Jennifer Guenther

From the Desk of the Working Mom—Happy Toes

I have recently come to the realization—somewhat to my relief—that so-called “life balance” is impossible to achieve. In fact, striving for this mythical state of well-being was quite stressing me out. There are entire websites devoted to “work-life balance” or finding your “inner balance”. Each of these sites advocates finding ways to reduce your workload, to relax, and to enjoy life more. It sounds lovely in concept, like sitting under a cabana on an exotic beach somewhere, the gentle sea breeze cooling your face, while the attractive waiter who can actually pull off a pair of short shorts brings you a pina colada with a little umbrella in it.

Instead of a cool ocean breeze, however, all I was feeling was like quite the failure—promising myself each week that I would try to come home earlier, sleep more, and eat healthier—but never quite making it stick. Its not that I was a total failure—I did come home early last week when the school called and told me my daughter was sick and needed picked up. And I managed to sleep through an entire night without interruption. Unfortunately, it was in my two-year old’s bed and I walked slightly bent over the entire next day. And I did clean up my desk into organized piles, but in the process created a two and one half page list of “to dos” for each of my clients. I then left work so stressed out that I came in on Sunday just to eliminate that sense of foreboding in the pit of my stomach that I was somehow about to commit serious malpractice.

For the most part, such websites devoted to lawyers seem to think that working part-time will lead to that inner bliss and that pina colada, giving oneself more free-time to spend with their family. I have secretly harbored such ambitions myself. My kids are amazing. They are funny and smart and creative. They make me proud and they make me laugh on a regular basis. They are also 2, 4 and 6. They throw fits; they fight; they leave huge messes which they can’t seem to quite get cleaned up. They have selective hearing when you ask them to do something that doesn’t involve ice cream. I am perfectly at ease admitting that I have days I look forward to going to work.

Nor is the life of a lawyer about finding your inner peace; it is about taking on the responsibilities and stresses of your clients and protecting them as best you can. And motherhood is only peaceful while gazing into the face of your sleeping baby, at night, with the lights down low. The rest of the time it is about easing heartaches and bruised knees, pushing through math problems that don’t quite make sense, laughing and having tickle fights, and on the rare occasion running down the center line of the street after your 2-year old, who has not only suddenly figured out how to open the car door, but has also suddenly become destined to set a world record in the mile while the theme song to Chariots of Fire plays in the background. It is about loving someone so much and so deeply that your tears well up just thinking about them.

And I am okay with that. Life is about prioritizing so that the most important things get done when they need to be done. And sometimes those priorities change from day to day or even minute to minute, with work and home intertwining on more than one occasion. It is empowering to know that we each have that capability: that while we cannot always escape our obligations, we can choose what role those obligations take in our life at any given moment. For me, life balance is not about working less, but about finding a sense of comfort in who I am and realizing that it is okay to put work first on occasion, so long as my family never takes a permanent backseat. I am proud to be a successful attorney and I am proud to be a successful mommy. And I am the only one who can define what the word “success” means for me.

Life is intense no matter what path we choose. And I have found that by shedding the guilt of not “balancing” properly, I am enjoying myself more. I thrive on being busy and have since I was a child. I go into work wondering what the next challenge will be. I seek out clients. I really enjoy public speaking on my area of practice. I probably work more than I should. And I come home exhausted and invigorated, knowing that the minute I walk in the door I will have my kids who are excited to see me and my husband who wants to share his day. I always make sure to use the restroom before I leave work because I know it will be some time before I have a minute to myself once I come home.

That isn’t to say that I don’t need time for myself to seek that inner nirvana. After all, as my friend so eloquently put, a young child’s idea of giving you privacy is following you into the bathroom and shutting the door behind them so that no one else can come in. And while achieving partner status at work has seemed to cut down the number of people who track me down in the bathroom there, I am still a bit wary even now! I do find my hour or two here and there to escape and find some personal time. The last time I made a few “me” hours, I decided to go for a full pedicure, complete with massage—something I have only done 3 other times in my whole life. The girl was very young and sweet and seemed to have a sense of what I needed, even if I did not. For she did not put little white flowers or a fancy designs on my toes when she polished them, but bright yellow smiley faces that said “Hi!!!” on either side. I may not have achieved inner peace, but I certainly have happy toes!!

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