Yet Another Working Mom Says ‘You Can’t Have It All’ And The Rest Of Us Say ‘No Kidding’

A successful lawyer working at a large D.C. firm penned a resignation letter to her employers this week and the Internet exploded. It seems she’s not just a lawyer, she’s a mom. The mom stuff is really getting in the way of the lawyer stuff, and she just can’t take it anymore. She has to give up something and clearly she can’t stop being a mom. Every time I hear another, “you can’t have it all” story – all I can think is, “no shit. We’re not superhuman.”

You can read the entire letter at the lawyer blog, Above the Law. It is basically a laundry list of tasks, that begin at 4 a.m. with a screaming baby, and end at 1:30 a.m. when she finally goes to bed. Here is an excerpt. It is what a typical day looks like before she gets to work:

4:00am: Hear baby screaming, hope I am dreaming, realize I’m not, sleep walk to nursery, give her a pacifier and put her back to sleep
4:45am: Finally get back to bed
5:30am: Alarm goes off, hit snooze
6:00am: See the shadow of a small person standing at my bedroom door, realize it is my son who has wet the bed (time to change the sheets)
6:15am: Hear baby screaming, make a bottle, turn on another excruciating episode of Backyardigans, feed baby
7:00am: Find some clean clothes for the kids, get them dressed
7:30am: Realize that I am still in my pajamas and haven’t showered, so pull hair back in a ponytail and throw on a suit
8:00am: Pile into the car, drive the kids to daycare
8:15am: TRAFFIC
9:00am: finally arrive at daycare, baby spits up on suit, get kids to their classrooms, realize I have a conference call in 15 minutes

I could barely even get through reading that, it exhausted me so much. The day just gets more and more frantic and you get the feeling that this is a woman who is constantly three steps behind. Honestly, how could she not be? This particular topic of the mommy wars always sends me into a blind rage. Mothers get next to no support in the American workforce, yet they are expected to act as if the stresses of motherhood do not have a bearing on their performance.  It is complete bullshit.

America is embarrassingly the only developed nation that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave.  Oh, sorry – there are two others – Papa New Guinea and Swaziland.  Maybe if this woman had time at home after she gave birth to nurture her baby  without the fear of losing her job, she wouldn’t have been forced to throw her hands up in despair. But instead of fighting for legislation that will make it easier for moms to stay in the work force, we fight amongst each other about who is doing it right – and judge women like this one when their hands are forced.

It has become an accepted way of thinking that a woman has to forfeit her career in order to be a mom. If she had better options – paid maternity leave, daycare options, flexible hours – I really don’t think this would be the case. We make up more than half of the voting pool in this country. We need to start recognizing our strengths and having each other’s backs so we can stop dropping out of the rat-race like flies.

(photo: Lightspring/

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  • Avodah

    Biglaw is a grind. The hours are horrendous for men and women, and many partners do not have families or if they do they have a full time nanny or one parent stays at home.

    My boyfriend works at a very big new york firm until 11pm every night and has one or two all-nighters per week. He is also 30 years old and will make around $180k this year, and stands to make much more as he advances.

    I’m not saying this to be a snot. I’m saying to make the point that nobody makes that kind of money so quickly without sacrifices. Nobody, not men and not women.

    Life is full of choices and sacrifices. It isn’t a company’s job to pay for yours.

  • Lawcat

    “Maybe if this woman had time at home after she gave birth to nurture her
    baby without the fear of losing her job, she wouldn’t have been forced
    to throw her hands up in despair.”

    No, sorry. I don’t have any empathy for this woman. Big law is attractive at first. They have fun parties while you’re a summer associate, they talk about work-life balance, you make a ton of money…. but then you get in and it all changes.

    You work absolutely insane hours, including all nighters. Did she think that was going to change when she had a baby? Did she think her co-workers would just take on her work like no big deal? When was the last time you worked all night long? Have you ever slept AT work? Try doing that once a week.

    That $200,000 salary? When you look at the hours you put in, you’re making less per hour than you would if you worked a “normal” job. You’re getting paid a higher salary, and with that comes time commitments and sacrifices that aren’t 9-5.

    This lady knew what she was getting into when (1) she took a job in big law and (2) had a family while doing so. A lot of people (men and women) leave that situation and move on to smaller firms (or have a spouse stay at home) when they *choose* to have a family because the lifestyle is just so challenging. Heck, I remember being single and having to send out for groceries because I didn’t have time to shop for myself. This lady was married with a husband she negotiates with for bathtime. I’m not sure what role he plays, but it doesn’t seem very active if she’s doing all the items on her list. Maybe therein lies the problem.

    I left Big Law and went in-house. I work 9-5. I make less money, but it’s worth it. The point is, big law isn’t a typical lifestyle or job, so making this mom out as a martyr for parent leave is asinine. By it’s very nature, big law firms are not conducive to raising a family. It’s not even all that great for your mental health, family or not. But at some point, you have to take responsibility for your *choice* to have a family.

    “Maybe if this woman had time at home after she gave birth to nurture her
    baby without the fear of losing her job, she wouldn’t have been forced
    to throw her hands up in despair.”

    Also, where in the original article did it say she did not get time off after the birth? I didn’t see that. I’m not sure if this is sensationalizing or something you just made up to fit your agenda.

  • Eileen

    This isn’t about paid maternity leave, flexible hours, or daycare options. If you read the article, you notice that at least some of her children are in school – and I don’t think there’s any country in the world that offers five years of paid maternity leave. She also has daycare, which she makes perfectly clear, and while yes it does apparently charge $5 per minute that you’re late to get your kids, never does she say “I can’t afford that.” And she leaves, I’m sure, MUCH earlier than her coworkers, but she works at night from home. Those are flexible hours. They may suck, but that’s the job. She’s not talking about the kind of job the average working mother has – she’s talking about a high-paying, highly competitive job in a Biglaw firm. These kinds of jobs don’t lend themselves to having personal relationships – with friends, spouses, or children. And men aren’t immune. I have a friend with a similar job. I mentioned to his wife that I hadn’t seen him in awhile. She said she hadn’t seen him in four days because he left the apartment before she woke up and got home after she fell asleep. He puts up with it because he makes a lot of money and it’s good for his career. I’m sure when they decide to have children that he’ll find a different job or accept that he won’t have an active role in his kids’ lives.

    Some jobs are friendly to people who want to have a life outside work. Some aren’t. This one isn’t. Good on her for finally figuring that out, but lame on her for feeling the need to make a laundry list of how hard her day is.

    Finally, it’s Papua New Guinea, not Papa.

  • K.

    First of all, I am in agreement with the other posters. I believe in more support for working women.

    But, I also think that the blog-post that you point out is about work-life balance and THAT is something that really only affects women above a certain income-level and is not something that paid maternity leave and other such reforms would help to address, especially for a woman working in biglaw. As proof, what reforms would make this woman’s life work for her? Government-mandated on-site daycare? The same salary for less work because she’s a mother–while paying her child-free colleagues the same salary for MORE work, which it’s assumed they can do because they don’t have the same home demands? And furthermore, what could be a more privileged choice than having the ability–financially and otherwise–to resign from one’s job? There are a lot of working women out there who are as beleaguered as she, but literally CAN’T quit their job(s)–not even temporarily to look for a new one–because then they, and their children, won’t eat.

    This woman is not the victim of an unfair system; she’s the victim of her own naivete.

    Here is the cold, hard truth: If women want to be the Bill Gates of the world, then they simply. cannot. be. mothers. And I don’t mean that they can’t have kids; I mean, that they can’t have the second job of being a mom. Steve Jobs had children, and by all accounts, was a terrible father. Shakespeare was hardly ever home. I mean, men don’t have this chip on their shoulder–I know of couples comprised of Mr. Big Wall Street and Mrs. SAHM who then divorced, and do you think Dad cut down on his hours? No, he went out and found a full-time nanny. And didn’t apologize for it.

    If you are a parent, and you want to be a partner in Big Law, or Surgeon General, or an astronaut, or principal in American Ballet Theater, then I’m sorry, you are going to have to accept that you probably will not be at PTA meetings and soccer games. Now, notice, I said PARENT, ie, not just women–because men have to accept that reality as well. The idea that feminism was about “having it all” is a misunderstanding. Feminism never promised women could have it all; feminism fought for women to have the same OPPORTUNITIES–ie, CHOICES–that men enjoyed. But feminists never argued that women didn’t have to make choices.

    (and BTW, where is the father in all this? If Dad can’t get up and deliver a pacifier or make dinner for once, and if bedtime/bathtime are a win-lose operation between the parents, then frankly, that’s kind of a problem. Especially if Mom is struggling.)

  • Heather

    I couldn’t agree more with the other commenters and I couldn’t say it better myself. I just wanted to chime in that I have just started to poke around mommyish after being attracted to the straight talk. Unfortunately I’m finding the writing to be quite sophomoric. Arguments are not well thought out and posts are not particularly entertaining. The commenters are the smartest thing on your site (myself excluded)! Maybe I’ll stay for them….