Peg

Childcare = Superwoman’s Big Secret

I stumbled on a great little article about a lawyer mom who is “keep[ing] the scales in balance”, posted on The Chicago Tribune. It’s a nice read except for one glaring omission: any mention of childcare arrangements. The focus of the article is a full-time patent lawyer, Sharon Hwang, who gives credit to her husband, her sister, her parents, and her firm for helping her keep her life balanced. However, the article doesn’t say anything about help of the hired sort. Too often stories about successful women who seem to have it all fail to explain how these women achieve the not-so-simple task of ensuring adult supervision for their young children. In my eyes, this omission is more than an oversight or a polite nod to the mentioned supporters. It is a lie, a big fat lie, that serves to perpetuate the idea that working women are alone in raising their kids. Now, I don’t know Ms. Hwang’s personal circumstances. For all I know, her sister and “nearby” parents provide childcare services, including around the clock when needed. In fact, everything I know about her is from this one article. That means I know her husband works full time, she works full time, she travels for work, they have two school-aged daughters and a toddler, and somebody else helps the girls with their homework. So, there is a missing piece: a nanny, a childcare center, something. Just tell us, tell the people the whole story so that other women who are reading this get the whole picture. This story is indicative of one of the great secrets that we women keep from each other (right along with the real amount of agony that childbirth entails, and the challenges of breast feeding). Over the last six years of motherhood I have often sensed that the subject of childcare is not broached in polite conversation. Put it right up there with money, sex, and religion. This is tragic because, figuring out the right childcare arrangements to support you and your family is a crucial weight on the scales of work-life balance.

I think there are two explanations for keeping the subject of childcare so hush, hush. The first explanation is shame: women are ashamed of needing help. We feel like we should be able to have it all and do it all and having to pay for help is an indication of failure.

The second explanation is pride. The shame associated with exposing one’s childcare solution doesn’t extend to husbands or family that help. This is because women can be proud of their personal support system. They can be proud that they chose a man that is willing to chip in with the kids or that they come from parents that are supportive grandparents or that they chose a family friendly firm (as Ms. Hwang’s apparently is). All three of these things allow a woman to take some credit while giving credit to those who support her. However, giving credit to a great childcare center or a terrific nanny doesn’t say anything more than you have enough money to pay for the best or you can conduct an interview with the best of them. (See this blog and comments at The Juggle for a window into the judging that goes on about womens’ childcare choices.)

I say, put your shame and your pride aside and be truthful about how you make your life work. Share with others which childcare solution you have decided on. My husband and I have always gone the live-in care route (with the exception of a 9 month long stay-at-home-daddy route) and I’ll be the first to say that it is the secret to my sanity. I truthfully don’t know how I could handle being a working mother without a live-in nanny. I echo this post here at Ms. JD.

For those readers without their own families yet, you have to dig for answers. Push your role models for information on childcare choices. Most of all, we all have to let go of the idea that we can do it all on our own. It takes help… and support …and a lot of energy. (I would say, “it takes a village” but that line has been used by somebody else and it invokes ideas of government support, of which I don’t get any or want.)

3 Comments

TND

I am a 2L with a 2 year old and I sing the praises of my daycare center to everyone who asks me how I do it all. The center is only 5 minutes from law school, open from 6am - 6:30pm and my son utterly adores it. I know I would not have been as successful in law school without the support I get from the center. It's one of the main reasons I didn't transfer to a higher-ranked but much further away law school this year.

I suspect we'll go the live-in, or at least nanny, route when I finish law school and we have another child. But for now, my daycare is a huge reason I have done well in law school.

ptlawmom

I think you're right that more transparency is needed, but we also need to try as women not to make judgmental comments about others' childcare choices.  I think one reason women don't talk about it is that they're sick of being told they are allowing others to raise their kids.  That's not really true and I think that we need more women providing examples of wonderful caregivers who are loving parts of their childrens' lives. I think we need to know how women find these caregivers and what their jobs entail.  Finding competent, trustworthy childcare is probably one of my most challenging issues.
 http://ptlawmom.com

Kate Jones

I was a litigator who worked crazy hours and - matter of necessity - had a full time nanny until my second child was two years old.  At this point, I stopped doing first chair trial work and specialized in appellate work, research and briefing which makes it possible for me to work at home and control my schedule (until my second child started school, however, I continued to use daycare since having a toddler at one's elbow is not compatible with analyzing a complicated legal issue). 
At this point, my job is close to ideal for me as a single parent of teenagers. I work about 3/4 time and control my own schedule. I'm doing reasonably well financially because my previous trial experience has given me contacts in the profession and, in addition, made me considerably more insightful and cost effective than a person whose only skill is research and briefing.  In addition, I can effectively cover motions and depositions and present oral argument on appeal when necessary. I've had the opportunity to brief and argue some very interesting cases and I usually get my name on the record as "appeal attorney" so I can grab the credit when the decision is published. 
Last year I made the mistake of agreeing to try a case which took me out of town for a week.  Everything went to hell at home and I was miserable trying to resolve the problems long distance, plus my home anxieties considerably decreased my effectiveness in the courtroom.  
As far as I can tell, the only way to be a litigator with kids is to have a full time nanny and, if at all possible, a supportive spouse. 

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