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The Twenty-First Century Mom Lawyer: A Life Without Seams

by Carolyn Elefant on May 10, 2009 · 0 comments

in Work Life Balance, Work/Life Balance & Women

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October 21, 1996 marks the day that I qualified to celebrate Mothers’ Day with the birth of my first daughter, Elana.  Exactly a week to the day of my daughter’s birth, I donned the one non-maternity work skirt that still fit me (albeit with the top button open), slipped a boxy red blazer over my swollen, leaky chest and left Elana in the care of her adoring grandparents so that I could head downtown to give a seminar on A Practitioner’s Guide to Energy Resources on the World Wide Web.  I’d committed to the date months in advance, back when I believed that babies arrived promptly on their designated due dates instead of two full weeks late – and I’d never mentioned my pregnancy or my daughter’s birth to the organizers.  I just wasn’t sure of what to say and feared that they wouldn’t take me seriously or might cancel the event if I let on that I’d just had a baby.  So I showed up on schedule, clad in my lawyer’s uniform which concealed my identity as a new mom.

Today, my behavior seems silly, but for that era, compartmentalization of work life and home life; the professional and personal was common place for lawyer-moms.   Work meant business suits and talking shop, home meant babies and juggling play dates and park outings and other kinds of child-related activities.  Rarely, if ever did the twain meet.

After a few weeks following my daughter’s birth, I realized two things.  First, I simply wasn’t going to be able to leave Elana in anyone’s care full time.  Second, I wasn’t ready to shutter my three year old law practice at a time when I was gaining momentum.   After a month at home, I realized a third – and seemingly obvious thing:  I could do both: stay home and practice law at the same time.  Sure, I’d have to wake up at 5 am to squeeze in an hour of work before my daughter roused, and learn how to one-hand type and to nurse while engaged in a conference call.  I’d have to tweek the nature of my practice to focus more heavily on appeals and regulatory work instead of the unpredictable criminal and litigation matters that demanded face time.   And I’d have to tolerate a messy house and late nights and working weekends while my husband watched our daughter and eventually her sister, but yes, it could be done.  And so I moved from a life of limits, compartmentalized between my lawyer’s suit and my comfy mom sweats to a life without seams.

Twelve years later, the world has changed and for the better.  Where I spent many years wandering alone between the world of the stay-at-home-moms and the full-time moms, today, many more lawyer-moms straddle this now populated intersection.  How we’ve arrived here, I don’t know – certainly, technology has facilitated the seamless life for lawyer-moms, but so too have changing attitudes among women and men about what matters and what’s possible.

Still, I didn’t fully appreciate how much  realize that the world had changed until I ran across this photo of Michelle Obama a few months ago that distills the essence of many of today’s lawyer-moms.  On the one hand, the picture depicts motherhood, with Mrs. Obama comforting her tired young daughter and – likely, silently praying that she doesn’t have some kind of a melt down.  And while of course, Mrs. Obama looks great, she’s also just a little bit dishevilled with her dress hiked up a little bit more than it probably should be.  But there’s another side to Mrs. Obama in this picture as well.  She’s sitting ramrod straight, and there’s a look of intent concentration on her face – you know that if her husband missed a beat in his speech, that Mrs. Obama could leap up to the podium and recite it for him.  Just as the picture depicts Mrs. Obama as a mom, it shows her equally as the consummate professional.

How many times have you used your lawyer voice on the phone while making funny faces to keep your three year old quiet?  Or pecked out a winning brief on the keyboard, while feeding the baby with your other hand?  In those moments, we are, emphatically, lawyers, but we’re just as emphatically moms.  We can’t peel those pieces apart anymore than we can cut our hearts in two.  And what’s best about today’s world, is that perhaps, we no longer have to make that choice.

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