Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lawyer Wives

I've experienced a fair number of changes in title recently.  No longer a lawyer.  No longer employed.  New stay at home mom.  And I now have yet another designation:  lawyer wife.  I may have escaped "biglaw," but I can't say the same for my husband. 

My husband and I were married in September of 2006.  We met on the first day of law school, and eventually became study partners.  He got better grades than me in almost every class, but I didn't mind too much.  The rest is history.  Ours is a quintessential law school love story.

Our careers followed similar paths for a long time, going from one big firm to another.  He does corporate law, and I did litigation, but there was still a mutual understanding of what the other was doing, and the associated stresses involved - billable hour requirements, juggling multiple projects, and balancing work and family.  Once we had kids, my work was scaled back as I went part time.  And thanks to the economic downturn, my husband enjoyed pretty regular hours for the first year or so of our first son's life.   

Slowly but surely my husband's regular schedule started to change. My friends, I don't care what the economists say, the downturn is over.  At the same time, I am now home.  All. Day. Long.  My husband and I have both gone to opposite extremes - him working like crazy, and me not working at all.  This will all eventually become part of my new normal.  But right now, it is taking some getting used to.

Now I can't blame his firm entirely.  After all, when work picks up and clients start calling again, that is a good thing.  And the people he works with are very understanding and flexible.  But my husband  is a workaholic.  Like me, he can't seem to turn it off (I have more than once thought of throwing his blackberry out a window).  And even when he has to be at the office into the wee hours before a closing, he likes it.  He may not admit it outright, but he does.  He's weird like that.

Since I have left my job, his long hours have hit much closer to home, literally.  If you are a parent, you know when the witching hour comes.  Usually by around 4:00 pm.  This is when you look at your kids, cranky and demanding, and think, "It's a good thing that you're cute."  And by that point, if you have been flying solo all day, you are exhausted, hungry, and bored.  All you want is a break - even if just for a few minutes.  That study you read about kids watching too much tv goes out the window.  At this point, you are just getting by... biding your time until freedom comes your way - bedtime.

It is at the beginning of this witching hour that I make the initial call to my husband's office.  It is always the same, with me asking, "What's the deal?"

Now his response can go one of three ways:

1) It will be a late one - and he tells me this with certainty.  My response is usually, "Are you serious?" (with look of disgust).  In this case, I give up all hope of him making it home before the kids' bedtime and I resign myself for another solid 4 hours of kid duty.  I consider making an exception to my rule that I can only have wine one weeknight a week.

2) He will be leaving early.  This is rare, but very exciting.  Granted, he still has a 45 minute commute, but in the best of circumstances, he can be home for dinner and put at least one kid to bed.  My mood lightens and I even consider cooking. 

3) This is probably the worst of the three.  He says he doesn't know.  He says he has a 4:30 call that should probably only be an hour, and perhaps he can leave shortly after that.  So around 5:30, I await his call.  By 5:45, I am emailing him with my standard line:  "What's the deal?"  Sometimes a response comes immediately, and it is rarely good.  "Call going longer than planned."  Other times, I don't get a response for a while, giving me time to stew, and stew, and stew.  The result is generally the same as option 1, but much worse, since I had a glimmer of hope of evening childcare assistance, only to be sorely disappointed.  I consider ordering Dominoes.

I try to be understanding, because I do understand.  I understand far too well.  To the point that my stress level correlates directly with my husband's workload.  Every Sunday, I will ask questions like:  Do you have a closing this week?  When is your all hands call scheduled for?  How many junior associates are staffed on your deal?  Because I know how these answers will affect my family dinners for the week.    

But we make it work.  Last Wednesday was a night that fell into category #3- but with a good outcome.  We pushed dinner back, and my husband was home by 6:30.  He had his blackberry next to his plate at dinner, and the blue tooth remained in his ear all night, with him fielding a few phone calls.  But he was there. 

That night I was nursing my infant son to sleep, while my husband was with my toddler who was sitting on the potty.  We are in the midst of potty training hell, but we are getting there.  From the next room, it literally sounded like he was coaching someone giving birth.  "Push!  You can do it!  You're almost there!"  And then cheering...  I laughed out loud from the dark nursery across the hall, so happy that despite his crazy work schedule, he was still here for these moments.  We'll take him as much as we can get him.

19 comments:

  1. This post sounds so familiar. My wife is exactly like this -- on most days at least. I do understand how boring it can get at times. I take care of our son during weekends when my wife wants some time for herself, and sometimes I just run out of ideas on what to do (and I'm only doing it on weekends!). I can imagine how tough it could be to do it everyday.

    Just because of this post, I'll try to go home early tonight!

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  2. I can totally relate. That's a wonderful story about the potty training coaching. I know you didn't ask for advice, but I'm going to give it anyway: babyswapping. I go nuts without it, and the days when my daughter is gone for a few hours I relish every moment with her. Mostly.

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  3. Thank you so much for this blog. I am about to quit my job to stay at home. I have a PhD and so does my husband, and it's hard to give it up but my daughter is so dang cute. I truly appreciate your posts. It helps me peak into my future before I encounter it head on.

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  4. My husband will be the stay at home dad (and working on his side business) while I will be the one working in big law. I hope I will be able to come by 7:30pmish every night to have dinner with the family. This post scares me (I'm currently a federal clerk right now and haven't worked big law yet save that one summer which didn't even count).

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  5. Why do people work like this? I really feel for you - for all of the reasons previous commenters have given - and I hope you and your husband will continue finding ways to make it work. I am a Fed lawyer and I often think of making the switch to BigLaw (ah, the appeal of those $$$), but then I read things like this and cry a little bit. I just don't know how so many people in this town work like that.

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  6. Hi! Stopping by from MBC. Great blog.
    Have a nice day!

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  7. I just did a search of "stay at home mom lawyer" on google to see if anything came up, and I found your blog. It is SO great to read, as I am in a similar situation. I worked for one year (fed gov) as a lawyer before starting my family, but, unlike you, I am married to a Marine officer. We had our first daughter, then moved, and two years later had our second. We are now getting ready to move overseas. My decision to stay at home has mostly to do with the fact that I wanted to be with my kids, but also is in large part due to the fact that we keep moving, and I'm not barred in any of these new places. My husband has 5 more years left in the Marine Corps, and then I will go back to work, and he will stay at home. At that point, though, it will have been 7 years since I have practiced, with only one year of professional experience and nothing legal-related in between. Needless to say, I'm scared to death of the prospect of trying to find a job. Anyway, all to say, I will continue to follow your post as there seems to be no one that understands what it feels like to be in this situation. My husband was filling out one of our mandatory overseas forms recently, and he said,"should I put attorney as your profession?" I said, "no, just leave it blank...."

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  8. I actually stopped asking my husband when he'd be home, I pretty much plan on the fact that I'll do dinner, bath, and bedtime by myself and then if he does get home, it's a nice surprise.

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  9. i keep waiting for the post where you explain how lucky you are to be able to make the decision you've made. and how grateful you are to be doing what you do. do you know how many lawyer moms are financially unable to leave biglaw? or who leave biglaw for a job that is more "family friendly," but who still have to work?

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  10. I love your blog and look forward to your new posts. I recently left a great gig with flexible hours and a six figure income to stay home with our two children. As much as I understand the witching hour (believe me I get it) I often wonder why women call their husbands at work and ask when they are coming home, especially if their job demands working into the evening. I think some of us have to keep in mind that our husbands are working harder to ensure they get the appropriate merit, bonus, etc. so that they can continue to be the HOH and this can be a lot of pressure on them. Trust me, it's hard for me to put a smile on my face at the end of a long day when I am exhausted but I also know he works late at the office so that I can do my job at home. Just a thought.

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  11. To the commenter who says she should feel lucky...it's not like that. I was a ft lawyer when my first was born now I'm pt and could afford to quit, even think I should want to quit, but I don't want to. There's nothing really lucky about being able to sahm. Women sid for decades and wanted new options for the precise reasons outlined in the post.

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  12. I can relate. My husband isn't a lawyer, but he works long, odd hours and has for the 20 years we've been married. I dreamed of being able to quit my job to focus full-time on our three kids. I eventually did that - we just made it work. Those were long, hard, rewarding days.
    We are in a different stage of our lives now (our kids are teens)and things are a little easier. But my Hubby said to me recently, "I feel like I've missed so much." And he has. And he can never get it back.
    It's a matter of deciding what your priorities are, where your heart lies and owning that. It's a different answer for everyone. When you are married the challenge is finding the place where you are both fulfilled.
    Good luck with your new status!
    Nice post, I look forward to reading more.

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  13. Ah, yes the witching hour ( I like your term for it). I can relate to those days when I was staying at home for a couple of months. I think everyone starts to wind down from 4-5:30 PM. As soon as the other spouse comes home, you want to quickly hand off the kids and go on your break. Somehow, I did my best to take my daughter out for 30 minutes or so after my husband would come home to give him a breather or so. But then he would complain about how little time he was getting with our daughter since her bedtime would be 7:30/8. Somehow things are worked out.

    I hope you get to enjoy the weekends at least with the whole family.

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  14. I'm the wife, and I'm the one working at Big Law. People seem to take for granted that a wife will be patient and supportive when she's the one waiting at home. I don't always hear the same sort of support from my non-lawyer husband. Granted, he's unemployed now, and I know that is tough. But it just makes it all the more important that the one who has a job work hard at it. So I get to hear complaints about the fact that I'm a lawyer--and I get to empty the dishwasher and do laundry in my "free" time while he gets real free time to talk to friends and read novels. But he does do a lot around the house, and I am grateful...except for the complaints that I'm a lawyer!

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  15. This is an interesting thread. My husband and I are both in big law with a baby and I just went to 80% (which is better, but pretty much a non-biglaw FT jobs). But he is still at 100% and our lives are exactly how you described. The post from the mom of teens resonated with me a lot. I wish I could figure out my priorities - we have over 300k of combined law school debt and I want an "interesting" long-term career, but I miss my son like crazy and my heart breaks that I don't get more time with him - and I'm worried about missing a lot, as the mom of teens mentioned. Considering going into the government if I can get a govt gig and just not having any extra $$$ to pay down our debt. Not sure what to do. Have some interviews lined up at smaller firms but it will be doing litigation, so I'm not sure if it would be any better than biglaw.

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  16. Just found your blog. I know you are in the middle of "bomb" fallout, and maybe this is a hard perspective to have, but I wonder how you financially planned out the work/home switch? My husband and I are both lawyers (though we met long after law school and had several years each of practice under our belts.) He is a fed lawyer. He switched from biglaw when he thought about getting married b/c of the hours. I was a private litigator, but I knew I couldn't do it, even PT, without a huge hassle, so I quit bf we had children. We had planned on only one income eventually, so we have a small house, older cars, etc. But I have friends who really struggle. I wonder how much of it is planning waaaay ahead.

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  17. @ 9:01 - we actually didn't do a lot of preplanning. It more happened gradually. First, I went part time, so we got used to less income. Then, I took a sabbatical where I wasn't making anything, and we got used to that. We used to save a lot; now we barely save at all. But somehow it works. That being said, we always said that this situation was temporary. Whether it be temporary in that I would go back to work eventually, or temporary in that my husband would eventually make a lot more money, it's not something that would work in the very long term.

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  18. Kudos to all those who are making it work.
    I am not a lawyer; I am a physician, and one of the reasons I work in my current field as a hospitalist is the schedule. I only work for 2 weeks every month. I have, on average, 6 months free every year. There is nothing like it. And I know it is not for everybody. Some physicians have it much worse.

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  19. I just found your blog and I'm laughing at how accurate this is, even though you wrote this over 2 years ago. I'm lucky, my kids are in school.....but summer vacation is brutal! I love my kids, I really do, but I have almost the same routine with my husband and usually get the same answers as you did/do. The worst is when he doesn't get home until 7pm and then is still fielding calls up until 9:30pm. And he's NOT a lawyer. But he more than makes up for it on the weekends that he's not working. He lets me sleep in, feeds the kids and pretty much does about 85% of the child care. Anyway, love the blog.

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