Mothers’ Day: My mum, being a single parent and the glass ceiling

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One day in March 2003, was moving day. Mum who was recently divorced, had just purchased her first ever home by herself. However, she was not alone. As she stepped into what would be a new chapter, she was followed by a tiny army. An eight year old, a six year old and me who was almost two. When we first arrived to the new home, it was painted a horrible green colour on the inside. Mum was pretty unhappy about this, so as her first official ruling she, in a very ‘my mum’ fashion, decided to paint the walls pink instead, until we could get some proper paintwork done. Much to the dismay of my brother.

If you ask my mum, the house needed a lot of work done to it when we first moved there. But we happily managed to make it our home. That being said I still don’t think my sister was too happy about having to share a room with her baby sister for the first bit of living there, as I would keep her awake playing my Thumbelina video on repeat every night to help me sleep – at least I had a good time!

Mum grew up just outside Edinburgh. Despite having a rough childhood her ambition of what she could be never fell short. At the end of school, she was invited for an interview to study Law at the University of Oxford, which took place over a few days. Once she arrived, she realised that in this particular college, she was not only the only one not from a private school, but she was also the only woman.

Unsurprisingly they loved her there and offered her a place at the University. But mum, always knowing her mind, turned them down. Of course, the prestige of doing Law at Oxford would have been great, but she didn’t want to go somewhere she didn’t feel like she would fit in. So, she went to do Law at University of Edinburgh instead.

She qualified as a solicitor in 1985, and after many years working in the law industry, which in the eighties was extremely difficult for women, she was called to the Bar in 1994 and returned to Edinburgh. The Bar was not only a very high-pressured job for her but was also at the time a very sexist and cutthroat environment. However, it was still nothing that my mum couldn’t handle.

Soon into starting at the Bar, in 1995 she became pregnant with my older sister.  When she became pregnant, she was treated like a disgrace. Mum says that once women at the Bar got pregnant, they were told not to come back. She didn’t have any maternity pay and once she had my sister, taking maternity leave for longer than two months was unacceptable. So only after three months off, she was back at work.

Despite being treated so poorly, mum never wanted to choose between having a family and having a career. She wanted to be a mum as well as a lawyer, trying to break through the glass ceiling that exists so often for women who want to have kids. So in 1997 she had my brother and kept going with the Bar, despite having two young children. In 2001, just before I was born, mum had to take extra time off work at the Bar as she was not only heavily pregnant but very ill with pneumonia. Once she came back she was told she would have to start from the beginning as the people who had once instructed her regularly had gone elsewhere. That was law for you, everything moving so fast that taking time out to have kids or even getting ill could mean you have you climb your way back to the top.

This takes us back to March 2003, moving day. My mum, now a single parent, was under more pressure than ever, to not only be a mum but to be good at her job. The financial pressures would also only ever become tougher, having three kids does not come cheap. At work she was beginning to get more instructions with her job, and as she describes, her life became almost impossible. The increased workload meant that working on the weekend was inevitable. She had none of her side of the family to help with childcare and it became clear having a job that didn’t come with family-friendly hours wouldn’t work.

She decided to apply to become a Junior Judge, initially part-time in 2006. On top of that she took a job as an Employment Adviser at a large insurance company. She needed the extra work as working part-time wouldn’t bring enough income. But having a five, nine and eleven year old at home whilst having two jobs that required you to travel, meant times were still tough.

I remember at this time being treated like an outcast in school. I was one of the only kids in my year to have a single mum and people’s negative feelings about this were made pretty clear. I would often be the only one in my class not invited to birthday parties. But me and mum would just laugh about it and be pretty happy not getting invited to things anyway.

In 2008, after years of hard work mum was very happy to get a full-time job as a judge. Indeed, after getting this impressive job all the people at school who once shunned us were now pretty keen to say hi to my mum at school events. Mum getting this job meant she no longer had to work on the weekends and travel, and even though she was always super busy, most days she would now make it home just after 5pm to cook dinner and check out homework.

Despite never really getting a break, it is hard to describe her as anything other than loving, crazy and glamorous. Her law friends often describing her a legally blonde, mum always worked hard and did all she could to overcome the challenges and prejudice that was thrown her way. Working was never not an option for her as we needed money and this has given me and my siblings all a strong work ethic. She never wanted to give up the chance to have kids, nor the chance to climb up the promotional ladder.

But most importantly she is the best mum we could of ever asked for and the person I look up to most in the world. Happy Mother’s Day to all our amazing mums and guardians that have done so much for us – we all hope one day to return the favour.

Featured image credit: The Argus

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