Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on motherhood in the legal profession, in partnership with our friends at MothersEsquire. Welcome Stephanie R. Holan to our pages. Click here if you’d like to donate to MothersEsquire.
I was sitting at the bar in the newly opened Restaurant Beatrice in Dallas. I am close friends with the manager and owner, and I had come to the restaurant to assist her in helping one of her staff-members with a small “situation.” As my friend got up to leave, she said, “I am so sorry I have to go. My wife is sick, and I need to be there. I’m trying to balance life and work, ya know?”
I turned and said, “You do NOT owe me a sorry for leaving to care for your wife. That’s where you need to be. Go. Be There. Tell M I hope she feels better. Oh…and there’s no such thing as work-life balance.” My friend stopped and looked at me as I continued, “It’s work-life management. This idea that there’s ‘balance’…it’s something that gets marketed to women to make us feel like there is supposed to be balance, we are supposed to be balanced, and we are a failure if we aren’t ‘balanced’ between work life and home life. But that’s the thing … balance means that you literally are not moving. That everything is static. That’s not good for anyone.”
She responded, “You know, that is so true. It really is management.” I told her that it’s this idea that we are all supposed to be Pinterest-perfect women, in all situations, at all times, that makes us crazy. Because when we don’t live up to this idea of balance, we feel like we failed. Especially as female attorneys.
I have been identified as “Type A+” by those who shall remain nameless and who (I promise) were not harmed during the writing of this article. And most of the female attorneys I know are as well. And when we feel like we are failing, we wilt. We constantly feel like we are not doing enough with our family, that we spend so much time at work, we need to be more “present” and “enjoy this age” constantly.
When we do actually indulge ourselves by hiding in the pantry, eating mini-Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for two minutes while some member of the family wants us to find something, we feel guilty. For needing some breathing space. For needing a moment where we are just caring for ourselves. And when we step out of the pantry? We feel guilty about the peanut butter cups and the fact that we were hiding. What kind of woman hides? From her spouse? From her kids?
I think that somewhere along the way, someone who was probably the inventor of “mansplanations” figured out that if we marketed this idea that women are supposed to be perfect at home and work, always pleasant, always giving 110% at everything, without needing more than a Diet Coke, that women would self-regulate and try to do everything. All the time. How grand!
It starts even earlier for women than adulthood. In an intriguing essay discussing Rosalind Wiseman’s book “Queen Bees and Wannabees,” it’s stated that, “The stereotype commonly associated with bullying is indefinitely the ‘Queen Bee.’ In playing this role, ‘Queen Bees’ gain a sense of power over the other girls within the clique. They enjoy the fact that the others feel as though they must pay homage to them. However, ‘Queen Bees’ lose a real sense of self, and become cynical of their position. Often, they wonder if people only speak to them as a result of their popularity or looks. The simple fact that they feel as though they must routinely exert their power over the others, proves that their actions are spurred from a place of loneliness. When they are able to control others, it proves to them that they are still better than everyone else. This pattern repeats, as they are constantly in need of reassurance, and surround themselves with people who will do so.”
Basically, we have been all conditioned to be “Queen Bees.” We chase “balance” and “perfection.” The biggest problem is that balance and perfection are ideals, and our entire existence becomes a pursuit of a concept that is not actually attainable. First, perfection is not the same for everyone, and balance means equilibrium. Balance is defined as, “the state of having your weight spread equally so that you do not fall.” Literally, balance means no movement. If we are balanced, then we are doing everything halfway. Deep down we sense it, too.
We are so terrified because we can never feel like we are balanced, we become stressed. We compare ourselves to what the other bees are doing. They had a more-put-together birthday party for their kids, they managed to get their motion for summary judgment written AND were Snack Mom for the soccer team that week … the feeling “less than” is constant. We know we are not perfect. Therefore, we are not balanced. We are not “good enough.”
I heard a former CEO of the Coca-Cola Corporation speak years ago, and he said that he told his employees, “In your life, there are glass balls, and there are rubber balls, and you are constantly juggling them. Rubber balls are things like work, money, friends, status … if we drop one, they will bounce back. But glass balls? These are things like health, family, and time. If you drop a glass ball, all the juggling stops. Pay attention to what is rubber and what is glass.”
And this is what I want for us as attorneys, and really for everyone. I want you to give yourself permission to manage your life. There are going to be times that your family member is suffering a Stage 3 cancer, and emails to people whose problems will still exist tomorrow are not a glass ball. There are other moments where a motion for summary judgement that is due by 10 a.m. the next day is going to override your child’s desire to have you watch them attempt a magic trick. But right then, that is a glass ball. Work is how you provide for your family. Please. Let’s all give ourselves enough grace to realize that we have to “manage” work and life. When we get past the idea that having work-life balance means all parts of our lives should be equal and realize that we get to manage the balance of our lives, we are going to get better at it.
We deserve more than balance. We deserve to be honest and respectful of ourselves. We deserve work-life management.
Stephanie R. Holan, Esq., M.Ed. is the Founding Partner of Holan Law, PLLC, in Dallas, Texas. Ms. Holan holds her Bachelor of Science in Applied Learning and Development from U.T. Austin, her Masters of Education from Lamar University, and her Juris Doctorate from Texas A&M University School of Law. Ms. Holan practices Criminal Defense, Family Law, and Education Law. When she is not at work, you will find her spending time visiting her college-aged daughter, or running her small farm, Cluck One Farms, and hanging out with her laying hens.