Biglaw, Kids, Pregnancy / Paternity, Women's Issues

In Defense of the Clifford Chance Mommy’s Husband

Unless that’s a butler coming down the track, this family is going to struggle.

Last week, we published a departure memo from an associate at Clifford Chance who could no longer juggle parenting and Biglaw.

Since we published, the story has gone everywhere. The Huffington Post weighed in, and so did the New York Times. I’m glad so many people are finding out that working at one of the top law firms in the world is really difficult. Welcome to our world — they’re not paying people $160,000 and up to work from 9 to 5.

But one disturbing trend in the coverage of this story is the move to blame the husband. Ms. X’s husband only appears once in her tick-tock:

7:45pm: Negotiate with husband over who will do bathtime and bedtime routine; lose

That line has led to rampant speculation about the deadbeat loser Ms. X must be married to. Vivia Chen of The Careerist had one of the more restrained slams on this guy: “Not to be presumptuous, but I think we should all chip in for some negotiation courses for this poor woman. I realize we don’t have all the facts, but her husband seems to be getting away with murder.”

Well, you know what? I’ve been a Biglaw associate, and a Biglaw spouse, and let me tell you, it’s not as easy as it looks. Just because a lady “loses” the negotiations on domestic chores doesn’t mean that she’s married to a sexist pig, and it doesn’t mean the guy is “getting away with murder”….

First of all, I’m assuming that Ms. X’s husband works, and works in a fairly well-paying, high-stress job. Why am I making that assumption? BECAUSE MS. X IS QUITTING HER WELL-PAYING, HIGH-STRESS JOB. Guess what, most women aren’t going to leave their careers as Biglaw lawyers so they can live on one salary when that one salary is schoolteacher, or dog walker, or (ahem) legal blogger. If this woman has the “freedom” to quit, then chances are her husband is making enough bank to support the family by himself.

Now, other commentators have pointed out that not only did Ms. X have to do the bath time routine, she also had to drop the kids off at daycare, pick them up, and put dinner on the table. And that is a lot to do, without question. But it’s wrong to assume that the husband was in any better position to do any of those things. Ms. X says that because she dropped the kids off in the morning, she was five minutes late on a conference call. To pick the kids up, she left work at 6:00 p.m. And when she finally got home, she made dinner.

Sucks to be her, but do we know that the husband even has that kind of flexibility? The flexibility to sometimes not do a good job at work because of family concerns? Employers can be dismissive and sexist towards women who show up five minutes late with spit up on their suit to meetings. But some employers won’t even tolerate the same offenses in men. By all means, fellas, start leaving work at 6:00 p.m. everyday to “go pick up your kids,” and see how quickly you’re on the outside of leadership opportunities, promotions, and more money.

We talk a lot more about making work environments respect working mothers, but we don’t spend a lot of time trying to get old men who had their stay-at-home spouse raise their kids respect “working fathers.” And it’s worse the more money you make. For a working father making a certain salary, the employer assumes that you’re being paid enough to “afford” a stay-at-home wife or live-in nanny. You know, unless you are a beta-ass male who doesn’t have what it takes to run my company or win my business because you’d rather be spending time with your kids.

Do we even know if this guy was home for the chicken nugget dinner his wife managed to throw together? Isn’t it possible that Ms. X “lost” the negotiation over bath time because the husband spent all his political capital just making it home, and now he has to go right back to work?

And besides, as I’m learning, all the household chores that had to be done before you had kids still have to be done after you have children. Maybe while Ms. X was bathing and reading stories to the kids, the husband was doing the dishes (dishes, by the way, were not on Ms. X’s tick-tock), getting the laundry done (Christ on spin cycle, there is SO MUCH MORE laundry with children than you’d ever imagine), and taking out trash.

Ms. X had a busy day, but there’s every reason to believe that her husband did too. Just because he wasn’t actively involved in the managing of the children on this particular day doesn’t mean he wasn’t contributing, mightily, to their domestic output.

The point that I draw from the Ms. X story is that a Biglaw job is almost impossible without a stay-at-home spouse or a full-time nanny. These jobs just aren’t oriented for people who don’t have significant support at home.

I know, I know, there are so many people out there who flippantly think, “Oh, they should just get a nanny.” Sure, because spending a significant amount of your disposable income that you’re working so hard to make so that somebody else can raise your kids is an easy decision people can’t wait to make. I’m sure they’ve never thought of that. The worst part of being a Dad for me is going to be when I hand my kid to some person — a person who I just met, who will undoubtedly be less well-educated than I am, and care less about my child than I do — and say, “Could you just try to not kill or irrevocably scar my child until I get home?”

Vivia Chen closes with this defense of Biglaw:

Big Law is unrelentingly demanding and stressful — but it’s too easy a target. At some point, we have to take measures to make our own lives a bit easier. Like getting more help. Or telling your spouse to get off his ass.

I think Ms. X just did take a measure to make her life a bit easier: she quit her job. She quit her largely pointless, unrelentingly demanding, well-paid corporate law job. Instead of hiring somebody else to take care of her kids, she’s going to let Clifford Chance hire somebody else to babysit their clients. And her husband, apparently, will “get off his ass” and continue earning enough money so that Ms. X actually has a choice about where and how to spend her time.

Unfortunately, this family probably didn’t have the choice of having both parents keep their careers while also raising their own children. That’s because our jobs, our best jobs, still exist in this waking anachronism where parents still have stay-at-home spouses or butlers who can handle everything else while they work.

If we want to help Biglaw families, that assumption is what has to change.

An Overwhelmed Mother’s Departure Memo [Motherlode / New York Times]
Quitting, Because It’s Too Hard To Be A Lawyer And A Mom [Lisa Belkin / HuffPost Parents]
Blame It on Big Law — And Maybe Hubby [The Careerist]

Earlier: Departure Memo of the Day: Parenting Gets The Best Of One Biglaw Associate

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