Family Friendly Family Law Careers

Normally, I write about things you’d expect me to write about – divorce and custody cases, the laws, what to expect, how to behave, common pitfalls, and other mistakes women tend to make when it comes to facing a family law case in Virginia.

Today, though, I’m going to write about something a little bit different. I came across an article in the Southside Daily the other day  on how a Virginia Beach City Council member was working on a policy that would allow infants at work. Just a few days before that, I read an article about how babies are now allowed to be on the Senate floor after revising a ruling that originally didn’t allow for children under a year of age to be present.

Now, I generally try to avoid politics in a public forum, but the reality is that for me, both doing what I do (as a family law attorney dedicated to representing women only in divorce and custody cases) and being who I am (a new mom to a one year old boy), this is an issue that is interesting, timely, and deeply relevant for me (and many women I know) on a personal level.

Working where I do, you’d expect us to be pretty family friendly, right? I mean, family kind of is what our business is all about. Going into my first pregnancy, I honestly had no idea what to expect – isn’t that so characteristic of first time moms? I didn’t even know what our maternity leave policy was! We’re a small company; not one that is legally large enough to require FMLA leave. I didn’t ask about maternity leave when I was hired (I mean, really, who would?! Besides, I was 25 and unmarried at the time, and having a baby was NOT on my radar!), and really wasn’t sure what to expect when I took that first positive pregnancy test.

The firm was super generous with me about taking paid maternity leave, which was both shocking and welcome news. We also have a short term disability policy that triggered for me, so financially all was well during the three months that I stayed home.

Of course, as any mom knows, having that baby really rocks your world – in the craziest ways. I had picked out a daycare before my son was born, but, afterwards, I really couldn’t stomach the idea of having my sweet little baby in a daycare for so many hours. (Can you imagine – I really didn’t think that much would change after he arrived?!) Instead of taking him to daycare, we sold our house (which we hadn’t planned to leave), moved to be closer to family (next door to my sister, in fact), and decided to hire nannies.

I talked to the firm about what work would be like after my return, and was incredibly encouraged to find out how flexible they were going to be. I’ve read a gazillion articles, it seems like, about how women didn’t return to work or how, if they did, they felt their advancement opportunities or ability to earn a livable income were significantly diminished. Another attorney I know told me recently that, for her, getting pregnant in the 90s, working at a big law firm in Manhattan, essentially took her off the partner track! Can you imagine?  What a choice to have to make!

For so many women, the reality is that they have to choose between a career and motherhood. There’s no doubt that having a child is a choice – but, really, can you expect many women to choose NOT to have a child, if they truly feel called to do so, because of the potential costs to their career? The problem is actually having to make that choice at all, especially when it seems like the choices don’t impact men nearly as much.

Recently, I read a book (and, incidentally, one I definitely recommend) called “How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids” by Jancee Dunn. It was so interesting, because it explored a lot of the professional issues that women tend to face in their struggle to do it all – and even the sense that we HAVE to do it all, that we’re sort of programmed to try – and the fact that men just don’t have those same struggles. It even discussed biological reasoning behind our different responses (“Like, seriously, you DIDN’T hear the baby SCREAMING?”), which was helpful and interesting.

Obviously, being able to work AND raise a baby without going crazy is kind of mission critical, for me and so many other women who are struggling to balance the two. In the quest to “have it all” there’s a lot missing, and a lot of things that employers and even the government could offer to help assist us – but all too often, none of those things are happening.

Fortunately for me, that hasn’t been my experience. At Hofheimer Family Law, I’m able to manage a satisfying legal career (which, though I don’t have statistics on it, is probably one of the harder career paths out there for moms to juggle family and work) with the demands of motherhood. (And a husband who travels nearly 50% of the time, leaving me to be almost a single parent.) Honestly, though? I’ve never been happier. Both my job and my new son are so incredibly fulfilling in new and unexpected ways.

In the early days, I was encouraged to bring the baby to work with me – like the Virginia Beach City Councilwoman is trying to do. I found it stressful, but, for a short time at least, the lesser of two evils. I wasn’t quite ready to leave him yet, and by working before he woke and after he went to bed, I could still juggle the work with the demands of being a new mom. I was grateful, and, of course, there was no shortage of willing hands to help love the baby during his at work awake periods! (You’ve got to love a really, really close knit office!)

Since then, though, I hired a nanny. And Hofheimer Family Law has helped a lot – allowing me to work flexible hours, including from home, to juggle both my legal work and my home work. With my husband gone so much, even though my career is a fairly high powered one, I have to be flexible. And I’ve been able to be, so much more so than I ever imagined when I started law school. (Though, of course, at the time, I didn’t realize how important the flexibility would become.)

As a non-mom, you can’t understand the terrible and wonderful pulls on your heart strings that having a child will elicit. Your desire to be with them all the time, even at the same time that you can’t wait to be away and talk about adult things. Your need to have a career, especially after you worked so hard for so long to build one! (And accumulated the attendant level of student loan debt – ugh, a nightmare in itself.)

For the women who feel like they can’t have it all, I’m so sorry. That hasn’t been my experience at all, and for that, I’ll always be grateful. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand and recognize and, really, ache for the moms whose experience hasn’t been similar. I can’t imagine choosing between a career I love and the opportunity to be the kind of mom I want to be for my child.

It shouldn’t be that way. It doesn’t have to be. Until the law change, though, all too many women will hit the glass ceiling, and be forced to make choices that make their hearts ache.

Are you looking for a job in the legal field, as an intake professional, a paralegal, or an attorney? (Family law experience is generally preferred.) We’re hiring. For more information, visit our website, or give us a call at 757-425-5200.

(Pro tip: When sending in a resume or cover letter, show a little sparkle. We don’t want to hear the same ho-hum thing we hear everywhere; really let your personality shine.)

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