Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on motherhood in the legal profession, in partnership with our friends at MothersEsquire. Welcome Emily Monarch to our pages. Click here if you’d like to donate to MothersEsquire.
At some point, most attorneys find themselves juggling a career in law while serving as a caregiver to a child, parent, or spouse, sometimes all three at once.
As I write this, my 9-year-old daughter sits across from me, focused intently on her laptop. She’s in virtual class on a Zoom video call — in this era of COVID-19. This morning, I’ve already texted with two friends navigating care issues with their aging parents, and in the office next to mine, Larisa Gilbert, another attorney in my firm, talks to her mother’s personal care facility negotiating shower schedules and billing issues.
Caregiving sits at the top of the list of “Things I learned nothing about in law school but really needed to know.” But as former First Lady Rosalynn Carter once said, “There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”
I didn’t even think about becoming a caregiver while I was a law student. I knew I wanted to be a mother but gave little thought to the particulars. When my oldest son was born, I thought of caregiving as a brief sprint from maternity leave until Kindergarten.
In my mind, I’d research and choose a day care and we’d sail along until it was time to send our son to school. Along the way, our two daughters arrived, along with the pressures of homework and sports and after-school activities. Mentally, I shifted my finish line to high school graduation — this was a marathon not a sprint.
When my youngest started preschool, I opened an elder law firm. Within the first few years, I witnessed talented and capable professional men and women juggling developing careers while caring not only for their children, but also for their spouses and aging parents.
It was then that I realized that for many attorneys, caregiving encompasses more than just young motherhood: these responsibilities will accompany us for our entire careers.
This revelation came as quite a shock to me. I drank the career track Kool-Aid in law school and early in my practice. I believed that any interruption in my work life would be career suicide. I read article after article about the sacrifices working mothers made. Yet somehow, instead of becoming an interruption or distraction, caregiving became the heart of my practice. Every day, I use my law degree to help other caregivers navigate their journeys. I also no longer worry that the time I spend carrying for the people I love will derail my career.
When I’m sitting with a family helping them make difficult decisions about an aging loved one, my credentials don’t matter. What matters is the shared experience. When Larisa says, “My dad, who recently passed away, was a career Navy officer,” or my paralegal Kathleen tells a client, “We went through the same thing with my parents,” that’s what matters.
Our clients don’t care where we went to law school, who we clerked for, or what cases we won. They just want to know that we understand and care.
While everyone struggles when life reverses the assigned roles and child becomes parent, I think attorneys struggle more. We have high standards. We sweat the details. We obsess about getting our family members to do what we think is right. We argue our points far past their obvious conclusions. And at some point, most attorneys find themselves juggling a career in law while serving as a caregiver to a child, parent or spouse, sometimes all three at once.
When you find yourself in this position, a few things I learned along the way may be helpful especially as we head into the holiday season.
First, don’t argue. Whether you’re dealing with an unruly toddler, a know-it-all 15-year-old, or an opinionated parent, resist the urge to debate. Presenting a few good choices and letting your loved one decide is a far better use of your skills.
Second, ask for help. Too many times, we are not specific in how our co-parent or sibling can assist us. Maybe your brother can pick up groceries for your mom, or your sister who lives out of town can call the insurance company. An experienced elder law attorney can be your best advocate, and a paid caregiver will let you become a daughter or son again. Asking for help may also create some much coveted and needed time to take care of yourself.
Third, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Those of us used to grabbing the next brass ring take our responsibilities as caregivers very seriously. Yet, no one is awarding grades (or favored child status) for your performance. Lowering your expectations, especially during this pandemic and the busy holiday season, will reduce stress and guilt.
Do the best you can for the people you love and move on, knowing that is enough.
Emily Monarch is a wife and mother of three children living in Louisville, Kentucky. She is the founder of Elder Law Solutions, PLLC, a law firm focused on helping families navigate the legal, financial and care issues that arise when caring for an aging loved one. Emily serves on the board of directors for the Life Care Planning Law Firm Association, a national network of holistic law practices that offer legal services, care coordination and advocacy services to help elderly clients and their families. You can learn more about Life Care Planning at https://www.lcplfa.org/. You can reach Emily at firstname.lastname@example.org or through her website: https://kyelderlawsolutions.com/.
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