Dealing with the Guilt

I thought that lawyer/mothers today were over Mommy Guilt.  Nearly forty years ago, when I was in my first years as a practicing lawyer and simultaneously welcomed my first child to the world, I made a critical decision not to deal with the guilt that I knew could come my way.  I loved my work, and I also loved my husband, my child and the second child who followed two years later.  I may have been mad about some of the circumstances that required me to choose between office and home, but I did not feel guilty about having to choose.  I essentially had two jobs, and I was confident that I could do both.  When, at one point it became clear that billable hours and toddlers did not mix well, I did not experience guilt.  I left private practice and went into the public sector for a number of years.  And when it became doable again, I returned to private practice.  I had the power to work it out without giving in to guilt.

So when I read this article about the pressures on mommy/lawyers to feel guilty, it was disappointing. I thought we were over it.  Although I understand the feelings of the author and respect those feelings, I also see so much guilt on and between the lines of that article.  And that is exactly why I encourage you to read it.  You will identify with the conflicting emotions expressed there and you will understand how common those emotions are when you experience them.  But, hopefully, you also will see the danger of giving guilt the power that seems to be looming and ready to strike for this author.

Here is my message to you:  Guilt from your dual roles as lawyer and mother has no place in your life.  Anger, frustration, fatigue —- those things are to be expected when you are burning the candle at both ends and trying to be all things to all people.  All of those emotions are justified.  Who wants to miss her 6 year-old’s birthday party to be in the office doing trial prep with the team?  Certainly not me, but it happened.  Who wants to be in the hospital with a very sick toddler and taking calls from the office about getting bills out?  Most certainly not me.  But it happened.  And the list goes on.  Those same kinds of things will happen to you also even though workplaces today have progressed measurably in terms of humanity.  (Not to the point of perfection, but surely there has been measurable progress.)

So, expect conflicting emotions.  Just don’t feel guilty about them and don’t let others make you feel guilty.  I am grateful that neither of my children nor my husband ever tried to make me feel guilty about the missed opportunities.  But I also was very careful not to give them the power to make me feel guilty.  All they needed to know was that mommy had two jobs.  At the preschool, when my daughter was asked why her mommy was always “dressed up” when she collected the kids at the end of the day, my daughter’s response was that her mommy was a “worker person.”  She knew I was OK with it.  So she was OK with it.

Recently I had a discussion with one of my lawyer/mentees about her experiences as the mother of a pre-schooler.  In her situation, like mine as a working mother so many years ago, she is in the minority, and it can be challenging.  She cannot volunteer at the school to the same degree as other moms, and she is sure it is sometimes a topic of discussion.  But she deals with it well because she loves to work.  She loves her job, and she is clear that her two jobs define her in a way that gives her satisfaction and pride.  I felt her strength and knew that she was moving in the right direction.

As a lawyer/mother you deserve job satisfaction just as much as family satisfaction.  And you are capable of handling both —- without the guilt.





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