I Never Regretted Being a Working Mother

ann and her sons

Ann with her sons, Andrew and John. “I loved being a mother. I also loved being a lawyer.”

I have been practicing as a lawyer for 40 years and am now basically in the final stages of that practice, i.e. retirement. Recently, a dear friend of mine sent me a news article that discussed the attrition of women from the workplace when they become mothers. The women cited in the article were leaving jobs they had worked hard to get because they felt they couldn’t balance career demands with family. I was distressed to read this – I fervently hope that women do not feel the need to leave their careers because of the challenges of working while having a family. As I look back on my career, during which I had two sons, I realize how key my profession was to my quality of life. I can say without hesitation that I have never regretted being a working mother.

As a young woman, I questioned whether or not I wanted children, but not because of how I would manage balancing motherhood with work. I was just never someone who was very interested in babies. However, around age 30 my biological clock did begin ticking, and I suddenly thought having a child would be a good idea. My parents had given up on our having kids since my husband and I had already been married for eight years by that time. When we called them on Mother’s Day and chorused “Happy Grandmother’s Day,” there was a dead silence, and then my mother said:  “Oh, is one of the cats going to have kittens?” They were overjoyed when we explained that we were expecting, and my mother called back fifteen minutes later to be sure she had heard the news correctly! I was 32 when my older son, Andrew, was born, and I was 41 when my younger son, John, was born. Despite my earlier uncertainties, I loved being a mother.

I also loved my work as a lawyer. Right out of law school, I clerked for two years (from 1973 to 1975) for the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California. I was the first woman law clerk that my judge had hired after 23 years on the bench; one reason that he was incented to hire me was that his daughter was just starting law school. I then moved to a private firm to do antitrust law. At that time, the firm was not friendly to women in litigation in general, and certainly not to women lawyers with families. The senior woman partner at that time basically told the younger women coming in that they would have to choose between work and family. I felt fortunate that my supervising (male) partner was a wonderful mentor who in fact encouraged me to develop my own style and not be bludgeoned into changing it to fit a more “male” profile.

Still, there was an overall prejudice against women in the firm. During my first year at the firm, my husband was out of the country for a good deal of the time, so I had nothing to do but work. I worked hard, usually leaving about 6 or 6:30 pm, and I never had any problem in getting my assignments completed on time. But unlike most of the young male associates, I did not linger about until after 6pm, have dinner on the firm, and then “work” some more. What I thought was perfectly reasonable conduct had repercussions: during my first year review, much to my astonishment, I was told that my work was good but that I didn’t seem entirely committed or devoted to the firm!

Despite these issues, I gained wonderful experience at the firm, and, equally importantly, my partner there was instrumental in getting me my next position; the “old boy” network, in this case, operated to help a woman get a job.  So, four years later, I moved to a transportation company as their in-house antitrust counsel. The company had only very recently hired women lawyers, and I was the first woman in management to have a baby; the company had no maternity plan at the time, and we simply winged it. The great advantage of being in-house at that time was that the hours were very reasonable: everyone, including the lawyers, left at 5pm on the dot. I ended up spending most of my career as  in-house counsel in a corporate law department, and this was a very good way to combine work and family. I was able to attend virtually every school event for both my children, participate in field trips, and be a room parent without feeling that I had to sneak away to these events. The basic rule was that if you got your work done, being away from the office occasionally was acceptable. I was fortunate in that I almost always had weekends free.

Ann with her husband and two sons.

Ann with her husband and two sons.

I kept a bright line between work and home. I did work at work only. I did not give out my cell phone number or allow people from work to call me at home. I was quite rigid about this separation, often to the annoyance of my colleagues, although they got used to it and eventually accepted my choice. I think this line made a huge difference to our family life. It certainly allowed me to enjoy my children and their friends without tension or guilt.

There were other factors that allowed me to balance work demands with family time. Quality childcare is key, and I was very lucky that way. My husband and I were able to share a child care person with another family and therefore we could both work full time while also keeping our sons at home before they went to preschool. Of course, having quality childcare shouldn’t be a matter of luck; it should be available to all. Structural changes need to occur on that front. And yes, husbands/fathers should share in parenting and household duties, they as often do nowadays. But does it have to be 50-50? Is that essential in order to combine work and family? I would say that, desirable though an equal split might be, a more skewed arrangement between the spouses, with the woman taking the greater share, should not in and of itself stop a woman from combining work and family. It may cause tension between the spouses, but that is a different matter.

Did working full time affect my ability to be the kind of parents my sons needed, and that I wanted to be? I don’t think so. I spent a great deal of time with my sons and never heard them indicate frustration, anger, or regret about my working; it was a given in their world. And, as I said, I was able to be at almost all school functions and other major events in their lives. I attended Little League practices and games, spent hours on the golf course with my younger son, helped with school projects, and spent many hours with each of them on homework and high school and college applications.

Ann and her father. Together they authored a book, "Mental Disabilities And Criminal Responsibility."

Ann and her father. Together they authored a book, “Mental Disabilities
and Criminal Responsibility.”

My work also enhanced my quality of life tremendously. It was intellectually stimulating; I loved research, writing briefs and motions, and understanding the world of business. I gained increased confidence as I began to master both the relevant areas of law and to really know the industry I was in and to gain the respect and trust of my clients. Work provided me with an opportunity to interact with a diverse group of people, none of whom I would have met but for the job. My job also allowed me to work with other lawyers, brainstorming and learning from them. Equally important, I enjoyed being able to support my family. I have a real sense of why men like to be breadwinners; one can take great pride from that role. I wanted to set an example for my children, especially since they were male children, to show them that women are able to work professionally while still spending plenty of time with their families. I can say in all honesty that I believe that my sons have taken something centrally important from my being a working mother: I believe it is a given for each of them that they expect that their partners will be people who have their own careers and interests and that part of the relationship will be balancing the professional needs of each other.

Here’s the thing that worries me: my generation of women lawyers worked hard to be able to enter the practice of law fully. My friend’s son was famously asked when he was four whether he wanted to be a lawyer when he grew up, to which he responded, “ I thought all lawyers are women!” But he was in the rare position of being surrounded by female lawyers because of his mom and our friends. The change from the time I clerked in federal court, at the beginning of my career, and saw a total of ten women lawyers to now, when a courtroom could very well have a woman judge, bailiff, and lawyers, is huge.

The atmosphere has changed radically as well. When I began in the transportation industry, I was usually the only woman present, and I, like many women of my era, had to deal with crude jokes and crude language; part of that was due to the fact that the men were unused to working with women as equals and certainly were unused to taking advice from women. But all of that has disappeared; a new generation of men has been trained, whether officially or unofficially, to treat a meeting as a place where people are civil to each other, respect each other, and where women and men are on an equal footing. I am absolutely of the view that “equal” is not necessarily the goal – being “equal” to the way the men operated in those days was something that we realized was not a valid or valuable goal. But I just hate reading or hearing that young women today feel they must choose between a legal career – or any career – and having children. That takes us backwards, and I find that sad.

I have loved working as a lawyer, I have loved being a mother, and I have not found those two things to be incompatible. I never questioned – or regretted – my choice to be a full time working mother. It always seemed the right thing to me and for me. I loved what I did, and I think that made me a more interesting person for my children and my spouse. And I hope fervently that young women today who wish to combine these two things can find the combination of jobs, support, and determination to enable them to do so.

All images are from the author’s personal collection

“You Can Go Now”
Politeness vs. directness in close relationships

harold-edgerton-bullet

A few weeks ago, we got the idea that it would be fun to explore some of themes of this blog in a more dynamic format by using interviews and conversation. So today we’re trying something new – a podcast! In this episode, we tackle direct and honest communication in close relationships.

This type of communication feels risky — it leaves us vulnerable to be open, to share our true selves. We risk offending and somehow being rendered less lovable. Yet, this is also where trust and intimacy are built. Why is it sometimes hard to be clear and straightforward about how we’re feeling with close friends, family, and partners? Is politeness a barrier to closeness? What are the risks of leaving politeness behind and instead opting for gentle candor? And, who is Invisible Script’s cousin? Click below to listen to the discussion.

Image:  Harold Edgerton photograph

So Much Miscommunication: The 5 Languages of Love

Grant_DeVolson_Wood_-_American_Gothic

“My father only calls me if he has some logistic to settle,” my friend recently complained; this didn’t feel affectionate or loving to her. Meanwhile, her efforts to call just to say hi were just as baffling to her father. We’ve all experienced some version of this–some small misalignment with people we’re close to. Maybe you don’t understand why your partner won’t just offer to make dinner if he knows you’re running late, or why your brother doesn’t appreciate the thoughtful gift you sent him.

I recognized my friend’s father right away, though: he is an Acts of Service person. Excited for a chance to explain, I immediately exclaimed, “Do you know about the five language of love?!” I then proceeded into a lengthy explanation, enumerating the languages on my fingers.

These languages come from Gary Chapman’s book: “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts.” I first read the book over ten years ago, actually, during the fall of my junior year in college. At the time, it interested me but did not have much immediate impact. In the years since, however, I have become an evangelist.

The book names five “love languages” that we use, consciously or not, to express affection: gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch. Everyone has preferred ways that they naturally give and accept affection. (You can– and should– take the book’s online quiz to find your own love languages.)

Here’s an excerpt from Chapman’s website to describe each language:

  • Gifts: Don’t mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of giftsthrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift.
  • Quality Time: Nothing says “I love you” like full, undivided attention… Whether it’s spending uninterrupted time talking with someone else or doing activities together, you deepen your connection with others through sharing time.
  • Words of Affirmation: If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you… You thrive on hearing kind and encouraging words.
  • Acts of Service: Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Acts of Service” person will speak volumes… when others serve you out of love (and not obligation), you feel truly valued and loved.
  • Physical Affection: A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, and thoughtful touches on the arm—they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love.

5lovelanguages-01

Chapman describes how we all have a “love tank” — akin to a car’s gas tank — that requires constant refilling. While the book primarily focuses on refilling your spouse’s tank, the idea applies equally to relationships with friends and family. I’ve found it particularly helpful to explain parental behavior. Certain behaviors from each of my parents that used to baffle me I can now see as their unique love languages.

For example, my mom loves to buy me things, but not necessarily things I want. She likes to pick up trinkets and shower me and my sister with presents. When she came for the holidays last year, we had, I thought, agreed to give one small gift per person. Yet she arrived with an extra suitcase of presents: soap, a mug, lotion, a frog-shaped neck warmer that you heat up in the microwave, a book, earrings, tights, bookmarks shaped like sprouting plants (I actually really love these), and the suitcase itself.  I’ve learned that this is her way of expressing her affection, yet the shower of gifts made me uncomfortable. I don’t like her to spend a lot of money on me, and I don’t like to own a lot of stuff so the barrage of presents felt somewhat like an act of disservice. With Chapman in mind, I tried hard to see them as the tokens of affection that the gifts are meant to be.

My dad’s love language is completely different from my mom’s. Growing up, we used to rollerblade together, which always included a break on a park bench. We would just sit there together, soaking up the sun (one of his favorite activities) and not talking. To my dad, this was perfect quality time: being with someone he loved and sharing a favorite activity. I always found it a bit boring (and indulged him as an act of service). As I got older, I recognized that we just have different ideas of quality time. He is happy to simply have company, while I want meaningful conversation. Chapman refers to this as a dialect; a common dialect of quality time is quality conversation. I sometimes get frustrated since family visits involve a lot of sitting around, but like the gifts, I’ve learned to see it as love, especially since my dad makes such an effort to travel a long way to see me, and be together.

Just like any language, the love languages are ripe with potential for miscommunication and misinterpretation. Chapman argues that we should use the languages that our loved ones prefer to receive, rather than using the love languages that come most naturally to us, to make sure that we are communicating clearly. I agree with the value of this, though it’s incredibly difficult to do (I think we all tend to default to using the love language that comes the most naturally to us).

I think it’s equally important to try to understand what other people’s love languages are so that we can recognize their actions as affection, as annoying, perplexing, or obtuse as they might sometimes seem to us.

Since we only have the power to change ourselves, we can make the effort on both ends — to try to express our love in ways that our loved ones can accept, and to see their attempts at affection as just that.

Image:  “American Gothic” by Grant Wood (1930, Oil on Beaverboard)

Are you making “enough”?

moneygami

Two things happened in the early 1970s that weigh on my conscious when I think about them today: Richard Easterlin, looking at the relationship between income and happiness, found that more money does not always correlate with greater happiness. Around the same time, my parents, newly married, bought a two and a half bedroom apartment in Manhattan that became my childhood home.

Easterlin’s 1974 paper revealed an unexpected correlation in the data: rich countries don’t become happier as they get richer, though rich people within a country tend to be happier than poor people. This phenomenon became known as the Easterlin Paradox. Further academic studies have shown that happiness increases with income until a point at which it plateaus — a threshold after which more money does not make people happier. As long as I’ve known about this, it has given me hope that I don’t need a lot of money in order to live a happy life.

(read more…)

I’m Pretty Sure Meditation Is Helping

George Bellows

I casually meant to start a meditation practice for about five years. Mostly, I thought about how my practice would be structured. I concluded that meditating before bed, while possibly beneficial for my intermittent sleeping problems, was not realistic for various logistical reasons. Meditating first thing in the morning, right when I woke up and my husband was still asleep, made the most sense. I made a mental agreement with myself to set my alarm 15 minutes earlier to build in time to sit. Each night I would look at my clock and think of some excuse for why I couldn’t do it just then. This went on for another six months or a year.

My dad named one our cats Pema after Pema Chodron, the buddhist nun and author. Pema the cat is a Maine coon; she looks like a little lioness with her puffy coat and splendid curving whiskers. She won’t sit in laps, but she loves being petted and brushed and all other forms of attention. Calm, loving, and fearless, she lives up to her human namesake. She recently chased a raccoon out out of my parents house after it snuck in through the cat flap, and then ran onto the porch to make sure it wasn’t still lurking in the vicinity. My dad calls her his hero and role model.

In my teens, my dad loaned me his copy of Pema Chodron’s, “When Things Fall Apart” during a particularly anxious and difficult period. He told me it was great. He encouraged me to read even a single page. I did read it, and I kept reading it, because it was magnificent and it helped me feel like my feelings were OK, and also that I could manage them.

On my 26th birthday, a big box arrived at work. Inside was a yellow meditation pillow, cheerfully dotted with blue and white, plump and firm and ready to be sat on. It was from, guess who, my dad. I had bought him a meditation pillow, a solid green one, a few years before. He’d gotten very practiced at meditating every morning, sometimes sitting for 30 or 40 minutes at a stretch. I liked the idea of owning a meditation pillow; it made me feel virtuous just having it around. Maybe people would be impressed with me. But I didn’t use it. I hoped my cat might adopt it as a perch. Instead it lived on a bench in the living room, propped up on its with a bunch of other ordinary pillows.

Eventually my dad bought me a copy of another one of Pema Chodron’s books, “The Places That Scare You.” Like “When Things Fall Apart,” it tackled the mental anguish, insecurity, anxiety, and pain that challenge all of us with love and also absolute clarity. You can let difficult times and experiences harden you and make you afraid, the nun counseled, or you can use painful feelings to deepen your own sense of compassion and courage. It is the best kind of sobering, certain advice that you need when you are circling the drain. I read it most of the way through and left it on my bedside table for a while, in case I wanted to reference it. Over the years, I loaned it to friends during breakups and re-read it during times or pain and uncertainty. Like many reckoning, confronting truths, the writing makes perfect sense as you read it. Then you put the book down and you’re stuck with your bad feeling again and you can’t quite remember what it was you thought you learned while reading it.

What finally got me meditating wasn’t strength of character, or will power, or maturity. It was personal crisis. My dad, the same one who bought me the books and the meditation pillow and who named the cat Pema and who calmed me down whenever I was upset, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of bladder cancer. There are plenty of books that say they can help you through that kind of thing, but I didn’t want them.

It’s OK if you don’t read the Pema books cover-to-cover, my dad said. Pick them up again whenever you need them. It doesn’t matter what page or chapter. You’ll find something useful.

One night after my dad’s diagnosis I looked at my alarm clock and decided I had the motivation to set it back by the 15 minutes that I had up until then only had the courage to think about. This small act that felt so significant took about five seconds to complete. The next morning I got up, pulled my practically new meditation pillow from the bench where it lived, and dropped it in front of my living room window. During the one or two times I had tried to meditate in the past, I’d lit a candle to focus on. This time, I just looked straight out my window at the southern magnolia tree planted in the sidewalk outside. The leaves moved in a similar way to a candle’s flame, to and fro, gently swaying. I sat for 10 minutes, using a meditation app I’d downloaded on my iPhone. When I got up, I felt better. I mentally corrected myself from the feeling of “better” by remembering something I’d read in one of my Tricycle newsletters:

Meditation is a haven away from the ubiquitous world of self-improvement. It’s not just that there’s no such thing as ‘bad’ meditation, but there’s no such thing as ‘good’ meditation either. It is what it is. (Barry Evans, “The Myth of the Experienced Meditator”).

I got up the next day and the next day and the next day and kept doing it.

My dad had four rounds of chemo, each spaced three weeks apart, through the spring of 2013. He weathered them as well as we could have hoped. He was tired, and sometimes very heavy with the intense awareness of his mortality, knowing he was sick yet not feeling like a sick person. But mostly, he was alright. I joked that he was the valedictorian of cancer. In mid summer he was scheduled for surgery to have his whole bladder removed, and a new one refashioned from three feet of small intestine (I called this his DIY bladder). Three days before his surgery, my mom organized a mass meditation for any friends and family who wanted to participate as a cosmic, prayerful exercise. My husband got up early with me that day so that we could coordinate the timing of our meditation with my family, who were in a different timezone. He used the meditation pillow because he can’t sit cross-legged comfortably, and I took a couch pillow. We sat together we sat for ten minutes.

When my dad got out of surgery, he was very weak. He had to stay in the hospital for five days while nurses constantly took his vital signs, emptied the many tubes and bags coming out of him, and cheerfully made him do all sorts of things he did not want to do. He had an ornery French-Canadian roommate named Jean who complained constantly about the quality of the hospital’s care but refused to be discharged. It was July. Outside, New York cooked like an oven, but inside the hospital my dad could not get warm.

He and I didn’t talk about meditation in the first few weeks of his recovery. I thought about bringing it up, but I didn’t have the energy. Sitting on a pillow felt like an insurmountable effort for me, let alone him. After about a month, though, once I was back home and he was more mobile, I mentioned it. No, he hadn’t been meditating, he told me. Yes, he had been thinking about it. He would do it. Maybe he would start today.

Image: George Bellows, Dempsey and Firpo (1924)