Along with many other lawyers, I recently read an Atlantic Monthly article: Why Women Still Can’t Have It All by Anne-Marie Slaughter. I thought it was both well done and thought provoking.
About the time I read the article, my next Practical Lawyer column was due. I decided I would write a column for lawyer moms. As I often do when I write a blog or article aimed at women lawyers I share drafts with women lawyers I coach. In this case, several women lawyers were quite complimentary about my proposed column. Others shared their ideas and proposed edits with me. After hearing from them, I decided to pass on the the topic because I am confident women lawyers could do it better.
Here is what she wrote:
Cordell recently asked me to comment on a proposed article, “Women Lawyers: Practical Work and Life Priorities.” After reading my response Cordell ditched the idea of advising any women on this topic and asked me to write a guest blog on my thoughts on the on-going battle of work/life balance.
I strongly believe that every mom (working or not) has to find the right balance that works for her. It is impossible to come up with “rules” and think they will apply to everyone. If you ask 10 moms how they approach their work/life balance you will likely get 10 different answers. For instance, I think it is too easy to say “don’t feel guilty” about being at work or being at home. As a litigator, I frequently cannot have complete control over my schedule. In April I was scheduled to take 4 days off to spend with my son during his school vacation. Well, that plan was quickly derailed when I got the call from a federal judge on Wednesday afternoon stating “Be here at 9 a.m. on Monday to select a jury!” Was I disappointed? Yes! Did I feel bad? Yes! Could I do anything about it? No!
Another rule I cannot practically live by is that “I never miss an event for my child.” There are times that I have not made it to parent day at camp, or a field trip, or first Friday mass because I have a court appearance or deposition that I cannot reschedule. In these instances, I try to make sure my husband or a grandparent is there. Luckily, I have never had to miss any “really big” events. Furthermore, while I cannot sign up to volunteer for lunch room duty or the library at the same time every week, I make sure I volunteer for more flexible events like the book fair or a special holiday project. I serve on the “Family Fun” committee because we typically meet in the evening after our kids are in bed. I never miss the opportunity to send in supplies and frequently bring my son with me when I purchase them. My son knows that just because I am not there in the classroom does not mean that I am not involved in other ways.
Women appreciate when our employers are flexible with us in terms of hours, schedules, commitments because it makes the balance easier to manage which in the end makes us better employees and better mothers. While I realize there are times when my balance is “off,” I try to be mindful of the pendulum and to keep it in balance.
My role as a mom was recently tested upon returning from a meeting to see a voice mail from my son’s school. Before I could listen to it my husband called to say our son had run into a window and likely needed stitches. I instinctively told my husband that I would leave immediately to pick our son up and take him to the Emergency Room. My husband responded that he was completely capable of handling the situation. While I agreed with my husband, I reminded him “I am his mommy. He will want me.” My husband laughed at me and hung up. As the minutes ticked by I wondered, “What if I am wrong?” Luckily, only ten minutes passed before my husband called to say, “You are right. He wants you.” In that moment, my son validated my place in the world!
The chaos of our family life and trips to my office (where my son knows everyone and everyone knows him) is our normal. I just hope the example of working hard and being committed to your profession rubs off on him.
By the way, I decided to write my Practical Lawyer column for lawyer dads. At least, I can speak from personal experience to that group. For the dads out there, let me know if you want me to send you a link when it is published.