Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on motherhood in the legal profession, in partnership with our friends at MothersEsquire. Welcome Elise Buie back to our pages. Click here if you’d like to donate to MothersEsquire.
As I noted in Part I of this series, with life-work integration, your view of your life becomes less disparate and more holistic, allowing your work and personal lives to meld together to create a singular life you love. Leaders can shape company culture in several ways to facilitate life-work integration. One way is through policies encouraging employees to take advantage of opportunities fostering life-work integration. These policies will differ from company to company among those supporting life-work integration; ours include flexible working hours, the ability to work remotely, firm-wide closures around the holidays, and programs prioritizing mental health and wellness.
Allowing employees to manage their own time or evaluating employees based on output, as opposed to total hours worked, can further foster life-work integration. By demonstrating to employees that you trust them to get their work done and offering them the ability to be more independent in their decision-making, you can positively impact your firm’s culture and improve the quality of your employees’ work and lives.
Most importantly, you can also lead by example, demonstrating to employees how you integrate your work and personal life. For instance, you might take time to deal with personal matters during the day. Or, you might deal with a work issue outside of traditional working hours. By modeling this flexible approach to work, your team will begin to internalize that life-work integration is acceptable via company policy and directly encouraged.
Lastly, you could foster a culture where employees feel supported enough to speak freely and where employees feel comfortable enough to discuss their needs, challenges, concerns, or desires without fear of retribution. Your firm culture should be welcoming and accommodating while still maintaining high standards of conduct and output. This means acknowledging that your employees aren’t only employees but also parents, spouses, caregivers, and unique individuals with passions and interests all their own.
By taking time to understand and support your employees’ needs and wants, including implementing firm-wide infrastructure that you and they can take advantage of as desired, you will create a more engaged and productive team. One that everyone, regardless of their role, can depend on equally.
How Can Lawyer Moms Better Implement Life-Work integration Into Their Family Cultures?
It can be difficult to implement life-work integration into the family culture. Your spouse might hold a different view on work or home life than you do, your children might have hectic schedules, or you might feel that you have too much on your plate — period. Eve Rodsky’s book, “Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live),” and optional card game, which I highly recommend, can be useful tools for implementing life-work integration and addressing conflicts arising from turning traditional gender roles on their heads.
The card game works like this: You get a deck with 100 cards, around 60 of which are applicable to any couple, even those without children. Cards are split into four categories: home (e.g., garbage, dishes), out (e.g., errands, filling out school forms), caregiving (e.g., bathing children, estate planning), and magic (e.g., gifts). There are also wild cards that cover unforeseen events, such as deaths in the family, and unicorn space cards, which, as discussed in the first part of the series, cover creative time for your unique passions and interests.
Each person takes cards that reflect their respective household responsibilities. This does not necessarily mean each person will receive an equal number of cards since some tasks require more time or labor than others. But, it does imply that work will be split in the home so that one person does not end up with too much on their plate.
The Fair Play system gives you the floor to ask what’s working in the home and what might be done better, particularly if you feel that some household members are exhibiting weaponized incompetence, preventing you from integrating home and work lives. The system can be useful to illuminate and tackle such scenarios. By addressing these issues in the open, you position yourself to have more time to focus on yourself, your family, and your work during the times that make the most sense.
Fair Play is not limited to married couples and married parents. If you are divorced and co-parenting with your child’s other parent, you might still find Fair Play helpful, especially if your co-parenting arrangement is bleeding into your work time and your work is interfering with your co-parenting arrangement. Or your co-parenting arrangement is negatively impacting your solo time with your children. Though you can never control someone else’s behavior, particularly an ex’s, and you cannot force an unwilling ex to participate in Fair Play with you, you can combat these situations and enjoy life-work integration by mentally preparing to take on some invisible labor. Again, hear me out.
Though agreeing to some of that invisible labor we despise so much (and rightfully so) can sound like you’ve lost the war, it’s quite the opposite. All it means is you assuming those tasks that are quick and easy for you, not getting too granular about who’s supposed to do what, and starting an argument to prove your point.
Naturally, many logistical issues do need to be discussed — who’s picking up the kids from school, for instance — but for other choices, such as what vegetable will be on your child’s plate at dinnertime at your ex’s house, it’s OK not to micromanage and for those decisions to remain fluid, so long as the children are well cared for and happy. Bottom line, married and parenting or co-parenting with an ex, by assuming responsibility for what won’t be skin off your back, you can model what it means to be supportive, leaving time and space for what — and who — matters to you most.
Until we as an industry can embrace life-work integration as the life force of a profession premised on helping others deal with complex challenges, there will continue to be those among us who fall short of reaching our personal and professional potential.
There’s no doubt that shifting from life-work balance to life-work integration will be challenging at first, given that you must re-examine your relationship with your work and home life and adjust your mindset about how your personal and organizational responsibilities and obligations related to each inevitably intersect. It might require you to make tough decisions and logistical changes that will allow you to integrate your home life and work life more efficiently, such as seeking out remote work or speaking up to loved ones at home and leadership at the office when you haven’t before.
Despite these initial hurdles, I’ve found the extra effort it took at the start to be well worth it in the long run. A run that we, as lawyer moms, are all on together if we ever expect our legal landscape to change.
Elise Buie is a Seattle divorce and family lawyer and founder of Elise Buie Family Law Group, a law firm devoted to divorce and family law and estate planning. A champion for maintaining civility throughout the divorce process, Elise advocates for her clients and the best interests of their children, helping them move forward with dignity and from a position of strength.