Jennifer Lunsford

My stay-at-home father

Big Firm work, almost by definition, is stressful and unpredictable. The hours alone are enough to dissuade a family-oriented person, particularly a female, from taking more prestigious and rewarding positions in law. Unless one is willing to let her children be raised by hired help, or she is one of the lucky few with a stay-at-home husband, a woman must choose between her career and her family. I worked for a firm that is notorious for its poor retention of women. They tried to appear encouraging and accommodating of their female staff, but they refused to adjust the family-hostile work schedule that was the cause of their problem.

Long, unpredictable hours make life hard, especially for parents. This problem is particularly evident in couples where both parties are attorneys or in otherwise high stress professions. After a while, the question must be asked: "If we are going to have a child, which one of us will stay home?"

Big Firm attorneys are uniquely suited, due to high pay, to have single-income homes. Many people prefer that a parent stay home with the child, as opposed to hiring outside help. The woman, by virtue of her biology, has to take off time for maternity leave anyway. The non-pregnant partner is then better suited, by natural accident, to keep working and get on the partner track. If the woman chooses to try and make partner she is set back at least a year through the trappings of pregnancy and giving birth. Even while she's still working, she is set back by her pregnancy. Pregnant attorneys are often given lighter work loads. Lighter work loads often mean less important work, and as a result, opportunities for advancement and expansion are lost.

Very little is done to combat this problem. If any real efforts are going to be made to retain more female attorneys, there needs to be a general change in mentality about a woman's role as mother, wife and employee. This change needs to happen both at work and at home. Women who choose to have children need to be supported by their employers, not pushed to the side. They need to be encouraged by their partners to continue working and striving for success. And, most importantly, they need to be confident in themselves and not feel guilty for wanting a career as well as a family.

My mother was the bread winner when I was growing up. My father stayed home with me. My mother suffered ridicule from neighbors and family friends for taking time away from me to pursue her work. But she has always taught me that it's the quality of the time, not the quantity. A woman shouldn't be begrudged for following her dreams. She can be a success in both the public and private sphere if she is supported by those around her.

2 Comments

KHernan881

I think it is awesome that your mom and dad came to an arrangement that suited them, especially in a time when they were doing something out of the ordinary.
I can't tell from your post whether or not you have children and whether or not your spouse stays home with them.  If so, it would be awesome for you to share how that has worked out for you.
You mention a couple of times not wanting kids to be "raised by the help".  I have to say that not everyone has the luxury of one parent staying home with the kids, not even wealthy people.  First, neither spouse may be willing to give up their careers and one very seldom has the moral right to ask the other to do that.  Second, some dads and some moms are lousy parents—they don't have the patience, they didn't have good role models in their own parents, they are too self-absorbed or too anxious, etc etc.  Most importantly, you really don't know if one of you is willing and prepared to stay at home with the kids until you have one.  Even after birth, it may take months or a year to figure out if staying home is right for either of you.  It might take having more than one kid to see what arrangement is going to work.
Not every couple MUST ask: "which one of us is going to stay home?".  It very well might be "how are we going to make this family work?" which might include "which childcare arrangement is going to work for our needs?" and "how are we going to be the best parents we can be given our family situation?".
The biggest mistake that women without children can make is assuming 1) that they know what to expect and how parenting is going to affect them and their personal situation, and 2) that they can have it all, be the perfect parent that their mom was and be the top litigator in the city—you will likely compromise somewhere.
My point is this, don't shut off the possibility of "help" until you can speak from experience.  If you are anything like me (and I have no reason to assume you are), you need to work outside the home for a number of reasons, not the least of which is your own sanity. 
It is still hard, in this day and age, for a professional woman to find a male soulmate that is willing to stay home with the kids.  Your mom found a rare gem, hopefully you do also.

midcitieslaw

Like did that strong mother of yours prompt you to keep practicing in your maiden name?
Your Texas friend Bif.

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