How to balance between work and family

Chances are you've already invested a lot of time and money in finding a training contract or pupillage, you have qualified and your career goal is to become a partner. Suddenly you find yourself in a position where it feels right to have children, but with the chance of making partnership right in front of you, do you wait? Of course, there is no right or wrong answer, but waiting until later in your career does have health implications.

Some firms are very family-friendly and actively support female employees who would like to start a family. For example, they offer maternity coaching and flexible working. However some firms still expect women to outperform men to get ahead.

How long should I stay at home to look after my children?

Many factors come into play here, for example: whether you are breastfeeding, if you can financially afford to pay for childcare, if you or your partner decide to become the sole provider, whether you will be offered your exact same role or be moved sideways to allow for part-time or flexible working. The bottom line is until you are a mother it’s hard to make this decision.

By working or not working, what message are you passing to your children?

Often parents have no idea why their children start acting in a certain way. Parents' break-ups and the impact on children are well documented, but equally parents working or not working affects children on some level.

Ruth Fenton

Children will model parents’ behaviour. For example if you are miserable, stressed and depressed about work or staying at home, your children will pick up on this. They may feel their parent’s state of mind is caused by something they are doing wrong. They may become withdrawn or clingier and not want the parent to go to work because they are trying to protect the parent from being upset or stressed.

All humans need love and attention. If children don’t get it from their parents they will seek it through other forms. This may be another family member, pet, friends or imaginary friend.

Reduce the guilt factor

Some people have no choice but to return to work. This can cause considerable feelings of guilt. Be kind to yourself and think about; what you are able to provide your children above their basic needs by bringing in an extra income or new skills and experience you can share with them. If you were at home would you feel frustrated, trapped or like you are not growing as a person?

Whether you work or not the most important thing is to spend quality time with your children and partner. The connection will always be there and can be nurtured no matter what you choose.

What about dads?

In the early stages the father might feel a little shut out as the women may be breastfeeding and staying home with the baby all day. When a man has a high pressure job and works long hours they might feel guilty about not being there for their partner and the baby. They may feel under extra pressure to bring home a salary.

Having children is a massive change for both parents and often people find themselves focusing on the baby’s needs above all others including their own. It’s important for both parents to be involved and understand how they can best meet the needs of each other. Communication and understanding is key here.

When both parents are exhausted and sleep deprived this can cause a strain on the relationship. Also be aware you many become more overwhelmed, stressed or snappy at work.

Returning to work

Returning to work with no job to go back to can be challenging, especially for a lawyer. Firms want someone with up-to-date knowledge. Attending CPD seminars and doing some shadowing, finding a good mentor can help you get back up to speed. Above all make sure you put time in your day to relax, as when you get home chances are it’s going to be busy, fun, noisy and messy.

Ruth Fenton is a solicitor, executive leadership coach and communications expert who specialises in helping junior and mid-level lawyers excel in their careers.

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