By Jennifer Ward • June 27, 2010•Writers in Residence
I have spent the last three years juggling law school and family life. For much of the time it was a really great experience. For all of the time it was challenging. And for a small portion of the time it felt like a truly impossible undertaking.
The tone of my “law school experience” was set on the very first day of Orientation Week. I was nervous. Everybody around me seemed nervous. My fellow classmates and I were herded out of the law school and into a nearby auditorium for a mandatory presentation. Instead of parading in with everybody else, I ran up to one of the organizers and asked the flustered question, “Is this lecture absolutely, positively required?” The organizer gave the obvious answer, “Well, yes.” I followed up, “Well, what happens if we miss?” Meanwhile, the question I was silently thinking to myself was, “Will they kick me out of law school on the first day if I miss this silly thing? I promise it’s for a good reason!”
We talked a bit more, and then I raced out of the building and headed for my car. I was headed home. Not because I had just been kicked out of law school (of course!), but because my 13-month-old daughter had a worrisome fever and our only car seat was sitting in my car. So I raced home to drop off the seat, and then my husband headed to he doctor while I raced back to school.
And it was no big surprise that I hadn’t missed much. Despite this, I was a nervous wreck. I wondered whether ALL of law school would be like that day – racing from the responsibilities at home to the responsibilities at school, and then back again as thoughts floated through my head about how I was failing miserably at both endeavors.
In the end, my three years actually WERE a lot like that first day. The racing didn’t stop and the juggling didn’t stop. I just got better at it. I quickly let go of the fantasy that I was failing miserably, and I decided that maybe a little racing around wasn’t so bad after all. The “racing” part was surely only a small glimpse of what my future career would be like, after all.
I learned to keep my cool and trust my instincts. For the most part I tried to blend in, although every once in a while I must admit that I did play the “mommy card.” One time I appealed to my colleagues to let me present my oral argument early during an evening session so that I could make it home before my daughter’s bedtime. Another time I took my daughter to lecture with me. Perhaps my favorite moments of mixing law school with parenthood were the Halloween parties. A handful of students and faculty with young children paraded our kids around the law school. It was loads of fun to watch my first-year contracts professor dumping handfuls of candy into my daughter’s trick-or-treat bag!
There were not-so-great moments, too. Almost without fail, my daughter got sick as each semester ended and the finals period began. Eventually I learned to anticipate it. When possible I found a way to look on the bright side of the situation. Then finally I learned to laugh about it.
Now that law school has finished I can say that I have no regrets about my juggling act. While it’s true that I spent most of law school actively juggling (a sometimes exhausting endeavor!), by prioritizing and re-prioritizing things usually worked out fine. In the process I learned a tremendous amount, and I am much more confident that I will be able to handle my future life of prioritizing and balancing.
Regardless of whether you are considering combining law school with parenting or with any other hurdle or endeavor, I have just one comment to make. . . Happy Juggling!