This post is different from my usual “evergreen” educational posts. I attended a CLE conference this past Friday and one of the panel discussion really struck a nerve. Thus, this post was born.
The panel was comprised of three lawyers. One in her mid-thirties, one in her late sixties, and one in her middle to late forties. I was unsure what the actual topic of the panel was supposed to be, but the discussion revolved around being a lawyer and a mother. Each panelist as different ideas about what it means to be a “good lawyer” and a “good mother”.
The first panelist, Ms. Mid-Thirties, was a litigation attorney who felt that it was more important to spend time with her children than working an ungodly number of hours to make equity partner.
The second panelist, Ms. Sixties, also a litigation attorney, felt that she missed out on certain success in her career because she was so focused on her kids. She mentioned she wished she shifted her focus to her career when her kids were in high school and did not need her as much, than waiting until they were in college.
The third panelist, Ms. Mid-Forties, was a family law attorney. She owned her own firm and has two young teenagers at home. She said she works full time and is home every night for dinner, and she does not work on the weekends. She said she employs all women at her firm and expects them to be there full time. However, being a mother, she understands that life happens and when an employee needs to tend to child or sick relative, all they have to do is ask. For her, she believes she is balancing being both a good lawyer and a good mom.
Each panelist presented an interesting view about the topic. My initial reaction was “wow” how interesting to see three different perspectives on motherhood and lawyer-hood. It made stop and think, “Where do I fall in this spectrum of women?”
As I was pondering this thought, the audience was asked if they had any questions for the panelists.
One women, considerably older than all three panelists, asked the first panelist “if you don’t want to be equity partner and value spending time with your kids more, why don’t you just work part-time?”.
Ummm what? Why does her wanting to be involved in her young children’s lives mean she has to be a part time lawyer? Working part time as a lawyer is not where you want to be early in your career. Why does a desire to be home more mean she isn’t ambitious and want to further her career? The first panelist looked just as shocked as I was at the question. Her answer was basically a defense of motherhood and the importance of being around her young children.
I was quite mad at the women who asked her that question. If she is being the best lawyer she can be, what does it matter if she is content with her status within the firm. Who says that a successful female lawyer means being an equity partner?
The next question asked by audience was to the second panelist. The question was “if you would have focused on your career earlier, don’t you think you would have regretted missing your children’s high school years? And don’t you think you are better suited now to be a partner than when you had younger children?”
Again .. .Ummm what!? Age does not have anything to do with when a women is better suited to be a partner. She DID NOT miss out on her children’s high school years, but so what if she did? So what is she worked a bit more when her kids were in high school and she missed a couple of sports games or parent teacher conferences? I remember when I was in high school, I was concerned with my own life. My parents were there when I needed something and for the big moments. Both of my parents worked and couldn’t make everything, and I turned out just fine.
Furthermore, who says a mother with children isn’t suited to be a partner? There is no correlation between the age of your children and your ability to be a good lawyer. Just like there is no correlation between a woman’s age and her ability to be a good lawyer.
Another question that sparked my anger was directed at the third panelist. A women asked “If you come home in time for dinner, who does the grocery shopping and the cooking?”
Actively shaking my head in disbelief at this point at these questions. The third panelist handled this question extremely well. She said “My husband is retired, he cooks when needed and handles the grocery shopping. I also meal prep on the weekends and have help that handles those things if necessary.”
Brava. Because really, when did grocery shopping and cooking equate to being a good mother? Being home for dinner is what is important.
The panel ended and I felt like the feminist and traditionalist in me had been simultaneously offended. Yes, everyone has a different idea about what it means to be a good mother. Yes, everyone has a different idea about how a women should conduct her legal career. However, no two women are the same, have the same ideals, or have the same career goals. Each woman on that panel operated under a system that worked best for them and their priorities.
How dare any woman say anything negative against another woman trying to balance work and motherhood. How dare any woman insinuate there should be a choice between being successful at both.
What happened to having it all? What happened to the idea that I could be anything I want to be including having a career and being a mother? And who are you to sit and judge how good of an attorney or mother someone is based upon their choices on how to balance those roles?
I am unmarried with no children. I am just starting out in my legal career. I have a plan for where I want my career to go and how far I want to succeed. I also see myself achieving those goals as a wife and mother. It never occurred to me that I would have to choose between the two. It never occurred to me that I would not able to balance being a mother and a lawyer. I expect my choices to be respected, especially by another woman lawyer.
I realized during this conference that the stereotypical ideals that we are fighting so hard to change are not falling away as quickly because women, as a whole, are not ready to break them. There are those out there who believe being a lawyer is more important than being a mother and vise versa. Instead of acknowledging “hey this is my opinion, but good for you for trying to do both”, they tear down those who believe differently.
Well, shame on them. I was quite upset after this panel ended. One of the main reasons I was looking forward to this conference was because I was going to get to meet and be around women who had already been where I am now. Who had careers and families and had “made it” in my opinion. Instead, I saw a bunch of women split into factions and wagging fingers that those who they believed were “doing it wrong.”
Bottom Line: Success is measured differently by each individual person. What works for one person might not work for another.
Instead of passing judgment on a woman because she prefers to be mother over a lawyer, a lawyer over a mother, or is trying to do both, we should be boosting each other up. We should be heralding each others strengths and give aid to help overcome weakness.