I am a lucky guy. I have two true partners in life: my mother and my wife. They each contribute to my happiness in different, but equally vital, ways. To them, I wish a Happy Mother’s Day.
Even though my mom does not know I write this column. When I write things related to my legal practice, I try and send her copies. But she is relatively new to email, and she is always busy between her kids and growing collection of grandchildren. I am not sure she reads what I send her. Nor is she that impressed with any of my career accomplishments. But that is fine, and truth is, she needn’t be. That is not the standard, just as my career accomplishments are not my standard for success in life. It is more important that she take pride in the family I have built, as that is truly my life’s work.
I am not qualified to talk about what being a mom in Biglaw is like (father, yes, as I have been a father for my entire Biglaw career). From observation, being a mom in Biglaw looks very difficult. It is one thing if you are a partner with teenage kids, and you went to law school after your kids reached grade-school age. Biglaw partner moms are generally a rare breed. What I see more often are associates and junior partners struggling to balance the demands of having and raising children with trying to advance in Biglaw. Very rarely are both objectives accomplished. I have tried to think about how I would feel if I was in such a situation. Unsuccessfully. Honestly, even if I was married to Oprah, I could never see myself playing stay-at-home dad, or even having primary responsibility for the children while trying to have a legal career. So I respect the mothers out there that are at least trying….
For a while, there was nary an article about Mayor Bloomberg that failed to mention the fact that he called his mother everyday. I understand why he did so, and I try to do the same. Taking a little ribbing about not spending enough time with my siblings, or visiting often enough, is well worth the time investment. I am not one for obligations, and I often disagree very strongly with my mom’s take on things. But we are both stronger for our daily interaction. Neither we, or what we are doing, can ever be more important than nurturing that singular bond. So call your mom if you are lucky enough to have one to call. Use your interactions with her as a mirror — there is no one else so invested in your well-being, so take to heart any reflection back.
Growing up, my mother’s expectations were both high and unyielding. But her support for me was unconditional, and her primary concern was my moral development; academic performance was less critical. Her approach invested me with an unshakeable confidence, coupled with a sense that anything is possible. It is an ever-nourishing gift, unique in its permanence as a cornerstone of my life. It is that confidence that has helped enable my professional success. You need guts to think you can climb the professional ladder — and to keep on climbing, because ultimately (in the words of Littlefinger) the “climb is all there is.” In my case, it was my mom who allowed me to find the ladder.
Of course, the personal cost to her was steep, in terms of emotional and physical commitment to myself and my siblings. Despite her advanced education, she never really got to develop her own proto-child substitute that we encourage today’s women to prize so dearly. Would she trade twenty years in an office, chasing the mostly unattainable goal we call financial independence, for her children? No way, and I have never heard her utter a word of regret about that fact. Thankfully, she is now reaping the rewards of her choices, serving as the anchor for multiple young families, with hopefully many golden years ahead of her to enjoy even more fully.
While my mother helped me find the ladder, it is my wife who continues to help me climb it. I wish I could take credit for knowing how good a mother my wife would be. But I can’t. She was young and very attractive, and while I liked her competitiveness, honesty, moral clarity, and strong spirit, they were just the frosting on the cake. I wanted the cake; the frosting was a bonus. And without the cake, I was not going to be hungry for frosting. At the same time, I wanted a family, and I knew that the single greatest contributing factor to the family I wanted was choosing the right wife. Thankfully, I still feel that I chose well.
I am the first to admit that I could never care for my children as well as my wife does. No matter how talented and dedicated a father I may or may not be, I am simply not my wife’s equal — or even in the same stratosphere. She literally has the children on her mind all the time. She knows exactly what they need, before they even know they need it. I am overmatched on that front — even though I take an inordinate amount of pride when I successfully manage to handle bath time, or breakfast on Saturday morning. But all day, all the time? Harder than anything I have ever encountered at work. Not even close.
Her attention to our family has not stopped my wife from accomplishing some very cool things professionally, even though she has not held a full-time job since our first child was born. And as our kids grow, she has more and more time to focus on doing whatever she wants to do. She seems comfortable with the trade-off, despite the social pressure to contribute financially to the household by having a job outside the home. Thankfully, she does not measure her self-worth by her ability to satisfy a workplace boss, or by her ability to stack up to the expectations of her womanly peers. We have our family, and that is the focus of both of us. Hopefully, our children turn out the better for it.
Ultimately, I am grateful for my personal blessings, and I wish all the Biglaw moms out there a Happy Mother’s Day. May you find fulfillment in your children, and gain from them as much as you give. Only you know the true measure of that giving. Keep climbing.
When Mother’s Day rolls around, how do you relate to it if you are in Biglaw, either as a mother, or son, or daughter? Let me know by email or in the comments.
Anonymous Partner is a partner at a major law firm. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.