Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Working Mom Update

I've been back at work for three weeks. I can't believe it's only been that long. Not in a bad way- the weeks go by very quickly, I just sometimes have a hard time believing I was ever gone. 22 days ago I simply walked into my office, flipped on the light, powered up my computer, and I was back. In those first few days every time I turned to look at the pictures I have plastered all over my bulletin board a tiny part of me was shocked to see that I had a three month old daughter. I hadn't forgotten- I think about Clairebear all the time, it just seemed (and continues to seem) so surreal. Everything in my work life is like it always was- the office is the same, my schedule is the same, my co-workers are the same, but somehow, I had a baby and exited the whole work scene for three months and now I'm back like nothing ever happened. Nothing except the fact that I went from being a working mom of one to a working mom of two. I have kids plural. A co-worker commented the other day that I get a little smile on my face every time I say "my kids" or "the kids." I didn't realize it but it doesn't surprise me. There's just a warm thrill of happiness that runs through my body every time I remember that I have two of them now. It's a little like how I felt when I referred to JP as "my husband" the first few (dozen) times. It's not like I forgot we were married, it was just so pleasant to be verbally reminded of the change.

on her way to "daycay"

Day-to-day everything is going great. I've had no trouble getting added to cases and I've assimilated quickly. I think it helped tremendously that I already had one child. I'm used to this working mom thing and I know that I prefer it. I'm also comfortable with the role that daycare plays in our lives and have the benefit of three years experience with Landon loving it (and definitely not considering himself "stuck" in it as some like to say) and seeming very secure and happy in his little world. Going from one to two hasn't been nearly as hard as I feared (and nowhere near as hard as going from zero to one generally). Once you have the infrastructure in your day to allow for getting one other person dressed, making their lunch, and carting them to and from an out-of-home location, it's really not much added to throw in a second. JP and my lives changed completely after we had Landon; adding Claire has only made our days expand a little and so far it's been a comfortable stretch.

Daycare is going great. We're so blessed to have our amazing neighborhood center down the street. Claire started two weeks before I went back to work and that helped in knowing she was all set before our mornings had to involve me getting out the door as well. I adore Claire's teachers (and if her smiles are indication, Claire does too). I actually compete with JP to get there first for pick-up just so I can spend a few minutes talking to them. As soon as I open the door they always hand over my spastically smiling baby while asking how my day went and complimenting my clothes (the shoes stay outside, they can't mar the perfection that is the infant room). Then they spend a few minutes exclaiming over Claire's wonderfulness and telling me stories of cute things she did that day. I'm sure they tell every parent how incredible their kid is, but I still love hearing it and I'm always so happy when I leave the room with Clairebear in tow. They keep me from begrudging the additional $1000/month we spend for Claire's care and the fact that it has eaten literally ALL of our discretionary income. It's worth it, even if I do miss eating in restaurants. Landon is also thriving in his new preschool class and gets to visit with Claire when she's out on buggy rides on the playground.

post-work picture

But even with our total satisfaction with daycare, and my overall satisfaction with my job, I would still have liked another month or two off if we could have swung it financially. It's a special time and I loved it. But I'm thankful that since it wasn't a possibility, we do have such a great daycare and I have such great co-workers (and our baby girl SLEEPS!), so that coming back full-time at three months hasn't been a struggle. I think phasing-in would also been nice if we could have handled it, but I haven't found it to be necessary. There's a natural phase-in process when you return (unless your section is just out of control busy, which doesn't seem to be the case for many firms right now). I think it would have been most helpful in calming those late-night fears before your return about the huge drop in control over your life that you're about to experience just by walking in your office door. Luckily, that drop-off hasn't been as extreme as it seemed from a distance.

Coming back full-time has its advantages. It's not spoken, but I think you're respected a little more and taken more seriously as an attorney climbing up the ladder. That only matters if you want to stay on the regular partnership track, but I do want that, at least for now. I had more than a few panic spirals while on leave just thinking about how dependent my little family is on my salary and how uncertain it seems like every job is in this market. That made me much more anxious to return and I do feel better now that I'm back. Three months is a blip on a partner's radar screen; six months away and then turning down work because you're only part-time when you get back is noticeable. It may not matter, but I don't think it's honest to pretend like there isn't any chance of a negative effect. To be fair, the women I know who have gone that route didn't care about the effects it might have- they wanted to work part-time for as long as it worked for their families and if it didn't, they'd go somewhere else (I should probably also note that not one of them was the primary or sole breadwinner for their family). So different choices, different paths, etc.

But back to me- I think everything is going as well as it could be. I'm finally getting fully integrated into cases instead of doing research issues on the periphery and that feels good. I miss my Claire-biscuit during the day, but I guess I'm just okay with that. I don't know how else to explain it. I know she is happy and being loved on by her teachers (they have a password-protected website where we can see the hundreds of photos they take; it is adorable to see my giant baby among the regular sized babies) and I'm doing what I need to do in the office. There's no way around my working status, at least not right now, and there is some pride in knowing I'm supporting my family. I'm sure that part of my peace with the situation is that I just don't spend much time thinking about it at all. It is what it is, and we just try to make it the very best reality it can be. And truthfully, most of the time, it's pretty great.


  1. I'm so glad you're talking about perceptions at work. I really want to have kids, but I'm so scared about perceptions. I don't want to go from being an attorney that gets great assignments to being an attorney that gets the castoffs because having a kid means work can't be your first priority.

    Do you think it was different because you had one child when you started? More specifically, do you think their perception of you didn't change because you were already a mother so they already knew that you were committed to the job? Have you noticed if women who started childless get treated differently after they become pregnant?


  2. Hmmm, it's honestly hard to say. I don't have that big of a sample size and it's very hard to separate what is an unfair or uncontrollable change of perception from others v. a change in that woman herself and what she wants (like how much she wants to work, her long-term plans, etc.). I do think there is an unspoken difference in how people see someone who comes back to work at 3 months full time v. someone who takes the full 9 months to come back, mostly because people then assume you aren't as interested in work and start wondering when you'll announce you're leaving (probably unfairly, but quite a few do leave within a year or two of having a baby). And as an observer, I can tell you there is sometimes a difference in the level of engagement in their work after someone has kids, but that seems to come from that person, not something I'm externally putting on them.

    I haven't seen any difference in perceptions of a full-time working mom v. non-mom. As long as you make it work on your end and show that work is still important to you, I have a hard time believing people will see differently in a way that is negative. They don't in my office, anyway, and I'd like to hope it's true of others.

  3. Oh and as far as my already having a child so people knew what to expect, it makes logical sense, but I'm not sure if it's true in practice. I think a majority of the women who have left my firm have done so after baby #2, so people might be more curious or uncertain of how you'd be after your second instead of your first. Then again, I wasn't here when those women had their first, so maybe the initial shift in what they wanted happened then. Or maybe what they wanted didn't change, but they decided they couldn't have it while working here... Anyway, I think starting out working with a child helped me quite a lot, but I don't think it has made much of a difference in how my co-workers see me then or now after #2.

  4. It's always so good to read these life/work posts. Something I really appreciate and have taken inspiration from is the way your positive attitude really makes a difference. As you say, "It is what it is, and we just try to make it the very best reality it can be." I like that, and I've found it's certainly helped me through law school since beginning to read you blog. As always, thanks LL. :)

    (p.s. just a few months to go for me... February Bar, here I come. Finally... :))

  5. When you write

    "I'm sure that part of my peace with the situation is that I just don't spend much time thinking about it at all. It is what it is, and we just try to make it the very best reality it can be. And truthfully, most of the time, it's pretty great."

    That' really sums up my feeling about the earthquakes we're having here in Christchurch. I don't think about the "What ifs" - the big one came at 3.45am when everyone was in bed and asleep and we all lived through it, and most buildings stayed up. Although others are struggling, it doesn't do to dwell on things that are outside your control. Best to focus on the reality of good.

  6. I'm so glad to hear that you're adjusted to being back at work full-time and that you still get quality time with your kids every day. It sounds like you couldn't ask for a better set up in terms of flexible work schedules, nearby daycare, etc...
    Thank you for the honest perspective on maternity leave at the firm and how people may or may not judge you and your really does help to have someone "on the inside" telling it like they see it.

  7. At least at my firm, which is a really huge biglaw firm, there is no difference between how people view women who come back after the paid leave is over (18 weeks) v. 6 months -- but that is because no one ever comes back right away. It is definitely expected and assumed that people take off the maximum time. Frankly, I think that if people came back after paid leave was up, we'd think that there were other circumstances that caused the person to come back, not just that they were committed to work. Hopefully it becomes more accepted (without unconscious judgment) to take full advantage of leave.

  8. You have such an amazing attitude. I have no kids and I'm not nearly as motivated as you to continue climing up the partership ladder (hence my non-partnership track position). As cheesy as it sounds, you're my role model.

  9. Love your honesty in this post. I'm sure I'll refer back to it in a few months.