Penny, little mum at age 10

Apple treePenny started her day by waking her brother and sister, aged 7 and 8, making them breakfast with whatever food she could find, and getting them ready for school, leaving her Mum Kath asleep on the sofa. This wasn’t her only responsibility, as she did most things around the flat; the shopping, cooking, cleaning, washing clothes and kitchen work, though the family also had a few hours home-help each week.

Her Mum tried to help, but was in constant pain having struggled for many years with rheumatoid arthritis and depression. Taking continual pain relief, she felt frustrated at being unable to use her body, in particular her hands which she kept gloved and away from any physical contact. Penny was often worried and concerned about her Mum, hating to see her in discomfort, frustrated and cross.

Penny was struggling to concentrate at school, spending time alone crying, or taking days off to be at home caring for her Mum. She started to develop unpleasant health difficulties, not going to the toilet for several days and occasionally soiling herself. To make things worse, she began to be bullied for smelling and having a ‘crippled’ mother. Penny found little pleasure in her life, but loved watching reality TV programmes when she could, dreaming of becoming a pop star. Mostly however, she was unhappy, anxious and nervous of meeting anybody new, especially those who wanted to come into the house. She would often cry in the under stairs cupboard (the only private place), and began to scratch herself on her arms and legs until she bled. Ashamed, Penny kept the marks hidden from her Mum. Her school were very worried about Penny’s emotional wellbeing, and referred her and her family to Dandelion Time.

Penny wanted to come to project the moment she heard she could meet chickens, ducks, rabbits, sheep and pigs. She enjoyed coming to the farm and quickly became settled. With support, Kath also took pleasure in helping out at the farm, using her hands to very gently to help sort through wool. Over time, her children could see how their Mum could cope with light pieces of work and were so pleased to see that she was happy to be active with them. Penny loved playing with a dolls house, making it tidy and neat, and felt more able to put away her worries and anxieties now that Mum was enjoying herself chatting with the other parents. Penny accepted some play therapy sessions where she could talk about some of the things that had troubled her, and felt much less alone now that her problems were shared.

Over time, the family found Dandelion offered an opportunity for them to spend relaxed and productive time together. Kath felt that her children’s behaviour was improving, and she was feeling much less stressed in herself. Penny had time to develop her guitar playing skills and hugely enjoyed playing in a group with other children and Dandelion staff. Her enjoyment in music increased at school and she was soon part of a band preparing for a music evening. She found some good musical friends and became less worried about her Mum, who was now busy volunteering for Dandelion and working in a charity book shop.

Penny’s health difficulties reduced over time and her diet improved, as Kath had developed new skills at Dandelion in preparing food for her family that they could enjoy together. Keen to improve the food she and the children ate, Kath went with the Dandelion worker to see some allotments near the family’s home. They planted some seeds in the greenhouse at Dandelion and once their sessions had ended, came back to water and nurture the plants until they were ready to be taken to their allotment. The family now spend lots of time there together, and the children all love to be with their Mum who now feels that she is able to really care for her children. Penny still helps to look after her siblings, but this is shared with Kath, who is now much more actively in charge of her growing family.

By providing therapeutic support for the whole family, Dandelion gave Penny and Kath the gentle support they needed to make positive changes in their challenging lives; finding new confidence in themselves and each other; learning to enjoy simple shared activities as a family; improving their health and nutrition, whilst developing some of their own interests and gaining mutual support from other families. Fostering Penny’s enthusiasm for music, Dandelion helped her to grow in confidence, and become more settled at school, where she felt able to meet others with similar interests and take part in shared activities, giving her an important break from the responsibilities that remain a part of her young life.