In May 1998, I graduated from GW Law School in Washington, DC and that was probably the best Mother’s Day gift I ever could have given my mother, who emigrated from Ecuador to New York City after high school with big dreams for a better life here in America. She brought her mother over years later, and together those two women raised me to believe that anything was possible here.
Five years after law school, I became a mother while working as an associate at a posh downtown law firm. Little did I realize how much my life would change once my son was born. When I returned from maternity leave (there was no set firm policy about this at the time) I tried to negotiate a flexible schedule, which was met with substantial resistance even though I had initially been told we would be able to discuss this once I settled into my new routine. The interactions with my boss changed, as did my assignments, and after a year of feeling dismissed and under-utilized, I left to start my own law firm.
The decision to start my own company less than two (2) years after having a child was not an easy one, but the reality was that I didn’t have faith that any of the other firms that I would be interested in would be willing to work with me on a schedule and compensation package that I felt I deserved after working on several complex, high-profile cases and being listed in the Washingtonian’s Top Divorce lawyers.
A year after opening my own family law practice, I got divorced, which definitely made the decision to remain self-employed as a single mother a whole lot scarier, but not as scary as the thought of being miserable working for someone else and losing my autonomy. Failure was simply not an option, and in many ways this is what fueled my ability to be creative in the brand I wanted to establish and how I marketed the firm as an early adapter to social media.
While most law firms a decade ago (and some to this day) are very conservative in their use of social media, I decided long ago to put it all out there. The blogs I write and interviews I give for radio, tv, podcasts or magazines are all very personal, and real. It’s not a secret that I am a divorced single mom, and it is precisely because of this experience that most of my clients seek out my guidance. I know how scary it is to start a whole new life, to not have a safety net, and to get back out there and make new friends and find a new partner. The pains and sorrows I have endured are the very reason my empathy runs so deep.
And just when I would have thought I have seen it all, COVID hit. The new challenges raised during this pandemic were unparallel to anything I have ever experienced. Trying to keep a teenager on track with his online learning, while also adapting to all new court procedures and protocols, and doing crisis-management for all of my clients from a social distance definitely tested the limits of my emotional bandwidth. But you know what kept me going? My son.
It has never been an option to call it quits, because for the past 18 years I have felt an immense obligation to provide a positive example to my child. If it wasn’t for him, I never would have left traditional firm life; I never would have learned the importance of work-life balance and setting boundaries; I never would have understood the challenges that so many other single mothers face, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Most importantly, however, he has taught me so much about unconditional love and power of forgiveness– believe me teenagers will test the limits of both those things.
My son is now going to pursue his own path, very different from mine, and I know he thinks these Hallmark holidays are silly. But wisdom comes with age, and I believe there is a definite need to (1) recognize the sacrifices our mothers made for us and (2) celebrate what we have accomplished for ourselves as mothers. This year, which is the first year that we won’t be together, I have taken matters into my own hands by scoring tickets to my first PGA tournament followed by a girl’s weekend getaway. I am reclaiming my freedom, which makes this my best Mother’s Day in ages, and I hope that my fellow empty-nester moms will do the same.
Happy Mother’s Day!
By Regina A. DeMeo