I have been haunted by fear for as long as I can remember. The gripping, often drowning sensation has terrorized even some of my earliest memories. And, despite my best efforts, the fear has only continued to intensify with age.
After polling most of my female friends, they concur: they feel it, too. The ever-present debate of “can I really balance my desires and provide everything the world needs from me?”
I count myself one of the lucky ones. The daughter of a white-collar worker, I was told, “You can be anything you want to be,” at least twice before breakfast every day. Women were revered, respected, and heard in my familial tradition, and I could not understand why “feminism” and “equality” were not quickly interchangeable in common dialogue.
Being accepted into law school and starting a career in a male-dominated profession was a challenge to me, instead of a deterrent. Yes, there were snide remarks and double standards, but I decided not to let any of it slow me down.
But, there was one situation in life in which I felt completely ill-equipped. After years of trying to conceive, my husband and I were told that biological children were not possible. It would be adoption or a house with no children. My fear was that I would come to regret either decision.
Of course, I had seen the women of my life support and care for kids while also doing work they loved outside the home. But, being a lifetime overachiever, the pressure surrounding motherhood performance was more intense than any I ever felt in a courtroom.
I loved my work and did not want to see it end, but there was also the urge to have someone call me “Mom.” I wanted the ability to maintain work while having a healthy adjustment in our home. It was obvious that hand-cut sandwiches and hours long PTA parties would not be feasible.
So, I went ahead with motherhood and learned several things about the ambition of being a working mother.
There is no such thing as a work/life balance. Multitasking is a myth we tell ourselves when we are busy. Focusing wholly and completely on one thing at a time allows me to bring my best self to the task currently before me.
Quite a few days mean I am late or miss a practice/recital/parent conference, and yet, several others are lazy and slow, moving court dates so I can be the one to transport to dentist/doctor/movie date appointments.
My children know there are times I cannot be reached, and yet, they know as soon as I am capable, I will call back. I have a strict policy for my clients, as well as my children; I never make promises I cannot keep. I make predictions and compromises and negotiate settlements on things from court cases to birthday parties to carpool.
Everything in life takes an army. I cannot practice law, run a business and a family without help. When I need help, I ask for it. It can be painful, but only my pride ends up wounded. I appreciate I cannot do it all, nor do I want to.
Kids have chores. Assistants make my life and work better, and surrounding myself with good people keeps some of my anxiety at bay. All of that makes me human, not Wonder Woman.
Showing up is often a majority of the battle. That fear in the pit of my stomach means that I am worried about the outcome by wrestling with the process. Lying awake at night deciding about the best course of disciplinary action for my teenager or filing the next brief is all part of showing up, which is all-important.
Before one of my first court appearances, I went to a judge, who I consider more of a father than a friend.
“I am terrified,” I confessed. “I feel as though I want to puke.”
“That’s good,” he laughed. “Almost 22 years on the bench and I get nervous before every hearing.”
“How can that be healthy? Doesn’t a good lawyer grow past the fear?” I grimaced.
“On the day that you are so arrogant you stop getting nervous, you need to quit. We are dealing with people’s lives here. And that requires all of you. When that pit in your stomach subsides, it means your ability to do a good job will too.”
In almost 14 years of practicing law, that is the saltiest parenting advice I have ever received. Whether it is a mudroom or a courtroom, we are dealing with people’s lives here. There is no such thing as doing everything well at one time, but I can always do what is before me as perfectly as I can.
It is not perfect but being a working mother is a ministry that I’ve learned to accommodate into my life. My clients need a strong advocate, as do my children. But, the most amazing lesson is the one that I tell myself: it is a lie to believe we have to be all or nothing at all.
Let the ambition of writing, painting, speaking, crafting fill your cup and then act it out in whatever space your life allows you to create. Being a woman automatically means you are full of more thoughts and dreams in an afternoon than most creatures conjure in a lifetime.
Those leanings are meant to nourish and drive you, not cause fear and insecurity. You will be your best self to those around you, those who need you, and mostly, who you need to be when you understand and embrace the callings that get you out of bed.
No one desires to live a mediocre existence. And your kids, your heart, and the rest of the world will know if you do.