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"My parents abandoned me to strangers, so I was raised by my grandparents."

I was raised by my paternal grandparents.

It began when I was five weeks old, after I spent the first weeks of my life in a foster home. My mother placed me in the care of strangers shortly after my birth, then left town, not to be seen for about four years.

During those five weeks, my family had no idea of my whereabouts, and I had no contact with any relatives.

To this day I don’t know where I first called home, who changed my nappies or who burped me after each bottle. My grandparents later told me that when they collected me from the foster home, a young boy answered the door – my foster mother’s son. When my grandparents told him they were there to collect me, he responded with Oh thank goodness! All she does is cry.

The ultimate act of sacrifice from grandparents, to give up their retirement to raise their grandchild. Image via Facebook.

The only way my grandparents discovered my whereabouts was because my father – presumably out of a sense of outrage at his paternal rights being thwarted by his ex-girlfriend – petitioned the court (with the financial backing of his parents) for sole custody of me.

Of course, my 21-year-old, unemployed and painfully self-centred father had absolutely no intention of raising me himself – no, no. That pesky task could be easily contracted out to his ever-doting and reliable parents. Which it was.

Consequently, after a few legal appearances my grandparents were awarded guardianship of me, for 20 years.

Obviously, recounting this story to others is not without its unpleasantness. If asked for an explanation of my upbringing, I can quite easily go on autopilot and simply state that my parents were young…my grandparents stepped in.

An old family photo of Sarah and her grandparents.

But that’s not the real truth, and it doesn’t convey the extent of the drama that unfolded because of this arrangement. It lets the person who asked me this question off the hook – it gives them a sanitary, palatable explanation for what was an ugly and sometimes heartbreaking experience.

But instead of going into all of that just yet, I thought I would post my (un)favourite comments about my upbringing that I have had the pleasure of fielding over the years which have been intrusive and unnecessary. And because I never wanted to make anyone feel uncomfortable, I never responded with That’s none of your fucking business. Instead I just smiled, and joked, and gritted my teeth while I faced the following:

Do you miss your parents?

Ugh. How could I miss something I never had? Do you miss intelligent social interraction? Probably not.

A note Sarah wrote to her Nanny, that she found recently.

This question is so ridiculous I often feel a twinge of superiority whilst hearing it, because it clearly means I am more intelligent than the person in front of me. I usually start to speak a little slower and gently explain that my grandparents raising me is all I’ve ever known, so really they’re my parents. Sometimes the penny drops for a few puzzled souls, but usually I just received an awkward frown and a “poor you” face from the question-asker. Thanks for that.

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You’re so lucky to have grandparents who would do that!

Yes. I am. Are you lucky to have parents who wanted you? Or is that just presumed?

Two well behaved young boys, the next generation. Image via facebook.

Your grandparents did a wonderful job!

Thanks. I know this is meant as a compliment. But what do you think happened? That my grandparents sat all my university exams, went to all my job interviews and also won over the man who became my husband?

Oh no, wait – that was me.

My grandparents loved me; that I know. They encouraged me to do well at school, and signed me up for all kinds of extra-curricular activities. Just like most parents.

But they didn’t protect me from my parents, because they couldn’t.

They couldn’t stop the interruptions to my schooling and the phone calls from my mother in London that I would dread. They couldn’t stop the stench of my parents’ attitude of Hi, remember me? Don’t worry; I’ll be gone again soon which reeked during their random (separate) visits. And they couldn’t stop the derogatory comments and physical violence that their son would direct towards me over the course of my life, until at 16 years of age I finally said enough.

Sarah, her husband and her son. Image via Facebook.

My grandparents definitely deserve their share of the glory – they did an incredibly selfless deed. Who knows where I’d have ended up without them? But although these beautiful people taught me many things, the life lessons – the hard ones – I taught myself.

I know how you feel. My grandmother passed away recently too.

My Nanny was my mother. She wasn’t my grandmother. When she passed, I had to throw in the sentence She raised me from when I was a baby! to my conversations with people in a vain attempt to convey the importance of our bond, and the extent of my grief.

“What I learned from watching my mother die”.

I’m sorry your grandmother died; I really am. But your experience of losing your grandmother is not the same as my experience of losing my guardian angel.

A drawing Sarah did while growing up of her grandparents.

I wouldn’t change my upbringing for anything. It taught me strength, resilience and independence. But most importantly, it taught me what love is. Because for all of the inappropriate, misguided questions I fielded from strangers, I know my grandparents copped just as many.

At least I think they did – they never mentioned it. They wouldn’t have wanted to worry me.

This post originally appeared here and has been republished with full permission. 

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