Ever since I became a mother is 1978, I have been aware of notions of what women professionals have to sacrifice to keep the delicate balance between work and family. I now have two grown children, one born 22 months before law school, the other born 17 months after I passed the bar. In light of all of the literature and debate, I suspect many women, and men, struggle with this issue. I suppose the real issue for most is how to be a good parent and continue to climb up the corporate ladder. The corporate ladder may be difficult to navigate for those ambitious souls who choose to also attempt both. I have always worked for the thirty-five years since becoming a mother. I am a trial lawyer and my profession has been very important to me. I am certainly not perfect, but I think I have found the perfect balance for me between work and family. These are my work/family rules.
1. GET OFF THE CORPORATE LADDER -
From what I see and hear, it can suck eggs to work for a big corporation. Managers can be petty, demanding, devious, under-handed and unreasonable. If you have to be the CEO of GE and your ideas of success includes a 7 or 8 figure compensation package with your own private jet, I guess you have to attempt that unpleasant scaling of that unfair ladder. If that is your goal, I am not talking to you. If you want to climb over the backs of your co-workers to reign with a golden scepter, I am not talking to you. I am talking to normal people who don't need obscene amounts of money or power to feel good about themselves.
I am talking to those of you who want to succeed, but success is not measured in dollars or power. Corporations can be cutthroat places and do you really want to spend your life as a gladiator in the coliseum? How do I know that mega-big business is bad, you may wonder, since I have never worked for a giant corporation in my adult life? Well, I have sued so many giant corporations for discrimination and retaliation, that I got the hint. Don't work at a place where your fate is controlled by the whim of a snot-nosed kid or sadistic power-monger who would just as soon fire you as care about your mother's surgery. I know this first suggestion, getting off the corporate ladder, may seem impossible, and sometimes it is. We all need to make a living. But, do you really want to trust your fate to a behemoth entity who, by definition, is only concerned with making a profit at all costs? I do not.
2. TAKE YOUR KIDS TO WORK WITH YOU, A LOT
Even when I worked for others, I took my children, individually or together, to work. I would go on walks with them during a break. I would take them with me on out of town trips. After a deposition, which they often attended, we would go swimming in the motel pool. When you are not dependent on the whim of others, you can decide your own priorities.
3. BECOME A ROOM PARENT OR SCOUT LEADER
Staying involved in your kids' activities is not that hard when you are out of the rat race, because you no longer report to the rats. Of course, there can be times when you can't make the Valentines Day party because you are in trial. But go to important events of children if you can. There is no way to make up the memories. A child's feelings of abandonment last a lifetime. Kids grow up fast. You cannot get that time back.
4. WORK FROM HOME IF YOU CAN
To stay off the ladder and out of the rat race, work from home. I invariably get more work done from home than at the office. There are fewer interruptions and much less down time. Be disciplined. Work early in the morning or late at night, too.
5. HAVE A SPOUSE OR PARTNER WHO DOES HIS OR HER SHARE OF THE HOUSEWORK AND CHILD CARE
I cannot stress this point enough. If you are not only responsible for your work, but also responsible for all child care, laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc., you are going to go crazy. You must insist that your partner do at least his or her share. If you do not have a supportive partner, it is much worse than no partner at all.
This is the most important point of all. You should let things go. No one needs a pie baked from scratch. If it's a decision between scrubbing the bathtub or getting a report out, work on the report. Of course, if your real love is going clubbing all night, you probably should forgo the family. Know what your priorities are. I try to follow my priorities: a. Family first; b. My law practice second, c. Then everything else. (I am not religious, but I realize that some of you have your religion in the top 3. Fine, just remember everything else is last.)
One other issue, balancing family and career is not a "woman's issue." It is both a men's and women's issue. Everyone needs to think about the balance. Men are struggling with the same issues and if this is a parents' issue, men are parents, too.
Since my kids are grown, I am on the down-side of this struggle. Neither one of my children have turned into rapists or serial killers. So, if that doesn't make me a good mother, what does?
When I started out, women were leaving the practice of law in droves, because they could not balance family and career. Now, both women and men my age are being bounced out from large companies due to age discrimination. Perhaps the real title of this piece should be Don't Work For That Behemoth Company." But, I suppose someone has to work there.
Above all else, relax and enjoy what you have and live in the present moment. It all goes by so fast.