Thursday, April 29, 2010

Soundbites To Live By

You know those motivational posters that used to line your high school classrooms? Usually a picture of some natural wonder or a cute baby animal with a deep and meaningful quote written at the bottom. I loved those. Maybe it was because I was a competitive athlete at the time and deeply believed in the power of positive thinking and mind over matter and all those other things that helped me get through the last race of a long meet or the end of a tough practice where my arms had turned to jelly. I kept journals of motivational quotes and had copies of them taped all over my bedroom, car, and locker room.

I like to pull up certain entries from my mental quote catalogue to comfort or motivate me at different times. When I think back on Landon's babyhood and start to travel down the pointless path of wishing I'd done certain things differently, or realized certain problems sooner, I remind myself of what a blog commenter once told me, "You do the best you can with what you know. And when you know more, you do better." It's a quote that I think will remain relevant through the entirety of this parenting journey.

There's two specific quotes that I keep dancing around in my head when it comes to being a working mom and I've been meaning to write about them.

One is something I heard at an alumni roundtable my 1L year of law school. At these roundtable lunches, a very distinguished alumnus would come chat with a small group of students about their career path. This one featured a pretty famous law firm partner who had previously held all sorts of fascinating international law positions all over the world. We knew from her bio that she had two young children, so I asked what that was like - balancing her job and her family. And after she talked generally about their childcare choices, her husband's schedule, etc., she said something that has stuck with me, "You know. I tell my children (then ages 5 and 7) that they are THE most important thing, but mommy's work is important too. And I think that's okay- both that it is important to me and that they know it."

The second soundbite comes from a Women's Initiative lunch we had at the firm a few months ago. Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines, was the speaker and one thing she talked about was being a single mother and raising her son while working full-time. She said something along the lines of, "It was important to me that he didn't see work as the enemy, as something that only took me away from him and gave nothing back. He came to the office with me if I needed to stop by on a weekend, he came to company picnics, he met the people I worked with on a daily basis ..."

The idea of work not being the enemy is something I try to impart on myself, JP, and Landon every day. Yes work is something I need to do, but I try not to phrase it as "Mommy has to go to work" - it's just "it's time for Mommy to go to work" or "yes, Mommy goes to work today." The phrase "have to" pops up, as it must, because sometimes, like when it's 8:30 and I have a call at 9, we really do HAVE TO GO. But words have power, and in general I don't talk about my work- my financial commitment to my family- in disparaging or begrudging terms. JP goes to school, Mommy goes to work, and Landon goes to daycay. It's what we do during the day. Landon has visited my office on many an occasion and thinks it is pretty much the coolest place on earth. He sees me get papers out on the weekends and likes to sit next to me at the kitchen table and color while I highlight cases. As he gets older I'm sure that will continue, with our kids doing homework at the table while JP or I do some work of our own. And I hope that the way we talk about our jobs will influence the way they think about their own obligations- whether it be school assignments, family chores, or jobs of their own. Because I have found that in trying to talk about work in a way that does not make it sound like the enemy to Landon, it ends up affecting the way I view it in my own mind. I do not love every aspect of my job and I have had assignments that I have hated with a passion, but in general, I like it, and I appreciate the fact that I have it and that it provides a comfortable life for my family.

I doubt I'm writing this as clearly as I could be, but I really think that having these two soundbites in my mind has helped shape the way that I view my role as a working mother and the way that I live out that role with Landon. My career is important to me- very important, in fact. Landon is more important and I will sacrifice a lot career-wise to be the mother I want to be for him, but that doesn't mean there isn't room left for my career to have any importance at all. And it's okay for him to know that. So I try to talk about my job and our daily routine in a way that is not full of complaint or negativity because this job, this thing that is important to me, it is not the enemy- not to me and hopefully not to my children.

Because man I freaking love this kid, but I still think there's room for me to love and value both him, his sister, and this career path I've worked so hard to barely start.


  1. I love this post! Great reminder to view things positively, and to impart that attitude to those around us. I really appreciate this (especially on a trying Wednesday). :) Thanks, LL!

  2. Both of those thoughts are so important, especially that how you talk about work will impart a good or bad feeling about it - I don't have kids yet, but I hope I remember this when I do.

  3. Coming out of lurking (I am a big, but quiet, fan) to say that this post is one of my favorites! So timely for me, as I've just returned to work after a 12 week maternity leave for baby #1. I love my job, find it very rewarding and challenging, and have a masters degree in my field, so it has never occurred to me to want to be a sahm. Yet, leaving this baby each day has been a trial and I've started to see my job as a burden, something I "have" to go do. I don't want to feel that way and I don't want to impart that message on to my child, and I know it will get easier with each day. THANK YOU for putting to words what so many working mothers feel and for reminding me of the message I want to impart on to my daughter.

  4. I have these kind of conversations with my (imaginary) children about my (imaginary) career all the time! Haha... Seriously, though, I think this will be an inspiring post for me to re-read when I am one day in your shoes, or lower-heeled versions of them.

  5. I so needed to hear this today as I contemplate going back to work post-pregnancy - thank you so much! Have I told you that I heart your blog? I totally, totally heart it :)


  6. A phrase that has helped me in the past year come back from near-business failure and giving up comes from The Chief on Grey's Anatomy episode last year: "you can come back from anything"

    It gave me faith when I needed it, and I have indeed come back better than ever.

  7. What a refreshing view. I have been feeling very sorry for myself lately, wishing I could stay home until my children go to school full time and hating this stupid world that forces me to go to work instead (kicks can, spits on student loans and recession).

    I think I'm going to like my work, once I'm out of law school, but I certainly won't if I look at it as something I am forced to do. I'll remember this post when I start my summer job and start leaving my kid for full days again.

  8. Very well written post, and I fully agree with your perspective on this. I was looking at the other day, and there was a story about how Amanda Peet appeared at a red carpet event for a movie she had done 8 days after giving birth. The responses from some of the readers were truly appalling...and down-right mean. I don't even have kids, and I was offended. Keep your positive will go a long way toward raising happy, healthy kids who are well adjusted and who have happy, healthy, well-adjusted parents, too.

  9. What a great post for me to read on a hard day. My little guy is sick today and because I just started a new job and have to be in court all day I can't be with him. Lucklily, his dad has picked up my slack and is with him today, but it is still hard for me to have to be away from him when he is sick because of work. This post made me feel a little better about the situation.

  10. Anonymous this time.4/30/10, 1:32 PM

    Interesting... The one thing that impacted me that a partner said when I was a summer associate (it may actually have been the one you are referring to because the person who said this to me fits your description to a T) was "To make it work, you have to love your job as much as you love your kids." It had the opposite affect on me - I knew I never would love my job as much as my kids.

    The funny thing is, I often find myself saying the phrases you say you WON'T say to Landon. But I have a very different perspective on my career. I worked my whole life to become a lawyer and I'm proud to have gotten where I am. But at the end of the day, for me it is just a paycheck and if it were financially feasible for me to stop working, I would. I wish I could say that my professional aspirations were as strong as I hoped they would be in my early 20s. But they just aren't. And I struggle with how to convey to my kids that I am doing something positive in going to work every day when I feel guilty as hell that I can't be like the other Moms in the neighborhood and stay home. When they ask "Mommy, can you pick me up from school today?" or "Mommy, can't you stay home like so and so's Mom?" it really breaks my heart to have to say "No, Mommy has to go to work. Mommy's job is important because we need a roof over our heads and food on the table."

  11. I am also popping out from lurk mode, but I love your blog and read it religiously. I just had to mention to you that I am reading this at my office (a law office) and my 4 year old daughter is sitting across the desk from me, coloring. Yes, it is Sunday, but as a full-time law student (well, I'm done as of last week! YES!), I need to work on weekends sometimes. My kids always come with me on the weekends and they love it here. I want my kids, especially my daughter, to know that they/she can do ANYTHING. I am proud of my job and education, it is part of who we are. I will also keep the phrase in my mind about them being most important but that Mommy's job is important, too. I love it, thank you.