Monday, October 10, 2011

So It's Not Just Me

When I started this whole stay at home mom journey, it was easy to feel isolated.  I knew there probably were other women who had left law firms, or other career tracks, to stay at home, but I only knew a few.  I suppose part of the reason I started this blog was in an effort to reach out and feel connected.  A virtual way to say - "Is there anyone else out there?"

Well, seven months out, the resounding answer is YES!  Thanks to this virtual community I've joined, I've realized there are SO many of us.  So many women who have taken a break from a career to be with family.  So many women who never thought it was the course their life would take.  Maybe it's just now becoming more apparent, or maybe it's just because I'm looking, but I've also noticed a lot more people are talking about it.  In fact, in the past week, thanks to the blogging community, I've come across three fascinating articles on the subject.

The first was a post called "Quitting Law to Stay Home - Is That Your Choice?", on a blog I recently started reading, The Careerist.  The post explored whether women who quit law firms truly do it out of a personal choice, or whether their choice was really not a choice at all:

"In one [study], the researchers surveyed 117 stay-at-home moms with professional backgrounds. Women who emphasized it was their 'choice' to leave the workforce reported greater psychological well-being.  That also fits with the ethos of the capitalist marketplace because choice is 'connected to related American values, such as independence, autonomy, personal control, and responsibility,' says the report.  Choice is appealing because the alternative explanation is a downer.  'It's deeply threatening to say there's something out of your control,' explained [the researcher.]

But here's the rub:  Women who cite 'choice' also showed 'less recognition of the structural barriers and discrimination that hinder American women's workplace advancement, compared with women who did not rely on the choice framework.' says the research.

"Women will say there are obstacles to balancing work and family, but that it's their personal choice to quit their jobs."  [The researcher said.]  "It implies that in the long term, you won't recognize the structural obstacles."  And if you don't acknowledge those obstacles - such as lack of workplace flexibility and mommy-tracking, "there's no motivation to change anything."

Hmmmm, a choice?  I suppose I do feel I made a choice, but one that I was somewhat forced into, if I wanted any semblance of a normal family life.  A New York Times editorial that ran yesterday, forwarded to me by one of my my favorite bloggers, demonstrates that I'm not alone.  After citing the statistics that women make up 45% of associates, but only 15% of equity partners, and only 6% of equity partners at the 200 largest firms, the articles goes on to state that:

"Some women do succeed in private law firms, especially if they fit the traditional model of the lawyer who can leave family responsibilities to a stay-at-home partner or nanny.  But that model represents only one-sixth of the work force, and is outmoded.  There are ways to retain more women in the law.  Flexible schedules can work well, but to end their stigma men need to choose to use them as well as women.  And firms must have transparent systems for evaluating, assigning, and paying lawyers.  Legal employers should understand that unless they retain a higher share of women, the profession will continue to lose talented lawyers.  It will fail to be a profession that embodies gender equality - what many thought the O'Connor selection promised to bring."  

The New York Times article cited a Keynote Address by Joan C. Williams, entitled "The Politics of Time in the Legal Profession".  The article is a few years old, but discusses "time norms" in the legal profession, and how those norms are completely at odds with basic needs inherent in parental care.  I won't post all the worthy quotes here (as there are numerous ones), but it is worth a read.  One of the most interesting points she makes is that the definition of "full time" has dramatically changed in the legal profession.  In fact, as recently as the 1960's, "billing 1,300 hours per year was considered 'full time.'" (at 381).

[Allow me to digress for a moment:  1300 hours full time?  Are you kidding me?  Sign me up.  In fact, even better, I'll take my 60% schedule again please.  Then I'll bill 780 hours a year.  And I'll pick Braden up from preschool every day.]

But the most interesting quote from the article was by an anonymous "highly qualified woman who spent many years and many hundreds of thousands of dollars on education and training to enter her profession."  She explained how a lot of women do not "cheerfully" opt out of their professional lives:

"'I decided to quit, and this was a really, really big deal . . . [b]ecause I never envisioned myself not working.  I just felt like I would become a nobody if I quit.  Well, I was sort of a nobody working too.  So it was sort of, "Which nobody do I want to be?"'" (at 386).


This all sounds so familiar.

Thank you, internet community, for reminding me I'm not alone.  And thank you for allowing me to be a small part of the conversation.


  1. Let me start by saying I love your blog- and I can totally relate - not to the staying at home part as unfortunately I don't have the choice to stay at home- I have to work (so admittedly I am a little jealous but I still love your blog). The point I can relate to is feeling like no matter whether you are working or at home you do not feel like you measure up. Because I have kids and they will always be my top priority I feel like I do not measure up in the lawyer world but then as a mom who works I feel like I do not measure up in the mommy world- I think this is something that working mommies always struggle with and yet it does not get recognized often. Thus, you just are left feeling inadequate on all fronts. It is so tough - sorry for the rant I am just having a hard day being a working mommy. Thanks for your blog

  2. I propose we accept as fact the proposition that our feelings as inadquate workers and inadequate mothers arise from the impossible and unreasonable expectations placed on workers and mothers. Who is with me? It's NOT us, it's the culture that expects workers to have no greater priority than work. How can you care for dependent family members and NOT have them be a priority at times? Life is unpredictable and uncontrollable that way. It happens. So, we shouldn't waste a minute feeling like we "don't measure up". We should organize and push back, and drag the workplace into the 21st century, where carework is essential and valued, and the workplace reflects the realities of workers' lives.

  3. Anonymous just read my mind. Instead of the best of both worlds, I feel like I fail on two fronts. And I have to struggle just to do that. The feedback at work is clearly that I am not fully committed (as I work "part-time"). But that "part-time" prevents me from attending school functions so I clearly fail there too. Really most days I feel lucky to be employed and have healthy children, but others are just hard.

  4. I know EXACTLY what the anonymous posters are talking about. It is just how I felt - I was half assing it at work in terms of time and effort, and at home, I was so tired and stressed that I couldn't be in the moment with my kids. This is what eventually led me to where I am.

    It is interesting though, now on the other side of things. I can say that that feeling doesn't entirely go away. I still feel like I'm not 100% for my kids, because I am exhausted being home with them! I find myself turning on the TV for them so I can get a rest more times than I would like. I also struggle with feelings of inadequacy for abandoning my career, though I am coming to a peace that this is the best thing for my family right now.

    I don't known the answer, and maybe there isn't a right answer. I think bottom line is, raising kids is hard - for any kind of mom. Though I think the saying is true - it's the hardest job you'll ever love. :)

  5. wow, that nobody quote is awesome. i feel like i have to frame it and post it somewhere.

  6. I just recently came across your blog and became instantly obsessed! So much so that I am going back and reading every post you've ever written! I am a working mom (not legal work though- healthcare administration) of a 14 month old love of my life. I am constantly battling everything you all have mentioned. A huge part of me wants to stay at home. And we could afford it although we'd have to reshuffle some things and I"m pretty sure that my husband would prefer me to work although he said he'd support me if I want to stay home. WIth the said, i'm fearful of the identity issues you've mentioned as well as the barrier to re-entry. I cannot tell you how comforting it is to 'hear' from other professional moms with similar battles. I couldn't agree more on the inflexibility of the culture here. And its not specific just to big law careers. Anyway, I could go on. But THANK YOU. THANK YOU for sharing in the way that you do and inviting others to share their experience and thoughts. I


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