We women are not always very good at showing one another the solidarity of sisterhood that perhaps we should. I give you an example. I was having birthday drinks with some friends recently when one of my friends piped up:
“How do you feel about being a part time Mum Samantha?”
“What do you mean by that?”
To which the response was;
“Well you work don’t you, so you are not there as much to be hands on with raising your children, unlike being a full time Mum.”
My friend said this with a twinkle in his eye, knowing that he was almost certain to get a rise out of me.
“How dare you!”
I crossly retorted,
“I might be working but I am very much a ‘hands on Mum’ and certainly do not shirk from my responsibilities.”
He laughed and put his comment into context.
He explained that he had been at a dinner party and that two of the guests were mothers of young children. They enquired from each other what the other did. One replied she was a full time mother and the other stated she was in full time employment. He said it was clear that they both had their view as to the value of the each other’s ‘work’.
In my opinion (and it is only that) being a mother exposes you to some sort of animal instinct that puts you on the defensive, regardless as to whether or not you try to pretend otherwise. If we are not in paid employment we feel that we have to justify our role as homemakers. If we are in paid employment, we feel we have to justify our decision to go to work. We are, in summary, far too hard on each other.
Families come in different shapes and forms. What works for one family will not work for another. What is important is that we mothers support one another in one of the toughest jobs; raising a family and not judge one another. Indeed, if we are appearing to judge another mother are we not, in fact, simply judging ourselves, setting an even higher bar to clamber over?
As a family lawyer I represent many women who have given up their opportunity to have a career to raise the children of the family. The law recognises this as an equal contribution to the marriage and will not draw distinctions between being the “breadwinner” or the “homemaker”. Both contributions are important. I do stress, however, that by giving up work altogether may leave you vulnerable if you are in a marriage or partnership where one salary could not support two households in the event of a relationship breakdown. There also appears to be a gradual change of attitude from the Courts that if a mother has an earning capacity, and certainly when the children are older, they should do what they can to secure paid employment without relying on indefinite financial support from their ex. This can be very daunting if you have been out of the job market for a number of years; confidence has been lost and earning capacity diminished.
On the flip side mothers who are in paid employment also face challenges upon separation. There is the challenge of who is going to get the children to and from school and care for them after school and in the school holidays. Often child maintenance does not begin to address the costs of childcare whilst also juggling with the other costs associated with bringing up children. Tax Credits may go some way to help but often a working mother will be asking herself why she works all those hours for a seemingly small financial return. Then there is the homework to deal with in the evening and at weekends, as well as the washing, cleaning and so forth.
I have represented and helped mothers, some in paid employment and some who are full time mums, in coming through their separation and being stable on the “other side”. It is possible but it takes courage. Although I can help you with your legal issues in a divorce you will also need the support of friends and family to help you through it. This is why I say we should seek to support one another as mother’s as opposed to criticising each other. Being a mum is fantastic but it is also hard. Showing support and solidarity to one another is the best way to ensure that the work women do in raising a family, however they may do that, is valued.