An Essay On Parenthood
When I began law school in 1964, I was not a parent. I was unmarried until the middle of my first year of law school. I became a parent on January 2, 1966 over Christmas vacation while a senior in law school. I was, perhaps, equally unequipped for both my role as a lawyer and my role as a parent. Nonetheless, my first-born was an easy-going, happy child who did not complain about my habits. She was content to sit in her infant seat and coo while I crammed for final exams. After graduation, I became a lawyer at a time when few women practiced law, and few female parents worked outside the home. I was conflicted about my choices every single day. Leaving this child behind was difficult. Nonetheless, I kept leaving to practice a profession I also loved.
I had my second child in December of 1968. I decided at that time to stop working outside of the home. My parenting instincts overrode my life long goal, and I decided that I could no longer leave these two precious little people behind for most of the day.
Unfortunately, I was uniquely unsuited to anything in the home, aside from child rearing. I was an incompetent cook, a poor housekeeper, even a very reluctant user of the washer and dryer. I had an iron, but I could never find it. Though I adored and continue to adore my children, it turned out that full time homemaking was a very bad choice of career for me. After one year of failure as a homemaker, I decided to try to find a way to work as an attorney part time. Remarkably, in 1969 at a time when few women practiced law or worked outside the home, I found a place for myself. I became what must have been the world’s only part time Assistant Attorney General. Despite the Attorney General’s initial misgivings, and the agreement that I would go quietly into the night after two months if the part time situation did not work out, I remained for seven years in a part time capacity. I was assigned to work with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and tried the first case under the Iowa Civil Rights Act. I worked on Anti-Trust matters, removed public officials for misconduct, and handled some special prosecutions. I got benefits, vacation, and other unheard of advantages. Even more remarkably, the man for whom I worked was a conservative Republican with whom I disagreed on virtually every political issue. We forged a partnership that lasted for seven years and a friendship that lasted until his death.
Because I was so grateful for the opportunity to go home at noon when not in trial, I probably never worked fewer than 40 hours in any one week. Because I could go home at noon, I could also be the Brownie mom and go to practice with Jackie when she decided she wanted to be the first girl to play little league, appear at school functions regularly, pick them up when they fell and hug them when they were sad.
Despite the dire predictions of my colleagues that such an arrangement would certainly stunt my career irreparably, I never for one minute regret making the choice to work only part time. I wish every parent would have that opportunity. As attorneys, we should be models of fairness towards our co-workers. If we care about our own children, we must care about all children. In my office, one of our associates works part time. For several years, there was at least one baby in the office on a full time basis. Our clients loved to visit the “office baby”. All children are welcome to accompany their parents, and expected to behave appropriately. (This expectation is not always met, but because we are parents, we understand that children are likely to do childish things.) Three of our law clerks are single parents. Often, during the long hours of trial preparation, they bring their children. Often, the children are put to work. They, therefore, can share in their parent’s success. We need not and should not follow a work place model that excludes any of the people that we love. The occasional minimal disruption, the baby that cries, the child who spills grape juice, the ten year old who crashes the computer, are minor inconveniences which we can live with. We choose, however, not to live without the presence of children and grandchildren. Fortunately, a family friendly, children oriented law office is now possible. I never want to ask any parent to make the impossible choices I was forced to make. We can have it all – and we should demand it.