Balancing Law and Motherhood: One Woman’s Experience
By Christine Spinella Davis
Christine Spinella Davis is a senior associate in the Washington, D.C., office of Howrey LLP and is Chair of the YLD Tort, Trial & Insurance Practice Committee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Having a baby is a life-altering event that brings great joy and great challenges, and the challenges can be even greater for a mom who also maintains a legal career. As a full-time litigator who is also the mother of an 18-month-old girl, I found that although it is not easy, it is possible to have both. This past year and a half has taught me what works to help me maintain the fine balance between life at home and at work, at least during these early years of motherhood.
Find a reliable caretaker. Whether daycare, a nanny, or days at grandma’s house, childcare you can count on is far and away the most important component to this delicate balance. Given attorneys’ demanding schedules, you must be able to trust that your child will be well cared for in any circumstance. Of course, people get sick and face unexpected personal issues, but such events should not regularly occur. It is hard enough trying to finish up a motion by its due date without being informed that you will have no daycare in the morning.
Arrange for backup childcare. This is essential for unavoidable times when your caretaker isn’t able to work regular hours or to cover for you if a deposition runs late. Some law firms contract with local daycare providers for emergencies; if your firm does, find out the protocol for taking advantage of this benefit, whether or not you think you’ll use it (you may have to register your child with the daycare center beforehand). If your office doesn’t provide daycare, be sure you have a plan in place—another daycare center or individual who can step in. Just knowing you have alternative arrangements will help keep your sanity when emergencies arise.
Devote specific times each week to your child. Even if you have to physically mark the “playdate” on your calendar, identify periods to set aside for you and your child. Maybe one hour every morning, or Saturday mornings and/or Sunday afternoons—whatever works best for you. I found that knowing I had time set aside for my daughter often made it easier for me to focus on my work.
Prepare in advance for the week ahead. Do as much in advance as you can for the upcoming week—even planning menus or cooking ahead when possible. I also find it helpful to set out a weekly schedule for my household; a simple dry-erase board on the refrigerator tracks meetings and appointments. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and we don’t inadvertently miss that doctor’s appointment it took two months to get.
Don’t be afraid to accept help. I’ll be the first to admit that being a working mom can be draining. In order to get everything done, I have willingly accepted help at home, whether it’s babysitting by the grandparents or help maintaining household tasks. I know that as much as I might like to be Wonder Woman (a role many women lawyers are drawn to), I am not. Don’t be too proud to accept help.
Make time for yourself. Making time for things you simply enjoy is essential. Go to your weekly yoga class, meet your friend for coffee, garden. Doing something you enjoy that is not child- or work-related will prevent you from burning out. Think of it as a rejuvenating activity that will allow you to be a better attorney and a better mom.