Is Being a Mother and a Lawyer a Lose-Lose situation?

How could anyone possibly resist this face?

I know what you're thinking- what does a cat have to do with a post about mother and a lawyer? Well for me, my pets are often what spawns these thoughts about life balance. When I look at the face of my cats and dogs with their sad eyes and the "please don't leave me" look, I feel riddled with guilt. So what happens if I ever have kids? How will I feel when I have to leave them?

Most of the talk on this site has been about how to do it all- how you can balance and still make partner while you have kids, or what we can do to better improve the workplace to make that possible for women. But my question is this: does it really matter? Even if I can work less or part time even and still make partner, how will I cope with the guilt of leaving my kids behind even for a short time? And what about the guilt to co-workers who have to pick up the slack? And even if I can get past those two things, will I ever be satisfied with not being able to give 100 percent to my career and my kids?

So I guess my question is for those who are currently working mothers- is it a lose-lose situation? If you work full time, do you miss your kids and feel incredibly guilty for leaving them? If you don't work, do you feel like you've lost yourself and the career that you spent all this time working for? If you are managing both kids and a job, is that really making you happy? I feel this sense of dispair that no matter what route I choose, the future is full of feeling guilty about one thing or another because there just aren't enough hours in a day. Am I wrong? Is there a way to balance both and be happy at the same time?



I am a mother and a full time law student (rising 2L). My son is 2 and goes to daycare full-time while I am in school and most of the time in the summer too. I do not consider myself giving less than 100% as a parent. I am a good mother, but I would not be a good stay-at-home mother and I know myself well enough to know this and accept it. My son has really blossomed in daycare in ways that he probably would not have if he were home with me all the time, especially since we do not have friends or family with kids his age in this area. For us, it's been a great situation. I am happy because he loves his daycare center and I am happy because I love going to school.
There are certainly times when you have to choose one over the other, and my son has always won. There were plenty of late nights where I was up rocking him through teething pains or a cold while trying to read or brief for class. I know that as I go forward in my career, there will be hard choices to make, but in the end, I am happy because I am doing what I want - working toward an intellectually satisfying career and raising a great kid.
For what it's worth - no one has ever told my husband he is not giving 100% as a parent because he works more than full time as a doctor. 


Being a Mother or Being a Lawyer could equally lay claim to the ms.jd logo.  Both motherhood or the law have elements of the balance of the scales.  I have immense admiration for women who juggle better than I ever seemed capable of doing.  It is possible to define the terms of your happiness.  Don't be afraid to design your own "mix," and then focus on the good that you do. 


Yes, it is possible to balance working as a lawyer (even at a top firm), and motherhood, and be happy.  Is it easy?  No.  Is it for everyone?  No.  Is it for more women than are currently giving it a go?  I certainly think so. 
How do you do it?  I can only speak for myself.  Since becoming a mother, I have definitely had to sacrifice, but I have tried to limit my sacrifices to those I can live with:  I don't watch t.v., I haven't a clue what the hot restaurant in town is anymore, and my childless friends are fewer now.  I still socialize, but in different situations, usually with or about kids or work:  with fellow parents at birthday parties and barbeques, at preschool board meetings, at work-related functions, especially with fellow moms.   I don't sleep or exercise as much as I would like, but I manage.  My husband and I have fewer date nights than we used to, but we still "date".  I am still involved in organizations that are important to me, but only THE most important ones, and my involvement is less time-intensive than it used to be. 
What else?  Work hard to be a superstar before you have kids (i.e., prove your value), and then take advantage of your firm's part time policy.  Since having kids, I have had to become more efficient, and learn to delegate more and take on less.  But because of my slightly reduced work schedule, most nights I am able to make and eat dinner with my family, and get my kids bathed and in bed before logging back on and working from home.  Also, I think it would be naive not to recognize another sacrifice I have made:  unless you hold off on having kids until after you make partner, your partnership track likely will be delayed if, like me, you elect to work a bit less (because, among other things, you gain experience at a slightly delayed rate). 
It helps that my husband has his own business, so he has more control over his time than I do.  It helps to have a really reliable nanny/housekeeper.  It helps if there are other mothers at your firm that you can lean on, learn from and vent to.  It helps that I truly enjoy being a lawyer, and I like the people I work with. 
Sometimes it gets totally overwhelming and exhausting, but most of the time I look at my life and think I am incredibly lucky.  I recently had a health scare.  It turned out to be nothing, thank goodness, but it really put things in perspective.  In my humble opinion, a lot people waste a lot of time worrying.  Thankfully, I took on motherhood without thinking excessively about the impact it would have on my career.  Now, I rarely have time to waste worrying about whether I can actually do this; I just do it.  I was recently promoted to Counsel.  My kids are amazing.  My husband is the best partner I could hope for.  And I am really happy being Supermom.  You might be, too.


I've commented on this site before about this topic (I think), and, YES, in my opinion it is a lose-lose situation.  For me, it was difficult to adjust to the reality that you can't have it all.  I grew up in the 70s and 80s and formed the opinion that I could have it all if I worked hard enough and made the right decisions.  I am not actually sure where or when I formed this idea but I assume that I was heavily influenced by the media and influencers outside my family.  I say that because my mother was not an example of a woman having it all.  She stayed at home with us until I was about 12 and then took a job teaching at a parochial school at a much lower salary than what teachers in the area earned in the public system.  I remember distinctly being aware of the fact that the 12 years she took off from teaching had a negative impact on her career.  We were happy however.  And I think she was happy with how things turned out.
In any case, I grew into adulthood convinced that I could be a great mother and a great professional.  Add into the mix that I also figured I could be a great wife and a great friend.
There have been too many situations to list or count that I have been disappointed in myself as a mother.  For example last year I missed my son's five year birthday party because I had to work, unexpectedly. In the big scheme of things it is not a huge deal but to a five year old boy it is the end of the world.  I just never planned on being such a huge disappointment to my kids, even if just for a brief but painful period of time.  It just so happens that I have one of those kids that remembers everything and he just brought up the birthday party thing last week, more than a year later!
There are likely many times when my parental responsibilities have interfered with me being the best professional I can be.  When the kids were babies I might have been less alert than I should have been.  I may rush through work because of the desire to have weekends off when other people chose to be more deliberate.  Whatever it is, I tend to not notice or remember these little disappointments.  I take these things less personally than I take the family-related stuff.  They are there, nevertheless.
My advice, before you decide to be a mother and an attorney, come to the realization that you can't be everything to everyone.  Understand that you will make compromises and sacrifices.  If you are a person like I was, compromises in the area of personal success is a foreign concept.  Today, it is part of my daily life.


The question is probably whether you can be an overachiever in every area of your life or all things to all people and that answer is no.  Something's got to give.  I'm a mother and law student but I've worked at law firms for the past 7 years and observed lwayer moms in action.  Those who do it well aren't afraid to delegate to others, set boundaries early and often, and make the time with their kids quality time.  You have to realize that sometimes the laundry won't get folded because it's more important to cuddle on the couch.  You won't be home for dinner every single night, but the nights you are can be fun family nights.  There are ways to make it work but it CANNOT work if women (and men) don't stand up and say that we need balance.  Although the nature of the law is such that client demands arise that cannot be ignored, there are many times where people stay late for "face time" or other silly reasons.  Why not go home at 6/6:30, have 2-3 hours with your family, and then work in your office for several hours before bed?  Recruit your husband, extended family and caregivers for blocks of weekend time so that you can work and then return to your family for a focused period with them.  I would like to believe that it can be done.
One more thing.  As staff at a law firm, I have a very inflexible schedule.  I have to be here at certain times and have limited leave.  My son is in Montessori and he thrives there.  I don't feel like a bad mother for working.  I know he has a full, enriching day and so do I.  When we come together at the end of the day, we have plenty to talk about.  Staying at home is not an option so why feel guilty?  I'm proud to be a working mother and I know my son is also proud of me.


<div>Is there a way to balance being a mother and a lawyer and be happy?  This question is all wrong.  It is possible to have a life that is too well-examined, too well-planned, too well-orchestrated.  The proper question is not can it be done, but how is a life that features a nourishing non-work existance that includes motherhood and marraige complemented by a thriving, dynamic legal practice?  As I seem to be the only woman on the planet who is making it work, I think it is important to spread the news.  Mothers who have great legal work lives often have the emotional and finacial resources to have richer spiritual lives, better relationships with thier spouses, better ability to focus on thier children, and more skills to improve thier communities.  </div><div><br class=“khtml-block-placeholder” ></div><div><br class=“khtml-block-placeholder” ></div><div>I am happy in the mystical, spiritual, deeply rewarding sense of the word.  I love my child and husband more deeply than I ever thought possible before I met them.  I work very, very hard as an intellectual property litigator.  I try as hard as I can to provide thoughtful, helpful legal services.  I will be an asset to my profession and my community as I learn and grow into an exceptional attorney.  I do not leave slack in my wake that my co-workers must absorb as you describe above.  </div><div><br class=“khtml-block-placeholder” ></div><div><br class=“khtml-block-placeholder” ></div><div>The mantra that influences my enthusiasm for finding ways to get my home and office to flourish is simple.  My current state of affairs is indebted to my ancestors.  My great-grandmother worked in a department store to make ends meet during the Great Depression.  My grandmothers worked as a cafateria worker and a church secretary.  My mother taught school.  All of these ladies haunted me when i started engineering school and even after I graduated from law school.  I have opportunities they did not even know would ever exist.  I owe it to them and all of their colleagues to show the world what a kind, smart woman can do when given the opportunity.  The guilt that I feel towards them grossly outweighs any teeny tiny concern I have that my son will turn out a mess just because I am away from him for eight to ten hours a day.</div><div><br class=“khtml-block-placeholder” ></div><div><br class=“khtml-block-placeholder” ></div><div>Now, do I delight in feeding my son at 4 AM? no.  Do I skip down the hall to the managing partner's office with perfect legal analysis at 9 PM? no.  Is my husband delighted that I rarely cook anything besides toast? no.  There is a lot of prioritization in my life.  There is a lot of practical heavy lifting that I never knew existed in motherhood or lawyering.  My life is not for wimps, slackers, or the easily distracted.  At the end of the day, it is more rewarding, love-filled, and meaningful than any other existance I know of.  Please lose this sense of dispair that you describe above.  There is a warm, abundant life in being a working mother.  It is very hard, tiring work, but it can be done well.</div>


It is an improbable goal: to be a good mom, good lawyer, and happy, all at the same time.  Improbable, not impossible.  Because there are extraordinary, really really extraordinary women out there who really, well, do it all.  And sometimes with a bit of panache and grace thrown in for good measure.  But there are factors that help these extraordinary women - an uncanny ability to be unphased by the lack of sleep, good support systems, and (usually) pure, unadulterated brilliance.
It is something to strive for, but something that only a few can achieve.  It's like admission to (for lack of a better comparison) Yale Law School.  I could not, not in a million years, hell not in a gazillion years, have ever ever hoped to attend that golden law school in the sky.  BUT I didn't consider myself a failure because I never graced the hallow halls of YLS.  And here is the kicker… but many of us consider ourselves failures if we can't achieve the magical triumverate of success in motherhood, career and psychologie. 
It's hard not to.  Law Schools inherently attract those who are highly competitive, and then fosters a whole level of over-achieverness that I have never in my previous life been aware of.  Thankfully, I no longer fall for that line.  I am just not that woman.  I do not roar.  I kind of meow pathetically most times, sometimes I purr.  I am meant for something… less.  And that's Ok. 
And of course, I caveate everything, because the only career I'm talking about is (clearly) reaching partner at biglaw.  Because there are actually quite a lot of careers out there (probably better ones at that) that don't require the same sort of blood-giving sacrifice that biglaw does.


Yes, you can be happy!  It is not a lose lose (and I am not happy calling it a tie either!)
Clearly one must make compromises - for me the key is to choose my compromises carefully and be happy with what I have chosen.  The guilt, if you let it, can be overbearing.  I try hard not to feel guilty for not being with my kids while at work or guilty being at home while I am with my kids.
Often, there is an inner tug of war between the pre-motherhood Type A urge I have to take all the work I can and show everyone how good I am, and the post-motherhood urge to get home and see my kids.  For me, that is where the "balance" comes in. 
I did reduce my schedule, thwarting that premotherhood urge not to do it.  Luckily my firm allowed me the flexibility, and I now spend most Fridays with my kids, working from home when I have to.  I try not to take on more than I can handle (though I admit sometimes I do).  When cases get crazy, I work more, and when they are quiet I take advantage of it. 
I take pride in my legal work, and I enjoy litigating cases, but being a mother to my children is my priority.  I love being with my children, and I think I love it more because I spend four days at the office.  I am lucky to have a stay at home dad who provides constant childcare and a very supportive family nearby.  I remain optimistic that firms are realizing the value of allowing associates fleixibility - I think it makes for more productive, happier associates who dont want to leave the law completely but simply cannot make it work with the kind of hours expected.


It may be possible to do it all, but I have found that the only way to stay sane is to make some compromises. For me, this has meant thinking hard about what really matters in my life. Working for a big firm is not so important to me when weighed against spending time with my daugther. So, I struck out on my own. The great thing about law is that it can be profitable, so it’s possible to have a nice life working far less hours than most jobs require for the same amount of pay. I’d rather scale back my expenses and work part time than try to balance a crazy work schedule and parenting. For the most part, I don’t feel guilty when I leave my daughter. I’m only gone 20 hours a week, and it’s often a nice break. I should mention that my husband is underemployed, so this is possible without relying on a partner for full support. I really like my work and I love being a mom. I have sacrificed a bigger pay check and the prestige that comes from working for a big firm. In the scheme of things, those are small sacrifices.


Life is certainly about compromises and balance is a very individual issue.  However, comments like Meg’s are one of the reasons why there are the so-called mommy wars.  You have basically said that your choices are (1) work in a prestigious high-paying job or (2) spend time with your child.  In a lot of ways your comment is innocuous however, when you dig in a little bit it is really very harsh.  You may not feel guilty but you’ve suggested that anyone that works more than you should.  The implication of what you’ve written is that anyone that chooses #1 over #2 is some sort of monster or at least somebody who doesn’t have their priorities straight and ....well, them is fightin’ words to me.


Hi Eralon,  I’m a mother and a lawyer and I consistently struggle with the issue of work life balance, however, it is possibe. I recently became a sole practictioner and I find that helps as it gives me more control over my hours. I actually got the idea after reading an article about a securities lawyer in Vancouver who was struggling with the same issue. I’ve attached the article because I think it’s a worthwhile read.;

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