My husband Brad and I are proud parents of a 20-month-old daughter, Lucille. Having to balance being a mom and a litigator at a large firm is probably the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. But it’s also an accomplishment of which I am very proud, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t pretend to be an expert, and I still have a lot to learn. But based on the past 20 months, here are some tips that I’ve acquired to support a “work-mom” balance:
It takes a village. I won’t sugarcoat this: I’d have to quit my job if it weren’t for my husband and my mom. My husband works predictable, regular hours and, with rare exception, does not have to work at night or on the weekends. He is an extremely present dad, is helpful at home, and is very supportive and understanding of my job. My mom lives 30 miles away and is our go-to babysitter, with little to no notice, particularly when Lucy is sick and has to stay home from daycare. She watched Lucy twice per week when she was an infant and is the most dependable person in our lives.
Invest in superior daycare, whatever that means for you and your family. For us, it means that Lucy attends a daycare in downtown Madison, only two blocks away from both my and my husband’s offices. We put her on the waitlist as soon as we found out we were pregnant. She absolutely loves it there, and I have no qualms about admitting that she learns just as much from her teachers as she does from us at home. My walk to pick her up is the best part of my day, and no matter what happens at work, I always have something to look forward to.
Establish reasonable boundaries, and stick to them. Absent an emergency, trial, or maybe a dispositive motion filing, I make a point to leave work every day by 5:30. Our daughter goes to bed by 7:00, and I certainly didn’t decide to have a baby with the idea of not seeing her during the week. But this is not as easy as it sounds, and it comes with some important caveats. First, I had to work up to this point. I’m a senior associate, and I didn’t have my daughter until my fifth year at the firm. I devoted my first few years to building my reputation as a hard-working, reliable associate, so as to gain the trust of the partners for whom I work. That meant a lot of hours and face-time in the office. Second, it is nearly impossible to meet my billable hour requirement just working until 5:00 Monday through Friday. I can be as efficient and productive as possible, but non-billable work is still a necessary part of my day. To meet my billable hour requirement, I have to work in the evening after Lucy goes to bed or on the weekend (and sometimes both). I choose to work on Saturday and Sunday mornings because I like to get it out of the way, and it helps me go into the next week already feeling ahead. But I can do this only with the support of my husband. (Like I said, it takes a village.)
Give yourself a break. I mean this in a few different ways. First, give yourself a break, as in take time for yourself. For me, that means that twice per week, I work out with a personal trainer. It’s the only guaranteed “me time” that I get in the week, and it absolutely makes me a more energized mom and a more productive lawyer. It is money and time very well spent. Second, give yourself a break, as in don’t be afraid to delegate as appropriate. As just one example, we pay a company to clean our windows inside and out every spring. It’s a chore that would take me literally an entire weekend, and I can’t afford to take that time away from our daughter or my work. In my life, time is money, quite literally. Third and finally, give yourself a break, as in cut yourself some slack. I bought Lucy’s Halloween costume, and I probably always will. The PTA is not in the cards for me, and I’m not going to make many of Lucy’s future sporting events. But that doesn’t make me a bad mom, and I don’t feel guilty. I’m working every single day to build a better life for her. I know it, my husband knows it, and one day, she will too.