As an attorney, over the last ten plus years of practice, I have devoted many of my working hours to legal writing of various forms. One of the immense benefits of legal writing is that is uniform in nature. You take a legal standard, you apply the facts, and you draw your conclusions from that legal standard. It is meant to be neat and concise. My journey as a working mother however could be described as anything but. I found that it is never neat and concise, and there is no uniform standard or “one size fits all” application.
It was a struggle for me as a new mother to accept that level of uncertainty, and I was left with many questions. What should I be doing? What is expected of me? Where do my career goals fit in with my goals as a mother? I have had many different work lifestyles as a mother, ranging from full-time to part-time to leaving the workforce altogether for a few years. The only uniform standard that I can apply to these vastly different situations can be neatly summarized into one word: guilt. After my first son was born, I felt that if I did not get immediately back into my career, that it would simply pass me by. That all the work and effort I put into college, law school, and my job would dissipate. My decision to rush back into the workforce when my eldest son was only ten weeks old put an incredible strain on my mental health. I was not ready, but I took a standard that I felt I needed to follow and pushed myself into it. Thankfully, after a few months of commuting over two hours a day Monday through Friday, I realized that my work and home life were severely out of balance. The mom guilt was crushing me, and I was not happy. I made my first choice to cast aside this self-invented standard that I needed to follow, and I advocated for myself at my job to switch to a part-time schedule, working sixty percent of the work week. It was incredibly hard for me to do this, but I knew that if I continued the pace I was on, I would completely burn out in both my career and in my role as a mother.
The Importance of Honest Self-Evaluation
I had to evaluate two very important needs. The first being what did I as a working mother need? I spent so much time worrying about everyone else, and what others would think about my choices that I failed to consider what I needed to succeed both professionally and privately. The second being how do I achieve my needs once I established what those needs were? My husband and I sat down, looked at our finances and our career trajectories to come up with the best plan for us as a team and a family. I cannot stress enough the importance of my husband’s support throughout this all. Once I had my plan in action and my needs were finally addressed, those feelings of guilt and fear were able to subside.
Thankfully, my job at the time was accommodating of my request, and I caught my first glimmer of the light at the end of the tunnel. The year I spent working at a sixty percent work week I felt fulfilled both at work and home. It was the balance that I needed and craved at the time. Then things changed again.
The Importance of Not Worrying What People Think
I became pregnant with my second son, and my pregnancy was not as easy as my first. I ended up on bed rest at twenty-five weeks and had to leave my job. The sinking guilt and questions crept in again. Would I still have a job to come back to when this is all over? Do I even want to go back to the same job I had before? What if I do not want to go back at all? I wrestled with these questions for the remainder of my pregnancy, but once my second son was born, I knew I had to make a choice again. My needs changed and I needed to make a new plan to fit those new needs. I discovered after careful reflection that I was not ready to make any permanent decision, so I opted for a year of absence at my job to care for my then two young sons. I recognize the privilege I had in being able to make this choice. I was fortunate enough to be in a financial situation that was accommodating to my choice and I had the support of my husband. After that year ended, I decided I still was not ready to go back. This time I listened to myself and did not let the guilt of my decision hold me back. It still haunted me to a certain degree, that I was betraying some feminist expectation of what I should or should not be doing as it pertained to my career, but I held firm to my decision. Perspective in this situation helped me immensely. I stopped viewing it as my husband being the sole supporter of the family, but as my husband and I equally supporting each other to make our family life work best for us. I started to accept that there is no standard, that everyone’s circumstances are so vastly different, and that there is no one size fits all solution.
The Importance of Self-Advocacy and Care
As I type these words, I am pregnant with my third son, in the middle of a pandemic, and working from home. I eventually made the decision to fully head back into the workforce once my oldest two were out of their toddler years, but I did it when I was ready. I did it with the knowledge and clarity that sometimes only experience can give. To listen to myself to know what is best. To know that something that worked for me last year may not work for me today. To embrace change and adapt, not fear it. To accept that someone else’s lifestyle does not need to be my own. To accept that there is no standard when it comes to being a working mother, and that life, like motherhood, is rarely neat and concise.