After a typical-yet-stressful day of lunch packing, bus catching, a contested hearing, client meetings, and parent pick up, I raced back to my office for a trick or treating event that my kids did not want to miss. After dressing them in their costumes, my son looked at me and said, “You look like you’re dressed as a lawyer for Halloween.” I laughed and replied, “I suppose you’re right,” though, as it turns out, I dress like a lawyer most days. I also dress like a mom. And a wife. And a friend. And a daughter. And a volunteer. And the list goes on and on… The problem is, I can only wear one outfit at a time.
I know I am not alone in the struggle the find the perfect balance to be all things to the people who rely on me and to be a success in my career, well-rounded, happy, and content. (That’s not too much to ask for, right?) I also know I am not the only one who feels like I am constantly coming up short. In fact, as I write this article, I am home with my children on a would-be snow day that ended up being a bust. Being here with them means I am not in my office. Not being in the office means potentially missing an important phone call, losing out on a new assignment, and definitely getting behind in billable hours. It also means another bout of fighting the never-ending perception that I cannot be totally present as a lawyer because I am a mom. Mostly, it means feeling guilty that I am not focusing on my career.
Yet, here I am, working at my kitchen table while my kids play games and watch tv. I am billing some hours, but not enough. I am snuggling on the couch while checking emails and dictating letters. So, am I really with them? It feels more like I am in between work and home, and lawyer and mom. A purgatory – and sense of guilt – I am all too used to.
I do not know the answer to the ultimate work-life balance question. I have been dressing up for these competing and not too often complementing roles for so long now that I have come to the determination that there really is no answer. I do know this, though – I am doing it. I might not be able to convince everyone that I can lawyer and mom, but I don’t have to – my accomplishments speak for themselves. In fact, the constant pressures exerted upon me from all sources of my life have molded me into a supremely efficient multi-tasker. I can meet the deadlines and bake the cookies and attend the events. I can do it all in my heels. But I also know this – I cannot do it alone.
As a working mom, I have concluded that my personal, professional, and familial network is more valuable than even the biggest book of business. My network includes bosses who are understanding and flexible and who will help me fight the negative perception that often looms large over lawyer-moms. It means family who help with the children and do not judge when the dishes have not been done. It means a husband who recognizes my desire to be a good mom and a good lawyer, and who is constant and present. It means children who will grow up knowing their mom sacrificed time with them to work hard but also sacrificed her career to be there for every concert and ball game.
But mostly, my network includes a group of strong, independent, multi-talented, and supportive women. They listen when I complain, celebrate my successes, and lift me up when I am down. I find that I turn to these women more than any other group because they understand. They know what it feels like to have professionals judge them for being away from the office and, at the same time, other parents judge them for being away from their kids. In response, they work harder and longer and mix and match until they find the perfect way to dress as both a professional and a mother. In the age of the working mother, I count myself lucky to be surrounded by so many of them.
When I look back at this time in my life, I will not recall it being easy. I will, however, recall feeling supported, well-rounded, happy, and content regardless of how I was dressed. I guess it isn’t too much to ask for after all.