Outsourcing motherhood

The New Republic ran an interesting article about the financial afflictions of big law firms. Evidently, the partner bickering and backstabbing to secure clients and big bonuses depicted in television shows like The Good Wife and Suits has at least some basis in reality.

I was struck by a paragraph about a young associate and mother at the Chicago firm, Mayer Brown:

As demeaning as life can be for a partner these days, it’s altogether soul-crushing for an associate. One of Mayer Brown’s young attorneys recalled scaling back her hours around the time her first child was born. The new schedule meant getting to the office by 6:30 a.m. so she could leave by 6 p.m., in time to put her daughter to bed. The problem arose when she had to work late, a not infrequent occurrence. “Then you’re in the office from 6:30 a.m. till 1 a.m. It sucks even more,” she says. Periodically, some of the women partners would lead seminars on striking a work-life balance, but she found them of limited use. “The primary talk we would get was: ‘Outsource your life. Your husband can stay at home. Or you can hire a cook, a cleaning staff, and you can [spend time with your kids] on vacations.’ Thanks.”

Outsource your life? My heart breaks for this lady. Her story is a perfect example of the false note struck by female attorneys who claim that work/life balance is possible. In reality, if you want to succeed in big law (and I assume other high profile professions), motherhood is sidelined. You outsource just about everything—even kissing your child goodnight.

Don’t get me wrong. Outsourcing can be quite helpful. (I’m working on hiring house keeping help right now). But one thing that should not be outsourced are critical hours of nurture and availability to our infants and toddlers. This is why even most traditional full-time jobs of 40 hours a week have problematic effects on young children, especially when the children are placed in daycare.

Some women have vocational callings beyond being a homemaker and mother. Other women must work outside the home in order to pay basic bills or climb out of debt. All of us need breaks here and there from the stress and intensity of our children. None of this detracts, however, from the fact that children, especially birth to age 5, need a professional mother. They need a mother to provide them, ideally, with the her best combination of warm arms, breast milk, a home, healthy food, conversation, wisdom, quality sleep, socialization, stability, attachment, security, and affection.

It seems weekly that I run into an older woman who looks adoringly at my children and says, “Cherish these years. They go so fast.” The days don’t feel fast from my perspective, but I believe the wisdom of age.  You never hear a person say, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.” You do hear people say, “I wish I had spent more time with my children.” Even the opt-out generation profiled in the New York Times who left high paying jobs to be full-time mothers and now want back in the workforce do not express regret over the years spent exclusively with their children. One woman described her time at home as “the most rich, meaningful and ‘transformative’ period in her adulthood.”

Our children will be gone so soon. Let’s make the years with them count.

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