How to Create Work-Life Balance and Avoid Burnout (or Do a Good Job Faking It)
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Flexibility is key.
Don't draw hard lines around things -- for example, "I don't work on Thursdays." You expect flexibility from your employer, and you need to be flexible as well. If a brief or a deposition needs to be prepared for, you will be working long hours, just like your full-time, childless counterparts do. Take advantage of the downtime, though. When I was part-time, one April and May I billed more than 200 hours each month (that's equivalent to 250-plus for full-time lawyers) because discovery was closing in three litigations. But I made sure to have a wonderful June and July -- I took time off, and I logged about 90 hours each month.
On the home front, figure out what you can do for your children's schools without overburdening yourself. I generally volunteer to coordinate things that I can do from my desk: I organize the end-of-year school picnic; I book the DJ and order pizza from my desk, and run to Costco on the Saturday before for the water, juice, and paper goods. Commit to attending one class trip or being a "mystery reader" once a year. Keep it simple, and your kids will still remember and appreciate that time in the classroom.
Have a backup support network.
Expect the unexpected and have a backup plan in place. If you are part-time, see if there's a backup child care facility that you can use and have all the paperwork filed ahead of time so if you need to schedule care on an emergency, the facility can accept your child without needing an updated medical form. Have two to three reliable babysitters in your back pocket that you can call or text from work when you are in a meeting at 5pm with no end in sight and you need someone to relieve your nanny. Be nice to your parents if they live close by so you can use them in emergencies (well, be nice to your parents regardless of where they live or whether they can help you).
When you are with your kids, BE WITH your kids.
Put the Blackberry away. Don't leave it on the kitchen counter because it's hard to resist that annoying red light. Be engaged with your kids. Ask them questions about their day. Read to them. Be with them. As working parents, we get such little time with our kids, we need to really appreciate the time that we have with them. The person who sent you the email can wait 45 minutes before he or she gets a response -- if you were with a client, instead of your kids, the email would wait. Your kids deserve as much respect and attention.
Is it hard? Yes. Are there tears and periods of time that I think it can never get done? Yes. That's when I fake it. Look like you are in control, even if you are not. Cry in the mirror before you leave for work, but walk in with your head high and know that it will get done. It always does. Just know when to ask for help (at work and at home) because no one can be a one-pony show, nor should anyone expect themselves to be.
Dyan Finguerra-DuCharme is counsel in the Intellectual Propery practice group of White & Case LLP in Manhattan. She balances her full-time legal career with her full-time motherhood duties of three girls between the ages of 4 and 10. (Proof of juggling? Dyan is the Chair of the Women in IP Subcommittee of the City Bar Association AND is the Chair of the annual welcome back and end-of-year picnics at her daughter's elementary school; get inspired!) She lives with her family in Port Washington, NY.