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 DawnMarie White to our pages.
In the beginning of my role as a mom, I was lucky to have Fridays off work with my son. Occasionally, something that couldn’t wait would come up, and I’d find a back-up babysitter. Usually. One Thursday, a judge set an emergency hearing for the next day. Of course, all my babysitters were busy. A colleague, who is now my best friend and called “uncle” by my son, told me he and the paralegals would watch my then 8-month-old for the thirty-minute hearing. After much convincing that I wasn’t taking advantage of my colleague, I accepted his help. An hour and a half into this hearing, the court reporter kindly called his office and slipped me a note saying that my son was sleeping. When I returned two hours later than expected, I found my friend typing away at his computer with my son happily on his lap.
This may seem like a cute story, but it’s so much more. It encompasses all the best ways I’ve been supported as a mother in my career. My best friend and his paralegals stepped into a role outside of their normal jobs to help me. The judge and court reporter acknowledged me as a mother without diminishing my professional role, which allowed me to focus on my client and his child. No one suggested that I request a continuance. Instead, everyone in the courtroom that day was focused on my client’s child, not my childcare scramble. My motherhood did not overshadow my legal work. These acts not only showed that I am cared for in my community as a person, lawyer, and mother but also allowed me to keep my perspective. This perspective allows me to push aside the Mom Guilt and focus on helping my clients.
I’ve intentionally cultivated a support system that includes my husband solo parenting on a Saturday while I edit and rewrite a brief with a looming deadline, my family babysitting my sick child so I can depose a witness, and bosses that welcome my son (usually with copious amounts of candy) into the office to accommodate school snow days. While these care-taking tasks cannot be appreciated or applauded enough, the ways my community takes care of me are often less time-consuming and grand. But these acts have a deep impact and deserve just as much gratitude and applause.
Mom Guilt is the nemesis of every lawyer mom I know. It’s a monster that feeds on seeking perfection and distorts my perspective. My friends listen as I lament motherhood “failures” such as missing a PTO meeting. They tell me that my choices to model a strong work ethic (which I learned from watching my own working mom), demonstrate how to prioritize tasks, and teach flexible responsibility are absolutely the right decisions. They remind me that my son understands the importance of standing up and advocating for others because he sees me doing it. My friends reiterate that my son sees me showing up for him just as fiercely as I do for my clients — even if I’m redacting discovery documents while he’s in a yoga class. My son knows that when there’s a deadline at work, he and my husband may be picking up some of my chores at home so I can focus on work. One day, I’ll do the same for him when he has a big calculus test and needs to study. That’s what family does for one another. Remembering that is hard when you’re the mom in the thick of it. Someone helping you keep your perspective is invaluable.
Society often overwhelms us with messages about where our fulfillment should come from. Hands down, the most supportive thing anyone has ever done for me as a lawyer mom is acknowledge that fulfillment does not have to be found in a career OR motherhood. It can be, and is for me, both. We hear it all the time at all the conferences: Work-Life Balance. It may be cliché now, but it is true. I am not a good mom, attorney, wife, friend, sister, or anything else when I’m trying to be everything to everyone. I am at my best when I allow my community to help me, and I keep this balance of finding fulfillment in all my roles by doing the best I can in each area of my life. Sometimes, I’m killing it as a mom. Sometimes, I’m killing it as a lawyer, but my child is overdosing on screen time. As a Type-A, perfection-seeking lawyer mom, that’s hard to accept. But with a supportive community surrounding me and reminding me, I’m able to thrive in all my roles. Being my child’s mother is deeply satisfying and gives my life profound meaning. So does my challenging, fast-paced role as an advocate. Without either of these things, my life would be out of balance and incomplete.
So, here’s to the villages supporting the lawyer moms with grand gestures, lifting us up with emotional support, taking care of our sick kids, entertaining them while we work on random school holidays, helping us problem-solve, vanquishing the Mom Guilt, and helping us remember that we can be fulfilled by our careers AND our motherhood. Our kids are better for your help. We are better for it.
After graduating from IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law and opening her own solo practice, DawnMarie joined Emswiller, Williams, Noland & Clarke, LLC in 2019. She is a devoted wife and proud mom to her son, cat, and giant puppy. When she’s not focused on her clients, with her family, or volunteering in her community, she will likely be enjoying conversation at her book club, crocheting, practicing hot yoga, at the kickboxing gym, or eating cheesecake, or writing for MothersEsquire. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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