After eight years of acute economic crisis in Spain and with the cards stacked against them, many mothers must find alternative options of employment. Patricia Rodriguez is one of them. Divorced and with two children, she runs her own business while raising them.
“I live my life the best that I can,” Patricia laughs, but it is the tired laugh of a woman accustomed to persevering through challenges and exhaustion on a daily basis. “I always work, so I have to organize myself very well. I clean the house when I can, I cook when I can.” Like most, if not all, working mothers, having more hours in the day would be a god-sent gift, but she must do the best she can with what she has.
Today starts like any other day. Alfonsito, her seven-year-old son, goes in one direction, Valle, her 14 year-old-daughter, in the other, and Lily, the cat, dives into the box containing the bread with which Patricia has to make more than 100 sandwiches. She will sell them at the ice-cream and pastry shop she calls her own, La Helameda, which is located in the Alameda de Hércules, the large square in the north of Seville’s old town to which the indie music festival “Monkey Week” will bring thousands of participants this weekend. This morning at home, like all mornings, is going to be chaotic. Not only does she have to take care of her kids, but she also has to deal with her own business, a complicated relationship with her ex-husband, and her volatile, on-again-off-again business partner/boyfriend all before breakfast. This would be enough to crack anyone, but not Patricia, who is accustomed to juggling everything.
With a sigh, a “My God” and a tired smile, she picks up her things for work. As she bends over to organize her books about Zen, photography and graphic design and stack them on the coffee table, her hair falls over one of her shoulders to reveal a fading, spiral tattoo on the back of her neck.
“I am very tired; I am always very tired,” she says. Her face seems exhausted but there is an ever-present sparkle in her eyes that alludes to her youthful soul. On a shelf in the living room above a shrine of candles and incense, sits a portrait of Patricia when she was 20 with the same radiant smile she is wearing this morning.
She leaves the living room and enters the kitchen to put away the dishes from the night before. She opens the refrigerator, grabs the milk and closes the door with a shake of her hip. A worn, tattered post-it note that says, “Mama, I love you!” is taped to the door. And on the wall, above her head, a chalkboard bares a handwritten Mark Twain quote, “If you always tell the truth, you do not have to remember anything.”
Like a tornado, she turns around to hug Valle, grabs her cup of coffee and gives Alfonsito a kiss, just before taking off with him. Although the apartment is full of light, it seems a little bit darker without her presence.
She heads off down the cobblestone road lined on both sides by multicolored pillars, and strolls down the few streets that separate her apartment from the Alameda de Hercules and her small, three-walled shop. Its walls are lined with pictures of unicorns and ice cream cones, constructed in a bricolage, pop-art fashion that she has designed herself. The radio in the corner is set to an American 80s rock station that plays songs Patricia seems to know without a fail.
Owning La Helameda was not Patricia’s initial plan, but after a year searching for a job with no luck, she decided that starting her own business was the only option. While she was still married, she worked because she wanted to, not because she had to. After her divorce, given the lack of jobs in an economy with an unemployment rate of over 25% in Seville, Patricia joined the mass of entrepreneurs in the city.
“Actually, it does not have many advantages,” she explains. “You have to pay a lot of taxes. The worst of all is that if you have to close, you don’t have a right to unemployment benefits, compensation or even family assistance, in spite of having kept up with your Social Security taxes. The only advantage is that you are your own boss; you make your own decisions. If you are independent, it’s the best. If you are wrong, you have to bear the consequences. But there is no help of any kind. The lowest tax of a self-employed worker in Spain is 256 euros per month, whether you make sales or not.”
This life of uncertainty is something new for Patricia, who was forced to tap into her savings. “My life took an absolute turn when I got divorced,” she explains. Having ample time to spend with her children, a high economic status, a maid that tended to the house every day- all of this is just a memory for her. “I had been a self-employed woman for five years, but I did not receive any benefits or family support when I got divorced, even though I explained that I was divorced and did not receive alimony,” she complains.
With almost 100,000 divorce cases in Spain during 2015, Patricia joins the throngs of women who need to adapt to single life amidst a persistent economic crisis. Mabel Rosado Fernandez, a close friend of Patricia and regular visitor of La Helameda, is also raising her child solo. She interjects her opinion as we interview her friend. “A woman with kids is a mom with a backpack, even though many of these moms have more education and professional knowledge than a lot of guys,” Mabel explains. Both she and Patricia can readily recount situations in which they felt a job was awarded to a male counter-part, even though he was less qualified or didn’t interview as well. “In society, it is not important if you are a single mom, but to businesses it is.” Unfortunately, this discrimination plagues many working mothers in Spain. As indicated in the report Women and Equal Treatment Analysis published by Madrid-based NGO Acción Familiar in 2008, eighty-five percent of working mothers in Spain reported that fear of discrimination was a primary factor in their decision to have no further children. Moreover, women who try to re-enter the workforce after maternity often face what is referred to as ‘employment penalty,’ which equates to fewer sufficient job offers because of time commitments, or perceived time commitments, that they must make to their families.
Patricia now shares her children’s custody with Alfonso, her ex-husband, and gets to see her children 15 days every month. “They have two lives: with their dad, they are rich, with me, poor. However, both Valle and Alfonso adapt to everything; they are sympathetic, affectionate; they don’t whine. I appreciate that a lot,” Patricia explains. Despite a gaping economic difference between households, Patricia’s and Alfonso’s parenting styles remain constant and stable for the children. “They see that we are both hard workers, that we both cook, that we both take care of them and everything in the same way.” This, in her opinion, prompts both of her children to act more responsibly. “They are maybe less capricious than other kids; they don’t demand or protest anything.”
Yet Patricia still finds herself at a loss for time. To simply talk with her kids, ask them how their day went at school, curl up on the couch and watch a movie and, as she puts it, “to do normal things that a mom would do in her home,” are all now luxuries for her. “When I get home it is time for them to go to bed,” she adds, softly shaking her head and casting her gaze down to the counter. “Kids should spend time with their mother to just be able to take a walk in the park if that’s what they want. This is something I can’t do with them.”
The odds seem to be stacked against her, yet Patricia somehow manages to juggle all that life throws at her. “If you feel the need to cry, cry,” she says. “If you need to sleep, sleep. If you need to scream, scream. What will happen, will happen,” she says with a smile and a sigh. “You just have to enjoy each moment while you’re in it.” •