by Arna Delle-Vergini
How do I put this kindly?
I know what you want to hear from me. I see it in your anxious faces when you tap me on the shoulder after a session, dart a look to the left and to the right, and clear your throat before speaking. You don’t even need to ask the question in fact, because you are one female among many who has asked this question of me in one way or the other, either immediately after I’ve coached you or, sometimes, by way of an (unnecessarily) apologetic email sent afterwards. It’s the question on the mind of many young women who take up a profession: “How will I manage it all? Career. Children. Family?” And if they don’t ask it when they enter the profession, you can sure as hell guarantee that it will be a question kicking around in their subconscious when they’re pregnant and preparing for a new baby. “How the hell am I going to do all of this?”
Now, I’ve asked around and not one of my male colleagues has ever had this question put to him from a male new or emerging lawyer and, I can tell you, not one male has ever asked the question of me either. It is a question they should all be asking, but that is not the subject of this blog. This blog is about my younger sisters in the profession and it is an attempt by me to answer the unanswerable. Kindly.
Now, for the bad news first: you’re not actually going to do be able to do it all. Let me explain a little further. I can’t be the only person who read Allison Pearson’s 2002 novel “I Don’t Know How She Does It” and wondered: does what? She’s a woman who works full-time and she has a family. You can be sure this would not be a story worth reading if the protagonist, Kate Redy, was a male, or indeed, a single mother working at a grocery store five days a week with an extra Saturday night shift to make ends meet. It should be a story worth reading, but it isn’t. Because what makes this novel appealing to many professional women is that Kate Redy actually has a choice. And it is the choice that haunts her throughout most of the novel until she ultimately resolves it by opting out of work altogether and becoming a full time mother. Despite the title of the novel, there is no actual point in the novel that Kate Redy is “doing it all”, and that is because of the simple fact that “doing it all” is simply not possible.
Now for the good news: odds are you are not a single mother working at a grocery store five days a week with a Saturday night shift to make ends meet. That means, odds are, you actually have a choice. But this is also where it gets a little complicated. Because no matter what plans you make before your baby arrives, you are simply not going to have any way of knowing what motherhood has in store for you. Will it be a blissful journey? A harrowing one? Will you be doing it partnered? Alone? Will there be other children? Will there be a family supporting you? Will you have lots of friends or few? Will you find home life with a toddler mind-numbingly boring? Will you find your usual law practice loses its glamour compared to mama/baby yoga classes and babycinos? Or will working life suddenly become more alluring compared to wiping up poo, snot, drool, vomit and any other manner of copious mucosa that emits from little humans? The truth is, you simply cannot know and the process of getting to know this has to be a personal one. This is a journey that can’t be taken by anyone other than you.
Some women come to a decision quickly. Other women will agonise over it for some time. Some will make the right choice for them, and then discover it’s altogether the wrong choice and find they have to change track. Others will make the wrong choice for them because they are pressured or believe they have to, only to suffer in silence for years or, hopefully, over time find the courage to make a choice that has more truth for them. You might try being a full-time mother, part-time worker, full-time worker and a variety of all of these before settling in to what may seem at times to be no real choice at all. But it is a choice and you will be happy to hear that it is a choice of very little consequence in the scheme of things.
See? I said I was going to be kind!
You see, by “very little consequence” – I actually mean this: your beautiful children will grow up hardy and loved whether they are raised by you full-time or part-time, and/or raised by your partner full-time or part-time, or raised by their grandparents, or are in child care five days a week. It sounds awful, but so long as you are living a life that is true to you, it matters diddly-squat to your kids if you are at present at every swimming carnival or not. Don’t get me wrong – kids like you to check in occasionally. No child wants to be completely invisible to their parents. Bu the odds of your children being completely invisible to you (whether you’re work full-time or not), is about as likely as you reading this blog and being a single mother working five days a week at a convenience store with an extra shift on Saturday nights. (Unlikely – but if you are, call me, I want to learn your secrets so I can bottle and sell them and perhaps retire a millionaire)!
Now, what I really want to say to you is this: I know a lot of women in this profession. Many of them have children. Some of them work full-time, others work part-time. I know women who have one child, others have multiple children. I know women who are partnered with children and women who are unpartnered with children. I know women who have children with disabilities and women who have children who are all grown up now with families of their own. There are women breast-feeding. There are women who place their baby on the bottle at the earliest possible time. There are women who have adopted children. There are women with children who are at the Bar, women who act as solicitors and run their own law firms who also have children, and women with children who also sit on tribunals and the Bench. Their children are just fine and they are all wonderful mothers. And whilst they’re not doing it all – frankly that is not even possible, they’re at least doing it their own way. And because they’re doing it their own way, they have it all! And so will you. Just remain true to yourself.