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THE TOP 6 CAUSES OF LAWYER MOM STRESS – AND HOW TO FIX THEM

Every lawyer mom eventually finds herself asking: why is lawyer mom life so hard? This episode examines the six most common causes of lawyer mom stress and gives you a fresh take about how to fix those issues.

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN FROM THIS EPISODE

  • The 6 most common issues at home and at work that make lawyer mom life so challenging
  • What lawyer moms can do to solve those obstacles and get happy
  • My hardest moment as a lawyer mom
  • What strategies worked – and what strategies didn’t work to get happier as a lawyer mom

TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to episode 1 of the Happy Lawyer Mom Podcast! The podcast that takes lawyer moms from beyond stressed and barely hanging on, to finally getting what you want at work and at home so that you can be TRULY happy.

I’m your host, Charise Naifeh and I’m thrilled you’re here.

Hi there and welcome to the first episode!

We all know what lawyer mom life looks like:

  • You’re waking up exhausted from working late.
  • Juggling work emails at the same time you’re trying to get breakfast for your kids.
  • Arguing with your spouse over who will take the kids when you both have calls at the same time and your childcare for the day has fallen through.
  • Feeling anxious all day long because there’s always more to do and there’s never enough time to do it well.
  • Not a second to yourself.
  • Trying to squeeze a 12-hour workload into an 8-hour day.
  • When your kids get sick it turns your work life upside down and you wonder how it will affect your job security.
  • And when was the last time you washed your hair?

This is the daily struggle of lawyer mom life.

On top of that daily struggle, which is hard enough on its own, many lawyer moms experience an existential struggle that leads them to ask some bigger questions, like: what do I want to be doing with my life? How do I want to be spending my days, now that I have children in my life? Why am I not happier at work and what job would I like better? How can I support my family financially and still have time to actually see them?

And how do I achieve success in my career without sacrificing the family life I want to have?

This is where a lot of lawyer moms get stuck. Daily life feels like a treadmill that just keeps going faster, and these larger, important questions just go unanswered. Meanwhile, the demands from both family and work keep piling up, and mom finds herself drowning in them. This is where I found myself a few years ago.

On my worst day, our au pair took pity on me. I was an associate at a big DC firm with a baby who was still nursing and a toddler. My husband was out of town for a 2-week trip to Asia, I had a big production that was due, and it was a weekend. And our au pair would see me working she went to bed at night, and she would see me working when she woke up the next day. I was trying to be supermom during the day and working at night. And she could see that I was drowning and so, out of the goodness of her heart, she decided to spend her day off helping me with the kids. I made sure she got extra days off later – but in that moment, when I could see the pity in her eyes when she looked at me – I realized: I can’t keep doing this.

To add to the misery, I didn’t feel that I had any right to be miserable. I had a good job with benefits, an au pair, etc. – which was more than many people have. I had worked so hard to get where I was and had done all the things that were supposed to lead to a happy life, and yet – I was miserable.

  • Most days, I would try to just “be grateful” for what I had. I hadn’t come all this way to quit.
  • But when I was particularly tired or stressed or found myself eating Halo Top ice cream in a Whole Foods parking lot at 9pm at night because that seemed to be the only thing that would make me feel better – I knew in my bones that this wasn’t it.
  • This wasn’t the life I had envisioned when I decided to go to law school. This 80 mile-an-hour life was not making me happy. I didn’t even know how to begin to fix it, but I knew I had to try.

So I started working on solving the problem of lawyer mom misery and I found the way out.

And that’s what this podcast is about.

There are six things that need to be fixed for lawyer moms and fixing them is the recipe for getting out of lawyer mom misery and into lawyer mom happiness.

The first thing that we have to correct is what I call Motherhood lnequality:

  • Motherhood inequality happens when Mom or others in the household are operating under the paradigm that the rest of the family goes first and mom goes last.
  • If you’re a lawyer mom and you aren’t happy with the status quo, but you don’t even let yourself consider making a change or even entertain the question of what you might like to be doing differently in your career because your family responsibilities eclipse any thought about what they might want – that indicates that motherhood inequality is happening.
    • And what happens for many women is that, in not even letting themselves ask the question about what they want, they begin to lose themselves in motherhood. They go from women who go after what they want to women who consistently put themselves last. If you hear yourself saying; “Now that that I’m the mom, I don’t get to do what I want anymore,” that’s a tell-tale sign of motherhood inequality.
  • This creates a pecking order in your household, in which mom is last in line. Your needs and wants are now an afterthought. Maybe your family doesn’t see it that way – but how you see it is what matters.
  • And it seems like what you want and what’s good for her family are mutually exclusive.
  • When motherhood inequality is present, Mom is also bearing the lion’s share of tasks around the home, and she doesn’t have the bandwidth to consider her own goals.
  • When I started out as a coach for lawyer moms, I intended to focus on helping women get happier in their careers.
  • But what kept happening again and again was that this problem of motherhood inequality kept coming up as a barrier to them in their careers.
    • When you’re firmly entrenched in a pattern where mom goes last, you either:
      • don’t even know what you want, or
      • you don’t consider that you can have it until the kids graduate from college.
    • As you can imagine, this was preventing these lawyer moms from getting what they wanted in their careers:
    • It was also interfering with their overall happiness – and of course it would, because it’s not fun to lose your identity and not know who you are anymore.
    • So I realized motherhood inequality could not be ignored: I couldn’t fix career issues until we had solved this issue.
  • Once we solve it, here’s what their lives look like:
    • Mom is no longer putting herself last. She’s stopped operating with a zero-sum game mentality, in which if she gets what she wants, her family loses.
      • Instead, she knows how to get what she wants AND do what’s best for her family in parallel: and she no longer views these as mutually exclusive.
    • The pecking order has been replaced by a round table where everyone is heard and everyone is encouraged to get what they want.
    • If there’s something that’s not working for any member of the family, they put their heads together to come up with solutions that work for everyone.
    • What also happens is that Mom lightens her load considerably because everyone in the family is contributing at home, either in the form of time or resources. So Mom has the latitude to pursue what she wants.
    • Eliminating motherhood inequality not only makes moms happier – it elevates the happiness levels for the entire family because everyone is being heard and encouraged to get what they want.
    • And here’s the remarkable thing about all of this: when Mom makes the decision to tackle motherhood inequality, the dynamic of the entire family changes.

People don’t believe that this will work, because for most people, it doesn’t work. They try to solve this problem their entire lives and it doesn’t get solved and so the question is: why? Why doesn’t this problem get solved for most people? What’s the dividing line between those who solve it and those who don’t?

  • For most people, it doesn’t get solved because they lack the skills to solve it. The people who solve this problem have certain skills that the other people don’t have.
  • So when you’re facing this problem, the solution is to acquire the skills you need to solve it – and we’ll be talking about that here on this podcast.

The second thing that we need to correct for many lawyer moms is related to the first, and it’s what I call marital inequality.

  • This is where one spouse takes a backseat to the other spouse.
  • Of course, inequality can happen in any type of relationship and it can happen to any person, but here we’re talking about the form of inequality that commonly occurs for lawyer moms in marriages.
  • This usually shows up as one spouse being overburdened relative to the other. For example: if two spouses have demanding full-time jobs, but one of them is bearing the lion’s share of work at home and with the children, while the other focuses on work, that puts the overburdened spouse in an unequal position.
  • Sometimes these types of arrangements are made because it’s what both partners genuinely want and it’s been a conscious decision, then that’s fine.
  • But if mom’s career is taking a backseat to her spouse’s career not because it’s what she wants, but by default, that indicates marital inequality is happening.
  • This doesn’t have to be coming from your spouse. You can have the most supportive partner in the world and still be grappling with the effects of marital inequality.
  • If the end result is that someone is taking a backseat to their partner with regard to career, financial decisions, or any other life decisions, it means that that person isn’t enjoying equal status in the marriage.
  • Lawyer moms struggle with marital inequality in other scenarios too:
    • When mom’s career is deemed to be primary and she’s the breadwinner, marital inequality looks a little different.
      • When Mom wants to make a change in her career, but she’s seeking permission or approval from her spouse, or there’s a deference to her spouse and she’s giving more weight to his opinion than to her own: that’s indicates marital inequality is happening.
    • Or it could be that mom has decided to stop working altogether to focus on the family, and because of that, she doesn’t feel like she’s an equal partner in making financial decisions within the marriage.
      • Or maybe she wants to return to work and brush up on her skills, but her spouse doesn’t really see the need. If she finds herself deferring to her spouse on that decision, that indicates that marital inequality is happening.
    • Regardless of where it comes from or the exact form that it takes, marital inequality takes a toll on careers, families, and happiness. And of course it does, because anytime adults aren’t feeling free to call the shots on their careers and their finances, it creates unhappiness and insecurity.
      • Marital inequality doesn’t have to exist and in many families, it doesn’t.
      • So the question is: how can you avoid experiencing this? The answer is skill.
      • The people who have the skill of eliminating marital inequality from their lives and replacing it with marital equality are the ones who are happiest at home and at work. (And by the way, their families are the happiest too because when you create equality in a family, it’s a better experience for everyone.)

When marital inequality is solved, here’s what it looks like:

  • Both spouse’s careers are valued and treated equally. Both careers are deemed essential and both spouses are free to make decisions about their own careers.
  • They’re also equal partners in making financial decisions, regardless of their current employment or income.
  • When both spouses want to work, they support each other in growing both partner’s careers in tandem.
  • And nobody in the family is doing work that they hate. Solving this problem means that both partners are flourishing and happy at work.
  • They’re also playing on the same team with regard to parenting: there’s a clear understanding of the common objectives, and they work together to achieve those objectives.

If you don’t solve the inequality issues, they can lead directly to the third issue that we see which is what I call Depleted Mothering. Depleted Mothering happens when you’ve exhausted your reserves and there is nothing left for you. You’re running on fumes and eventually, you’re not going to be able to continue.

Depleted mothering is separate from post-natal depletion: that’s a physical condition that happens when your body is depleted of nutrients following the birth of your children. That’s a medical issue that needs to be treated by your physician, particularly when your children are very young.

Depleted mothering is a distinct issue that comes not from giving birth, but from what’s happening while you’re raising your kids. It’s a pattern of continually exhausting your physical and mental reserves because you’re trying to do so much for your kids and your family.

  • When your weeks and weekends are filled to the brim with work and kids, when you’re the one bearing the lion’s share of work around the house and with the kids, then there’s no place for the kind of restorative or reenergizing activities that humans need to recharge their batteries.
    • Things like getting enough sleep, or exercise, or healthy food, or connection with other adults like your spouse and friends; time for yourself, time for fun. Remember that? For most lawyer moms it’s been a while since they had fun.
    • We know that a lot of lawyers are already depleted by their work. When you combine that with depleted mothering, it takes depletion to a whole new level. Women who deplete their reserves in this way eventually hit a wall because it’s simply not sustainable. The impact this has on your health and happiness cannot be overstated.

What we read in blogs and magazines is that depleted mothering is driven by exceedingly high expectations for motherhood, causing moms to feel tremendous guilt when they don’t measure up to those impossible expectations and that guilt drives them to ignore their own health and exhaust themselves. So the standard advice is to just lower our expectations. But most moms don’t want to lower their expectations.

What’s actually happening here?

  • The real problem here is that the current paradigm for motherhood needs a complete overhaul because everything we’re doing for our kids that leads to depleted mothering is actually the opposite of what creates success for both kids and moms.

It feels like depleted mothering is part and parcel of being a mom, but in fact, depleted mothering is caused by a lack of skill. Specifically, the skill of creating a household in which mom isn’t the go-to solution for every problem, every task, every single thing that needs to be done.

When you develop this skill, you go from being a depleted mom to a rested, happy mom,

  • You’re getting 8 hours of sleep at night.
  • Not only that, restoring your energy is no longer an afterthought: it’s an integral part of your life that’s built into your day and your week.
  • And because you’re no longer depleted, you’re able to be more productive and efficient at getting things done, which leaves more time for fun.
  • Your weekends are no longer just about getting things done around the house or getting ready for the week, you actually have things that you want to do and you’re doing them without hesitation because the family knows how to handle it when taking some time for yourself.
  • You’ve created a robust support network built up around you, so that you are getting what you need to be able to do your job and parent your kids in the way that you want.
  • Your life is no longer a series of obligations: you’ve pruned away the excess: you’re no longer drained from doing things that aren’t really helping your kids become independent and self-sufficient.
  • The old paradigm of motherhood that leads to depleted mothering has been replaced by a much healthier and sustainable one that you feel good about modeling for your sons and daughters to take into their own families someday.
  • So that’s what happens when you solve the issue of depleted mothering.

Sometimes, addressing the issues makes such a difference in a lawyer mom’s life, that she finds that she doesn’t even need to make any change to her career because the real source of her unhappiness was what was going on at home.

But in many cases, there are very real problems happening at work that need to be addressed. There are 3 common problems that interfere with happiness at work for lawyer moms.

The first thing that needs to be corrected at work is what I call a role mismatch:

  • A role mismatch occurs when the skills that you need to use for your current role are skills that you do NOT enjoy using, AND
  • It occurs when the skills that you really love to use are NOT being used by your current role.
  • If you’re questioning whether you really want to keep doing the work you’re doing or you’re dreading getting back to work because you don’t enjoy using the skills you’re developing, you have a role mismatch.
  • Role mismatches are a common problem for lawyers in general:
    • many people go into law because it’s thought to be a safe profession. And we’re told we can do anything with a law degree, so many, many attorneys go to law school without having a clear idea of what they actually want to do and after they get out of law school, they just want to get a job, so they get any job that they can, which is often not a good fit for the skills they enjoy using.
  • It’s not uncommon for attorneys who have been practicing for years to still not know what they really want to do, but to be really good at skills that they don’t actually enjoy using.
  • It’s also not uncommon for the skills that you need to use for your job to shift over time.
  • So role mismatches can creep up on you as you advance in your career and you can suddenly find that your role is requiring different skills that aren’t a good fit anymore.
  • But role mismatches are particularly common for lawyer moms:
    • For many, many women, becoming a mother involves a massive shift in identify that they don’t anticipate.
    • Their value system changes and their priorities change overnight. They find that the role they used to have no longer aligns with those new values and priorities.
    • Or sometimes they just develop a new area of interest.
      • Several of my clients experienced a lot of challenges during their own maternity leaves, and so the issue of parental leave accessibility has become something that they’re intensely passionate about, and so advocacy in that arena has become the skill that they want to focus on and they’ve made career changes that allow them to step into a role that fits that skill set.
    • Or it could be that motherhood has simply uncovered an existing role mismatch. The job that was just okay or tolerable before they kids is no longer the job you want to be doing now.
      • I’ve had many women tell me that if they’re going to be away from their kids during the work day, it needs to be for a job that they truly love and care about.
    • When you’re in a role mismatch, work feels miserable: you drag yourself to your desk, you force yourself to stay focused; you’re drained and dragging throughout the day, and there’s a sense of dread that infects even your free time, because you know you have to return to that work that you just don’t enjoy.
      • But when you’re a lawyer, you already have the job that you worked so hard to get – and a job that many people would like to have. So it’s very common for lawyers to have guilt about not liking their jobs or wanting something different. So not only are they not enjoying they’re work, but they’re judging themselves for it.
    • When you correct a role mismatch, you go from feeling miserable at work to being delighted by your job.
      • You leave work feeling good: you may be physically tired, but you’re mentally engaged and also energized by what you’re doing.
      • You’re developing and stretching the skills you want to be using. There’s growth happening and a sense that the work you’re doing matters.
      • You’re productive at work, your workdays pass by quickly.
      • And when you enjoy what you do and you enjoy honing your skills, people notice: they want to work with you.
      • Employers and clients want to hire you, and so your opportunities increase.
      • Not to mention, you come home feeling happy, and that flows over to other parts of your life.
      • You enjoy your weekends and your vacations more because that sense of dread is gone.
      • Solving a role mismatch problem is a game-changer.

The second common thing that needs to be corrected at work are what I call workplace environment problems:

  • This is where the work environment is not a good match for your life right now:
    • What happens to a lot of moms is that the work environment was fine pre-kids, but after kids, it’s no longer a good fit.
      • This commonly comes up in the hours that are required for the job: maybe you were fine with working around the clock before kids, but after kids, that schedule just doesn’t work.
      • Maybe you need more flexibility than your current employer wants to offer.
      • This problem arises if you’re working at a place where the culture or values are no longer aligned with your own,
      • And it’s particularly common in work places that aren’t set up to handle the kinds of challenges that lawyer moms face on a regular basis, such as needing to pick up the kids or the kids getting sick or snow days or unexpected gaps in childcare.
  • Work environment problems can sometimes be solved without leaving your current workplace. This surprises many lawyers that I work with: sometimes you can solve an environment problem by making some changes to your current job.
    • I was able to do that by creating a flexible work arrangement, and I’ve helped a lot of my clients do the same thing.
  • But in cases where a severe environment problem exists, what lawyer moms want is to find or create a new work situation that’s compatible with the motherhood they want to have.
  • Once you fix a work environment problem, here’s what happens:
    • You’ve decided what’s important to you in a work environment and
    • You show up in a way that opens the door to the types of opportunities that you want: this can be at your current job or a new job.
    • Your work environment fits like a glove: you have the schedule and flexibility that you need, so you’re no longer being asked to work more than you can work, and you’re thriving and productive, so your clients and colleagues are happy, and you’re happy.
  • People think these work situations don’t exist because they’re not often posted online, but there are specific steps that you can take to find or create these opportunities, and in doing so, you find the right work environment for you, which eliminates so much unnecessary lawyer mom stress.
  • We’ll be talking more about that here in later episodes of this podcast because it’s key step on the path to becoming a happy lawyer mom.

And the third common issue that often needs to be fixed is what I call anxious lawyering.

This comes from questioning and doubting yourself and your abilities, which causes you to hold back at work. When you’re consumed with worry about how you’ll be perceived instead of stepping into your own expertise, you know that anxious lawyering is happening.

Anxious lawyering requires you to work more than necessary to get the job done well and it causes you to be less productive with your day. Spinning in doubt about what you should do next or what you should’ve said differently takes up valuable time in your day, so it slows you down, which leads to working later. It’s also just not fun to work in this way.

There are many drivers of anxious lawyering, but the most common that I see are:

  • fear of making a mistake,
  • the lack of trust in your own abilities,
  • trouble setting boundaries, and
  • trouble asking for support.

What often happens is that anxious lawyering was there all along – but when you become a mom and you suddenly need to stop working promptly at 5:00 or 5:30 or whenever it is, the toll that anxious lawyering takes on you becomes particularly glaring.

 

When you solve the issue of anxious lawyering, here’s what happens: You’re no longer second-guessing your every move and paralyzed by fear: instead, your focus is on building your expertise and skills. Your confidence grows, your nervous system relaxes, and you’re able to tap into your creative mind more quickly to find solutions.

  • Because you’re focused on serving your clients at the highest level, you become a professional of the highest caliber and clients feel that and want to work with you.
  • This high level of service does NOT mean that you’re working around the clock.
  • On the contrary: you’re fully engaged when it’s time to work and you’re more productive and efficient during your work day, so that you can log off on time, enjoy your evenings with your family and recharge your batteries, and start the next day ready to go.

Challenges no longer knock you off course: instead, each new challenge is a chance to grow and develop the skills that you enjoy using, and you find yourself energized from your work, rather than depleted.

There are no doubt many more issues for lawyer moms that we’ll be exploring on this podcast, but fixing those six common issues are the fastest way that I’ve seen again and again that to create happiness for lawyer moms.

To recap, we’re talking about solving:

  1. Motherhood inequality
  2. Marital inequality; and
  3. Depleted mothering;
  4. Correcting a Role mismatch
  5. Solving workplace environment problems, and
  6. Solving Anxious lawyering

These issues are real and they need attention because each and every one of these issues is a barrier to getting what you want in your life and career. You invest north of a $100k plus years of your life getting a law degree: but when you combine a demanding legal career with a family, it creates the perfect conditions for these issues to surface and they wreak havoc for many lawyer moms. When left unchecked, these issues tank careers, create conflict at home, and take a toll on your health.

People think these problems can’t be solved. Many lawyer moms get stuck trying to decide: is it me or is this just the way life is for lawyer moms?  And the only options seem to be (1) live with it or (2) leave the law altogether. But neither of those options is what most lawyer moms want.

The good news there is a third option, which is to solve the issues that are making lawyer mom life so hard.

Today, we’ve taken a 30,000 foot view of these steps, but stay tuned for upcoming episodes. I’m going to break down these steps even further, we’re going to look at common pitfalls that can happen when you implement the steps, and what you can do to avoid those pitfalls.

When you take these steps, you’re no longer staying stuck: you’re making meaningful changes that are fixing these issues. You’re moving forward and you’re getting what you want at work and at home.

These steps are the fast-track to fixing what’s not working. When you’re a lawyer mom, you don’t have time for trial and error: you need to be able to efficiently and effectively resolve the issues getting in your way so you can move forward toward exactly what you want. That’s what these steps will do for you.

I’ve walked this path, I’ve helped other lawyer moms walked this path, and that’s what this podcast is about.

So join me for the next episode because we’re going to take a detailed look at how to solve motherhood inequality and marital inequality. Doing this will change your family life for the better and it will give you the time and space to think about what you want for your career. You don’t want to miss it, so I will talk to you then!

Thank you so much for being here today. Have a wonderful week!

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