By Brenda George • February 05, 2017•Writers in Residence, Issues, Balancing Private and Professional Life, Sexism, Sexual Harassment, and Other Forms of Discrimination
People often try to encourage me by saying it is good that I’m going to law school while my son is young because he won’t remember. My problem with that is that I will remember:
- I will remember frequently hearing about the first time my son said or did something new.
- I will remember feeling that I selfishly spent too much time away to pursue a career.
- will remember the pain of missing my son after a twelve-hour day.
- I will remember projecting my stress on my family.
The other night I got home just in time to go through our post-bath bedtime routine. This semester has been particularly challenging for our family because I took on an externship in addition to three classes, which has me away from home an amount of time comparable to what I can only imagine will be necessary for a job out of law school. After I laid my son down in his crib, he whimpered “mama” with his arms extended out. Because I had just gotten home and had barely seen him that day, I gave in and picked him up. He immediately laid his head on my shoulder and wrapped his little arms around me. We stood there, silently swaying back and forth, just as we had when he was a small baby. A few minutes later he pointed to his crib and said “nigh’, nigh’.” I couldn’t hold back the tears. I certainly didn’t want to let go. And at the same time, I was so proud of my son. I laid him down again and he went right to sleep.
Being a career-driven mom is such hard work. The responsibilities for each role (mother and law student in this case) are constantly competing and the emotions involved will make you crazy. I would be willing to bet that no one else in my Antitrust Law class last semester got a call right before the final exam from daycare saying that their son needed to be picked up because he had an incredibly high fever. I would also guess that most people don’t worry about even getting a small cold during the semester, but I do because in every semester since my son was born I have nearly exhausted the number of days missed allowable in accordance with Seattle University’s Academic Requirements based on the American Bar Association Standards. (Students must attend a minimum of 80% of classes for each course). However, I didn’t miss those days because I was sick; I missed class for reasons like my son having (another!) ear infection. This is all part of being a parent, and yes, I signed up for this. I gladly put myself in this situation because I strongly believe that I should be able to pursue the competing goals of becoming a parent and becoming an attorney. After all, my male counterparts do, and always have. And that aside, because I want to be both a parent and a mom.
The point of all of this is that women are making huge strides in many professional career fields against all odds by bringing equal numbers to traditionally male occupations. Women (and men) are closing the gender wage gap. For the first time ever, more women than men are going to law school (however a recent study by Deborah Jones Merrit, a Ohio State Moritz College of Law professor, suggests that women are overrepresented at lower-ranked schools). Women are doing all of these things, as warriors for the gender and as crusaders for the next generations.
One thing stands in the way of all of this progress: most women are still expected to take on the majority of the responsibilities involved with being parents. Women are still expected to either give up their careers or keep their working hours within the confines of a (rather expensive) daycare operation. I should note, neither option is wrong. I fully support those women that choose to stay at home with their children full time. I never thought I would want to do that, but I have many moments where every ounce of me wishes that I had done that for my son. And I still could do that, but all too quickly that other side of me, that career-driven side of me, comes back out and motivates me to finish law school and prove to the world that I can do both. No problem. But world, I – and many women that are with me or to follow me – need your help:
- Stop making women feel guilty for pursuing a career instead of staying home.
- Stop making it seem like it is ok for a father to put his career first, but not a mother.
- Stop perpetuating the stereotype that some careers are better for men and some are better for women. (e.g. professional careers are better for men and more nurturing jobs are better for women).
- Finally, stop pretending that women are better than men at taking on the main responsibilities of parenting.
I am, admittedly, an over thinker. I will deliberate over something I said for hours, sometimes days. I will rethink something someone said to me a day, week, and possibly month later. I will analyze and beat it to death. So, with that disclaimer, I have also had so many people tell me that they cannot believe that I had a baby during law school. Or, that they cannot believe that I fill the role of both law student and mother. While initially in all cases, I was flattered by the comments. But the more I thought about them, the more insulted I was. What I am doing is not extraordinary to me. It is normal. It is everything I envisioned as a strong, young female ready to take on the world. And just like my mom before me (a single mother of two children in a professional career), and her mother before her (a single mother of four children in a professional career), I am figuring out how to fit law school into my life as a mother rather than fitting my life into law school.
Can someone tell me, why is this so unbelievable? Let’s normalize being a mom in a professional school; let’s normalize being a mom in a professional career.