“I don’t know how you do it. It must be so depressing.”
Most of the time you just get on with it.
And every so often it really gets you. Mostly when you least expect it.
The responsibility of acting for parents desperately clinging to a forlorn hope they will keep their children, get their children back, stop them being adopted is heavy and encroaches on life at home. Because most often, for all our efforts, we are unsuccessful. And at times the happy endings seem few and far between, the files and files of paperwork telling stories of abuse and neglect and damage and removal loop through generations, are loaded and unloaded into suitcases, wheeled home for late night reading, wheeled to court, wheeled slowly back to chambers and tied sadly back up with Pink Tape endorsed with the final chapter “final care and placement orders made”. We tell our clients we can’t work miracles, and the truth is that many care clients are sadly damaged and desperately unrealistic, doing their best and yet repeating their parents’ own mistakes. And yet. It is hardwired into us to wonder if there was something we missed, something that would have got a better outcome for the client.
I’m sorry. The judge is going to make the order. They will take him tonight.
At these bleak moments life oscillates between self doubt and despair. I should have done better versus nothing I could have done would have made a difference. And so sometimes all the late nights, the missed bedtime stories, the grumpy rushed mornings, the missed school plays – don’t seem justified. You let down your family, you let down your client. You let down that child you never get to meet but have read so much about. You let down yourself.
Keeping a professional distance is only so much protection. It gives a little emotional insulation, and protects the client against the poor judgment of the adviser who has got too close. But there is an unavoidable interplay between the ups and downs of family life at home and the sometimes familiar scenarios described in logs and statements. All of us have read papers and swallowed hard to read a parent criticised for something that we have done. Of course we know that these cases are not about the single incident but the pattern of care. We know that we are not like our clients. Are we? As parents we are all insecure in our abilities and we all have bad days. On some days the parent lawyer can come home reminded that for all the stresses of life at home, they are not such a bad mum after all : we see some truly terrible parenting. But on some days it is easy to identify with the mother who is trying her best and getting it all wrong.
Clients still ask me if I have kids. But as time goes on the tone is different – once it was an insinuation (“you obviously don’t have kids”), now it’s a indicator of confidence.
I’m an imperfect parent and an imperfect lawyer. I hope that my imperfections as a mum help make me a better representative, and that the things I learn at work make me a better mum. I hope.