FAMILY EQUALITY PART 5: HOW TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR FAMILY – AND YOURSELF – AT THE SAME TIME
Moms often have a very hard time spending money on what they need because they’re so busy taking care of their families. Isn’t putting everyone else first and yourself last just part of being a mom? Actually, it isn’t. Because there’s a way to get what you want AND take care of your family so that everyone wins.
In this episode, we’ll look at one of the biggest obstacles to happiness for professionals who are also moms, which is financial inequality. We’re looking at what it is, how it shows up, its deleterious effects, and how to cure it. You’ll learn the skill that dissolves it, so you can be generous to your family AND get what you need and want, so you can enjoy your life and career to the fullest.
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN FROM THIS EPISODE
- What financial inequality looks like.
- How it can creep in to even the most egalitarian families.
- The effects that this has on your career and overall happiness.
- What happens when you eradicate this form of inequality.
- The skill that every mom needs to create and enjoy true equality at home.
Welcome to episode 7 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 episode 7. This is the last episode in a 5-part series on creating equality in your home: and so today, we’re going to be talking about creating equality in family life with regard to finances.
Of all the five areas I’ve addressed, this one area is the most important because inequality with regard to finances affects everything else. It affects opportunities and options and the freedom to get what you need, so you can do the things that bring you joy.
Anytime this problem is present, it makes people feel less powerful and capable of getting what they want in the world than if this problem were not present. And that immobilizes people and keeps them stuck, doing something that they don’t want to do or not doing something that they very much want to do. When that’s happening, it makes it feel like you’re living in a very small box – and that’s not what we’re meant to do with our lives. That’s why it’s important to talk about this problem and bring it into the light of day, so we can solve it.
So today we’re going to do exactly that: First, we’re going to examine this problem, so we can recognize it and see the effects of it; and then we’re going to talk about what cures this problem.
I first started seeing this problem show up back when I was recently married and a recent law school grad. I was working in Big Law and my entire focus was on paying off my student loans. But what I started noticing was that I didn’t feel entirely in control of my finances because I was sharing control with another person: my husband.
We were aligned in our goals and we also wanted to divide and conquer with regard to managing household tasks, so during the first few years of our marriage, he started taking over paying the bills and I began to remove myself from process of managing our finances. It had never been my favorite thing to do anyway, and so this arrangement let me have more time to focus on other things I enjoyed more in the little free time I had. And because he was managing the finances and had a better idea of what was going on, I began to defer to him more and more on financial decisions. And, again, because we were pretty aligned in our goals, things were going along just fine for a few years.
And then we started talking about buying a house. And that’s when I started noticing that I wasn’t feeling like I was in the driver’s seat of my finances. I was not viewing myself as having full ownership and agency with regard to this enormous financial decision. To my mind, buying a house in an expensive market like DC meant that I needed to stay in my job forever. It was the equivalent of chaining myself to my current career trajectory. And that would have been fine had I been enjoying my work – but the trouble was, I wasn’t particularly happy at work.
The more time passed after graduating from law school, the more it felt like I was on a track that was heading in the wrong direction. I had been trying to stay the course that I had chosen because it’s what made the most logical sense, but the house-buying decision raised the stakes on this issue to a new level and I began to feel increasingly anxious about it.
And what that led me to was probably what many lawyers would do, which is research: I read the advice of experts. I surveyed other people’s opinions about what I should do. In addition to talking at length to my husband about it, I also went to my parents, other family members, other mentors and asked what they thought I should do. And everyone pretty much said, yes this makes good financial sense. People would say “everyone feels nervous about buying their first house”, so I basically forced myself to continue with the process, hoping that on the other side of it, I’d feel better.
But when the house was ours and we moved in, I didn’t feel better. I actually began to feel worse. I thought of that 30-year mortgage as an enormous burden that was keeping me stuck where I was. And I felt even more trapped than before. At the same time, I knew intellectually that I had so much to be grateful for: we were still reeling from the 2008 financial crisis at the time, and I was lucky to have a job, much less a job at a top international firm. At the same time, as my adult life was starting to take shape, I was seeing that it was not the life that I truly wanted. It was the life other people wanted for me.
I wasn’t thriving in my work environment. I wasn’t thriving in my role. And that unhappiness at work was brought into sharp relief at the moment that we signed that 30-mortgage.
Thankfully, something happened that turned this around. I was invited to join a small but amazing team at work. And that change fixed two things: it shifted my work environment dramatically, which made it much more enjoyable and fun to go to work each day. And it also shifted my role: my new role on that team was a better match for the skills I wanted to be using, and so my work life improved and I felt much better. I still didn’t feel particularly free financially, but I was doing much better. And so from there, I decided that I was ready to have kids. My husband had been wanting to start a family and I was finally ready.
And of course, becoming a mom changed my life – as it does for every mom. It brought so much joy into my life – and it also brought a whole new set of challenges with regard to my work. I was able to manage those challenges pretty well with my first baby, including starting a very generous flexible work arrangement, which helped enormously.
But even with the flexible work arrangement, when I had my second baby two years later, I hit a wall. Baby number two was a breaking point for me. There were no breaks. My days were overwhelming. I wasn’t sleeping. I was utterly depleted – beyond the point of running on fumes, my fuel tank was bone dry.
In retrospect, I was probably suffering from postnatal depletion, which is a condition that’s discussed by an Australian doctor, Oscar Serrallach in his book The Post Natal Depletion Cure, which I highly recommend to any mother who has a newborn, toddler, or young children – especially if you’ve had two children within a few years of each other.
But I didn’t know that at the time – all I knew is that I didn’t feel like myself at all. Getting through the day juggling two very demanding roles of being an attorney and being a mom of two very small children.
As it happened, right around the time I returned to work from parental leave, my firm announced that it was doing a pilot coaching program for female associates. And they asked if I wanted to join the program. And I thought: perfect: I’m going to be able to get some help with this. I felt incredibly fortunate because, now that I was a mom, I didn’t even let myself consider investing in something that was just for me.
I had no trouble spending money on absolutely anything and everything the kids needed – and also lots of extra things that they didn’t actually need, or on the house, or anything that was for the family. But when it came to spending money on myself, I wouldn’t do it. Even things that I really needed, like new clothes for work, I would drag my feet on buying.
Another thing that happened after becoming a mom was that I felt even less in touch with our finances. My husband was actually encouraging me to look at our money and see what was happening, but I was already so exhausted and I also thought that he was better equipped to manage things than I was. He had an MBA, after all. So I just continued on deferring to him on financial decisions and avoiding spending money on myself. That’s why the opportunity to get coaching help from my employer was such a huge boon and I felt so fortunate.
So I started the pilot coaching program and we really just worked on managing my current work and life: but it planted a seed in my mind because just the act of having time and space reserved to think about what I wanted and having someone else ask me: “what would you like to work on” was so novel for me and it created a container to begin thinking about what I actually wanted. As a mom of young children, I had gotten out of the habit of thinking about what I wanted, so it was refreshing to spend some time thinking about that and getting some help.
And over the next few months, I started to make some smaller changes. I had started taking better care of myself. I lost the extra weight that I had gained from my pregnancies. I started establishing more leisure time equality in my home, as I mentioned in Episode 5, and I started dabbling in songwriting and taking guitar lessons.
After the pilot coaching program ended, I remember thinking that I was in a better spot than I had been before, but that it hadn’t really solved the real problem because I still didn’t view myself as having control over my life or my career. I had a gnawing concern about my future because as I was getting more senior, my role was shifting and it was no longer aligning with the skills that I most enjoyed using. I had made all the adjustments to my work environment and my work schedule that could possibly be made. I had a wonderful and supportive team. And even though that had been enough before, it was no longer enough: I was dragging myself to work and through my day. I wanted to be doing something else, even though at the time, I wasn’t sure exactly what that was. And because I was so depleted by the demands of being a mom to both a baby and a toddler, and all of the obligations and responsibilities that come with that, that I no longer felt able to muster up the energy to go along with a role that wasn’t working for me.
So, it was becoming increasingly clear to me that I needed to make a change, but I didn’t feel at liberty to do that because I had a lot of fear about how that would impact my family financially. So I continued to stay stuck, increasingly unhappy, but not seeing a way out.
And then, one day, a few months after the pilot program ended, I was sitting in a conference room during a team meeting. My team had grown quite large by then and we were heading toward a six-week trial – and at some point during the meeting, I got a flash of insight: I could see myself 10 years into the future if I stayed on the same trajectory and did nothing to change it. And I didn’t like what I saw. I realized in that moment that if I continued what I was doing, I was going to become a shadow of a human. I was going to be burned out and bitter and depleted and empty – and it wasn’t going to be good for anyone. Not for me, not for my kids, not for my husband, or for any of the other stakeholders in my life.
And in that moment, it was like I woke up and I could see things clearly. And I thought: “No. This is not what I want for my life. And if anyone is going to get me out of this situation, it has got to be me.” I had been waiting for other people to make decisions and give me permission or approval. But it just wasn’t taking me where I wanted to go and I had been spinning my wheels for long enough. I knew I had to start making my own decisions.
And in that moment, I felt 2 things: I felt afraid because I didn’t know what I was going to do to make a change or how I was going to make a change, but I also felt powerful. For the first time in years, I felt determined to take control over my own life and destiny. And from there, after the team meeting was over, I went back to my office and I called my former coach from the pilot program, and I hired her to help me figure out my next step.
I didn’t leave my job right away. But in that moment, I left my unhappy life behind me. I left the powerlessness, the staying stuck, the dependence on other people’s decisions and the approval about what I was allowed to do with my life. In that moment, I left all of that behind, and that’s when everything really started to change.
So then what happened?
From there, I went home to my husband almost like a different person. I was thinking “I know what’s best for me. And I know I can figure this out in a way that works for our family.” And I felt certain and grounded. And from there, I told my husband: “I am going to make a change. I need to do this and we’re going to figure out how.” And he said, “Okay. Do what you need to do.” There was no argument or conflict. He had always wanted for me to be happy, but I had been waiting for him to give me permission. I had been deferring to him on important decisions. And that’s just not something you can outsource because it wasn’t his decision to make. So when I realized that I was the one who needed to own that decision, I became resourceful and started lining up what I needed. I hadn’t been able to do that when I had been deferring to other people, believing that they knew best. But once I made that shift, I started taking the steps toward creating career equality, like we talked about in Episode 6, and things started changing.
When I started viewing myself as an equal with regard to finances, I began to feel in control again, and I started looking at our finances. I created an account that was reserved to fund what I needed to make the career changes I wanted to make. We met with a financial planner, who gave me a big picture view of our finances. I was no longer afraid to give myself what I needed and we started allocating funds for that exact purpose. The hesitancy and fear of taking resources away from my family were gone, and they had been replaced with the certainty that creating career equality was going to be good for my family. And from there, I also started making decisions about what to do next. I started developing the skills that I wanted to be using in my career and I decided to pivot into showing other women how to do the same thing in their careers.
When I was looking at some very expensive certification programs, I knew that I could trust myself to choose what was right for me. I no longer fretted about these decisions or asked other people what they thought I should do, like I would have done earlier. Instead, I felt certain. When I enrolled in different programs to acquire the tools and skills I needed, I was making those decisions and I was moving myself forward. Has my husband has supported me every step of the way? Yes, because he’s a great guy. But I no longer relied on him for his stamp of approval, because now it was MY ownership of those decisions that mattered. And when I was in the driver’s seat of my own destiny, I was also much happier – and much more fun to be around. And we became closer as a couple. So much closer than we had been when I was deferring to him on everything.
I thought that this struggle was something that only I was experiencing – but I’ve since learned that many women experience this same thing. You can arm a woman with a law degree and a good salary but if she’s not approaching her finances with the view that she is the exact equal in her marriage and her family with regard to financial decisions, she will continue to feel trapped and limited.
When people think they don’t have options, they feel powerless and they stay stuck, and they rely on other people to make their decisions for them. Women especially are conditioned to be people pleasers and to not make waves or rock the boat. We’re taught that that will keep us safe.
And all of that conditioning rears its head at the exact moments in a woman’s life when she’s on the brink of major financial or career decisions, and it causes women to lose touch with their own wisdom and power in making those decisions. And when that happens, we are the most unsafe: We grow increasingly unhappy, dependent, and powerless.
A friend of mine, who is a divorce lawyer, sees this all the time: she told me about a mediation she did with a woman whose husband had asked for a divorce and she said that the woman’s fear was palpable. She was literally shaking with fear. This woman had done everything by the book, everything she thought she was supposed to do, meaning that she had done everything for everyone else. But that didn’t take her to safety: it did the opposite. She was at her most unsafe financially precisely because she had been disconnected from her own wisdom and had been deferring to others about her finances for years.
This is why 98% of divorced and widowed women say that they would have taken control of their own finances sooner if they could do it all over again and they strongly urge other women to do the same. This is the bedrock of our security. The stakes couldn’t be higher. And it’s not a problem that’s going away. More millennial women are deferring to their husbands on finances than prior generations. And a professional degree doesn’t inoculate you from this problem: you can be the breadwinner and still feel like you have no power over your money.
So what does inoculate you from this problem? It’s skill. The skill of taking financial ownership when you’re in a relationship and when you’re a mom. When you have this skill, financial inequality transforms into financial equality. And having financial equality makes humans happy. It’s like sunshine and water for daisies. You get what you need to thrive.
This is a leadership skill. No lawyer mom is an island: we live in families, with spouses and children. And it’s all too easy to just default to the societal expectation of letting other people make the decisions or putting yourself last in line.
What this skill allows you to do is to get everything you want: the financial outcomes that are good for everyone, the career outcomes are good for everyone, and the family harmony that’s good for everyone.
When you’re leading in your family like this, people want to come with you. You’re inviting the people you love most to join you in a place where everyone gets what they want. And when you are acting as a leader, trusting yourself, feeling grounded and powerful, and turning the vision you want into a reality, it feels amazing. You’re no longer last in line. You’re getting what you need to live your purpose and you’re also inviting your family to do the same.
Staying stuck and feeling powerless is never the solution. Women now have equal rights under the law in almost every area: and yet inequality persists in families. The solution to this problem is to do something about it. It’s to create the kind of change you want, starting right where you are, in your own family.
If developing this skill is something you’d like to do but don’t know where to start, my program, Happy Law Mom, teaches lawyer moms this skill, as well as the other skills we’ve talked about in this series on family equality. Lawyer moms from all over the country are learning these skills and putting them to use in their daily lives to create exactly what they want. And as a result, they’re getting happier. If you’d like to hear some of their stories, go to my website, happylawmom.com and click on “work with me” and listen to the audio testimonials posted there about how learning these skills has changed everything from them. And if you’d like to join us, book a free call with me right there from the website. We’ll look at your specific situation and I’ll diagnose exactly what’s going on for you now that’s not working: we’ll not only name it, we’ll discuss the cure: the skills you need to solve your particular challenge, so you can get exactly where you want to go.
Ok, so we’ve been spending a lot of time looking at what’s going on at home, and now it’s time to focus on common lawyer mom struggles at work. The three biggest issues that affect lawyer moms at work – anxious lawyering, role mismatch, and work environment problems are what we’ll discuss next.
And we’re going to begin with anxious lawyering, because when you tackle this problem, it transforms your experience at work: it takes work from being fraught with stress to being something that’s fun and interesting and engaging. I’ve seen anxious lawyering plague first year associates and senior lawyers with 25+ years of experience. People think it’s inherent in practicing law – but it’s actually not. If you’re ready to find out another approach to lawyering that’s a lot less stressful, be sure to stay tuned for the next episode and thank you so much for being here today. Have a wonderful week!
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