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.