Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on motherhood in the legal profession, in partnership with our friends at MothersEsquire. Welcome Jamie Szal back to our pages.
Here’s a joke for you. What do you get when you give a toddler a flower?
A trip to the emergency room.
A few weeks ago, I sat in my office working busily on what likely was packages of sales tax permit registrations for clients when I received a rare midday phone call from my husband. “So, I’m on my way to the emergency room,” he tells me. Immediately, all of my mom instincts flared. “What?! Why? What happened? Is she okay?” Turns out my flower child, so appreciative of nature, decided the best way to deeply inhale the scent of unopened flower buds was to shove them as far up her nose as possible. Not surprisingly, a bud lodged itself in her nasal cavity. Without skipping a beat, she wandered to her nanny and then to my husband, declaring “Up nose!” and beaming with pride. It took both of them a minute to realize she was trying to tell them something was stuck up in her nose.
Go ahead and laugh. My kid shoved a flower up her nose and it got stuck.
I sure as heck laughed. Out loud. Hooting laughter in the middle of my normally quiet office. Right about the time I was mid-guffaw the mom guilt set in. Should I go to the hospital with my husband? I should go, right? Of course I should go, I’m her mom! She needs me. I am a good mom. I am a present mom. Present moms are at the hospital with their kids. But my kid stuck a flower up her nose! Ha-ha! And so on ran the internal monologue the entire time I was, still, laughing.
Here’s the thing, though, my husband is the work-from-home, primary care-giver in our family. He was at Urgent Care followed by the pediatrician’s office followed by the family care emergency clinic with our daughter. He darn well crisscrossed most of the neighboring cities in our little Maine metropolis in his efforts to figure out how to remove the flower bud from her nose. In other words, he parented. But that did not stop the mom in me from warring, hard core, with the lawyer on whether to be there as well.
That the lawyer-in-me ultimately prevailed and stayed at work to finish my work spawned its own set of internal criticisms. I do not believe I am alone in stating that each and every one of us moms who pursue a career outside of the home fear that we will be seen as the workaholic parent who is never present for their child. We worry about missing the sporting events and piano recitals and birthday parties. My decision to leave my daughter in my husband’s more-than-capable hands triggered the fear that my decision would be seen as callous. I mean, after all, my office got a taste of my hyena-like laughter each time I tried to explain to them that my family was sitting in the emergency room. What good mother laughs at her child’s emergency room visit while that child is in the emergency room?
It took several hours to convince myself I made the right call. After all, as I’ve said, my husband is the primary care giver during the day. He was right there with her. He was more than capable of handling her health needs in that moment. I not only needed to trust him in this, but realize that I probably would just get in the way. The best way for me to be a working law-mom in that moment was to concentrate on being a good lawyer. If the tables were reversed — and my husband was the working lawyer, and I the SAHM — this would not even be a discussion. My husband would work. I would race from doctor to Urgent Care to doctor. No one would bat an eye. They should not here.
My family dynamic may not be typical. But it will never be normalized until families like mine start to treat the roles in our relationship as if they are — and always should be — normal. While I will always put my family and my child first, so does my husband. In many ways, I need to set the example, for mothers like me who are supported by work-from-home partners to know that we should trust our partners enough to allow them the freedom to be the primary caregiver, without us hovering in the background second-guessing every one of their parenting decisions. We can let go of the mom guilt and proudly pursue our professional aspirations.
Until the next “Up nose, mama!” –- Cheers.
Jamie Szal is an attorney at Brann & Isaacson, where her practice focuses on assisting businesses in all aspects of state and local tax controversy, from audits and administrative proceedings through civil litigation. Jamie actively volunteers with the alumni network and Women’s Leadership Council of her alma mater, Trinity College, as well as actively participates in MothersEsquire, the Women’s Law Section of the Maine State Bar Association, and serves on the board of a dental-services non-profit in Maine. Outside of work, Jamie enjoys raising her fiercely independent, impish daughter; singing; and hiking around Maine with her husband, daughter, and dogs.
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