Mothers Working to Help Other Mothers

In honor of the many hard working mothers on staff at the Harriett Buhai Center, we sat down with three mothers to learn more about how being a parent affects their work with clients at the Center. Read below for an interview with Client Assistant Karina Estrella and Staff Attorneys Nina Combellack and Judy Schwartz-Behar.

HBCFL: Hello Moms! Thank you for your participation in our Mothers of the Center dialogue. Does being a mother affect your work at the Center?

Karina: I was a young mother who fell into an abusive relationship. I understand the feeling of desperation, and of having nowhere to turn. This I believe helps me empathize and understand our clients and they usually easily open up.

Nina: Definitely, I think it allows me to better understand the difficult choices that our clients have to make and the responsibilities that they have. I often admire our clients for keeping things together and providing for their children when they have so little. I can also understand how protective they may feel towards their children, and how it might be difficult for them to understand how the court makes decisions.

Judy: Yes, being a mom informs almost everything I do at the Center. It has helped me be more empathetic during our initial intake interviews when I am working with frustrated mothers and fathers who are in the middle of ugly custody battles.

HBCFL: Do you feel certain cases/situations you see at the Center affect you more as a mother?

Karina: I do find that sometimes it is hard not to project myself and my children in some of the overwhelming situations that our clients get into. I find myself fighting for our clients as if I was fighting for my own children.

Nina: I think that since becoming a mother, any cases involving children may affect me more than they would have done prior to becoming a mother. I think the particularly difficult cases are the ones where the child has suffered some form of abuse, or where our client is being denied access to their child.

HBCFL: Why are you engaged in public interest work?

Karina: Violence is a big problem in our society. Years from now the children around us will be the ones in relationships and having children. Helping victims break the cycle of violence will help our children live better lives now. By helping our children we are making a positive change in our future and I get personal satisfaction when I know I am helping others advance their lives. The smiles in their faces inspire me.

Nina: So many things inspire me here – first and foremost, our clients and the changes we see in them as they become more empowered throughout their case. I am also very much inspired by our staff, which is comprised of such a dedicated group of people. In addition, our volunteers are just wonderful and it is heartening to see so many people wanting to help our clients and donate so much time and energy to the Center.

Judy:  Before I was a lawyer, I was a teacher and I saw how much a child’s home life can affect their ability to succeed academically. My motivation for going into public interest work was to use the law as a vehicle for helping parents create more functional homes for their children.

HBCFL: Is it difficult to find the balance between your work life and home life?

Karina: I constantly feel like I am being split between having to be both a Mom and a Paralegal. Although I know I am trying my best at both, sometimes I feel being at work is letting down my children or being at home is letting down my job. But now with one child in college I feel the sacrifice paid off. To hear my son say he wants to be as hard working as his mother makes me feel good.

Nina: Fitting everything in to any given day is a challenge – but it has taught me to become more organized and efficient with my time.

Judy: Accepting that there really is no such thing as work-life balance. Usually, when I am particularly “on” at work and getting a lot done, I feel as though I am dropping the domestic ball and vice versa. I am lucky to have a part time schedule and an extremely supportive spouse who knows his way around the kitchen. Otherwise, all my kids would eat is Baja Fresh and frozen fish nuggets!

HBCFL: Thank you Karina, Nina and Judy for sharing your experience as a working mom at the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law. We are lucky to have such passionate women on our staff.

Editor’s note: Karina is a mother of two sons, ages 18 and 12; Nina is a mother to a 2 ½ year old daughter with her second due this summer; Judy is a mother to two boys, ages 4 and 1 with her third arriving in June.