ClaireJames

Mommy, Esq.: Project Integration

It is Wednesday morning. My suit jacket is draped over my left arm. In my left hand are a pleadings file and a legal pad etched with my deposition outline. I’ve got one Velcro curler still in my hair. In my right hand are my son’s lunchbox, a dog treat, and a protein shake. I am demanding – no, begging – my son C to PLEASE.PUT.YOUR.SHOES.ON. It is 7:42 a.m. Kindergarten starts at 8:00. My depo starts at 9:30 and is thirty minutes from home. Starbucks is non-negotiable.

This is a typical morning for me. I entered law school as a single mom of a seven-month old. Somehow, I managed to graduate, pass the bar, get a job, marry to a wonderful man, buy a house, and create a great co-parenting relationship with my son’s dad.

I used to believe I needed to perfectly balance my roles as lawyer, mom, wife, and, well, person. I’ve learned perfect balance isn’t possible. My roles weren’t balanced when I was working on a brief to the Texas Supreme Court in the backseat of my SUV, traveling across the country to attend a family funeral. I’m not entirely balanced on the days C ends up at the office with me. I’m trying to draft pleadings, and he is begging me to color with him, hiding toys in my bookshelves, and playing games on my phone for far too long. This doesn’t feel like balance. It feels chaotic, busy, yet fulfilling.

So, for me in 2015, work-life balance is out. Work-life integration is in. Stew Friedman, who wrote about it in Harvard Business Review and in a best-selling book, describes it well:

[Balance] assumes we must always make trade-offs … among the four main aspects of our lives: work or school, home or family (however you define that), community (friends, neighbors, religious or social groups), and self (mind, body, spirit). A more realistic and more gratifying goal is better integration between work and the rest of life. [1]

For me, work-life integration means I sometimes bring my son to work. It also means that I take work phone calls at home, that I work some weekends, and that I go into the office on Black Friday. But it means more than that. Here are a few ways I try to integrate:

  1. I do work that’s personal to me. I focus on family law. Before law school, I worked for Child Protective Services. In college, I studied psychology and volunteered with foster children who were struggling with mental health and behavior issues. As a mom in a blended family, I have personal experience with family law issues. Family law is meaningful for me. A lot of people have encouraged me to focus on business litigation, arguing that it is more lucrative. But for me, the benefits of practicing in an area that I am passionate about far outweigh the drawbacks. When I’m practicing family law, I am authentic. I am drawing on my professional knowledge and experience as well as my personal knowledge and experience. I am integrated.

  2. I make professional development fun. It is hard to find time to do business development activities such as networking, writing articles, and attending bar events. It is even harder to find time for fun. I integrate by taking part in activities that are not only good for my professional development, but are fun. For example, I am so excited to be a Writer in Residence for Ms. JD because not only does it expand my professional network, but it is an excellent creative outlet. As another example, I try to look at bar events and networking dates not as things I have to do to advance my practice, but as making friends and having a good time.
  3. I schedule my time strategically. I wake up at about 5:00 a.m. every weekday and by 8:00 a.m. on weekends. I use my early mornings to check my email, catch up on social media, read legal articles, write articles, and plan my day. I also snuggle with C, feed my puppy, and get C ready for school. I usually get to the office early, and I often schedule coffee meetings for 6:30 or 7 a.m. Morning is a very productive time for me.  But I’m asleep by 10:30 p.m. most days. I don’t have much brain power left after that. I have created this schedule over time because I know what works for me.  I work on career-oriented activities when I’m at my best, not just when I’m at the office.
  4. I have a great support system, and I’m not afraid to use it. My husband and C’s dad are both very involved dads. They often do doctor’s appointments, soccer practices, and sick days with C. My husband does all the grocery shopping and most of the laundry. I also have an incredibly supportive mom and an excellent babysitter/friend who step in when all the parents are working. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I believe it. I can’t be the person to do all the “kid stuff,” and that’s okay. I try to maximize the time I have with C, and I avoid Mommy guilt. My son will grow up knowing that a mom can be ambitious, career-oriented, and successful and that dads can be involved and engaged. That will make him a better person.

My life isn’t perfectly balanced. But I’m finding ways to integrate work, family, and fun so I can get the most out of my chaotic, busy, fulfilling life. How do you integrate work and the rest of your life?


[1] Stewart D. Friedman, Work + Home + Community + Self, Harvard Bus. Review, Sept. 2014, available at https://hbr.org/2014/09/work-home-community-self.

3 Comments

TinaIkpa

Great article! As I’m just returning to the workforce, I’m still in the process of figuring it all out.  The substitution of “integration” for “balance” is an interesting one, and definitely something I will keep in mind going forward. I look forward to more of your insights!

Nancy Glazer

I’m laughing as I read your piece.  You describe my life and so many of our lives.  You are to be congratulated on so many levels and for so many things you have done well over the years.  Kudos to you!  You have a lot to teach us all!

ClaireJames

Thanks to you both! Your kind words mean so much.

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