Sheela Mackintosh-Stewart is a former family law barrister on a crusade to reduce relationship breakdown in the UK.
Having witnessed the devastating impact of divorce and separation first-hand, Sheela’s passion is to prevent relationship breakdown where possible or make it as painless as possible.
Having left the legal profession, Sheela now specializes in giving expert and bespoke relationship advice to couples facing the possibility of separation through ifamilies.co.uk, an information centre for couples having difficulties. On average Sheela has helped hundreds of couples find a resolution to their relationship problems. With both legal and personal experience, Sheela offers her clients, who range from every class and culture, bespoke advice to save or end their relationship or marriage in the best possible manner for all parties.
With over thirty years’ experience in mediating and sustaining relationships, Sheela now has extensive insight into the minds of men and women and the fundamental differences in their approaches to love and is passionate about helping women, and men sustain relationships.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and current role
My unusual and interesting childhood together with my Indo-Chinese parentage has given me a unique overview of life and also taught me valuable life lessons about the importance of relationships, diversity, team work and inclusion. When I was five years old we moved to the heart of the Malaysian jungle, due to my fathers’ job as a doctor for a mining company. We grew up learning to fend for ourselves and as the eldest of four, I spent my early years looking after my siblings whilst my parents were working. When I was twelve I went to study in Singapore to get an English education, commuting for two hours at 5am everyday to get to school via a causeway-link joining the two countries.
After secondary school, I decided to come to University in England and studied Law at Queen Mary’s College in London. This was the first time I had been to England and being 10,000 miles away from home with no relatives to turn to, was a very daunting experience, but definitely one of the best decisions I made. The English were very welcoming, and I was tickled to be called ‘love’ by local grocers.
After my Law degree, I went to Bar school and qualified as a barrister. I then re-qualified as a solicitor and went to work in the City. After a while, I set up my own legal firm practising family law. During this time, I became troubled that clients were often clueless about what divorce entailed and were unprepared and unaware of the devastating impact of the divorce. So, to plug this gap I founded iFamiliesuk, a unique matrimonial consultancy, to better inform people at the pre-divorce stage and prepare them to divorce amicably where possible, if they choose to pursue divorce.
Alongside my iFamiliesuk work, I also focus on championing positive social change to reduce divorce and relationship breakdown in society. I now write, talk and blog about becoming ‘relationship smarter’, working to heal the nation’s relationship conundrums one couple at a time.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
My early ambition to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a doctor did not work out, so I had to re-think my plan. Being a lateral thinker and good problem solver, I decided to become a lawyer.
iFamiliesuk and my work as a relationship ‘guru’ developed from my legal career and the personal experiences I have had along the way. I have always had a social agenda and a drive to invoke positive change in society, so I re-directed my focus to filling the gap in the market for a voice offering practical relationship advice.
Have you faced any challenges along the way? How did you deal with them?
Life is full of challenges and I have had my fair share! One of my greatest challenges was trying to juggle my career and being a mother, without a family support network. Nannies were always letting me down and childcare became difficult, so I decided to leave my full-time legal career after my second daughter Elisabeth was born. ‘Necessity being the mother of Invention’, I then went on to set up iFamiliesuk.
On a typical work day how does it start and how does it end?
I don’t have a typical work day as such. When the girls were younger, I adapted my work pattern to suit them, often working late into the night. Now they are young adults, I have a lot more flexibility to shape my day around my interests.
My day includes working with clients to resolve legal and relationship issues, keeping my hand in with politics, mentoring, blogging, writing and talking at seminars on legal, family and relationship issues. I also engage frequently with other proactive leaders with unique perspectives and solutions to effect changes in peoples’ lives.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you ever had a mentor or do you mentor anyone?
Mentoring is a must for everyone’s personal and career development, and their overall well-being. I co-founded and run the ‘Diaspora Emerging Leadership Programme’, where I mentor and nurture talented Chinese diaspora leaders to become global leaders and build East-West bridges. I feel proud watching them grow in confidence and stature.
Also, my daughter Ally and I indirectly mentor others through co-writing a relationship blog, ‘I’m having a mare’, where our contrasting daughter-mother perspectives are well received. On a more personal level, I have been mentored indirectly by previous bosses and leaders, which has undoubtedly shaped me for the better.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Parenting well is a challenge. So, ensuring my children are relatively well-adjusted and haven’t lost faith in relationships after experiencing divorce at a young age is an achievement to me.
From a professional standpoint, turning strained relationships into happier relationships and seeing families living harmoniously post-divorce are also great achievements.
If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would It be?
I would love to see greater change to help women who are juggling careers and family life. From my own personal experience, trying to do both well is incredibly tough! Working mums should be able to make career choices without feeling guilty or incurring penalties. A move towards addressing gender equality, endorsing female career advancement and promoting a better work-life and family care balance will help women to thrive in the workplace.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
Being a divorced, divorce lawyer and witnessing countless family breakdown scenarios over the past twenty-five years has given me a unique perspective. Many couples struggle in their relationships and no-one is immune from relationship breakdowns. My aim now is to reduce relationship breakdowns by making society ‘relationship smarter’. I think I have always had a flair for helping others with handling tricky relationship issues. So, I would like to be the strong voice empowering men and women alike to create, strengthen their relationship blueprint and heal the nation’s relationships, one at a time.
To find out more about or contact Sheela