Raising a family while building your practice can be complex, to say the least. This is especially true if you’re a woman with primary childcare responsibilities in a male-dominated field.
The competitive nature of the industry makes maintaining a work-life balance intense for legal professionals. 24 hours in a day are never enough for both work and personal life, especially if you have children.
There are only a small percentage of women in partnership roles, and many retire when they have kids. How can you be productive at a job where you’re constantly on-call and juggle a full-time role as a parent?
Having kids: pressure from society
Women are under so much pressure, both from themselves and others, whether they choose to become a mother or not. The “shoulds” take over:
- I should have a baby.
- I should be breastfeeding as much as possible.
- I should spend more time with my kid.
- I should do everything to ensure a happy life for them.
Plus, there are the career “shoulds.”
- I should stay a little later to get this done.
- I should go to that office happy hour.
- I should spend more time on marketing, growth, training, whatever.
Even when choosing the child-free path, the pressure remains. “You don’t have kids yet? The clock is ticking. Your career cannot be as important as motherhood, right?”
All of this turmoil happens while you’re still expected to pick up a work-related call at 8 pm on a Friday, show up early and stay late, and do whatever it takes to advance your career.
This is why so many women leave their legal practice to start a family. While some women who retire have no regrets, knowing you could do both can be highly empowering, too. If you’re looking for ways to balance parenting responsibilities and your legal career, there’s never been a better time.
The new approach to law
More law firms have been pivoting away from the standard billable hour approach, creating extra time and a refreshing appreciation for the life-work balance. In this era, a more flexible schedule became a reality.
In the age of Silicon Valley and social media, the way we perceive productivity has shifted compared to previous generations. With new technology, overworking is not necessary. Putting in a smaller amount of hours is becoming less of a career setback.
Productivity doesn’t have to mean 8+ hours a day
While working too many hours is still culturally accepted and rewarded, there is more flexibility now.
As tough as it has been, the pandemic has worked wonders for those who longed for a shortened workweek or felt more productive working from home. Managers everywhere were forced to oversee their employees from a distance, making remote work a reality.
With that shift came a better understanding of productivity: a 9 to 5 schedule does not necessarily mean a more significant outcome.
While it can be tricky to let go of feeling non-productive when working fewer hours, it’s necessary for a healthy balance. Many have started their own firms or shifted towards a solo practice, adjusting their schedules and setting time aside for things other than work.
How to balance work and family as an attorney
Even in a more flexible work environment, raising kids while managing your legal career is still a challenge. Every situation is different, and the strategies that work for you will be different than the things that worked for others.
As you go through these suggestions, think about your personal needs.
For example, if you and your partner both work from home, you can divide responsibilities throughout the day, but if one or both of you work from an office, you may need to rely on childcare services. Older kids can be left alone more frequently than infants. You may need to adjust your plan during your firm’s busiest season.
If some of these suggestions don’t work for you, that doesn’t mean that none of them will. Start with the mindset that it’s okay for this to be difficult sometimes. Difficult is not the same thing as impossible.
With that in mind, let’s explore some options.
Create a schedule for work and family
Work-life balance is sacred, yet it sounds like fiction.
Having a schedule can help.
While arranging a family timetable can be more complicated than managing a Google Calendar with work-related meetings and calls, it’s greatly beneficial.
Prepare what you can in advance for your kids: meals, clothes, and things they might need for school. You can even do these preparations together, teaching your child responsibility while enjoying quality time with them.
Set up snack stations. Leave notes around the house. Try to think through the things your children need throughout the day and give them practical, age-appropriate ways to help themselves.
Whether you work from home or in an office, this can help you create more focused time to pursue your career. Remember to schedule dedicated time with your kids, too. Your job needs boundaries to keep it from interfering with your family life.
Take care of yourself
While time is precious for the person trying to balance it all, it is barely possible without self-care.
Maintaining a sleep schedule is necessary to help save lots of nerve cells and be able to manage work and family. Proper sleep improves memory, mood, and overall quality of life.
Do not forget about movement. Get into the habit of taking short walks — with your kids if you work from home — at lunchtime. You can also take 5-minute stretch breaks together. It’s a great opportunity to bond with your family, and your healthy habits will pay off with improved focus and better energy levels.
Proper nutrition and water intake also help with productivity. Make sure to include meals in your schedule, and for the sake of connecting with your children, have at least one meal together daily.
Celebrate small victories
Whether it’s a new baby or a new case, do not forget to celebrate. Make sure to pay attention to both aspects of life and honor accomplishments, whether your child got an A+ or you closed an important deal.
It’s easy to get lost in your daily routines. Celebration helps you stay centered in the present, and it builds your habit of gratitude.
Ask for help
It’s okay to acknowledge that you can’t do everything by yourself.
Talk to your partner about sharing more of the household and childcare responsibilities. Ask them to take charge of the kids for a certain time of the day so that you can focus totally on job responsibilities, then trade off later so that they can have the same.
As much as it is anxiety-ridden to leave your child with someone else, there is nothing wrong with asking for help from another family member or from professional childcare services.
Like in your career, determine your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to your family. Stick to what you’re good at.
In other words, forcing yourself to help with your kid’s math homework might not be a good idea if you haven’t a clue about what you’re doing. Instead, share that job with your partner, hire a tutor, or encourage your child to work with a classmate.
Finding childcare can be nerve-inducing (not to mention expensive) but there are lots of options for working parents. You may find that it’s much more practical to manage your kids and your career when you don’t have to take on the majority of parenting responsibilities on your own.
It’s important to teach your child age-appropriate boundaries.
Set little reminders around the house to be respectful of each other’s space if you work from home, or teach them to avoid calling you while you’re in client meetings. When they do interrupt, gently (but firmly) remind them that they need to wait for a more appropriate time.
They will learn to be generally respectful and appreciative of other people’s time. Plus, it’s a good way for them to understand what having a work ethic means.
At the same time, you need to set boundaries for your work. How can you expect your family to stay out of your work time when you work comes into family time?
You can still be available for urgent items without letting your career encroach on your family priorities. Create rules for yourself like these:
- No phones and no work conversation during dinner
- At least once per week, each child gets a dedicated hour for any activity they choose. During this time, you are unreachable by anyone else
- If you need to be available because of a high-pressure case, your family must know ahead of time that you will be checking work messages
- No more than 2 late work nights per week
You don’t have to use these exact rules as long as you prove to your children that they will definitely get dedicated time with you. If they can’t count on you to be present when you say you will, then they’re a lot less likely to respect the boundary you put up during work time.
Be at peace with electronic devices
We often hear that screens are evil and the internet is ridden with horror, especially for children.
But depending on the age of your kids and the amount of device use, technology can be incredibly helpful for a full life balance. Access to books, online art classes, educational TV programs, and other beneficial information can give just what your child needs to learn independently.
Parents worry about screen time, and that’s a valid concern. However, you’re probably looking at screens for the whole time you’re at work, right?
If you’re worried that your kids are spending too much time with their devices, use your dedicated family time to get them involved in other types of activities.
The bottom line
Despite the cultural pressure to spend as much time with your child as possible, quantity doesn’t affect them as much as quality.
In fact, we spend more moments with our children compared to 50 years ago, and American parents tend to dedicate the most time compared to the rest of the world. It’s worth noting that overbearing parents might make it harder for a child to solve problems on their own and slow down their social and cognitive development.
Women are often told to sacrifice one aspect of life to benefit the other. You don’t have to do that.
Dealing with the pressure and maintaining this balance is hard, but not impossible. Working through the guilt of not spending 24/7 with your child is a healthy goal. If we try to change our mindsets, the next generation just might deal with it better.