Category Archives: Dilemma Diary

A running account of my daily struggle to figure out the answer to the full-time/part-time/SAHM dilemma.

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly: What Working Moms Really Think About Stay-At-Home-Moms

Over the past two years I’ve been debating the pros and cons of being a stay at home mom or stay at work mom and have picked the brains of countless other working moms who have already waded through this dilemma or are currently struggling with it themselves.

Here’s what working moms had to say (based on my formal interviews of moms-at-large and casual chats with friends), including the good, the bad and unfortunately, even the ugly:

The Good

SAHMs have it the best.

  • “She’s so lucky she can spend time with her kids.”
  • “She’s so lucky she can afford to stay at home.”
  • “She has the best life and doesn’t even have to work.”

SAHMs are the true working moms.

  • “I don’t know how she can stay at home with the kids 24/7.”
  • “I couldn’t stay home with my kids – I’d go insane.”
  • “I don’t want to stay at home.  I like working and I need a break from my kids.”

The Bad

SAHMs should be doing more since they have so much free time.

  • “She’s a stay-at-home-mom so of course she has the time to exercise.”
  • “Let’s have the stay-at-home-mom do the research for our group trip.  The rest of us are working and don’t have the time.”
  • “Why wouldn’t she do [X]?  She doesn’t work.”

 SAHMs are cop outs.

  • “I can’t believe she wasted her [X] degree to be a stay-at-home-mom.”
  • “She’s just a stay-at-home-mom.”

The Ugly

SAHMs don’t have the right to complain. 

  • “She has no idea what it’s like to manage a family and a life:  she’s a stay-at-home mom.”
  • “Why does she have problems with [X]?  She doesn’t have anything to worry about except playdates.”
  • “Her kids should be better behaved.  I mean, she spends all that time with them.”
  •  “Why is she so unhappy?  She doesn’t have to work.  Her life is so easy.”

Today’s Verdict:  Hung jury.  Staying at home or staying at work, having kids is a full time job.

Can a Working Mother Be a Good Mother?

That is the question.

Most parents lashed out at Rahna Reiko Rizzuto when she confessed that she left her children in order to pursue her own dreams and find herself after five years of motherhood.  Readers practically flayed her on the stake, condemning her for choosing herself over her children.  Was it really necessary to accuse her of being “worse than Hitler“?  Does being a good mother really mean we have to give up being ourselves, sacrificing our identities at all costs?

Read my take in today’s Salt & Nectar Guest Post “The Good Mother:  Selfless or Selfish?

Enjoy my post and a great blog from the two lovely lawyer moms, Sarah Stewart Holland & Sarah Pahnke Reisert, at Salt & Nectar!

Why I Like Being a Lawyer

My last post was about “Why I Don’t Like Being a Lawyer.”

In the interest of fairness, here’s what I do like about being part of the profession, alongside quotes from the “classic” movie Clueless to help make my points.  (I know I said that film portrayals of lawyers are completely inaccurate, but arguing out of both sides of my mouth comes naturally).

  • Lawyers, judges, law enforcement – or anyone really – don’t intimidate me. Having done everything from conducting criminal grand jury investigations to winning showdowns with pompous, blow hard civil litigators twice my age and half as qualified, to me the legal system is not the abstract mystery that most laymen regard with cautious curiosity.  Plus, I know I can usually argue my way into or out of anything – including returning the Dior sunglasses that have been sitting in my trunk for over a year to the store, no questions asked.

Mel (Cher’s father): You mean to tell me that you argued your way from a C+ to an A-? 
Cher:
Totally based on my powers of persuasion, you proud?
Mel:
Honey, I couldn’t be happier than if they were based on real grades.

  • I like being my own boss. As much as I complain about life as a working mom in my Dilemma Diary, it sure beats punching the clock and having someone dictate when I take my breaks and for how long.  Even though the  job is 24/7 , if I need three hours to hit the Neiman Marcus Midday Dash or go home to see my kids, no one will bother me as long as I meet my deadlines and am taking care of business (whenever that might be).

Cher I felt impotent and out of control. Which I really, really hate.

  • It’s nice to be part of a traditional “profession.” I enjoy being part of a *somewhat still* respected occupation.  So the profession still suffers from an Old Boys’ Club syndrome, but being part of something that has roots steeped in rituals and rites from days of yore makes you feel like you’re a part of something more.

Josh (Cher’s ex-stepbrother): Do you have any idea what you’re talking about? 
Cher: No. Why, does it sound like I do?

  • Most people are afraid of me. Say you’re a lawyer and no one will mess with you.  Period.

Cher: Daddy’s a litigator. Those are the scariest kinds of lawyers. Even Lucy, our maid, is terrified of him.  He’s so good he gets paid five hundred dollars an hour just to fight with people, but he fights with me for free ’cause I’m his daughter.

  • It pays. Okay, not every attorney earns six figures, but chances are if you wanted to, you would be able find good paying work as a lawyer.  And if all else failed, you more than likely would be able to parlay your skills into another decent career and still bring home some sizeable bacon.

Josh: I was thinking about looking into environmental law.
Mel: Why? You want to have a frustrating and miserable life?
Cher: Oh, Josh will have that no matter what he does.

  • You can make a difference. Sometimes you’re keeping the streets safer; sometimes you’re saving the environment, a company or a life; and many times you are fighting for what’s right and making it happen.  That’s a powerful reward in and of itself.

Cher: It’s like that book I read in the 9th grade that said “’tis a far far better thing doing stuff for other people.”

Today’s verdict: It’s too soon to throw in the towel.  (And I clearly need to grow up and out of the 90′s).

Why I Don’t Like Being a Lawyer

Just when I thought I was achieving some sort of work-life balance, or at least getting over some of my working mom guilt, opposing counsel reminded me today why I don’t like being a lawyer.  Forget my dilemma whether to be a SAHM or stay in the workforce:  today’s encounter makes me rethink my whole decision to stick with a legal career period.

Dealing with an East Coast (insert explicative here) lawyer on the phone and in e-mails over the past few days, I have had the distinct pleasure of of being yelled at, belittled, spoken to in condescending tones, called a liar and anything else unpleasant you can possibly imagine.  I’m a civil litigator, so I suppose occasional run-ins with (insert same explicative here) attorneys is just part of my job.  But my tolerance for these discourteous exchanges is wearing thin.

Yes, you could say that as a litigator, I am paid to argue with – even yell at – people, but the best lawyers know that civility trumps rudeness and pettiness in the long run.  All of my mentors have practiced this way and I, myself, subscribe to the same philosophy.  The problem is you can’t pick your opponents.  You hope that you’ll be paired against a worthy adversary, but more often than not you are faced with a pompous idiot who wants to argue until he’s blue in the face.

On days like today, I think of all the other things that I would be happy doing instead of sitting at my desk on the receiving end of some ridiculous, infantile rant to which my recent opponents are so often prone:  editing, writing, designing, decorating, running my own stationery business.  All of these other professions would still allow me to be a role model to Jane, even though technically, I might not be a “professional.”  With all the career choices available to women nowadays, who’s to say that being a doctor or a lawyer is a far superior career than any other.  I do enjoy being part of a traditional “profession,” but perhaps not enough to keep at it.  At least not in my current role.

Today’s Verdict: Quit altogether.

See Jane Go To Work

Today, while Jane and I were playing quietly in her room and Sam napped in his room next door, Jane matter of factly picked up her Tweety Bird Easter basket from last year, slung it over her shoulder like a purse, and stated,

I’m going to work.  I gotta go to the ofsup [aka office].  See you later.  You stay home.  I’ll be back!

Then she turned on her heels and left me staring at the empty doorway.

Childhood mimicking blows my mind sometimes.

My first emotion after Jane left the room was sadness for my poor little girl who has known me to leave her every weekday since she was 14 weeks old.  Then I felt guilt for not staying at home with her.  (And then more guilt for feeling guilty when I know I’m supposed to stop feeling guilty for everything).  And then I felt what might best be described as disgust for the whole situation and perhaps a little resentment over the fact that I even have to choose between my career and being a full-time mom to my kids.

But when Jane returned to the room with her Tweety Bird “briefcase” and smiled,

“I’m back.  I’m home now!  I went to the ofsup.  I love you!”

and gave me a big hug and kiss, I felt proud.

Holding her Tweety briefcase, Jane had an air of confidence and the look of someone who knows who she is.  She walked with a purpose and beamed with self-assuredness.  Best of all, she looked happy.  And that made me happy.

For one, I was happy to know that she has a professional role model.  But most importantly, I was happy that leaving her every day has not been the death of her – and might even be an inspiration.

Her play acting reinforced to me that not only has she accepted the daily routine of our lives, but that she also knows Mommy has another – equally important – identity besides being a mom to her and her brother.  She sees that I am not a one-dimensional person:  sometimes Mommy stays home to play, sometimes Mommy takes time out to play with her friends, and sometimes Mommy goes to work.

Today’s verdict: Being able to provide my daughter with a multi-faceted female role model is satisfying enough to assuage my working mom’s guilt for the time-being.  Whether I need to set this type of example while Jane is only 2 and Sam is not yet 1 years old is a question I’ll leave for another day.

The Case for the Stay At Home (not to be confused with the Stay At Home Mom)

I’m determined not to sound whiny – especially after Hubby’s comment about some of my Dilemma Diary posts – but really, working part-time is both a blessing and a curse.  It’s great when your home life is going swimmingly and you don’t have deadlines falling all around you, but quite the opposite when you have sick kids, a sick nanny, a sick husband work deadlines right and left.

As a rule, childcare is short on the days you’re supposed to be home and not working (but need to be) and the days you’ve designated for the office are cut short by this or that from the home front.  As a mom, you’re the one (at least I am) who has to leave later in the morning and take care of the kids before work and the one who has to come home early to let the nanny go and take care of the kids before bed.

Plus, if you’re as lucky as I am to have a daughter who loves you so much that she won’t let her Daddy put her to bed on nights you want a break (read with sarcasm), you can’t log on to continue your work until 9 p.m.  And if you do manage to do so, you’ll be in bed at midnight, only to be woken up periodically by screaming children, and then struggle to fall asleep for an hour and wake up at some obscene hour to start the same day over again.  Forget just being more tired than the previous day (when you thought you couldn’t possibly get more tired) – try being infinitely more in the hole at work and infinitely worse at the doomed, desperate scramble to get out.

Yes, in the scheme of life, it ain’t so bad.  I have two healthy kids, a partner, a home, a job with a nice paycheck.  I have the luxury of grumbling, as it were.  But I make no claims to comparing myself to someone in actual dire straits.  I’m comparing myself to the imagined Wonder Mom who I admittedly foolishly think exists:  she is never tired, never burdened by work, financial or child-related woes, and lives a peaceful, unblemished existence . . . somewhere in an alternate universe, of course.

So, today’s verdict: Forget the decision whether to be a SAHM (Stay at Home Mom) or a working mom.  I’ve decided.  I want to be a Stay at Home (SAH).  You know, a SAHM, but without the responsibilities of having children . . .

(blissful daydreaming for six uninterrupted minutes, aka .1)

. . . now back to work before it’s time to go home and pick up the kids.

(That was a little whiny, wasn’t it?).

Lawyers on Film

It always amazes and amuses me how lawyers are portrayed — or rather, mis-portrayed — in the movies.  It’s what makes the legal profession so exciting to laymen, but we lawyers know it’s not even a tenth as outrageous a job as the exaggerated cinematic depictions.  (At least mine isn’t).

Case in point:  as an alternative to our Nightly Ritual, Hubby and I watched The Social Network.   The second year associate at the muckety-muck big law firm, played by Rashida Jones, confides in Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) after his deposition that in her twenty months of practice as a voir dire specialist at the firm, she can tell him how a jury will react to his side of the story.  She then sagely advises, based on that twenty months of practice, that he should settle the case.

“Voir dire specialist?” Hubby and I questioned in unison.

” She must have meant document review specialist.”  (We chuckled at our clever insider joke).

That’s when I realized that 1) we are law geeks and 2) it is sort of cool to be part of a profession.  You’re in on something that you think the rest of the world knows about, but really only a small percentage of people understand.

Today’s verdict: Maybe I should keep practicing.  At least I’ll have something to laugh about.

The Nightly Ritual

Trying to have a conversation with my husband about what to do:  continue working part-time, move to a “balanced” schedule, go back full-time, or quit completely and be a stay at home mom, feels like walking through a molasses swamp.  Each step is painfully slow and laborious and we inevitably get stuck on this topic or that before ever being able to see our way to an answer one way or the other.

The conversation has been going for months and we’re not any closer to figuring out the answer as a unit as we were when we first started the discussion.  For one, we can only talk about it when neither of us is working and when we’re not tag-teaming the children, leaving us a small window between 9-10 at night, which isn’t exactly the ideal time to talk about anything.  And two, it’s anxiety provoking to wade through all the options right before bedtime when we’d much rather spend our 30 minutes of precious downtime watching Netflix’ed 30 Rock episodes.

The nightly scenario goes something like this:

Hubby pressing the mute button on the t.v. remote, “Have you thought about what you want to do with your job?

Me looking up from my laptop, “Yeah.” I continue Internet surfing.

“What do you want to do?”  Hubby fiddles with the remote, getting ready to press the volume button.

Me:  “Well, I think we need to come up with a flowchart that shows all the different options we have, how they affect us financially and what the timeline is for each option.”

I think that’s called a matrix,” Hubby corrects me.  “Not a flowchart. Yeah, we need a matrix.”  Hubby un-mutes the television.  I go back to the Internet.

Tonight’s version was basically all of the above, ending this time with, “Well, let me know if you quit your job.  Or decide and then blog about it and let me know when the post is ready for me to read.

Tonight’s verdict: Still undecided.  (Back to surfing the Internet).

The Fear

I complained to my Hubby Sunday night about my writer’s block for the mediation brief I blogged about trying to write on Sunday.

His response:  “You don’t have The Fear.”

The Fear?”

Thoughts of one of my favorite teenybopper flicks, Fear, starring a young Mark Wahlberg and even younger-looking Reese Witherspoon (both pre-stratospheric stardom), came to mind.

Further clarification: The Fear.”

Maybe he’s referencing Lily Allen’s lyrics lambasting materialism in The Fear?  That doesn’t make sense.  (But it’s still a great song).

Hubby:  “It’s what keeps me going at work all day long.  If I’m not good — make that damn good — at what I do everyday, I’ll lose my job.  That’s The Fear.  And you don’t have it.

Then he added (in pedagogic tone),

You should produce your best work product everyday.”

Hearing this instantly ignited my “Aaaahhh!” response.  Don’t tell me something I already know.

This is probably the worst part about working part-time and working at all, for that matter, when you have young children.

For part-timers, you have shorter office hours and/or days, so you try to squeeze in as much as you can in as little time possible.  As Hubby would say, “Those days are your ‘work days,’ and you just jam it all in during the day and after the kids go to bed at night.”  It’s a great plan – in theory.

But running at full steam on the designated work days only works when you’re firing on all cylinders, or at least most of them.  When you’re scraping by on only fumes, it’s all you can do to stay awake in front of the computer screen and remember to state your appearance correctly during a Court Call.

It’s not only the lack of sleep, but the lack of focus and motivation that comes with it.  In a totally zapped mental state, you are expected to function like Joe and Tom sitting in the offices to your left and right.  Not only is this impossible, but it makes you tear your hair out.

Good thing I have an office and am not in a cube , so I can keep my self-reprimanding moments private:  “Focus!” or “Stop!” when my mind wanders or “No!” when I reach for my iPhone for a diversionary game of Words with Friends or Memory.  (Although, Memory has been getting a lot harder lately).

I know I used to have The Fear, but I don’t think I know what it is anymore – at least in the sense that I used to.  In the numb haze my life and mind have become, The Fear doesn’t have the same intensity.  And having been blessed with the faults of procrastination and sloth, living without The Fear is virtually not living.  No motivation has me drifting aimlessly through day after day.

Maybe subconsciously, I’ve worked to erase The Fear because I want to get laid off.  Goodbye handheld device, goodbye Outlook calendar, goodbye billable hour!  And goodbye worrying about staying on top of my game when it has become perfectly evident that I’ve slipped.  In this fantasy, I am 100% mom, 100% happy.

That’s the key word:  fantasy.  It’s not just unreal because it’s not my life, but because I can’t fathom the idea of not being a lawyer anymore.  As much as I want to be a full-time mom, no work hassles involved, would I be happy as “just” a mom?  What would this new identity be like and would I like it?  My mind reels with the unanswered questions and worrying about whether I could take that leap when I’ve always thought I would be a career mom, working full-time, setting an example for my kids and conquering the world.

Back to Hubby’s comment:  Okay, maybe I don’t have The Fear.  But, that’s not to say I’ve completely lost the will to be my best and succeed.  Now something else has the power to motivate me to give 100 percent (or as much as I can muster) instead of The Fear.  Something I didn’t have before that pushes me to succeed because those two little ones’ very existence depends on me.  I don’t need The Fear.  I have The Love.

Today’s verdict: Hung jury.

Another Working Sunday

It’s a dreary, rainy Sunday morning and here I sit at my desktop trying to write a draft of a mediation brief that should have been completed a week ago.  I left the house half an hour ago with my toddler clinging around my neck, begging me not to go, and my infant staring at me and silently judging (I’m sure of this), “what kind of mother leaves her children at home on a Sunday, especially when we can’t even get out to play!” (critical gaze turns to scowl).  Looking at the clock, I have just wasted .3, logging on to this blog, memorializing the bleak landscape of my desk in a photograph, and typing not the brief, but this post.  I suppose I can’t bill for this – well, at least not ethically, and probably not legally.  “Minus point three.”

I really should get cracking, but my mind turns to my never-ending dilemma:  should I keep working part-time, go back to full-time or just quit the law game completely?

“Part-time” seems to mean you’re part lawyer, part mom, but never whole of either.

Your colleagues at work – mine all happen to be male – say they admire your ability to juggle both, but they are really thinking:  “When is she going to quit?” and “Can I really count on her?.

Your children know that you’re not there everyday when they want you to be.  When you are with them, you have to resort (sometimes for hours) to the television babysitter so you can hastily take care of a filing or send a flurry of urgent e-mails.

And, your constantly plagued heart wishes you didn’t have to be split in two.

It’s especially hard when you’re A-type (well at least about work!) and you can’t stomach churning out anything less than stellar work product.  It isn’t just your professional reputation at stake, but your own sense of self-worth.

Growing up in a household where the response to an A on a test was “where’s the ‘plus’?“, not being on top of my game kills me.  But motherhood has thrown me for a loop:  do I want to spend every last fiber in my body obtaining a multi-million dollar victory for our client  . . . or . . .  do I want to take my toddler puddle-jumping on this beautifully rainy day?

As I sit here today,” I cannot make this either/or decision.  I want both.  (I think).  But as far as my experience informs me, both is not possible.  And I have yet to meet a mom who has told me otherwise.

So here I sit, .7 in the hole, in the middle of my working mom dilemma.  Babies waiting for me.  Client waiting for the brief.  (Husband not waiting for anything from me, as he has given up on expecting anything after two years of patiently waiting for my sanity to make its encore appearance).  And me, waiting for some kind of final judgment.

Update:  much to my pleasant surprise, Hubby showed up with Jane and Sam at my “ofsup”!

I did get to take Jane puddle-jumping.

 

Puddle-jumping in the office parking lot

Today’s Verdict: Affirmed; I need to stay at home with my babies.