The newspaper reported on the Labour Day weekend that September is one of the busiest months for family lawyers. Tense spouses see the kids back to school and finally call their lawyer to initiate legal proceedings that were put on hold over the summer.
Most of us are conditioned to think of the Tuesday after Labour Day as the start of the New Year. For years, the return to school meant new teachers, friends, courses, crayons and even new clothes. January 1st, stuck in darkest winter seems to be the wrong time of year to think about fresh starts. The promise of longer days with more light is still many months away. I prefer the Jewish calendar that places Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) in September and emphasizes new beginnings.
Women lawyers with children see September and June as two of the most hectic months of the year. Their calendars are jammed with school start-up or wind-down events to organize and attend. TS Elliot may have said that “April is the cruelest month” but most parents would name September as the most challenging to navigate.
So what resolution can we adopt as we start this New Year to reduce the feeling of being over-whelmed? First, notice I said resolution singular not plural. People can usually only change one thing at a time. And who needs more things to do? While it’s fine to have more than one goal, it’s best if we work through that list – one goal at a time. Also, never underestimate the power of taking a very small step. Small steps can have a bigger impact than we realize.
Here are some of my favourite small steps for women lawyers with school age children as we start the New Year.
If you work in a law firm and not from home, make this the year you connect with your children’s school. Talk to the teacher or parent rep now about attending at least one school field trip or class event per child. Tell them you need lots of advance notice to schedule this into your busy work calendar. It’s only 1 or 2 days a year per child.
I can’t remember most of the legal files I worked on 10 years ago but I remember vividly the day I spent at the Mining Museum. My son remembers it vividly, too and he turns 21 tomorrow.
Work from home (if you can) one morning every 2 or 3 weeks so that on one day in the month, you connect with the other kids and mothers on the school ground. Mornings are often easier to work from home as you can go back after lunch and put out any fires that need your face-to-face attention. It’s also harder to leave the office at noon once you’re up to your neck in alligators. They pull you back under. My sons and I remember those few walking–to-school together mornings, vividly too.
If you never get time alone with your husband or partner – finally hire a sitter for a regular date night or for 3 hours on a Saturday afternoon so that you can go for a run or have breakfast or whatever lets you have adult conversation that is not about homework, who is picking up who from soccer practice or what should we have for dinner. You will both remember those times more vividly than the car pool schedule. (And, hopefully, you will not be one of those clients calling a family lawyer in September.)
Keep a binder with all the school notices, soccer field maps, birthday invitations, pizza menus – whatever – so you don’t have to scramble at 8 AM to find out how much money you need to send to school for pizza day. Or maybe all this now comes home electronically and it’s beautifully organized on your computer in one place and binders show that my kids went to school in the ancient paper age.
Book a weekly massage or yoga class or hire a coach at the gym – whatever helps you manage your stress on a daily basis. Take short breaks at work every 90 minutes – walk at lunch or home from work – meditate in your car at noon if that is the only place you can get 15 minutes of uninterrupted time.
Manage transitions from the hectic office to the full-onslaught of kids when you walk in the door at 6 PM. If you can walk for 15 minutes before getting home to unwind even a little before arriving at the front door, your kids will love you for it. Studies show that kids’ first choice isn’t more time with their parents. Their first choice is less grumpy, stressed out parents for whatever time they get.
Without a daily stress release, it just builds up and women lawyers often walk away from their law practice, as they can’t manage two hectic lives. If I have one (only one?) regret about practicing law 50 hours a week while getting up three times a night with a toddler who didn’t sleep through till morning until he was 3 – it’s that I didn’t do enough self-care – especially exercise and stress management.
We need to follow the airplane rule – put on your own oxygen mask before assisting your child. Your clients as well as your family and you will survive September and beyond. And more women will stay in the practice of law.