Recently, one of the lawyers I know from a Volunteer Bar Association I am apart of reached out to the entire Group Chat of Lawyers we were in together and said, "Does anyone know of a Constitutional Lawyer who can speak on a Spanish Radio Program tomorrow morning?"
To put things into context, while I am Cuban American and fluent in Spanish, I would not by any means describe myself as a Constitutional Lawyer nor an expert in that area of the law.
This message was also sent at about 7:15pm (and the radio program was scheduled for 8am the following morning).
Still, I had enough of a 30 second break between getting the kids out of the bathtub and putting their PJs on to respond as quickly as I could and I speed-typed, "ME!".
The idea of being on the radio both excited and thrilled me, and I've always had an interest in all things communications, media, and journalism. So it was my instinct to respond with a resounding YES to what sounded like an awesome opportunity. The substantive part of it (i.e. the Con Law knowledge) was scary, sure, but I knew I had the World Wide Web and a solid 2-3 hours after the kids' bedtime to prepare everything I needed so I wouldn't sound like I was anything but an expert.
When I replied to the Group Chat, I noticed another female lawyer and friend of mine typing (the elusive "..." showed up on the phone's screen but she never hit "Send"). I reached out to her separately and asked, "Did you want to handle this radio interview yourself? I noticed you were typing."
She responded with, "Yes I was interested but I really don't know anything about Constitutional Law so I opted not to volunteer."
My thoughts were "You and me BOTH girl, but I still replied as fast as I could because I saw the opportunity for what it was - a chance to do something fun, scary, and completely in line with my professional goals!"
Well, sure enough, my radio interview the next morning went really well, and led to my being invited back for a second and third radio interview, and then eventually, I was invited as a Guest Legal Analyst on the TV Show version of this same Radio Host's local program.
All because I said "YES" to a chance, an opportunity, and an opening that I thought was right for me, my career, and my goals.
I had no idea HOW I would make it work, and I didn't even really know IF I could make it work at first, but I took a chance on myself by saying "YES". Oftentimes, we as women are so hesitant to try something new because we're unsure if we'll do it properly, perfectly, or as well as someone else we know.
However the reality is that men do this all the time, and they don't even give it a second thought. They volunteer and commit to offers of employment, opportunities to advance in their careers, and new tasks or responsibilities which they have zero to very little knowledge about beforehand. But they dive in anyways, figure it out along the way, and in the meantime are leaving women behind, who are probably still wondering whether they could have done a better job.
The answer is "YES", of course they could have. But they have to start by putting themselves out there, setting aside the fear of failure, and jumping at these opportunities bravely, just as a man would have.
So the next time you hear of an opportunity to make a difference, take a different path in your career, or just try something new that peaks your interest and will progress your goals, say YES.
When my oldest child, Rowan, was born, I remember experiencing, like many new moms have, the interactions with family, friends, and strangers that were now solely about and focused on my newborn baby. Before becoming a parent, the topic of conversation you engage in is always something you have firsthand experience in, naturally, since you don’t commonly engage in conversation with someone about something you’re not directly related to.
I don't feel bad about how i spent my time in quarantine. You shouldn't either.
So what if I’ve been using this pandemic as an excuse to spend more time with my kids and not work as much?
I have always loved working and as a lawyer, I feel a genuine thrill when I accomplish a great result for a client in a case. After all, its the #1 reason law students cite to when you ask them, “why do you want to become a lawyer?” - “To help people”. When that wish is actually fulfilled, its extremely gratifying and rewarding, and reassures me that I made the right decision in my career choice.
Is it bad that I don’t feel bad about NOT working as much as I should be during this pandemic? Does this mean I was secretly meant to be a STAY AT HOME mom?! **gasps** (Spoiler alert: NO).
Now more than ever its crucial to have a schedule in place that you, your partner/spouse/hubby, your kids, and even your dog or cat can all agree on and that will keep you all on the same page (and hopefully avoid any unnecessary stress in the meantime). Whether you're starting a schedule on Day 1 or Day 31 of the Quarantine, having a structure in place will help you stay focused on the tasks you need to get done, when you need to get them done, and be as productive as possible in your work and with your family.
Here are my tips for creating a Work from Home Schedule that actually works:
1. Get your partner onboard ASAP.
Your partner is your right-hand man (literally) and should be someone you can count on and turn to, especially when your boss is asking for an update on your billables while the kids are hosting a WWE match in your living room over who gets the last of the Lucky Charms marshmallows – all before 7am. Sit down with him and have a detailed talk about what you absolutely need time for and what he absolutely needs time for in his own line of work and create alternating schedules. Maybe you work in the morning while he handles the kids and then you switch in the afternoon, or he can spend an hour on virtual learning with the kids while you go out for your daily walk and then you take over so he can make some calls and answer emails for an hour. Whatever the schedule will be, talk it out in detail and plan for emergencies. What is the backup plan when you have an 8am Conference Call with a client and your 3-year-old is screaming? (Real Life Tip: escape to your car and make the call from there!)
2. Seize the Morning
If you're juggling work tasks with virtual learning, you may have realized by now that kids tend to burn out by the afternoon. Between the reading, writing, different assignments, new digital format, and the overwhelming thoughts that they're not going back to their familiar schools, teachers, or see the friendly faces they've known all year (at least not here in South Florida), your kid is probably over the virtual learnings by about half day. Depending on your kid's age, 10-15 minute breaks every 60-90 minutes are super effective for freshening them up and re-charging their brains before getting back into it (that plus a yummy snack does wonders for my kindergartener). But if you seize the morning and get as much of the homeschooling done by about Noon, it makes the rest of the day much more seamless in terms of meals, outdoor play, and even crafts or hobbies. By simulating their actual school day (when they were in a classroom by 8:00am Monday through Friday anyway, ready to learn), I've found that kids are much more responsive, attentive, and productive in their homeschooling, which leads to less frustration and meltdowns on our ends as the parents-turned-teachers.
As for your own work, the morning is a great time to block off time to answer any emails or requests from the office, while scheduling phone calls with existing or potential clients for the afternoon (hopefully while your kid is now playing outside, building Legos, or otherwise engaged in some other hands on project) that buys you those 15 minutes to make some phone calls. Take advantage of the morning to get your self-care routine in (i.e. YOU time, exercise, meditation, journaling, etc.) and to tackle whatever tasks are the most thought consuming, labor intensive, while your brain is still awake, alert, and active, and before you also burn out by the time the afternoon rolls around.
3. Schedule Your Priorities
“The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” – Stephen Covey
Once you and your partner are on the same page about the new schedule, make sure you lay out all of each other’s priorities, including both of your jobs’ priorities as well as the priorities of your family. Identify 2 - 3 tasks that absolutely need to get done on a daily basis, and recognize these tasks will vary from day to day. If you’re able to get more those 3 tasks done during your set schedule, great! But if you don’t get to more than those 3 prioritized tasks, then prioritize the next day’s critical “To-Do’s” accordingly. This is not a time in your career to do everything you didn’t do for the last 6 months. Recognize the hard deadlines (i.e. statutes of limitations, if applicable) and what is actually DUE and get those few things done during your newly set work from home schedule. Don’t set yourself up for failure by striving to bill the most hours you’ve ever billed for your office or by taking on 47 new cases in a week when you know you don’t have time to get to them while also handling virtual learning, cooking, laundry, cleaning, 24/7 in home childcare, and maintaining your sanity.
Scheduling your priorities doesn’t only mean your work responsibilities. Do you and your husband want to make sure you eat lunch and/or dinner together as a family, everyday? Or will you sacrifice some family meals to get more work in at night, while he is feeding and putting the kids to bed? Whatever your priorities are, the consistent ones along with the daily changing tasks, identify them early, communicate them with your partner at least the night before, and stick to them.
3. Work in Family Time.
Although it’s difficult to ignore your needy clients’ requests for constant updates and your demanding boss setting up 17 pointless calls a day, don’t forget to schedule time for your little ones. Quality time with them will bring you the balance and levity you need to remember why you put up with all of the other “work” stuff. It may seem redundant at first to say “at 11:00am today, I’ll take a break from work so I can talk to my 5-year-old for 15 minutes” when you’re already stuck inside together, all day, every day, but this is the ideal time to make lasting memories with your family. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, years from now, when you look back on this pandemic, instead of dwelling on the stress that your work, boss, and clients brought on, you remember all the times you spent laughing with your kids, actually playing with them, going for bike rides and long walks with your hubby, and eating lunch outside together on an old blanket, just because you could? It’s easy to get caught up in the stress and frustration of the changes these uncertain times have presented without stopping to appreciate the gift of time we’ve been blessed with here.
Before, I had to leave the house by 6:45am to make it to an 8:30am hearing in Downtown, and I barely glimpsed my sleepy babies before I left and didn’t get to see them again until it was dinner, bath time, and bedtime, only to repeat all over again the next day. Now, I see all of that former commute time as a blessing of extra time to be with my little ones throughout the day and though they may not be old enough to grasp such a blessing (hence their constant fighting, screaming, and crying some days), the more I appreciate and live in the moment with my family, the calmer I feel about the world around me.
Parking Lot Venting
A few months ago, I was standing in a parking lot after a meeting talking to a fellow lawyer mom and a mutual friend of ours (non-lawyer, but also a working mom). Before I knew it, an hour and a half had passed and we were still standing there, under the hot afternoon sun, talking. The topic? OUR KIDS.
This wasn’t a “Oh you’ll never believe the adorable thing little Matthew did last night” kind of conversation either. It was a full blown venting sesh between three working moms about the REAL struggles we were dealing with in disciplining our kids, who range in age from toddlers to pre-teens. I had been struggling with the newly found attitude problem my 5 year old son had embraced and what seemed like a constant personal attack towards his own mother, while my friends were dealing with the rebellious streaks their 9 and 10 year old daughters were testing out, and how all of this has been affecting our relationships not only with our kids, but with our husbands, and the spillover effects of all of this on our work and professional lives.
Two things became immediately evident to me by the end of that conversation: (1) I was not alone in my sincerest thoughts and feelings about parenting, which is often a conflicting, non-picturesque war within myself, and (2) I feel better, lighter, and relieved. After sharing my stories with these women, who were experiencing such similar feelings of hardship and emotional struggle as I was, I was flooded with relief and a sense of peace and calm. I was reminded of the simple fact that I am not alone. Not alone in the uneasiness I sometimes feel as a working mom, not alone in the guilt that I feel when I have to leave my family to provide them the quality of life I envision for them, not alone in the guilt I feel when I am dedicating more time to my family and neglecting to do my work as well as I could/should be, and not alone in the downright torture that weighs me down every time I think I have disciplined my kids too strongly or was too hard on them (because who the hell wants a spoiled brat hanging around the house forever?!?)
Working moms get a bad enough rap as is. Lawyer moms may be even more vicious still because we become consumed by the nature aggression and competition of our profession that requires us to win, no matter the costs. I think its that much more necessary then, that we, as working moms, as lawyer moms, make a conscious effort to set aside our different personalities and those antagonistic characteristics that we’ve been taught to value so much, and instead recognize how important it is to support each other. Whether that support comes from a text to check in on your friends, or delaying your work for an extra hour and a half so you can lend an ear to a friend who just needs to vent in a parking lot.
tiny moments with tiny babies
Every night, when I give my infant baby girl her last bottle and I’m about to lay her down to sleep for the night, I hold her bald, fuzzy haired head close to mine and inhale deeply. I breathe in as much as I can, and I feel the wispy little hairs on her head dance as the edge of my nose sniffs her scalp. I try to memorize exactly how she smells and hold on to it, though we all know there is no way to adequately describe how a 3 month old baby smells. I just know I want to sniff and smell her all night if I could (and somehow forego my body’s need for sleep) because I know that she won’t smell like this forever.
Melissa Caballero Alton
I'm a working lawyer mom in South Florida, and these are some of my stories and tips to help you be productive as a lawyer, and happy as a mom.