Parenting During a Pandemic: Lessons I Learned
When my law firm announced we would be working remotely more than a year ago, I, like so many of you, did not know what to expect. When my children’s daycare announced it would be closing, I really did not know what to expect. Suddenly, my husband and I found ourselves both working from home with an almost three-year-old boy and six-month-old girl. Oh, and I had just found out I was pregnant with our third child.
As a lawyer at one of the largest law firms in the world and my husband a recruiter (they’re on the phone all day!), I learned how demanding each of our jobs were on their own – mix in two toddlers and our worlds turned upside down.
I have since had my third child, a beautiful baby girl born in the middle of this pandemic. My four-month maternity leave gave me an opportunity to breathe (ironic that the exhaustive newborn phase was somehow a reprieve) and reflect on what worked for my family before my recent return to work. I’m hoping to use the tools I learned during this pandemic to work more efficiently and effectively, with or without kids in the background.
Compartmentalize and prioritize your needs.
I am not a morning person. I have known this about myself since I was a kid. Unfortunately for my sleep-loving self, my children love to wake up at the smallest sign of light through their windows.
We had gotten into a routine where I would set my alarm clock for 7:00 AM, and every morning, one or both of my kids would wake me up at 6:45. Those missed fifteen minutes felt like forever and I found myself waking up annoyed.
I would spend the rest of the morning scrambling to set them up with breakfast, changing them while trying to get myself ready. By the time I was able to sit down in front of my computer with a cup of coffee that had inevitably turned cold, I was already behind on emails and playing catch-up in my work.
After a few weeks of this routine, my frustration at an all-time high, my husband said:
You’re a much more pleasant person when you wake up before the kids.
I realized he was absolutely right. It was so simple, but I started setting my alarm for an hour earlier. To me, this was unheard of, but I started getting into a new routine where I would wake up, get myself completely ready while listening to a podcast, head downstairs, make my coffee, and drink it hot while reading through my emails and planning out my workday.
My kids still woke up at 6:45 but now, I had 45 minutes of alone time where I could get my mindset in the right place for the day. I, in fact, was getting 45 minutes less sleep than my previous routine, but I felt rejuvenated in the mornings. It was more about having a change of perspective that started my day off as being proactive and focused on what I needed to accomplish that day as opposed to reactive and focused solely on what was needed of me from others.
Accept that “work/life balance” does not exist.
I implore you to relieve yourself of the false perception that you can achieve the elusive “work/life balance.” The chairwoman of my firm, Jami McKeon, has been quoted on several occasions as saying “work-life balance” is a myth, that it implies that your work and your life are two different things that are in conflict with each other. But the truth is, your work is part of your life, not separate.
For many professionals, we find joy in our work, fulfillment, passion, and to an extent, happiness. We should do away with the concept of separating out our work responsibilities from our lives. Jami has said:
If you don’t harmonize them — if you don’t feel like you can be yourself at work and that you can harmonize your life with your work — you’re not going to have a sense of wellbeing.
As a working mother, even before the pandemic, I was no stranger to the concept of “mom guilt.” The first time I returned from maternity leave after having my son, I was put on a matter with a large case team of partners and associates.
I worked for the first time with a senior associate who was a bit notorious for having high standards for both herself and the people she worked with. She was also a mother to a young toddler and seemed to be able to manage it all seamlessly.
I was, in short, terrified. I spent my time immersing myself in the material, volunteering for every bit of work I could get on the case. After working with her for two months, during a particularly stressful late-night strategy meeting on the phone, she heard my son crying in the background.
Mid-sentence, she asked:
Wait, do I hear a baby?
And I said:
Yes, I’m so sorry, that’s my son.
You have a son? How old? I had no idea!
She asked about my family, gushing about how sweet my son sounded, and demanded I send her pictures of him as soon as we got off the phone.
I at first felt proud because I was able to make it two whole months without giving off any impression that I was being pulled in multiple directions. And then the mom guilt kicked in. How could I have not mentioned my child at all to the person I worked with and talked with every hour of the working day?
That dichotomy has only been magnified this year. It felt like every success at work meant, by definition, a failure in my parenting.
I have actively worked to get out of this dichotomy mindset. You cannot be two separate people in your life. You are one person who simultaneously is both a professional and a parent. Let the guilt go and give yourself the grace to thrive, without getting bogged down with your own expectations.
Find your people.
Remember that senior associate who scared me and expected so much out of me? She has become my person at work. She still has high standards for me, but I’ve grown to appreciate that level of scrutiny because it’s helped me grow as an attorney and as a working mother.
I would not be where I am in my career without her guidance and example. The past year has brought so many unknowns to my professional and personal life that I am grateful for the grace that my colleagues have offered me.
Search out these kinds of people in your work environment. Look for people who are similarly situated as you, and have a frank conversation with them about how they’re able to manage. The more comfortable you are talking about the struggles of this working life with your colleagues, the more comfortable you’ll be with asking them for some grace when you need it.
If you just cannot find those people at your work, then maybe it’s time for a change. Trust me, supportive and encouraging colleagues exist out there, people who are real mentors for your professional and personal development.
Just as the old saying goes “it takes a village to raise a child,” I have come to believe that it similarly takes a village of mentors to nurture a professional. Find your villagers.
Michaela Dragalin Young helps represent clients in a wide range of areas, including white collar investigations, business and corporate disputes, and class action defense. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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