As a freshly-minted lawyer, the 13-hour days didn’t matter that much. I was footloose and fancy-free, oblivious to the challenges having a career and a family would present down the road. Fast forward to 40 and I’m the working parent of two young children. Life has become a relentless juggling exercise as I try to emulate Lady Justice with her scales and sword. I’m always looking for that elusive lawyer work-life balance: that sweet spot where my kids are happy, the mother guilt is dialled down to a dull roar and I’m still able to meet the most critical work deadlines.
Lawyer stress is a real thing
I know all too well what lawyer stress looks like. It looks like 9:30am and a line out the door of the court building and halfway down the street. A post-it note covered bundle of files apologetically dumped on my assistant’s desk. It’s me standing up my office day to rush down to court for an urgent matter. Staying back late to finish the brief to counsel. The crumpled school notices in the bottom of the bag noticed too late. The crazy hair day I failed with a standard, run-of-the-mill plait. It’s being up half the night dealing with vomit or worms or a night terror and still being sharp enough the next day to ask the right questions in cross examination so I don’t blow my client’s only shot at bail. Lawyer stress looks heart-breakingly familiar to me. So familiar, in fact, that it’s hard to tell where I stop and it begins, but I suspect it’s lurking like a moray eel near my guts, tearing at my digestive system.
I can tell you what lawyer stress sounds like. It’s the non-stop ringing of my iPhone. The squawk of my surname over the PA as I’m paged, pinball machine-style, from one end of the court building to the other. It’s the theme song of my current existence, the worn-out soundtrack of ‘sorry I can’t make it, something urgent’s come up.’ It also sounds like my babies crying at drop off because they’re the first ones there, again. It sounds like their voices over face time, saying goodnight because this brief is due tomorrow.
I can even tell you what lawyer stress smells like. It smells like a packaged meal being microwaved at 7.30 pm at the office. It smells like overcooked, soggy broccoli because my lawyer stress causes his cooking stress. It’s my kids’ freshly washed hair fanned out over their pillows as I creep in late from work to kiss their sleeping faces goodnight.
Most of all, I can tell you what lawyer stress feels like. It’s being spread too thin. It’s being torn between being present for my kids and the crushing responsibility that comes with holding a practicing certificate and with it, the dangling Damocles sword of professional negligence. It’s a hot coal sitting in my guts, burning me out. It feels like throwing in the towel. It’s googling dog washing franchises. Crunching the numbers to see whether I can afford to go back to uni to study something else, anything else. It’s the sadness of contemplating an exit of my profession after years of study and sacrifice. Most of all, it feels like the heavy shackles of guilt pulling me under when I’m the crappy parent not at the Mother’s Day breakfast.
It’s not just OK to say no, it’s vital for your sanity
But it doesn’t have to be that way. As much as I don’t care to admit it, it is actually up to me. I’m not going to drop the ball but I am going to start playing the game differently. I’m going to start calling on the village for help. Hiring that cleaner. Learning to say the word “no” at work without tacking on an apology at the end of it. I’m going to check my entitlements and start taking advantage of any family-friendly policies on offer. I’m not going to be doing what I’ve always done; trying to be everything to everyone. But at the very least, I’ll be as much as I can to the people who matter most to me. There’ll be times when the stars don’t align and circumstances dictate that I can’t be there for my kids. When that happens, I’m going to make darn sure I find the next best thing for them and keep striving to be the best working Mum I can possibly be.
Little Scholars brings that elusive lawyer work-life balance within your grasp, without the courtroom drama. Learn more about our unique childcare program and how it’s helping busy families like yours.
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