By Hend Alhakam • January 28, 2019•Ms. JD
“I don’t know how you do it.”
That is the usual response I receive when I tell people that I am a single mom in law school. To be honest, I don’t know how I do it either. When I zoom out and look down on my life, it looks exhausting (and it’s MY life). I am a single mom to a 5 year old boy. I am also a first year law student. Crazy, right? (Yes. It’s crazy).
While I am still fuzzy on how I manage to survive on a day to day basis, I do know one thing for sure: I am surviving. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t afraid of the extensive amount of work and dedication it takes to make it through law school, especially while juggling the important responsibility of being a parent. After completing my first semester without any hiccups, I think I am equipped to advise the undecided parent who is thinking about going to law school and the law student who is a soon to be parent.
The following tips helped me immensely during my first semester as a 1L and possibly saved my sanity on more than one occasion:
Number One: Find your village or assemble one.
It takes a village to raise a child. We have heard this before. Raising a child is the most difficult job you will ever have. While this is the toughest job you’ll have, it’s also the most rewarding and tiring. I have found that the best way to reduce mommy or daddy burnout is to recruit a village. Assemble a team of family and friends that will tag in when you desperately need them. Even though your child may think you are a superhero, the fact is, you are still human at the end of the day. Having a solid support system that understands what you need from them and is willing to assist in the execution of parental duties will make this journey a little easier for everyone.
I’m very fortunate to have a large family that lives in the same city. They have been extremely helpful and I could not imagine doing this without them. If you do not have close friends or family that you can rely on, I would search for reliable babysitters, latch-key programs, and day care centers that might be located in your area. It may take some digging to find a place that is suitable and will work with your needs, but it will be a life saver in the long run. In some states, low income families who have an adult attending school can apply for a subsidy to help pay for day care. A friend of mine used this resource when she was finishing her degree and it was a life saver. Also, check if your institution has resources for parents who are attending law school.
Number Two: Ditch the guilt and replace it with something healthier.
In addition to law school being difficult, it is also time consuming. I do not think there is anything that triggers the infamous ‘’mom guilt’’ more than feeling like you are not spending enough time with your child or giving them your attention. However, these next three years of your life will go by no matter how much mom guilt you have. You need to study hard and take those final exams. You will need to pass the bar eventually. Three years down the line, it will be over and you and your child will be better off.
In the meantime, it helps to keep in mind that you are doing this to improve your family’s life. Also, you will not be a frantic 1L forever. I am only a few weeks into my second semester as a 1L and I have already figured out a better time management system, I have more time to spend with my son, and I think I have a good grasp on my own mom guilt. It will take some fine tuning, but you’ll develop a system that will work for you and your family. Be patient and kind to yourself while this is happening and keep in mind that you won’t be here forever. Keeping your thoughts positive will keep you out of the mom guilt rut.
Number Three: Calendar, calendar, calendar.
My "pregnancy brain" symptoms stayed with me even after I stopped being pregnant. With that being said, I probably forgot what I had for breakfast today. Couple that with the stress and anxiety of law school and you have calendar blunder after calendar blunder waiting to happen. While I have no cures for lingering “pregnancy brain”, I do have a real world solution to make sure you are not sabotaged by the condition. Google Calendar. I use it for everything. I have added my professor's office hours, important events I want to attend, my class schedule, my son’s school events and doctors appointments, etc. The list goes on. The alarms go off. I know where I am going and why. I never have to look up anything ever again. I have also synched my calendar so my events pop up on my laptop and my phone. As hectic and busy as you will be in law school, it helps to have one (or a few) things you don’t need to worry about.
Number Four: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
This is your real life version of a Google Calendar. Plan everything. Meals, outfits, weekly activities, family dinners, study times, etc. You need to know what you are doing and when. Get as close to a detailed schedule as possible. There are many apps and calendars that allow you to create schedules with time blocks to keep you on track. I am a little more old fashioned so I prefer to list everything I need to do for the week and the day on paper. In addition to documenting everything, I have also found that it helps to shift your schedule based on your needs. For me, this usually means that I wake up earlier than my son to start studying and I stop studying at a certain time of the day because I cannot read another word by that time and my mommy duties require my complete attention. Find what works for you. This will take some time to figure out but once you know, you know!
Number Five: Take it easy when you need to and do not doubt yourself.
This is a tough journey. Some days, it will feel like life is demanding more than 24 hours of dedication from you. It is completely normal to feel overwhelmed. It is also normal to question yourself and wonder why you are doing this in the first place. In those moments, let the doubt pass. Do not let it weigh you down. Whether these feelings last for a day or a week, always remember to be kind to yourself. If you need to take a break, take one. Remember that you are human and you are a parent. The truth is, nobody feels like they completely know what they are doing the first year (especially the first semester).
On a final note, I will say that it takes time to develop the above mentioned tips. I have not mastered them at all but they have been the cornerstones of my experience as a parent attending law school. At the end of the day, these are the practices that have worked for me and made this transition for my child and I a little smoother. Good luck mamas and papas!