For this week’s installment of our Week in the Life of a Working Mom series, I’m happy to introduce CorporetteMoms reader L, who lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and two kids. Our usual caveat applies: Please remember that this is is a real person who has feelings and isn’t gaining anything from this, unlike your usual friendly (soul-deadened, thick-skinned, cold-hearted, money-grubbing) blogger — so please be kind with any comments. Thank you! — Kat
First, Some Basics About This Working Mom…
Location: Washington, D.C.
Job: Appellate attorney for the federal government
Home Situation: I live in a 1,600-square-foot, 3-bed/2-bath apartment with my husband (biotech executive) and two sons (ages 3 and 5).
Childcare Situation: My kids attend Montessori preschool full time ($60k a year total for both kids — I’ll be glad when they start public school!). We have a mother’s helper (a college student) who picks up the kids and does chores around the house for 12 hours a week at $17/hr. My mom also often flies out to stay with us when we are busy with work and need extra help (about two months in total over the course of the year).
How is the work-life balance in your industry in general? What are common ways of juggling responsibilities that you see your colleagues and coworkers doing?
Work-life balance as an appellate attorney is amazing. The Court issues briefing and oral argument schedules months in advance, so I can plan my life and rarely have to deal with emergencies. I do work late nights and weekends when I’m preparing for an oral argument, but that’s because I want to be extremely prepared. And I generally only have two or three arguments in a year, so those late nights and weekend work don’t happen that often. And to be honest, I sometimes procrastinate, so some of the late-night work is a function of my own time management, not the job.
L wrote her Week in the Life last year, so here are two updates she shared:
– My younger son is a MUCH better sleeper now, thank goodness. The kids sleep in the same room now and they hardly ever wake up during the night anymore.
– My husband now travels for work four days a week. This would have been extremely hard on me even a year ago, but now that the kids are older and more self-sufficient, it’s surprisingly not as hard as I thought it would be. Having an after-school mother’s helper to pick up the kids and do some tidying up around the house has been key for us. And my mom is a huge help when she visits, so that’s a boon as well. Since I wrote this post, my mother-in-law now lives with us for six months of the year, and she handles all of the cooking when she is here.
A Week in My Life
4:00 a.m. 3-year-old comes to me and says that his legs are hurting. The doctor says that growing pains are real, and my son has them frequently, so I give him some Advil, a massage, and put him back to sleep.
8:30 a.m. My 5-year old wakes up, and my 3-year-old wakes up a little before 9:00 a.m. and runs into the room to wake me up. We are very fortunate that our kids have recently started to sleep in later. Husband has woken up earlier that morning and brushes their teeth while I make chai (made from scratch every morning or else we won’t function) and breakfast for the kids. Although I am usually all about feeding them big meals (I think this comes from being first-generation Indian where lots of food = love), I give them something small because we’re having an early brunch to celebrate my 39th birthday!
–I shower and take the kids to the playground for an hour while my husband works at home. My 5-year-old recently learned how to ride a bike and has been beside himself with excitement. My 3-year-old takes his balance bike for a whirl. We run into friends at the playground and enjoy the beautiful sunshine. We return home, drop off the bikes, and walk to our favorite neighborhood restaurant a block away. The kids gorge on ricotta pancakes, and I have yummy pasta. I’m too stuffed for dessert, but my husband surprises me with cake and a candle, and they sing happy birthday in the restaurant.
–We return home and put 3-year-old down for a nap. 5-year-old lies down for 20 minutes and then declares he’s not tired. He recently dropped his naps on weekends but he is very good about keeping himself entertained, so I carry on with my usual Sunday chores — mainly, cooking for the week. I make three large meals (dal, chole, and vegetable korma) while doing the dishes and listening to podcasts. (Recently, I’ve started listening to Happier by Gretchen Rubin.)
–Husband and 5-year-old go to Whole Foods to do grocery shopping for the week. 3-year-old wakes up from his nap and I feed him a snack. Husband takes both kids to the playground to fly a kite while I finish up cooking. I love living so close to a great playground — in good weather, we probably go at least twice every weekend. I join them a bit later and we all have fun trying to keep our kites up in the air.
–We return home, eat dinner, and celebrate my birthday again with cupcakes from Whole Foods. Husband grinds batter for idli/dosa (Indian rice dumplings/crepes) so between that and the food I made, we’re all set for dinners for the week.
8:30 p.m. 5-year-old is in bed.
9:00 p.m. 3-year-old doesn’t go to bed until now because he took a three-hour nap and isn’t all that tired. Husband deals with his antics (can I have water? can you massage my legs? I need to go to the bathroom, etc.) while I clean up in the kitchen.
9:30 p.m. I work out with a Fitness Blender video. I play the video on mute while I listen to more podcasts (my life hack for motivating me to get through the video)!
10:30 p.m. I go to bed — an early bedtime for me.
Today is officially my birthday, but we celebrated yesterday as a family because my husband is off to California until Friday. (He usually travels two days a week, so going away for the entire week is unusual.) He sleeps in a separate room so that he won’t wake me up, since I’m a very light sleeper.
6:00 a.m. Husband leaves the house.
7:30 a.m. Kids come wake me up and we snuggle in bed for a bit. Today is a staff day, so no school, which means no work for me! I make chai for myself and breakfast for the kids, and we read several books while eating. Husband calls to wish me happy birthday and we chat. I was hoping to take the kids to the zoo, but the weather is crummy, so we decide to go to an indoor gym instead. I clean up the kitchen (I feel that our sink is perpetually full of dishes), shower, pack lunch for the kids, and make the beds.
10:00 a.m. We leave the house. We take the metro to the indoor gym, in part because the kids love the metro and in part because we bought a huge SUV a few months ago that I don’t feel comfortable driving yet. Too big, too bulky. Kids run around the gym for 1.5 hours and get so tired out. One of my closest friends works next door to the gym; she comes down to wish me happy birthday and we chat for a bit. We take the metro back home, I put the kids down for a nap, and I eat some leftover noodles. Throughout the day, I get lots of calls and emails and texts from friends and family for my birthday, which makes me happy.
–While the kids are napping, I return a few phone calls and then start to read a book, when my 5-year-old wakes up. We read a few books, and then when 3-year-old wakes up, we head over to the library. I love our neighborhood in part because we can walk to so many places — the library is right across the street. I make it a point to visit at least weekly and usually check out 20 books. (My older son inhales books like candy.) We run into some friends at the library; 3-year-old plays with some Legos while 5-year-old tucks into a corner with a large stack of books.
–We leave after an hour and head to the local bakery to pick up yet another birthday treat — a slice of carrot cake for me and a slice of chocolate cake for the kids. (Note to self: sugar detox for the next week!)
–We eat dinner together and then enjoy our dessert. We check the mail, where I get five birthday cards from friends/family with long, heartfelt notes; I feel loved! I give baths to the kids.
8:00 p.m. My good friend comes over. We usually don’t have friends come over on weeknights, but she knew that my husband would be out of town on my actual birthday and wanted to help me celebrate. I make her a plate of food while she reads to one kid and I read to the other.
8:30 p.m. I put the kids to bed, and my friend stays to chat until 10:15 p.m. It feels so nice to catch up in this relaxed way, and I realize that I should do this more often. After she leaves, I stay up way too late browsing the Internet. The prior week, I listened to the Happier podcast where the host talked about starting a “one sentence” journal as a way to boost happiness. I figure that starting the journal on my birthday is a good way to begin, so I jot down a few lines before bed. I enjoy ending the day this way. Husband calls late and we chat for a few minutes.
11:30 p.m. I’m in bed.
–I set my alarm for 6:45 a.m. but snooze two times.
7:00 a.m. 3-year-old comes to my bed and snuggles briefly. Brush teeth, make chai, breakfast, and pack lunch for myself and the kids. 3-year-old is a slooooow and not great eater, so meals are often 45 minutes long. We read several books while he eats breakfast.
8:00 a.m. 5-year-old wakes up. I make his breakfast and we sit down and read a few more books.
8:30 a.m. I take a shower and get quickly dressed while the kids play with Magna-Tiles. I’m the queen of the three-minute shower.
9:00 a.m. We’re out the door. Kids’ school is one block away from home, which has been transformative in terms of the amount of time it has saved and the stress it has helped alleviate. 3-year-old is crying at drop-off, which sucks but I don’t feel too guilty about it — I know he enjoys school and I’m late already. I head to a doctor’s appointment and am in the office by 10:30 a.m.
–I have things to do at work but I’m not pressed up against an impending deadline, so it’s the best of all worlds. I love being an appellate lawyer for many reasons, but one of the primary reasons is because I rarely have to deal with emergencies or deadlines cropping up at the last minute (unlike in Big Law, when emergencies were often around every corner). The federal appellate courts generally issue their briefing schedule months ahead of time, so I usually know at least a few months in advance when a brief is due. I was supposed to have lunch with a friend but end up rescheduling, and I work through lunch. Husband calls and we chat briefly.
3:00 p.m. I text my mother’s helper on what chores to do at home and what dinner is for that day. She immediately replies.
5:30 p.m. I leave work and am home by 6:00ish. My mother’s helper is already seated at the dinner table with the kids. She usually starts eating dinner with the kids on her own, and I will join them once I get home. The boys come running to the door to greet me. I quickly change and join them at the table. We read books and chat while they eat dinner.
6:45 p.m. Mother’s helper leaves after loading the rest of the dinner dishes and tidying up the kitchen. She is awesome, and it feels amazing to come back home to a neat and orderly home. I eat dinner while the kids play with puzzles and then start the evening routine: baths, prayers, one book for each kid, and two songs for each kid. The boys used to sleep in the same room, but we put them back in separate bedrooms several months ago. 3-year-old wakes up too much and disturbs my older one, who doesn’t nap during the day and so is really exhausted.
8:15 p.m. 5-year-old is asleep.
8:20 p.m. 3-year-old is put to bed but gets up twice asking to go to the bathroom and for water. I yell at him and feel bad about it, but I know he’s just making up excuses to avoid going to sleep. Usually DH deals with him at bedtime and is a lot more patient than I am, but it’s all me since I’m solo this week.
8:50 p.m. He finally falls asleep. I browse the Internet, load a few last dishes in the dishwasher, work out to a Fitness Blender video, and spend a few minutes writing in my one-sentence journal. I keep telling myself I should go to bed earlier, but I don’t turn the lights off until 11:13 p.m.
We asked L about her transition to her current job:
I left Big Law after being there for five years. I learned a lot and made some great friends, but I wasn’t excited about the work and couldn’t see myself there long term. I knew that I wanted to do strictly appellate work, and that’s pretty much impossible to do at a law firm unless you’re a Supreme Court clerk (and even they don’t get to do appellate work 100% of the time). When the opening for my current position opened up, I jumped at the opportunity. It sounds crazy, but I could easily see myself in my current role until retirement. :) The work is intellectually challenging, interesting, hours are very reasonable, and the role is coveted and considered “prestigious” in many circles. The only downside is the salary, at least as compared to Big Law, but I would never go back to a firm given the other stressors of private practice.
3:00 a.m. 3-year-old comes into my room wanting to snuggle. He stays in my bed for a few minutes and then I return him back to his room and give him a little massage. DH usually handles all of the night wakings (which are not that often but do happen), in part because he strangely enjoys it and he also is able to easily fall back asleep. Unfortunately for me, I’m a very light sleeper and so I toss and turn for the next hour (or even two?) unable to fall back asleep.
6:45 a.m. I’m so tired when the alarm goes off that I accidentally turn it off and sleep in until 8:00 a.m.! Yikes! I hurriedly make lunches, get the kids breakfast, and shower.
9:20 a.m. We leave the house late and I don’t get to work until 10:30 a.m. Parenting fail. Side note: I am fortunate to work for an amazing boss who knows that I am often handling the kids on my own during the week. We have an understanding that as long as I get my work done, he doesn’t care when I arrive and when I leave. I have an excellent reputation at work and am highly regarded, so I’m afforded this leeway. Also, as an appellate attorney, the work that I do is almost entirely solitary. I have about one meeting a month, and I get at most two or three emails a day. The majority of my day is sitting at my desk reading cases and writing briefs, and every four months or so I’ll have an oral argument.
–I have a weekly standing walking date with a girlfriend who works nearby, and we meet up for a brisk 20-minute walk. I’m an extrovert in a friendly but very quiet office, so I make a concerted effort to have lunch plans at least twice a week so that I get some socialization in. Since the nature of my work is solitary, I’ll go stir-crazy if I don’t have regular lunch plans. It’s so windy outside and we’re cold, but I always look forward to seeing her and catching up.
1:30 p.m. I get back to my desk and eat a late lunch. (I practice intermittent fasting, so I tend to eat a later lunch and dinner.) I aim to pack lunch every day unless I have lunch plans with a friend. I tend to eat the same thing most days and I actually prefer it that way.
—The rest of the afternoon is spent reviewing a complaint and meeting with a colleague to discuss. (I sometimes help out the trial attorneys when they are swamped, and this is one example.) I text our mother’s helper telling her what vegetables to roast for dinner.
5:40 p.m. I leave work.
6:10 p.m. Arrive home. 3-year-old comes running to the door to greet me and gives me a huge hug, which always makes me happy. 5-year-old is busy eating dinner and playing Uno with our mother’s helper. I change quickly, join them at the dinner table, and read books to the 3-year-old while he eats.
7:00 p.m. Mother’s helper leaves and I give the kids a bath. I eat dinner while they play, and do the usual routine of prayers, books, and songs.
8:05 p.m. 5-year old goes to bed.
8:15 p.m. 3-year-old is in bed but gets up twice for various reasons and doesn’t fall asleep until closer to 9:00 p.m. I snap at him for his bedtime antics — I feed bad immediately, but I’m tired and annoyed that he keeps getting up. I really need to work on my patience. Instead of working out, I decide to read Harry Potter. I recently checked it out from the library and plan to re-read the entire series. Of course I get way too caught up in the book and don’t go to bed until 11:30 p.m. I chat with DH before bed. He had a frustrating day at work and we talk about it. He mentions how much he misses the kids and me and hates traveling. We also talk about what to do for our upcoming 15th (!!) wedding anniversary next month. I forget to write in my journal.
We asked L to tell us more about her intermittent fasting:
I learned about IF through Corporette and am now going on two years. I had a hard time losing the weight after my second son was born and I felt that I had tried everything — calorie counting, green smoothies, working out most days, etc. The weight didn’t budge. After I did IF for three weeks, I lost 10 pounds. I have managed to keep it off and find it pretty easy to do. A few months ago, my weight crept back up after I got into a bad habit of eating way too many sweets. So while IF definitely helped me, it’s not going to help if you eat brownies every day. :) After I got serious about cutting out a lot of sugar, my weight went back down. I see myself doing IF for life. Most days, I only eat from 1:30 p.m.–8:00 p.m.
6:50 a.m. No night wakings, yay! I make chai and lunch for the kids. I really enjoy making colorful, fun lunches for the kids (not quite Pinterest-worthy but along those lines); my good friend at work and I will often take photos of our kids’ lunches and share them with each other for food inspiration. Since the kids are fast asleep, I decide to take advantage of the silence and spend more time on their lunches. I soon have all four burners on with various pots and pans. I also make idlis (rice dumplings) for dinner that evening.
7:45 a.m. Kids wake up and eat breakfast while we read a few books. 3-year-old eats some of his pear, which is a win. (He rarely eats fruit.) It’s my 5-year-old’s teacher’s birthday, so both kids make homemade cards for her. I shower and dress.
9:00 a.m. I drop the kids off at school. I continue reading Harry Potter on the metro.
9:30 a.m. I’m in the office. My boss stops by to discuss a new appeal, and I find out that in an appeal I won last year, the other side has filed a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court. Boss and I can talk about how frivolous the appeal is, but I’m excited to draft a response since I almost never litigate in the Supreme Court (usually the federal appeals courts only).
2:00 p.m. I’m supposed to meet up with a friend for lunch, but her kid has the flu so I eat lunch at my desk.
6:15 p.m. I get home, sit down with the kids for dinner along with our mother’s helper, then do the usual bedtime routine.
8:30 p.m. Kids are in bed, and instead of working out, I finish reading Harry Potter. So good! Husband calls and suggests that we invite my mom to help us out, since we will both be entering a busy time at work next month. I call her and she agrees to come for a month. I text husband and he buys mom a plane ticket.
11:00 p.m. I’m in bed.
7:30 a.m. My kids wake me up, and we sit down to eat breakfast. Friday is my telework day.
8:30 a.m. Kids are dropped off and I am back home by 8:35 a.m. I love living one block from the school — I have saved SO much time, and it has been life-changing! Husband and I often joke that we should be perpetual renters and just continue to move one block away from whichever school the kids end up at.
–I unload the dishwasher, make the beds, and settle down to work. I need the home to be in somewhat tidy shape before I can get work done; otherwise, I get stressed looking at the mess. I start drafting an outline for a brief; I tend to write extremely detailed outlines before drafting an actual brief and I find that this really speeds up the writing process for me.
–Over lunch, I do a 15-minute Fitness Blender abs workout and throw in a few loads of laundry. We don’t have in-unit laundry and the machines tend to get occupied on weekends, so I try to do laundry on Friday if I can. When life is busy, we will use a wash-and-fold service as well. Continue working.
4:30 p.m. Husband returns from his travels, yay! We briefly chat, then he goes to pick up the kids and takes them to the playground while I continue working. I receive an email that the Court has issued a briefing schedule in one of my appeals, and my brief is due in June (two and half months from now). I love the luxury of time I get as an appellate attorney to read and plan and figure out how best to craft my arguments.
–I decide to be ambitious and make sweet potato latkes for the kids for dinner — it’s a lot of effort and ultimately doesn’t go over well with the kids, boo. But I enjoy cooking and trying new recipes. Kids return home from playground and wash up, I give them the latkes and a backup dinner of lentils/rice and quickly get changed.
6:45 p.m. I give hugs and kisses to everyone and am out the door to meet up for a girls’ night dinner. I have dinner with two girlfriends every month and really look forward to these get-togethers. We try a new Israeli restaurant, and the food is delicious and I eat way too much. They surprise me by treating me for my birthday. My friend gives me a ride back.
10:15 p.m. I’m home. DH has done the dishes but the kitchen is not as tidy as I like, and I spend 15 minutes cleaning. I browse the Internet and go to bed by 11:15 p.m.
L told us about her strategies for the days her husband is out of town:
As mentioned, my husband now [travels for work] four days a week. Couple of things that have really helped:
1) I do most all of my cooking on the weekend (that is, when my mom or my mother-in-law are not in town — if they are, they do 100% of the cooking). It’s important to me that my kids eat Indian food for dinner, and there is no way I’m going to find the time to cook an Indian meal on a weeknight. I batch cook three or four dishes. During the week, the only cooking that is done is making rice, roasting veggies (which the mother’s helper does), or making dosas/idlis (but the batter is made on the weekend, so I don’t count that as cooking).
2) When work is too busy, I use a wash-and-fold service that picks up and returns laundry right to my doorstep. We don’t have laundry in our apartment, so the service is really helpful when I’m slammed.
3) We have had a mother’s helper since my oldest was a baby. She comes to our house FIRST and does chores for the first hour (unloading/loading dishwasher, folding laundry, taking out garbage/recycling, sweeping, making beds, roasting veggies, etc.). Then she picks up the kids from school, plays with them, and feeds them dinner until I get home. This rotating group of college women have been truly a lifesaver for our family.
6:30 a.m. Alarm clock wakes us up. Saturdays are our busiest day of the weekend. I shower and make breakfast while husband wakes up the kids and brushes their teeth. Quick breakfast and we leave the house in time for swim class at 8:00 a.m. (yes, really!). I hate the early wake-up time but the kids have a great swim teacher and are progressing, and we haven’t found a better alternative.
9:00 a.m. Kids finish up and I hurriedly shower and dress them in Indian clothes for Hindu school, while getting dressed in Indian clothes myself. Husband showers separately and runs to Starbucks to get a second breakfast for kids. We drive to the Hindu temple, which is 35 minutes away. 5-year-old has been attending since he was 3, and my younger one started this year. They enjoy it, and we have made several good friends. After class, we all have a delicious lunch. (Different families take turns cooking.)
12:30 p.m. We leave and are back home around 1:15 pm. We immediately change and put the kids down for a nap. Even 5-year-old, who often doesn’t take a nap on weekends, naps on Saturdays because of our busy morning schedule. I take a nap as well. I don’t fully fall asleep but enjoy just lying in bed and being quiet for a few hours. Husband is working during this time — he has an incredibly demanding job and works a lot.
4:00 p.m. Kids wake up and play with husband and their Magna-Tiles. I lie in bed until 4:30.
5:30 p.m. We leave for dinner. We generally go to the same pizza joint every other Saturday night and try to meet up with different friends each time. We often used to entertain at home and I would make fairly elaborate dinners, but as of late we have decided to make our lives easier by meeting friends out. I miss entertaining at home, but that’s just not in the cards right now. This time we meet up with a good friend of mine and her husband, who don’t have kids. Over the last year, I have been trying to make more of an effort to hang out with our friends without kids; I enjoy their company and appreciate conversations that are not solely kid-focused, to be honest. The boys ask my friends lots of cute questions and manage to stay in their seats in a restaurant for two hours, which I’m grateful for, but we come armed with coloring books/crayons, cars, flashcards, etc., which help (no screens, as kids don’t get screen time).
7:45 p.m. We leave the restaurant and come back home — no need to give showers to the kids because they had their showers earlier that day at swimming.
9:00 p.m. Kids are in bed, but they don’t fall asleep until 9:30 p.m. I tell myself I should work out but instead start re-reading Marie Kondo’s book on organizing.
11:00 p.m. I’m in bed.
Thanks so much to L for sharing a bit of her life as a working mom! Readers, what’s your biggest takeaway from her week of work as an appellate attorney for the federal government as well as her general work/life balance?
Stock photo via Stencil.