Ed. Note: This is the latest in a series of articles about motherhood in the legal profession, made in collaboration with our friends at MothersEsquire. Welcome Emily Monarch to our website. Click here if you would like to donate to MothersEsquire.
At some point, most lawyers juggle a legal career while serving as a caregiver to a child, parent, or spouse, sometimes all three at the same time.
As I write this, my 9 year old daughter is sitting across from me and concentrating intensely on her laptop. She’s in virtual class on a Zoom video call in this era of COVID-19. This morning I texted two friends who are dealing with care issues with their aging parents, and in the office next to me, Larisa Gilbert, another lawyer in my law firm, is talking to her mother’s personal care facility to negotiate shower schedules and billing issues .
Caregiving is high on the list of things I didn’t learn about in law school, but which I really needed to know. But as former first lady Rosalynn Carter once said, “There are only four types of people in the world: those who have been carers, those who are now carers, those who will be carers, and those who need carers. “
As a law student, I didn’t even think about becoming a nurse. I knew I wanted to be a mother, but thought little about the details. When my oldest son was born, I thought of nursing as a short sprint from maternity leave to kindergarten.
In my mind I would do some research and choose a daycare center and we would sail with them until it was time to send our son to school. Our two daughters arrived along the way, along with the pressures of homework, sports, and after-school activities. Mentally, I moved my finish line to high school graduation – this was a marathon, not a sprint.
When my youngest started preschool, I opened an older law firm. In my early years I saw talented and capable professional men and women pursuing careers who cared not only for their children but also for their spouses and aging parents.
It was then that I realized that for many lawyers, nursing involves more than just young motherhood: that responsibility will be with us throughout our careers.
This revelation came as quite a shock to me. I drank career Kool-Aid in law school and early in my practice. I believed that any interruption in my working life would mean suicide. I read article by article about the sacrifices working mothers made. But somehow nursing didn’t become an interruption or distraction, it became the heart of my practice. Every day I use my law degree to help other supervisors navigate their travels. I also no longer worry that the time I spend wearing it for the people I love will affect my career.
When I sit with a family and help them make difficult decisions about an aging loved one, my testimonials don’t matter. What counts is the shared experience. When Larisa says, “My father, who recently passed away, was a naval officer,” or my paralegal Kathleen says to a client, “We went through the same thing with my parents,” it’s important.
Our clients don’t care where we studied law, who we worked for or what cases we won. They just want to know that we understand and take care of it.
While everyone has problems when life reverses their assigned roles and the child becomes a parent, I think lawyers have more problems. We have high standards. We sweat the details. We are obsessed with getting our family members to do what we think is right. We argue our points well beyond their obvious conclusions. And at some point, most lawyers juggle a legal career while serving as caregiver for a child, parent, or spouse, sometimes all three at the same time.
With this position in you, some things I learned along the way can be helpful, especially as we head off into the holiday season.
First, don’t argue. Whether you’re dealing with a recalcitrant toddler, know-it-all (age 15), or a parent with an opinion, resist the urge to debate. Making some good decisions and letting your loved one decide is a far better use of your skills.
Second, ask for help. Too often we don’t know exactly how our co-parent or sibling can help us. Perhaps your brother can pick up groceries for your mother, or your out-of-town sister can call the insurance company. A seasoned senior attorney can be your best lawyer, and a paid caregiver can make you child or son again. Asking for help can also create some much desired and needed time to take care of yourself.
Third, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Those of us who are used to grabbing the nearest brass ring take our responsibility as caregivers very seriously. Still, nobody gives grades (or preferred child status) for your performance. Lowering your expectations, especially during this pandemic and busy holiday season, will reduce stress and guilt.
Do the best you can for the people you love and move on. You know that’s enough.
Emily Monarch is a wife and mother of three and lives in Louisville, Kentucky. She is the founder of Elder Law Solutions, PLLC, a law firm focused on helping families deal with the legal, financial, and nursing problems that arise while caring for an aging loved one. Emily serves on the Board of Directors of the Life Care Planning Law Firm Association, a national network of holistic law firms that provide legal advice, care coordination, and legal services to serve elderly clients and their families. For more information on life insurance planning, visit https://www.lcplfa.org/. You can reach Emily at [email protected] or through her website: https://kyelderlawsolutions.com/.