By Claire E. Parsons • May 13, 2018•Ms. JD, Writers in Residence, Careers, Other Career Issues, Issues, Balancing Private and Professional Life
I spoke on a panel for a bar association event a few weeks ago. Though I was there to talk generally about lawyers as leaders in the community, the well-meaning moderator unexpectedly asked only me and the other female panelist the dreaded question: “how do you do it all?” The other panelist, who was clearly a tactical genius, quickly directed me to answer first. Having no time to fume or react emotionally, I just answered it. It was only later when several women from the audience independently asked me if I could believe the question that the frustration set in. As a result, I thought about all the ways I could have answered the question.
To exorcise those demons, here is a list of ways that a small part of me wishes I had responded, even while my rational brain is glad that I didn’t:
1. Eye roll. So hard. Like an eye roll Anderson Cooper would envy.
2. Clearly you haven’t read Bossypants by Tina Fey. Since you haven’t done the required reading, your question is not legitimate and I refuse to answer.
3. Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. And sometimes bourbon.
4. Who told you I did it all? I certainly never signed up for “it all” and wouldn’t if I had the chance.
5. Have you ever heard the song “Six Inch” by Beyoncé? Well, it’s exactly like that. Stacking money everywhere I go and what not. Okay, that’s a huge lie. It’s not like that at all, actually; not in any way. In truth, I don’t even wear heels and I would fall if they were six inches high. But I like that song because it makes me feel like I, a non-Beyoncé human being (“NBHB”), could do it all. I love Beyoncé. Wait, what was your question again?
6. I have an Instant Pot? And Kroger ClickList? Is that what you want me to say? If I say it, will you move on and ask me a better question?
7. Would you walk up to a person juggling flaming bowling pins and say “Good sir, describe with particularity how you are presently performing this miraculous feat!” Oh, you wouldn’t? Then why did you just ask me that? Be off with you.
8. You’re expecting quite a lot here. Even Whitney Houston– Whitney!—only “almost” had it all. I am clearly not Whitney. Therefore, I do not claim to have, do, or even approximate doing “it all.”
9. Have you ever, in the history of your life, asked a man this question? I will consider answering on the condition that you supply me with a verified list of names and a detailed reproduction of each response.
10. Foolish mortal, I shall never tell! *Twirls cape.* *Throws flash of smoke.* *Disappears.*
Whew! That felt good. Really good actually. Now that I’ve let go of all of that, here are five real ways you could answer the question on the off-chance that you are in the mood to be (a) exceedingly generous to the wayward questioner; and (b) not sarcastic:
11. It is really not that shocking that competent professional women can achieve at work and manage a family. Although many of us often feel overwhelmed and stressed, there are more hours in the week that we often realize. Laura Vanderkam is an author and podcaster who has studied the time usage of high-performing people and has written books about it. Looking at time sheets professional women kept over the course of weeks, she found that, contrary to the tale often told, they had time to do things like manage a career, sleep, shower, eat well, exercise, spend time with family, and even work on side hustles. She has several books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time and a delightful podcast called “Best of Both Worlds.” I like Laura Vanderkam because she’s practical, logical, and my own experience bears out the truth of what she says.
12. I don’t. I don’t think we should expect women or men or anyone to do it all. I think when we expect people to do everything we will always be disappointed with the results. In fact, if you read the data cited in Tiffany Dufu’s book Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less, working mothers should not try to do it all if they want their children to strive for equality in their own adult relationships. Despite this, many women are required to do more than their fair share both at work and at home. If we want more women lawyers in the leadership ranks of law firms, the legal profession will recognize that and take action.
13. I have help. I have a great paralegal upon whom I have learned to rely heavily to keep me on track. I have a husband who supports my career and contributes at home. I have access to an excellent daycare facility that I can afford and which stays open until 6:30 PM. I have parents, other family members, and friends who live close to me who help with childcare duties. And I have remote access and the ability to control my schedule. With all of these advantages, it is quite manageable to do a lot of things.
14. I don’t do it all because I don’t think parents should do it all. Though my children are not yet grown, I have the benefit of perspective. Both of my parents were lawyers. I went to daycare and then was a latch key kid when I started school. I am okay. I am better than okay. I am an ethical, caring, decent person and a great lawyer. My mom didn’t damage me by working and she didn’t do something wrong to me by putting me in daycare. She gave me independence and the supports I needed to reach my goals. That’s what parents are supposed to do and that’s what I am doing for my daughters.
15. My theory on life is that, assuming they have some degree of choice, people do what feels good. I enjoy practicing law and I love my family. It is often a struggle to balance things and I have to make hard choices and finagle things every week to make it work. Most of the time, however, it does. I can’t always explain how that happens, but it does. Things fall into place. When you love two things, when you see the value in two things, you find a way to make them fit even when it doesn’t always look like they can. So, I manage a family and a law practice because it is satisfying to do so. In fact, it is more satisfying for me to do both than to not do both. This isn’t true for everyone but it’s true for me and that’s how I make it work.
In short, I don’t know what people mean when they ask how you do it all and I really wish they would stop directing this question just to women. Even so, I think most of the people who ask it are trying to say that they see how hard you are working and that you are doing great. Perhaps that is why it is so maddening because we don’t want people to see our struggle, let alone comment on it while we are struggling. Some day this question won’t ever be asked, but until then, know that you aren’t alone and try to laugh as much as you possibly can.