Today, in the United Kingdom, it was Mothering Sunday, or Mothers’ Day, as it is now referred to. I’m happy to say that I was thoroughly spoiled by my own five children, who gathered here in our home with their own children, to bring me gifts and cards but more importantly, to spend time together as our family. How blessed I am and I know it.

I turned on Facebook and of course it is full of my friends paying tribute to their own mothers, still living or passed on. Indeed, I posted a couple of photos of my own dear departed mum. My thoughts turned back to my childhood and life with parents who never had that much but always gave me and my sister all the love and protection that parents should and I had a happy childhood, secure in the knowledge that they loved me.

This week, however, I’ve had much cause for reflection. Our eldest daughter, Joanne, is a mature student at Derby University, studying Criminology. Because my husband, Tony, has worked in a Secure Unit (a prison for young offenders under adult prison age) and has also been a prison chaplain for our church, visiting regularly four prisons in our area for ten years, he was invited to give a presentation to the students on Joanne’s course. I went along with him at his request and I was very proud of how well he did. Of course, being a teacher of long standing, he is a natural and immediately had the young people engaged and kept them so until the end. I knew he had much more he could have shared with them, had time allowed, after all, hadn’t I spent hours listening to him after his visits, telling me about some of the heart-rending stories of the prisoners he’d visited? Not of the crimes they’d committed, but of the treatment they had received at the hand of our so-called justice system and the way they were still suffering, basically because no one cared; many who should have been freed years ago but the system continually failed them. (Apart from the unfairness to the prisoners, but also keeping a person in prison costs the taxpayers a lot of money – so stupid when they actually don’t need to be there.)

One point Tony was trying to make was that the greatest majority of these men, and the children in the secure unit, had all had similar starts in life; broken homes, put ‘in care’ by the system, no one who really cared about them, drugs given to them at an early age by the very people who should have been protecting them, and also being led into prostitution and other drug-related crimes. Many have learning difficulties or have simply never had a proper education. He spoke of one nine year old girl in the secure unit, who had been sold into prostitution to feed the drug habit of her mother. Totally shocking, and yet this kind of thing goes on all the time, and with children much younger even than that girl.

Since I’ve been a user of Facebook, I’ve come to ‘know’ quite a few people who have had less than happy upbringings for various reasons. I know that alcoholism and abuse has been prevalent. I personally know people who have had very bad backgrounds involving things that I could never have imagined in my childhood. Years ago, I worked in a children’s home and although we loved the children there during my time, there is no doubt that some of the home’s residents did not have good experiences in the care system, some being passed from one foster home to another and some went home again to face life with an abusive step-parent. These are common stories I know – sad, but true.

I would imagine that ‘Mothers’ Day’ means something quite different to so many. They have no cause for celebration; recalling their childhood means experiencing pain and heartbreak. And yet, many still think of the mother they had and in spite of everything, there is still some love, some longing, for something they could have had but never did. It is those people I’m writing for today. I know I’ve barely touched the surface, can never really know the suffering of a painful childhood, but I want them to know that I think of them in sympathy and admire those who have been strong enough to overcome their terrible starts in life in order to become good mothers and fathers today, bringing up their own children in a way they never experienced, in love, security and the protection they deserve. These people are today’s true heroes.