Diary of a busy practitioner, juggling work and family somewhere in England. This week: what makes a good mum - and a good lawyer
This week I have had reason to sit down (not literally, of course) and think about what makes a good mum. The general public, those who either don’t have children or have forgotten what it is like, would say I am a good mum because I have just spent a week baking various different types of sweet treats with eyes on them for my daughter’s Halloween party. I’ve made spider cakes with Oreo bodies and liquorice legs, monster cakes (just some eyes shoved in green icing), meringue ghosts to adorn the actual cake, satsumas with faces drawn on with a Sharpie, and a vomiting watermelon. When my friend text to ask me to send her photos of our Halloween, the photos I sent did not include any humans. And when you add the time spent making these treats to the time I spent preparing games, cleaning the house, decorating the house and so on we are talking about a lot of time. Time that I did not spend playing with my children. Time that, although it didn’t feel particularly enjoyable when the drip cake wouldn’t drip, I spent doing things that I like doing, making Halloween look something like what I wanted it to look like, and licking bowls.
I am not doing it to show off (the parents all scarpered without setting foot in the house and I’m off social media these days) but I have an urge to do it. I have an urge to ensure every birthday cake is homemade, and for the kids to know that I made a big effort for them. However, does this make me a good mum? What if I had bought the cakes or taken them bowling instead? This would have been absolutely fine by the kids, and we could probably have squeezed in a couple of day trips in the time I saved.
Someone at work said to me once that I was a good mum 'because I bake with my children'. Always with the baking. I had to break it to them that I hated baking with my children- they ruin everything, they spill stuff (including, on more than one occasion, the lot, on its way to the oven), they stick their fingers in stuff they shouldn’t, they won’t listen to instruction, they want to do it 'all by themselves' and shove me out of the way. They can’t reach anything, so are usually balanced precariously on chairs and worktops, very close to very hot things. On one occasion I actually had to phone the police as I needed a higher authority to take over screaming at them on my behalf. (And by the police I mean my friend, who was apparently too busy fighting crime under tough austerity measures to answer his mobile at work but the threat of the police being on the other end of the phone did the trick). Hashtag good mum.
My mum (who, by the way, regularly judges me on the 'anarchic chaos' of my home) in a kinder moment once told me that everyone has 24 hours in the day. If they look like they have spent more time putting on make up than you, they have spent less time with their children. If they prioritise cleaning and tidying their house, there is another equally good thing (or a better thing) they haven’t prioritised that maybe you did. My point is that a good parent isn’t necessarily one that bakes with their kids. Sometimes a good parent is the one who works a few extra hours to pay for gymnastics lessons, or just sits and watches telly with them without looking at their phone too much.
So, I hear you ask, if a colleague without children thinks I am a good mum because I bake, what does the average member of the public thinks makes a good lawyer? He (yes, he) is probably very sharply dressed. He probably speaks with a certain accent, and uses long words in long sentences when he writes a letter. He might be a 'bit of a pitbull' and is maybe about fifteen years older than me. In the unlikely event of someone fitting this description reading this blog, my message to you is to make the most of it. Make the most of being able to get over those hurdles that the rest of us face - that we look a bit young, or soft, or not clever enough based on our regional accent. This is a particular problem for me as I try to break into the world of mediation - I was actually mistaken for 'Alex', the course administrator, on a training course recently as I was the only woman- and the only person (apart from Alex) under 50- in the room.
A matrimonial solicitor I worked with during my training contract had wild frizzy hair, always wore a T Shirt and elasticated waist skirt, unless she was in court when she put a jacket over the top. She spoke like Jack Duckworth and never wore any make up. But she had spent twenty years at the local courts. She knew the judges and they knew her. She had a good working relationship with the other local matrimonial solicitors. She spoke in a way that her clients could understand, and dealt with them compassionately.
Taking a client’s phone calls, knowing what you are talking about, listening, being articulate and using language well-to be clear, and at times to be persuasive, paying attention to detail, not only having experience but learning from experience, guiding your clients rather than letting them guide you, being constructive, managing your time and your workload well are all things that actually make a good lawyer, but you don’t find out any of those things from a website profile.
First impressions shouldn’t count for so much, but they do, and if all the time the first impression we are aiming for is 'smart and posh', I don’t think the public will ever get the right idea about what makes a good lawyer. I don’t know what the answer is- I know I’m not ready for the elasticated waist skirts. And as for people thinking you are or aren’t a good parent? First impressions really don’t mean anything in that job. You don’t have a boss, or clients, or a regulatory body to answer to, so why not just do the things that make you all happy and stop doing the things that don’t?