The Unattainable Goal: Work/Life Balance as a Parent/Attorney

A while back, this “departure memo” from a female associate attorney in Washington, D.C. made the rounds on the internet.  It was a quick flash of “Oh wow. Mom lawyers… yeah. Tough.” And then it went away, along with the female associate who drafted it.  If you didn’t see it, take a few minutes to read it now because it makes your heart ache in several raw places and presents the urge to simultaneously scream “TELL ‘EM SISTER” and “NOOOOO” because hell, if she can’t do it with a spouse and a big time D.C. salary then what in the world am I supposed to do?  It’s telling, isn’t it? It’s depressing and sad and oh too true, that being a mother and being an attorney or a professional of any type, is not an easy gig.

The fact of the matter is, things like this happen every day and most of them don’t even garner the half-hearted attention given to this particular memo, this particular attorney mom.  Every day, women and men are realizing that the rigors of professional life are infringing on the realities of parenthood and you know what? It’s not fair.

There. I said it.

It’s. Not. Fair.

The way the professional world treats parents amounts to little better than cruel and unusual punishment.

Just this week, I was five minutes late to a meeting in my office because my three year old threw a fit and wouldn’t get his shoes on, leading to me chase him around the house for twenty minutes and then sit on him while I strapped his velcro shoes across his feet.  Then I carried him, limp and screaming, to the car where I struggled to fasten his car seat and drove to daycare with him crying so hard I thought one of us would throw up.  It wasn’t our best morning and even though I hauled ass to get there, I was still five minutes late to the 8am meeting.

Know what happened? My boss, who has grown children and who had live in help when they were little, announced to the firm… which includes me and two other associates, neither of whom have children, that from now on any one who is late to these Monday morning meetings must pay a fine.

Let’s all guess who’s going to have to shell out extra dough this year?

I mean, sure, the meetings are important, but let’s face it… between the four of us, who is going to be hit the hardest with this new rule? The single attorney who lives five seconds from the office or the single mom attorney with no in-town help?

It’s little things like that that make what we do so damn difficult.  It’s the little things, the “Oh. You can’t stay late to help? Then I’ll give this case to so and so” and “If you’re not working on the weekends, you don’t care about your career advancement.” It’s the raised eyebrows when we come in with cheerios stuck to our ass and still-wet hair from the last minute shower, necessary because… you know… potty training.  I’m sure there are firms out there that work well with single parents, with parents in general, but I’ve yet to find one that fully embraces the concept that children are more important than career, more important than clients, more important than… gasp… billable hours.  Because they are, you know… 100%.

Most of the firms I’ve worked for embrace the idea that you put in the hard labor at the front end, the first ten to fifteen years of your practice, so that you can enjoy free time after that.  To that concept, I say bull. crap.  In fifteen years, I’ll still be a lawyer.  I’ll still be working long hours and disappointing clients.  I’ll still be penciling in meetings and taking phone calls and arguing appeals.

But in fifteen years my now three year old will be off to college. And at the end of every. single. day. I know that no matter what comes across my desk, the only thing that matters to me is getting home to enjoy the few hours I have with him before bedtime.  Because I’m a mom first.  Because my child means more to me than every single one of my clients, my boss, this firm, and even my paycheck.

So when I read that “Departure Memo” and others like it, they remind me that for every high-heeled regal, perfectly coiffed professional clicking through the streets of major metropolitan areas… there are at least two of me… two moms who, when forced to choose between what the world defines as success and what her children see as presence…choose children every time.

Work/life balance be damned… I choose, I will ALWAYS choose…  life over work. momjude

23 Comments

  • Cheryl says:

    Honestly? It sounds like your world *is* perfectly balanced because you’ve got your priorities straight. There are always going to be the days when the 3yo won’t get his shoes on (my 5yo is still difficult about shoes), but it will get easier, and I don’t think you’ll regret the time spent building your career either. Good for you.
    Cheryl recently posted..The Having It All Project: Liz Polay-WettengelMy Profile
    Twitter: cherylstober

    • Law Momma says:

      Yes… I feel pretty well balanced in my personal life. Though it IS hard to put in all the work in law school and now know that I will never really reach the level I wanted to reach simply because my priorities are straight.
      Law Momma recently posted..Happy Friday!My Profile

  • Wendy says:

    OMG! Is that normal?? How horrible.

  • Mary Beth says:

    that’s ridiculous that you’ll have to pay a fine if you’re late to a meeting. pure BS. would you risk losing your job to question that “policy”??
    Mary Beth recently posted..In Defense of Government WorkersMy Profile
    Twitter: bloombing

  • LK says:

    I’m sooo with you! I’m a full-time lawyer mama with a 3-year-old (it’s his birthday today!) and a 5-month-old nursing (and not sleeping) baby and a husband who has his own business and works more than full time. My life is totally insane – and we even have my wonderful mother-in-law staying with us right now to take care of the baby while I’m at work. But my firm is really amazing, I have to say. They have been so understanding with me over the past year. They have an awesome maternity leave policy (which they changed when I lobbied for it while pregnant with my first kiddo) and they have been totally understanding and accommodating when, after being back at work for just a few weeks, my whole family got sick and the baby ended up in the hospital with RSV and I had to take off a bunch more time. But I know they are the exception in the legal world. And even with an understanding firm, this profession is particularly brutal when you’re a parent to little ones. Hang in there. Your boss was a real jerk. You just have to keep showing up and doing your best and ALWAYS putting your family first. Things will work out. I read here regularly and really admire you – you really have so much on your plate and just know you are doing a great job, imperfections and all!

  • LK says:

    I meant to say I read your blog regularly (I read this one regularly too) – I found it a year or so ago when I was googling blogs about lawyer moms because I was feeling so overwhelmed as a lawyer and a new mama and needed some solidarity. Glad you are out there!

  • Brandy says:

    SO.MANY.SWEARS. I hate this for you. I would hate that ball of stress on my day. Like this morning Landon’s school was delayed 2 hours but I couldn’t do that with the baby. I ended up running late (not 2 hours) but rolling in about 20-30 min later because of the logistics. I never thought twice about it .If I had to, my (already maxed) stress level would eat me alive. I am so sorry for you.

    I actually read another blog about our company today with a good story from our CEO…I thought this was telling. So look on the job board for us…really. See if you see anything. Move back home :)

    “SAS does not only give its employees what amounts to unlimited sick leave, but also the time they need to care for their sick family members. During orientation we heard of an anecdote where the SAS CEO, Dr. Jim Goodnight, was told by an incredulous executive friend of how this unlimited sick leave policy was setting the system up for abuse. In response, Dr. Goodnight called the human resources department inquiring about the average sick days taken by a SAS employee during the previous year. He felt vindicated to learn that the figure was way below the industry’s average. He is known to have said, “Treat you employees as if they make a difference, and they will make a difference.”
    http://blogs.sas.com/content/sascom/2013/01/17/sas-as-2-and-the-virtuous-cycle-of-being-on-top/
    Brandy recently posted..Our Gold Star: The ClubhouseMy Profile
    Twitter: mannlymama

  • Katie says:

    While I do NOT have the job demands you do, I will say you would think working in education would be more sympathetic to having your OWN kids. But we are expected to give up our evenings and weekends at events to support students if we are not already giving them up to grade and plan.

    After I had Eddie I said “eff this” and resigned from all of the extracurriculars I did (one paid, several not). I have gotten a lot of grief because I don’t do anything “extra”. Um, it’s called EXTRA for a reason, but apparently the higher ups never got that memo because to them EXTRA is the same as REQUIRED/EXPECTED.

    Sigh. I’ve gone and ranted.

    I love my job, but I love my family more.

    Boom.

    Also? I love YOU, friend.
    Katie recently posted..that scruchy, wound up feelingMy Profile
    Twitter: ksluiter

    • Law Momma says:

      You know, I never really thought about how much “extra” time my teachers put in to their jobs… chairing committees, serving as advisers to clubs… MY EYES ARE OPENED. It’s sad that so many of the “higher ups” seem to have forgotten how they struggled when they were trying to balance career and family. The professional world would run a lot smoother if they’d all take the time to remember.
      Law Momma recently posted..Happy Friday!My Profile

  • Laura says:

    So glad I don’t have to pay a fine if I’m late to work and so glad it doesn’t matter in general that I’m late. Every. Day. I’ve truly been on time about 8 times in the 20 months I’ve worked at my current job. Getting independent little kids out the door in the morning is really tough. I’m very lucky that my boss is pretty flexible. It helps that his daughter is just 5 months older than my older daughter, so he gets it. Finding a job that fit my need to have a career and a family was a must when I was looking for my current role.
    Laura recently posted..Dear Natasha: 8 Months OldMy Profile
    Twitter: payettepigtails

  • AdelpheBre says:

    Thank you, thank you. I’m not a lawyer, but a pastor, but i’m trying hard to tip my balance toward life too and I have it pretty good. (Have not been late to worship yet!) You really have saved me a lot of work, because when someone asks why I missed a out-of-town conference or a committee meeting, I can just send them the link to your piece. Thanks for standing up for presence with kiddos!
    AdelpheBre recently posted..VogueMy Profile

  • AdelpheBre says:

    You rock, Mama! I’m not a lawyer, but a pastor, and I’m trying to tip my “balance” toward life. I’ve yet to be late to actual worship services and I have it really good with support, but really you’ve saved me a lot of work. When I choose to miss an out-of-town conference or an evening committee meeting and I hear something about it, I can send this to them. Many thanks for championing presence with kiddos over success in the office!
    AdelpheBre recently posted..VogueMy Profile

  • Liz says:

    Just wanted to send you a hug. I’m also a single mom of a two year old and while not in the field of law, have a demanding job that requires me to travel (not constantly, but more lately than originally anticipated). When I’m in the office I actually do have a great deal of flexibility, and I have a very understanding boss who gives me quite a bit of discretion over my travel. But even with those positive factors, I constantly feel like I’m making horribly difficult trade-offs that many of my co-workers (especially those with no kids or the stay-at-home spouse) don’t have to make. Every day my so-called “balance” is hanging by a thread. But I love (and need) my job, I love my kid, and just trying to figure out the rest day by day. I think we all are. You’re doing a great job by putting your kid FIRST (how could you not?) and being an awesome role model for him. My hope is that ALL of our workplaces get a grip and realize that we’re all giving 100% of what we are able and chill the f*** out.
    Twitter: Hungry_Lizzie

  • Shannon says:

    I love this post and hate it just the same. It’s so beautiful that you are able to call out the “cruel and unusual punishment” and that you have chosen your life over your work despite the consequences. But it’s so unfortunate that there is such a lack of understanding in your profession. J is a lucky boy.
    Shannon recently posted..Word of 2013My Profile

  • ageless male says:

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