Last week was my law firm’s holiday party and it’s universally accepted that no one wants to talk about work at your holiday party. It’s the time you want to relax, have a few glasses of wine (or beer in my case) and just shoot the shit. I’m pretty new to this crew, so I expected a little bit of the perfunctory “where do you live?” and “getting to know you” type of questions. But then some of the associates started asking me about my kids. Of course I appreciate the gesture to get to know more about my life — and my children are a huge part of my life — but as a general rule I don’t want to spend time talking about them at my work holiday party with a Blue Moon in hand.
Here’s the thing. My husband and I coincidentally had our (no spouses invited) holiday parties on the same night, which means we had to get a babysitter to attend our respective events. If I wanted to talk about how much they love the Backyardigans even though I have no idea what they are, or how much I enjoy Peppa Pig’s completely inappropriate adult humor even though I’m not sure my 2-year-old and 4-year-old should really be watching it, I could have stayed home and actually hung out with them. I wasn’t paying a sitter to put them to bed (although on some nights that might actually be worth it), I was paying a sitter to get my adult holiday party on.
I was willing to talk about my favorite college mistakes, my love of Top Chef or do impressions of the worst partners I’ve ever had to work for. But my kids? Why would I really want to talk about them? I admit I understood the fascination. I am the only female associate in my practice group that has children and I work with a handful of women in their late 20s who might be pondering work, family and life and what it all looks like. But they just wanted to grill me about the details of my schedule, how we handle logistics and how my children handle separation.
So when I found myself at the bar with one of the 30 year old male associates, I thought I was in the clear. There would be no more talk of my rugrats. I couldn’t have been more wrong. To my surprise, it was the very thing he asked about. However, instead of reading me like a roadmap (ok, follow her path here, but don’t veer off there), he engaged with me about the struggles of work-life balance. He had meaningful insight into how sustainable this kind of work was for someone with a family – man or woman. He is recently engaged to be married, and coming from a big family with involved parents, he had clearly been thinking about the issues around balance. We agreed that cutting out the commute was a huge benefit and that raising kids in the culture of New York City was priceless – which is good since everything else will cost you an arm and a leg. He didn’t hold any idealistic ideas that he and his future wife could “do it all” even though he felt both of them were expected to do just that.
When I’m hanging out with adults in a rare, laid-back work environment like a holiday party, I don’t want to talk about my children – but I’m always up for picking brains about a better way to have the career and the families we want.