Lawyering is not easy. The hours are long, the work is demanding and the deadlines are strict. But every lawyer who has young children will tell you that parenting is an even more onerous undertaking. At the best of times, it’s a tall order to do both jobs well.
My wife (also a lawyer) and I have worked hard to meet the demands of our jobs while raising two sons, now aged six and eight. With each passing year, and through (a lot) of trial and error, we got better at balancing work with parenthood. We’re also lucky to have a strong support system, including our own parents, that helps keep the ship afloat. As of March 2020, however, we had to confront a whole new set of obstacles.
Allow me to admit how naive I was at the outset of the pandemic. When I walked out of my office with my computer, ready to work at home, I honestly thought the next few months would be easy. After all, my wife and I wouldn’t have to wake up early to get ready for work. We no longer had to commute to the office, court or in-person client meetings. Remote technology, I surmised, would enable us to practise law with ease.
Of course, I was dead wrong. The main reason is that, once schools shut down, we were suddenly under the same roof as our young kids from morning to night. There was some remote schooling for a few hours a day, but they couldn’t do that on their own. We basically had to watch them all the time. And because our family members were social-distancing at home, we could no longer lean on our network of support.
Our workdays soon became impossible, so we decided to do our jobs in “shifts.” We alternated between working and watching the kids in two-hour time slots. This seemed like a decent solution, but it was a total fail. If one of us had a work meeting that ran past the two-hour window, the other one had to take on a longer shift with the kids and, as a result, get less work done. On top of that, it was very difficult to schedule meetings into our limited number of time slots.
Unsurprisingly, this state of affairs bred frustration and resentment. To make things worse, once the kids were finally in bed at the end of the day, we still had to tackle hours of housework: cleaning, laundry and grocery shopping. By the end of all that work, we were exhausted.
When I spoke to other lawyer parents, it was clear that they weren’t faring much better. More than one person told me that they struggled to make it through their days and were often arguing with their spouse over whose job was more important and, thus, deserved extra time at the computer to get it done.
As the lockdown waned, our family never quite returned to pre-pandemic levels of sanity. But when school eventually resumed, life as we knew it started to get back on track.
The past couple of months, however, have teleported us back to the low point of pandemic parenthood. As the Omicron wave triggered a new slate of restrictions and school closings, we once again had to assume the simultaneous roles of lawyers, teachers and parents. This is, quite simply, an impossible task.
As a result, I can’t say it’s been much easier than previous shutdowns. But we have tried to approach the situation using the lessons we learned the first time around. For instance, I did a better job of letting my employer know what I was going through. No matter how hard I tried, I was only able to work at a reduced capacity, but at least my colleagues knew what to expect. If you’re in a similar position, don’t be afraid to voice your plight. It may earn you some much-needed slack.
You should also be careful about how much you take on at work. If you’re not firing on all cylinders, you really shouldn’t take on commitments that you won’t be able to fulfill. I know that turning down work may sound daunting, but don’t forget that people are counting on you to do your job to the best of your ability. If you can’t deliver, there is nothing wrong with scaling back your workload.
Finally, I never stop reminding myself that this will not last forever. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe. At no point did I imagine that we would be entering our third year of this chaos. But nothing is permanent. Not the nice weather in the summer. And not a once-in-a-century pandemic.
Let’s try to think of this as a (very) rough period that we are capable of beating. Once we do, our still-difficult lives will feel easy compared to what we are dealing with now.
Daniel Waldman is a commercial litigator at Dickinson Wright LLP. He writes about career satisfaction and business development for Precedent.