By Aurore B. Reales
Moms, let's give ourselves a pat on the back, or even better, let's stand in a circle and pat each others’ backs.
Unfortunately, instead of showing solidarity with each other we let each other feel as bad as we feel ourselves: the full-time working mom sneers at the stay-at-home mom for doing "nothing" (out of guilt), the stay-at-home mom feels sorry for the working mom for not being able to stay home with the kids while criticizing her lifestyle, the 3-projects-juggling mom is constantly apologetic to the full time working mom who has to work so hard and to the stay-at-home mom who manages her home so perfectly, and feels unaccomplished in all areas herself…
And all of this comes from striving for perfection, and the lack of acknowledgement and support for mothers. Let's face it: We are never perfect and we will never do enough, so let's just be good enough mothers.
I myself have quite a journey behind me. While during the years I was married the craziness was in its normal neurotic realm, during my divorce things turned into absurdity bordering on the obscene.
I'm a freelance writer. I have always been very professional and serious and proud of my professionalism and achievements. My ex-husband was always jealous of my independence and my creativity.
While battling over custody, I was faced with ridiculing remarks by a mediator who said that as long as I don't find a millionaire to marry I would have to be working full time. I put together a portfolio that showed her the prizes and fellowships I had won, the history of my jobs, and an impressive CV. The mediator only remarked that I was good at marketing (as if that was a bad thing), ignored my accomplishments, and gave me no acknowledgement.
My child was three at the time and I did not want to join the full time workforce while his father and I we were separating. It was a big enough shock for him anyway. But being in America, I had no choice but to work. The mediator told me to look for a job and two weeks later I found a small, low-income, 30 hour-a-week job. (Neither my ex-husband nor the mediator helped me with this.) I was new to the country and had left behind the name I had made for myself, my professional connections, my clients... My father had just died six months earlier and I had just recovered from a life-threatening pneumonia and was not in good shape.
Anyway, with a little help from my friends and infallible hope and optimism, I managed to manage. The divorce went as divorces go, with the result of 50 percent custody each. This was a big change for my child. His dad was working full time and did not really have that much time for him.
The second time we went to a mediator (a different one) was when after two and a half years my alimony was over and I still had not established myself securely enough to get by on my own income in the San Francisco Bay Area. During this meeting with the mediator my ex-husband ranted for an hour about how I never have worked, don't want to work, and how I only think about my writing and not about my child. These helpless helpers, the mediators, seem to just let things happen, and the conclusion was that if I would find full time work my ex-husband would be willing to pay more child support. Which was a bit ironic.
We were supposed to come back in a month and then it was up to me to pay the $250/hr mediator fee, while I had no money to do so.
Needless to say, by then I had not found a full time job and could not even afford the mediator fee.
One year, a car repossession, and a bankruptcy later I finally found a good job. Now the same ex-husband has started to become angry again and wants to see pay stubs. When he saw those he started to find faults with other things. At the parent teacher conference our son’s teacher told us that he has self-esteem issues and, according to his dad, these were of course caused by me. He even threatened me with lawyers.
Meanwhile, at my new good job I was offered a second good position. During my training for this job I had arranged for my son to stay with our neighbor and their children. At some point the kids seemed to have an argument so my son (who is nine now) ended up going back to our house by himself. Our house is a rear cottage, 20 feet away from the neighbors in the main house where he was playing. This happened unbeknownst to me, while was I at work.
When my son’s dad came to pick him up he found him at home by himself. He called Child Protection Service. CPS interviewed my son at school which was a great humiliation to me in the middle of a big transition. When CPS came to my home and saw the living situation they closed the case. But of course I felt scrutinized and the social worker talked to me about babysitting services etc., hinting that I don't have much time for my child because I am working.
So now that I have a full time job I get the other side of the coin. I get criticism for working too much.
There is nothing uncommon in spouses going for each others' throats during a divorce or displaying dirty laundry in public. What shocked me was the readiness of the authorities to believe the angry and more aggressive part of the divorce, maybe out of fear and out of convenience. The divorce laws seemed to me a bit random and dog-eat-dog-like and I found no support or fairness in the proceedings. I found this to be very humiliating and as a consequence very isolating.
The poverty rate of single moms is very high in America. We need pats on the back because we often don't feel that great.