Meet one of my best friends, Julie. I met her the day after I moved to Sacramento for law school. We were on our way to an overnight whitewater rafting “bonding” trip with all the new students, and she looked nice enough, so I asked her if I could sit in the empty seat on the bus next to her. We rafted, shared a tent, and got to know each other. And we basically never left each other’s side through the rest of law school. She’s brilliant, hard-working, and she’s one of those moms who always lends a nonjudgmental ear and provides just the right balance of experience-based advice. So as you can imagine, I was thrilled when she agreed to let me kick off my new series of working mom interviews with her. Read on for some of that excellent experience-based advice.
Give me the elevator speech on what you do.
Professionally, I am an attorney for the State [of California]. Specifically, I work for the division that regulates financial institutions (banks, credit unions, money transmitters, etc.). Personally, I’m mom to a five-year-old, two-year-old, and a lab, and I have been married to my husband for eight and a half years.
How has your career changed, if at all, since having kids?
My priorities regarding my career definitely changed. Planning for, and having, kids helped to put into perspective how important it is to have a job that you actually enjoy and coworkers that you like being around 40+ hours a week. I had jobs where one or both of these things weren’t true and I would bring home my dissatisfaction (and sometimes anger). That wasn’t fair to myself or my family. Now, I’m in a position where I enjoy being at work, the people I work with, and I (generally) come home in a good mood!
What has been your greatest career accomplishment?
Related to the previous question, finding my current job has likely been my great accomplishment. When I went into law school, I wanted to be a corporate transactional attorney. But it’s hard to find a job in that field that will also allow you to have regular hours and a sense of work-life balance. Prior to this, I had a job that gave me a lot of flexibility, but it wasn’t the type of work I wanted to be doing. I wasn’t challenged and it was pretty far from corporate transactional work. But I was good at it and could be there for my family whenever I needed. In other words, I was comfortable, but not necessarily happy. I realized that I needed a challenge and to feel like I was actually making a difference in my work. A posting for my current position came up and I jumped at the opportunity. It was a new practice area so I knew the transition would be hard, but it was the right move.
What do you find to be the hardest thing about juggling career and motherhood?
Mommy guilt. It’s almost completely self-imposed. But, man, that guilt can take a toll, especially when your five-year-old is asking why you can’t come in to class at least once a week like so-and-so’s mommy. I have to remind myself and my kids that I have a job other than raising them and that it is an important job that I am proud to have.
How do you and your spouse divide the household/parenting responsibilities?
I work a 9/8/80 schedule where I have every other Friday off. To make that happen, I leave the house by 6:00 am so I can leave work at 4:00 pm and pick up the kids on time. My husband is in charge of mornings. He is generally responsible for everything associated with the kids’ drop-off, including getting breakfasts and lunches together, making sure the kids look semi-put together, and getting out the door early enough for him to drop them off and be at work 30 minutes away by 8:00 am. Our kids are super-early risers so I can usually start getting at least one of the kids ready before I leave. (I just started making freeze-ahead lunches like tortilla roll ups and nut-free butter and jelly sandwiches to take some of the load off of my husband. So far those have worked out well!)
I am in charge of dinner for most of the week. On Sundays, I try to make enough food for at least two or three days. I can usually get something together within 30 minutes for the other days. That is usually about the time my husband gets home. My husband is in charge of figuring out Friday dinners because, by the end of the week, I just don’t want to think about it anymore.
Deep cleans happen on my Fridays off. The day-to-day cleaning is mostly my area of responsibility, only because of my control issues over how I want things cleaned, not because my husband isn’t willing! (But he’s in charge of cleaning up after our dog in the backyard!)
I really feel like we evenly split our parenting responsibilities. Our strengths/weaknesses generally complement each other in this area. Our kids’ personalities are very similar to ours’ (my son is like my husband, and my daughter is like me) so those differences can be beneficial. For example, I tend to butt heads with my son in certain situations where my husband will be more calm and can communicate with him more effectively.
We are both attorneys. We both take our jobs very seriously and do everything we can to encourage each other’s professional endeavors, so that means picking up the slack when the other needs to prioritize work. For example, when I started my current job, I needed to travel for training and my husband didn’t hesitate to do pick up, drop off, dinner, and bedtime. Last year, he even had to take the kids trick-or-treating alone because I was stuck at a three-day training in San Francisco!
If you could do anything differently in terms of being a working mom, what would it be?
I would be more patient with my kids. They are not the reason that I am up before 5:00 am and only home by 5:30 pm. That’s just part of my decision to be a working mom. But, because I’m exhausted, I’m also short-tempered and impatient and I end up becoming really frustrated with them when they aren’t just listening to me the first time I ask them to do something or when they seem bewildered by the fact that they need to put on pajamas and brush their teeth before bed. I have to remember that they’ve had long days too and that they’re just doing what most kids are doing. (“Why are you acting like a five-year-old?! Oh wait…”)
Do you have any advice you would share with other working parents?
We’ve all heard that it takes a village to raise kids. But it’s hard to find your village, especially if you don’t have family nearby. Make a concerted effort to find it, though. It can make a huge difference in your life. Your kids will have a constant non-family presence in their life, and you will have a non-judgmental ear to bend when you need to vent, brag, or get advice.
Also, get a babysitter. Not a family member, either; just a regular babysitter that you trust in your home and with your kids. It took us over five years to do this and my only regret is not doing it sooner.
Finally, take time for yourself and allow your spouse to do the same. We’ve been encouraging each other to go for nights out or weekends away with friends, to go work out, or just to pamper ourselves outside of the house. It’s hard not to feel guilty about being away from your spouse/kids any more than our full-time jobs already require but I think that time away lets me reset and I’m a more patient, attentive mom because of it.