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International Women's Day articles series part 3 - A single mother

Mar 31, 2022: 

Focusing on the experience of a single Mum, this amazingly personal and honest piece looks at the many joys and challenges for women in this position. 

The many hats I have found myself wearing over the past 5 years has resulted in a constant plate spinning exercise that rewards and propels me everyday. Whether I am Mother on the school run, Paralegal providing client care or Adult me finding some time to socialise as part of the Women in Law committee. The dynamo within operates on the feelings of reward and accomplishment each area of my life brings. 

It was significantly hard, becoming a single mother with a 4 month old baby and a promise to myself that I would finish law school. My values and capability felt under constant audit, but much like an artist I felt the definition of my aims becoming more and more pronounced with each step it took. Not giving up in the face of adversity became second nature; whether that be waiting for my mum to move back to the UK for support or finding the right co-parenting regime during covid-19. 

I share quite candidly the various opportunities that I had to tap out. To say that it never crossed my mind would be a fib. I have sat at the side of my sick child in hospital whilst finishing a dissertation each time they had a nap. Thinking “surely this is a sign to stop, the right thing should not be this hard”. 

I was blessed with a child who did not go through the night until they were 2. Often watching the sun come up in the early hours in the summer months. Then finding myself in a lecture hall by 9am and keeping up not only with the requisite extra curricular commitments but finding the headspace to absorb and digest the information I was learning due to my genuine interests. Then back home for first steps and baby led weaning, bath and bed. 

The juggling act did feel eternal, and whilst I would consistently remind myself to “bring your best, its no one else’s fault” or “this is paying it forward, one day you will feel the reprieve” I would still enjoy the mummy mile stones and personal time. Maintaining perspective and determined not to loose sight of the wood for the trees, was at times heavily marred by the curve balls that life throws at you. Beyond Motherhood in law school, I am the eldest of 4 children which has its own pulls and dramas. As well as being part of an extremely large family with close ties and connections despite geography. Each blessing is a lesson it its self in triaging the diary and finding time when you have none. 

Following my graduation, I started to look for work that would be representative of the sacrifices I felt I had made a young mother. Denying myself maternity leave and going back to law school was a great commitment and I felt that I owed it to myself and my child to find a good work life balance after holding my nose to the grindstone for so long. I was determined not to become trapped in another cycle of all work and lets see if there is time for play, especially as I was now looking around the corner to the start of school and was determined to attend the school plays whilst providing financial stability. At my first interview with a firm I was asked “So, is it money or family?” Quite astonished I answered “both”, this was not even part of my considerations or up for debate. It had never been an either or decision. That question underpinned the reason I chose to establish myself and find my own way. Carving out opportunities and proverbially banging on doors until I found the right fit and refusing to settle after the relentless juggling. All whilst my fellow cohorts migrated to their elected firms and continued with their unquestioned progress to practice. 

As someone who always ran before she could walk, this was hard to accept at first but was a lesson in its self. Having been very comfortable in my own skin, I established the best balance I could for my child and my own mental health in an arena where there is seldom recognition of any emotional aggregate. 
I suppose there is an element of enforcing one’s self imposed standards and holding myself to a high account when digressing from the standard pathways, but as a women/mother/sister and daughter. The expectation to balance my personal life and my professional life successes was never up for question. 

My work ethic as a mother and a paralegal is more than the sum of its parts. Rather than inversely proportionate, I enjoy everyday and refuse to compromise my standards for either camp. This is likely down to the fact I was fortunate and blessed to have been raised on the old school rhetoric “if you are going to do it, do it well”. There may be the impression that burning the candle at both ends serves no one well, however, being determined to have it my way and maintain both gender roles under the same roof proves it can be done with a smile rather than a grimace. 

My story is pale in comparison to the sights of Ukrainian women saying goodbye to their partners as they carry their children to the boarder. But every woman will face her own battle with others’ expectations and  her own aspirations. But in the progress made over the last century it is recognised we are made more capable of drawing on reserves and the only limitations are our own self belief. 

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