By Andrea Welker • March 22, 2009•Law School, Other Law School Issues
Spring Break has come to an end! I'm now seven weeks away from completing my JD, and I have a rambunctious toddler who will be reeking havoc at graduation. Life is good. So, I've been asked to impart more wisdom concerning being both a parent and a law student. Readers have asked both about balancing schedules while in law school as well as when to talk about your kids.
1.) Do you have any tips for balancing law school and family life? How do you schedule your day?
Like a true Libra, I crave balance. If I do too much of anything, I’m completely off-kilter. Fortunately, I have an amazing support system that has helped get me through, but often times it’s a matter of realizing what you can and can’t get done, and just prioritizing.
My husband and I practice co-parenting, which helps tremendously, because we equally share parenting and household responsibilities. We have also depended a lot on my mom and friends who are kind enough to baby-sit. Having a good support system makes things considerably easier! Also, make the most of your time, wherever, whenever. When my daughter was a newborn, if she needed to eat at 4am, then I pulled out my textbooks and read while she ate. There are never enough hours in the day, but you can still get most of it done if you manage your time well. Flexibility is important too. You have to just understand that certain things aren’t always going to get done and that’s okay too. (The heaping piles of my laundry everywhere are a testament to such philosophy.) And don't let other people make you feel guilty because you can't do everything. That includes your partner, and your kids.
But, the big thing for me has been to focus on each thing as being a vacation from the other. When I’m at school/work, I’m there with other adults, discussing legal matters. I chat with my law school friends, I get to do real legal work at my job(s). Just overall, I get a break from home and get to be a member of society. There are no diapers to be changed, no toddler clinging to my leg and screaming for no apparent reason. No dishes to clean, no floor to sweep, no laundry to fold. Then I pick my daughter up from daycare and I go home. I get to snuggle with my kid, my husband and my Labrador (my rabbit isn’t a snuggler). We eat dinner, play with toys, go for walks, take baths, read bedtime stories, all sorts of fun stuff. We tuck the kid into bed, open a bottle of wine and solve the world’s problems or just watch some TV. There’s no one there calling on me and drilling me with questions about some case I barely read. No idiot classmates constantly volunteering to talk because they’re in love with the sound of their own voices. No one asking me to research some area of law of which I have absolutely no comprehension. Each is a refuge from the stresses of the other, making me appreciate each one more. I honestly have hated law school a lot less since having my daughter, and I would definitely be a lot less happy being a mother if I never got a break from it. Is it tough to balance both? Of course. But I’ve never been really good at focusing all of my energy on one thing, so it has worked really well for me.
This semester has been pretty mellow for me schedule-wise, and has worked out to be 9 to 5. My school day starts at either 9 or 10 and ends at noon. Then I either go to work (where I get paid) or to the internship (where I don’t get paid). I’m out before 5pm, then I pick my daughter up from daycare. My husband takes her to daycare in the morning. (I’m very spoiled in that regard, because I’m doing good to make it to class on time just by myself!) I think the toughest thing is getting the reading done. I don’t do homework until my daughter’s in bed, so starting homework at 9pm can feel pretty exhausting and makes for a long night. (Probably why I struggle to make it to class.) Also, my husband works weekends, so I don’t get much done then. But it usually works out. Last semester I had two night classes, and those were really tough. Three nights a week I’d barely make it home in time to tuck my daughter into bed, which really sucked. But it balanced out because the rest of the week was really light and I was home more during the day.
I think as long as you carefully schedule your days, it makes it more manageable. Also, it’s about quality of the time, not quantity. If you only have three hours with your family in the evenings, then maybe you don’t turn on the TV, or talk on the phone, or check your email. If you give your family your undivided attention, the time is more worthwhile.
2.) Is it appropriate to talk about your children to co-workers, potential employers, bosses, etc.?
I would recommend never ever ever discussing your children in a job interview, with very few exceptions. Mostly, it’s just not relevant to the job. When you’re at work, you’re an attorney and your work doesn’t change whether you’re partnered or not, or whether you have children or not. Employers aren’t even supposed to ask the question. But having children can certainly make a difference in the way someone views you as an applicant. They might immediately be thinking that this is a person who’s going to be taking a lot of sick days, because not only will they get sick, but their kids will get sick too. This is a person who might need to leave early to pick up kids from school, attend PTA meetings, go to soccer games and ballet recitals. And if the applicant is a woman, the presumption is that she is the children’s primary caregiver and therefore will be taken away from her job by her family obligations. Most importantly, this is a person who is devoted more to their personal life than their work. Granted, not every employer thinks that this is a bad thing. Partly because of the high attrition rate of female attorneys, and also the increasing role that modern fathers have in childrearing, many firms are beginning to recognize that work-life balance is important for their employees. Also, many employers are smart enough to realize that a happy and fulfilled employee is a productive employee, and one that is willing to stay long-term. So, they might not view parenthood as a red flag that you won’t be the ideal employee, but who knows, old prejudices die hard. You want to be judged by your skills and achievements, not someone else’s opinion of, or past experiences with, parents in the workforce.
Maybe you want to discuss your role as a parent during the interview because you’re concerned that this job might be too many hours and you don’t want to work that much and never see your family. But there are other ways to make that determination without bringing up your offspring. For example, you can ask what the average workweek is like for an associate. How many hours will you be expected to bill? How late do associates work? Do they often work weekends? Will you be expected to travel? Are there a lot of after-hour client-development events you will be required to attend? These are reasonable questions that people ask even if they have nothing to go home to except an empty fridge and an Xbox. Also, sick time, vacation time, health insurance options… those are all valid questions that all candidates want to know about, not just those of us who are parents.
So when is it appropriate to mention parenthood in an interview? First, perhaps you have a significant gap in employment on your resume because you took a couple years off to have kids and stay home with them. Just plainly state that’s what you did; there’s no need to explain much further, or give the ages of your children, etc. Second, in smaller southern cities like mine, personal connections often get you the job. If you have good connections to your potential employer through your children, maybe through church, school or sporting events, some subtle name-dropping can be beneficial. Finally, maybe you just don’t need the job that badly that you’re willing to work somewhere that isn’t enthusiastic about you being a parent. If you’re in the position to put all your cards on the table and say, look, my kids come first and I’m looking for a job that can accommodate that, then kudos to you! You’ll be able to hold out until you find the perfect fit. Unfortunately for most of us though, we don’t have that option!
Ultimately, once you get the job, there's no reason to hide the fact that you have kids. At the same time though, don’t be That Person that always talks about their kids. Of course it's okay to talk about your kids, but just like all topics, know when it's appropriate and when you're scaring people away. Total strangers don’t want to see a bunch of pictures of your kids, they don’t want to hear about Timmy’s mad softball skills, or Suzie’s straight-A report card. Certainly, if a coworker asks you in casual conversation about your kids, and you in turn ask about theirs, show pictures and swap a few stories, it might help you bond. But overall, keep kid talk to a minimum with casual work acquaintances until you actually consider that person a “friend” who honestly wants to talk about your kids. Kid talk can be a springboard to bond with others, but don’t let it be a crutch to developing professional relationships. You love your kids, you think they’re totally awesome. But trust me, no one cares as much as you do! Even other parents!