Law360 (October 21, 2020, 5:13 PM EDT) -- The COVID-19 pandemic has left lawyer parents trying to do their jobs while caring for their children. In this two-part series, a husband and wife, both practicing attorneys, candidly share what it looks like to balance responsibilities while working from home.
"See ya in two weeks," I said to one of my colleagues in March.
Saying I was wrong is an understatement. The colleague and I haven't seen each other since March 15, except via video chat.
Just like so many lawyers, I've been home working full time since the start of the pandemic, with no return-to-the-office date set. During the pandemic, I've also been full-time mom-ing, wife-ing and dog mom-ing, too. And I'm tired — bone tired. So tired, I feel like Saturdays are Tuesdays and I long for the days that snack and water cups will refill themselves.
When Law360 reached out to me to write a day-in-the-life piece about what it meant to practice law full-time, in addition to being a mom full-time, I had to ask if they really wanted me to be honest — because if you're a parent or a caregiver plus a lawyer reading this right now, you're probably bone tired, too.
Just before the pandemic hit — in what feels like a lifetime ago — I wrote a piece for Above the Law in a series sponsored by a lawyer-moms group called MothersEsquire. I went back to that piece as I sat down to write this one, just for fun, to see what life before the pandemic was like. This excerpt feels like something out of a movie:
We used to live in a world where family time, work time and playtime were separate. Where self-care existed and I didn't have to plan time to be alone. It's hard to think back to that time, especially when I think about a typical day now.
To set the stage, at home with me now is my daughter Ruth, who turned 1 a week into the quarantine; my husband, who is also a lawyer-parent; and our almost 3-year-old pup Teddy. It's a full house.
Here's what a typical day looks like.
Alarm goes off. "Do I work out or catch up on the emails I didn't send yesterday and try and get some doc review done?" Document review wins, no workout today. It's two hours before my old work start time.
"Do ba da di hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi. Ma Ma. Hi hi hi hi." Ruth's up. Time to grab her from her crib.
I'm not the normal morning parent — my work schedule prepandemic had me out the door by 5:50 a.m. with Teddy so I could drop him off for his 6:00 a.m. walk and hop the train downtown.
My commute was an hour long and I would get to work by 7:00 a.m. My husband was the morning parent — the dress-her-up-in-cute-clothes-and-take-her-to-day-care dad.
Now it's the parent who isn't already buried in work that grabs her. Ruth's dad is preparing for a trial, so today I'm the least-deep-in-work parent.
It's when my old work time would start.
"More, more, more, more." Time for breakfast, but the blueberry waffles she wanted the last four days weren't the right choice today, Mama! After four different breakfast options, I finally pick the right one and it's time for our family walk. These walks bookend our day: one in the morning and one in the evening. I would have normally been in the office for 90 minutes by now — surely getting caught up on emails and digging deep into doc review or responding to an inquiry from a client.
Following our 30-minute jaunt outside, it's time for some morning play. Ru's dad has a major trial coming up — the first one he gets to first chair, a big deal for a young attorney. We've shifted our "Ru-care" to help with that — so we kiss Da Da bye and head in for play, but not before we grab snack number one and, of course, our water cup!
I would have been at work for two hours by now—that client inquiry done and countless pages reviewed.
Morning — and most — play occurs in our converted living room. We moved from one side of our neighborhood to the other a couple months before the pandemic. Our new house is a lot bigger than the old one and we didn't have a formal living room in the other house — so who needs one! We've got a ball pit tunnel, jumper, teatime table and countless other fun things for a one-year-old instead. I worked extra to get the bigger house, with the formal living room, and it's now riddled with toys. It's also situated between our two home workspaces — which provides easier access to Ruth and means someone is always with her when she's in there.
By now, I'd be three hours into my old workday.
I may regret putting this into writing, but Ruth is the best sleeper. Literally. She was still taking two, two-hour naps per day until a little while ago. After morning play, she goes down for two hours or so. I get back to work.
I login, catch up on emails, apologize for my tardiness, pray I haven't missed a meeting and attempt to get everything done I'd do in three hours, in two. All the while praying I don't hear, "Do ba da di hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi. Ma Ma. Hi hi hi hi" — thinking, "just five more minutes, just two more documents, just, just, just."
When asked if she wanted tuna for lunch, like the last three days: "Yeah, yeah, yeah." But, you guessed it, today isn't tuna day. We only needed two lunch options before peanut butter became acceptable. I miss having my own lunch options and talking about things other than "Daniel Tiger," the "Wheels on the Bus" — current favorite, and other singalongs. Oops, I zoned out.
Six hours into my old routine.
Afternoon playtime, with a twist (read: bribe). "Want to watch singalongs?" Code for: You can have screen time if you just let me do a little work! I swore before Ruth that I would never be the parent who bribes her kids, who lets them watch TV, or eat snacks whenever they want.
The pandemic broke me — and "Daniel Tiger" is catchy, y'all. I quickly draft a joint status report in a case, email my pro bono mentor a question about a different case and send my boss an update on the status of another one. Thanks for the 15 minutes of work time, Prince Tuesday; I owe you.
Back in our makeshift preschool/playroom, it's story time. Story time for Ruth is asking me to read the same book five times in a row or asking me to read the first three pages of five different books. Today it was the former.
Internally, I'm starting to panic that I haven't checked my emails in 30 minutes — what if my boss emailed me and needs something ASAP?
Seven hours into my old work routine.
Afternoon nap, praise be.
Back online, catching up. I managed to do my case update sheet, finish up the document review I should have done last week and make changes to a memo from another colleague.
"Do ba da di hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi. Ma Ma. Hi hi hi hi."
I'd be commuting home to get Ruth from day care in my old work routine.
The next couple hours are kind of a blur consisting of a family walk, rejected dinners, screaming during bath time and bedtime.
It's now 7 p.m. I've worked about 5.5 hours so far today.
Not the worst day I've had in the pandemic, but definitely difficult. I don't have any meetings tonight for the nonprofit board I sit on, my pro bono cases are all pending decisions and all my bar association-related work is somehow caught up. So, I sit down to complete the remaining hours for work and pray that I can make it to bed before 11 p.m. tonight.
My agency has been great during the pandemic. My supervisor allows us to telework, I can preselect my daily start time and there are a lot of options in selecting my daily work schedule. The flexibility has saved me as an attorney in this pandemic.
If you've read this far and are a supervisor of attorneys, or anyone really, I want to implore you to check on your employees and to have grace — everyone is navigating this differently. There are days where I feel like I'm drowning. I feel completely inadequate as a parent; have no idea how I'm supposed to actually help my child learn like her day care teachers are trained to; and am afraid to continue to ask for more challenging work and bigger cases because I've got a child at home who threw a tantrum because she didn't bite her elephant animal cracker the right way.
Lawyer-parents are overwhelmed, overworked and just barely keeping their heads above water. At least that's how I feel.
To illustrate, I normally keep both my work and personal email inboxes at zero. I haven't been at zero with either since March.
I have anxiety attacks before I take my daughter to her pediatrician checkups because I'm afraid she's not being enriched enough at home to hit her milestones.
I am scared that every single thing I've worked for both personally and professionally — every big case, leadership role, parent win, etc. — is going to fail or be taken away because I can't keep all of the balls in the air.
The pandemic has taught me so much more about work-life separation, but none of us can do it right now.
I will be clear in that I count myself as a lucky one — I've got family help, my daughter is honestly a really great baby, my boss and workplace are extremely accommodating — but I am still drowning. I'm still scared. I'm still worried I'm not going to remember how to lawyer and be a mom after this — because I feel like I've just been a mom-lawyer.
So please, be patient with your colleague who has their kid on screen during your case status update or staff meeting; it's likely because their kid wouldn't stop having a meltdown until they could wave at you.
Be patient with us as we get discovery out to you or respond to your settlement requests.
Be patient as we decline the social invites to meet up with you because we either can't find a babysitter or because we just hit our second trimester and our doctor said not to.
We are trying. Know that we are. Know that we are working long after our kids go to bed and long before they wake up. Know that we are balancing the constant need for a snack or water with your request or client inquiry. Know that we are trying to set an example for our kids so they only see strong, resilient people. But also know that we are scared, we feel like we are failing, and we need a little grace now and again.
We'll all get through this pandemic, but the effects on lawyer-parents will last through their entire careers. Make sure your interactions with them are supportive, understanding and full of grace. It may be the only support and grace they get that day.
Josephine Bahn is a senior attorney at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. She is also the secretary of the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division and will chair the division in 2022-2023.
The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Portfolio Media Inc. or any of its respective affiliates. The article was written in the individual's capacity and not on behalf of, or reflecting, the employer. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.
For a reprint of this article, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.