Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The So-Called Life of a Working Mom

I posted a link to this entry a few months back but thought I should actually put it on my blog as a backup.  If anyone wonders why being a corporate biglaw firm working mom sucks, here you go.  (And keep in mind I probably have one of the cushiest corporate biglaw jobs ever--70% part-time and a very understanding boss.)

The So-Called Life of a Working Mom

So a lot of people have asked me what it’s like to be a working mom.

Actually, that’s not true. No one has asked me that.

But you know, I bet people are somewhat curious. Because when I was considering whether to go back to work after maternity leave, I desperately wanted to know.

What is it like to leave your baby for hours at a time in a stranger’s care? Will you feel sad for missing all the ‘firsts’? Will it weaken the bond between the two of you? Will you be replaced as the most important person in your baby’s eyes?

I especially wanted to know what it would be like for a corporate attorney working mom. My job is notoriously un-plannable.  We are on-call 24-7, 365, resulting in many cancelled vacations and telling my family every year--I might have to miss Christmas, start without me! When a deal is on, it is ON and you work night and day like kids in a sweatshop until the deal is done. If you need to fly out to another coast 3 weekends in a row to bash it out, you do it. Heck, if you need to fly to another continent to bash it out, you do that too.

How could I possibly be a somewhat present mom with a job like that?! On top of it all, I was a nursing Nazi. For some reason, I was fervently attached to the idea that my baby MUST DRINK MY MILK for at least one year. Anything less would feel utterly demoralizing. But let’s just say that high-stress and lactation do not mix. Making milk requires as much psychological conditioning as anything else. And who is going to let you take a pump-break in the middle of a 7 hour client meeting?!

The more I considered these obstacles looming ahead of me, the more I wanted to just throw in the towel and not go back to work. But the ever level-headed spouse reminded me that we really needed my income and it just might not be so bad. Why don’t we give it a try? If it’s really all that bad, I can quit. Anytime.

I looked at my $300 breast pump and thought, that’s going to be the dumbest investment I ever made. I’ll use it for 2 weeks and then quit. Well, it’s been more than a year since I’ve returned to work from maternity leave, so shut my mouth and color me surprised!

So what has it been like?

In a word: exhausting.

If ever in my life I have felt tested and stretched, it was laughably ridiculous compared to the unrelenting strain of working a high-stress corporate job and trying to be as present as possible with a high-need insatiably curious baby.

Being a working mom is like having 2 jobs. No, it IS having 2 jobs. You work all day with the stress and pressures of various project deadlines and then you come home and instead of winding down with a bowl of ice-cream and some Netflix, you jump right into the fire of your second job.

In my second job, the client was much more demanding and unreasonable than any in my corporate job. This client would scream and wail every time I tried to change his diapers, leaving trails of his poop everywhere as he wriggled and writhed. He refused to eat the nutritious food I slaved to make and screamed for crackers and chips. He threw his food on the floor repeatedly. He wanted you to carry his 23 lb body on long walks and screamed and wailed if you so much as hinted that you were going to drop him in a stroller. In fact he wanted to be carried all the time. Hoisted up so he could see the world from a different vantage point. And gesture that he wanted this and that PRONTO.

And finally, after you’ve engaged this little client in an epic bedtime battle and WON, you don’t even get to relish that sweet victory with some ice-cream and Netflix. Nope. You tiptoe out of his room and right to your desk and continue grinding out the mind-numbing draft for your other job. After working the night away, you brush your teeth and hop into bed, hoping and praying that insomnia does not rear its ugly head tonight.

What about the weekends? You don’t get weekends as a corporate lawyer.

So where in this narrative is exercise? Where is meeting up with friends? Where is going out with your hubby? Where are your hobbies? Where is your freaking bowl of ice-cream and next episode of Big Love?

It’s as poignantly absent as your sanity.

After living this kind of “so-called” life for a while, I had an epiphany--a beam of sunlight amidst the foggy clouds. Why don’t I just hire a babysitter and give myself some ME time? It’s worth spending a little cash to get back a little sanity.

And you know what? I can’t.

When I need a break the most, that’s the time I can’t do it the most.

I can’t spend any more time away from my baby.

Maybe everyone has a different equilibrium point after which they are happy to spend time away from their kid. In a given week, I don’t want to spend any more than 30 hours away from my baby. That’s why I work a 70% schedule.

But if work is killing me that week and making me put in 50+ hours, there’s no way in heck I’m going to take precious baby time away and do something for myself.

But I want so desperately to have some me time.

So there you have it. The catch-22 of working moms. Damned (by guilt) if you do make time for yourself. And damned if you don’t. Eventually I start to feel like a rubber band getting stretched way too thin. It seems like only a matter of time before the inevitable snap.

Of course not every working mom is going to feel this beleaguered. Hopefully your job is not as hellacious and/or your child is not so demanding. And I imagine it’s probably a lot easier if you’re one of the lucky gals with loving parents in the vicinity.

But that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it…for now anyway.

We're still hangin' in there...barely...


CP said...

Love, love, love this post! Some things you said are things I wish I had said. I'm not a corporate lawyer, I do personal injury.....but I totally understand!

Alice in Wonderland said...

Thanks. Yeah, I wish someone had told me this stuff BEFORE I was planning to have kids. Just as a reality check if nothing else!

Anonymous said...

Wait, when did you go back to work? I started reading your blog when you became an SAHM?

Alice in Wonderland said...

Hmmm...I was never a SAHM. I was on maternity leave for a long time and that made me have mad respect for SAHMs, but nope, never was one myself officially. Went back to work around 3/2011.

Anonymous said...

As someone who works the same job as you but on the litigation side I am curious whether you are considering something in between quitting and The Firm such as government or in-house. Do you not think it's worth it to work if you aren't making a biglaw salary? Just wondering as I'm still considering having kids and this post scares the bejesus out of me because it confirms what already seemed like the obvious reality.

Alice in Wonderland said...

Hi Anonymous--Yeah, I think there's a happy medium to be found in govt or in-house work. I think I'll prob end up going that route as soon as the kid is older and I'm ready to work a 40-50 hour week. There's just no way an in-house job would let me be 70% time and pay me well enough for me to hire a nanny.

Nan said...

(((oh girl))) I'm so sorry.

Your level headed spouse needs to think more of your sanity and personal happiness. I could NOT do what you are doing. I would go nuts. For real. Like John George nuts.