interest at heart. When we mapped out her support network, we discovered 8 women in the neighbourhood who have offered their love, care and concern to her family over the years. Between these women, there were 29 children and Sheryl is best of friends with one and on good terms with all. We then included a half-sister she recently reconnected with, the paternal grandparents of her child, the helping professionals assisting her, and it certainly looked like an extended family network even though there were no blood ties.
Last Sunday, 12 members of this network came to a meeting to discuss how they may support Sheryl in providing a loving and caring home for her son. Those who could not make it delivered notes of encouragement and support. One with a letter and others via WhatsApp messages that were read out. As the meeting coordinator, we were a little disappointed when some who said they were coming pulled out at the last moment. However, Sheryl did not seem at all disturbed or disappointed and only when we followed up with the absentees after the meeting that we understood why. “We have always been there for Sheryl and not coming for one meeting is not going to change that! Sheryl will know where to look for us when needed,” one family put it to us tersely.
Nonetheless, the meeting was helpful. The general sentiment at the end was that it was really important to talk about problems. While there is always a lot of affection among people, being led into a space where they had to acknowledge the elephant in the room was something they valued. They were surprised at their ability to make and agree on plans but even though they got off to a good start, they would continue to need some support and guidance. Perhaps, no one knows this better than Sheryl who recognised that all this planning is “Quite hard, but I am willing to try.”
Enjoy your week.
We have to allow ourselves to be loved by the people who really love us, the people who really matter. – C. JoyBell C