how do you know when to “lean out”?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I’m an attorney at a law firm (U.S.-based) and had my first child 10 months ago. Prior to having the baby, I was held in very high regard (big bonuses, big raises, lots of self-marketing opportunities, all hallmarks of success in a law firm). When I announced my pregnancy, my bosses assured me they’d work with me after the baby was born to ensure I could come back at the same high level as before the baby. I was able to negotiate an extended leave, and I was assured I’d have “flexibility” with working from home and setting my hours (important because my home and the baby’s day care are about an hour away from my office).

Since I’ve been back things have … not gone as expected. I am working as hard as I can, and on paper I am billing nearly as many hours as I was before the baby was born (and I am still meeting my requirements), yet I find myself getting negative feedback about my time management, and a colleague two years junior to me just got a promotion over me, with no acknowledgement at all to me from my bosses of how this might affect me or when it might be my turn to be up for the same title bump.

If my male coworkers (I have only male coworkers) take time off for kid-related stuff, they get lauded for being good dads. If I need a day to deal with a sick kid, I’m assigned two urgent projects and three mandatory hour-long conference calls that I’m somehow supposed to take care of while home with a feverish baby. I am worn down and tired and tired of feeling like I’m constantly failing everyone in my life. I want my time back. I want my life back. But after doing some research on the local market for the type of law I practice, the only way that can happen is if I leave my current job for a work-from-home job, which would give me standardized hours and a guarantee of no emergencies, but would also come with a significant pay cut and would completely sidetrack my career progression, possibly forever. I am so tired of rushing and missing my kid to serve my bosses and yet STILL getting knocked for not being “committed enough” to my job and the firm, I am tempted to just leave and put an end to this hopeless hamster wheel. However, I am worried if I leave now, I will permanently damage my career and earning potential, and I may regret my choice in, say, 18 years when my kid really wants to go to private college and we can’t afford it.

I feel like I’m ready to “lean out,” like I want my life back and I want my kid’s childhood back at any cost, but I’ve been such a high achiever for so long, I’m worried I’ll regret the loss of career potential, and it feels like this is a choice I won’t be able to “undo” in a few years if it turns out to be a mistake. So I guess my question is, how do you know when it’s time to step back (or is it always, as “Lean In” suggests, a huge mistake)?

Readers, what’s your advice? I’d particularly like to hear from people in law and people who have made these specific trade-offs in either direction.

{ 589 comments… read them below }

  1. kt*

    I don’t have a law background, and instead a STEM background — but I want to say that it’s unfortunate that you are being pushed to frame this as an individual and family choice when you are instead facing outright sexism on a corporate and institutional level. This isn’t a you problem, this is a them problem, as you acknowledge near the beginning of your letter — but the reality is, too, that you’re the one who has to deal with it, which majorly sucks.

      1. Just J.*

        +1 as well. And from someone also in a male-dominated STEM field.

        I suggest taking time to take stock of yourself and your goals. Decide what YOU want out of life. What do you want 10 minutes from now, 10 months from now, 10 years from now. (Sorry, stealing the 10-10-10 decision making by Suzy Welch.)

        I did this ages ago and made the decision to prioritize my sanity and my health. I made serious changed to where I was living and working. It had definite career impacts but I regret none of them, because I took the time to figure out what mattered to me most.

        PS: You are facing outright sexism. But I think you know that and as an attorney know the legal avenues you have available.

        1. Just Another Techie*

          +1 as well, and I just want to add, that when I did the 10-10-10 for myself and made some major changes and left my old job, I ended up in a new job where I get 30% more money, and in reality much more flexibility (even though on paper it’s less flexible, because I have to record my hours despite being exempt, because of government contracting requirements, in truth there’s no pressure to put in 60+ hour weeks in order to be a team player because that just burns down our contract faster!) I’m getting more career growth, more leadership opportunities, and am happier and have more free time to spend with my toddler. I wouldn’t have imagined this at the outset, because I had previously been laser-focused on a particular career path in a particular industry, and it was only when I got to the point of saying “Fuck it all, it’s not worth the cost” and was willing to look at offers from literally any employer who met my commuting radius requirement that I started to get creative about other careers.

        2. Just Another Techie*

          +1 as well, and I just want to add, that when I did the 10-10-10 for myself and made some major changes and left my old job, I ended up in a new job where I get 30% more money, and in reality much more flexibility (even though on paper it’s less flexible, because I have to record my hours despite being exempt, because of government contracting requirements, in truth there’s no pressure to put in 60+ hour weeks in order to be a team player because that just burns down our contract faster!) I’m getting more career growth, more leadership opportunities, and am happier and have more free time to spend with my toddler. I wouldn’t have imagined this at the outset, because I had previously been laser-focused on a particular career path in a particular industry, and it was only when I got to the point of saying “Eff this, it’s not worth the cost” and was willing to look at offers from literally any employer who met my commuting radius requirement that I started to get creative about other careers.

        3. the_scientist*

          Agreed. LW, I don’t know how much the opinion of random internetters is worth to you but this is not a “You” problem. It’s out-and-out discrimination against the lone female employee, and penalizing only female employees who have children.

          It may be helpful for you to re-frame this, so it’s not about leaning in vs. leaning out, but choosing whether or not to stay in a work environment that is being openly sexist and mommy-tracking you. Are you still “leaning out” if you’re moving on to an environment where you aren’t facing sexism and discrimination? Even if it comes with a pay cut?

          1. SubjectAvocado*

            This is a great point. You’re not “leaning out,” they’re leaning you out.

          2. button*

            Are you still “leaning out” if you’re moving on to an environment where you aren’t facing sexism and discrimination? Even if it comes with a pay cut?

            This is such an important point. Both because OP is framing this as a personal decision, and for her own peace of mind needs to acknowledge that she’s not failing, she’s being pushed out. But also because in reality, her opportunities for achievement are already limited at her current job. If she stays and sticks it out, swimming upstream in a hostile environment, there is no guarantee that she will be any better off in the end.

          3. Tidewater 4-1009*

            Would it be possible to fight back against the sexism? Maybe even a lawsuit?
            Are we really going to let them get away with this?

            1. the_scientist*

              The letter writer has responded as Lean Out OP to say that her area of practice is discrimination law, so I think we should trust her assessment that none of this is actionable, from a legal perspective. I 1000% agree with you that it sucks, and I would say that OP’s firm is run by sexist pigs, but I don’t know that OP can realistically do much. That’s why institutionalized sexism is so pervasive and so challenging to combat — because it’s difficult to prove (legally) and emotionally and financially expensive to challenge.

              1. Tidewater 4-1009*

                I so want to fight back! But of course it’s the OP’s decision and her life.
                Maybe if she leaves the firm, at least put reviews on Glassdoor and Indeed, or whatever the appropriate sites for attorneys are.

              2. Julia*

                My friend who’s a lawyer says that sexism is rampant in the industry, and if you try to sue, you can be sure you will never work in law again.

                1. Helena1*

                  As somebody who works in a profession which used to be very much like that, and now isn’t, I would agree. We have always had plenty of BAME and female candidates in junior roles (60% of graduates are female). But we were shut out of senior roles, often explicitly.

                  The only thing that brought culture change in my profession was: a national staffing crisis so they *had* to hire those “undesirables” like women and people from ethnic minorities because there were no white men applying. And then those new faces worked to make hiring practices and working environments less discriminatory. But it took a good 40 years, and there are still pockets of sexism in many niche areas (can’t speak to racism as I am white, but I imagine there’s still plenty of that about too, despite 30% of our staff nationally being BAME. There’s certainly still plenty from the service users).

        4. Veronica Mars*

          Also a STEM woman, also a fan of 10-10-10.
          Things got really clear for me when I stopped focusing on the list of accomplishments I want in life, and started focusing on what I want my actual, practical, day-to-day life to look like. How to I want a Saturday morning to go? What about Wednesday afternoons? That’s what the 99% of your life is made up of, so it matters more than the 1% of the time you’ll be standing up receiving an award or getting praised by colleagues or whatever.
          The second part is understanding what you want to have, in terms of financial security, ‘things’ like cars/money/house/vacation/college fund, and also how much challenge you need to feel fulfilled. I get it – everyone needs something to be proud of and no one wants to regret giving up the possibility of “mattering” in their chosen field. But being honest with yourself about these things, you can then bump that up against the lifestyle you want and find a more educated compromise between income/notoriety level and stress level.

          Also, and this is important: Determine what stress level you can reasonably sustain for years. Because, baby stress, that’s a for-years thing. And the work requirements aren’t going to get any easier either. If you’re already feeling burned out, imagine next March when you’re still putting in this much time and still feeling like you’re letting everyone down?

          My mom is a software engineer, and she describes her time when us kids were little as “running on a water wheel, and if you stop for even a second, you’ll drown.” She has had a great career, but I certainly never saw her smiling when we were kids.

          1. TechWorker*

            This hit hard. I don’t have kids and my partner doesn’t want them (with the way he’s currently feeling) so we may never have kids. I am successful but honestly the stress is already affecting me and I don’t know if I can do it for another 30-40 years.

            1. Veronica Mars*

              Im sorry to hear that – but also, definitely relate. I had to quit a job after realizing that it was that or my health. Now I will probably never be plant manager, but I also probably will never have to pull over on my way to work to throw up from stress again so its a win for me. And there are still fulfilling jobs out there that don’t suck you dry.
              I just heard all of this summarized really well on a podcast, if you’re interested. The Peter Attia Drive with Ryan Holiday. He just put a new book out on the topic, it’s called Stillness.

    1. Atalanta0jess*

      Yes.

      I do wonder if it would be possible to find an equally prestigious job in a less sexist firm, and whether that would alleviate some of this feeling. It sounds like at least a part of this is NOT the work itself, but the unfair and unequal expectation, and the perception that the OP isn’t working as hard, when actually she is.

      That said…OP, there are so many of us who can’t afford fancy private colleges for our kids, and you know what? That’s ok. They survive. You can probably lean out and be in similar shoes to so so many of us, and I promise you, they aren’t terrible shoes. Are they always the best looking? No. Do they occassionally spring a leak? Yes. But can you still dance and run in them? Absofrickinglutely.

      1. blackcat*

        This, OP.
        My dad is in BigLaw. What you described is what pushed my mom out of BigLaw in the late 80s. My dad has worked to combat this sort of thing ever since.
        There are prestigious law firms where you will not face this problem. Look for firms with lots of women in leadership. They exist!

        It’s also entirely fair to aim to go in-house somewhere or do something else with more predictable hours.

        But this isn’t a “work-life balance” problem. This is a “you work for sexist assholes” problem.

        1. blackcat*

          Also, I’m not saying it’s *easy* to find these firms. You mention elsewhere that you are not in a big city, which makes this harder. You may not be able to find such a job without moving.

          But I want to push back on the idea that these don’t exist in law. They do.

        2. Lord Gouldian Finch*

          Depending on your area of law, you can also go in-house at certain financial firms (for example) and while you won’t be making all the money in the world, you’ll be more than comfortable (my mother did that – she’s still on the board).

        3. Veronica Mars*

          “But this isn’t a “work-life balance” problem. This is a “you work for sexist assholes” problem.”

          Yes. And here’s the thing about that: you 100%, do not have the power to change that. No amount of persuasion is going to change their minds about you. Working harder or longer is not going to change their mind. Heck, giving your baby up for adoption won’t change their mind. To them, you are no longer ‘pretty driven, for a woman, lets promote her so we look fair’ you are ‘ugh why doesn’t she go be a stay at home mom already’.

          Which, is depressing, for sure. But its also pretty freeing. Because you are now officially absolved of the responsibility to impress them.
          So what about this, what if you just stopped trying so dang hard to change their minds? Instead of trying to exceed expectations, what if you ‘merely’ met them? What if you stopped tying your worth and identity to their perception of you? Whats the worst they could do to you? You already aren’t going to get any more promotions out of them. But maybe you can keep working for them, making good money but giving a lot less F’s? Even if its just for a year while you save up and plan an exit strategy?

          1. Caro*

            “So what about this, what if you just stopped trying so dang hard to change their minds?”

            This was the approach I took when I got mommy tracked for working part-time (STEM at MegaCorp). For a few years the only point of my job was the paycheck, which is hard to swallow when you job has been your identity for so long. Ultimately I got a new (part-time) job internally and then a promotion pretty fast, so it wasn’t the entire company, just a bad pocket. The lack of raises in my last job left me underpaid for a while but I’ve caught back up and doesn’t seem to have had any lasting effects. It didn’t seem to matter that I was doing work a level below my title for a few years, having the title on the resume, and the previous experience, was enough to make the next move.

        4. Curmudgeon in California*

          This is a “you work for sexist assholes” problem.

          Bingo. The fact that they promoted a younger man over you and keep piling on when you have parental duties, but pat guys on the back for stepping up as parents is evidence a pervasive sexist environment.

          Maybe start documenting this shit. When you find a new job at another firm, maybe drop a summary on the managing partner’s desk with a “This is why I quit. I suggest you research ‘pervasive sexism’ before pulling this type of stuff again.” Or not, IDK how educable lawyers are.

          1. Grapey*

            >Or not, IDK how educable lawyers are.

            If this is the kind of environment where not having kids/having a partner to watch the kids is a benefit and works for the majority of employees, I don’t see much changing.

        5. BeeKeen*

          Agreed! I work for lawyers and I’ve seen this type of thing before. However, the firm I’m with has a fairly equal balance of men and women who are partners. And they’re all parents. I have to say that my firm is one of those “unicorn” types that stress the importance of family, has a zero tolerance policy for any sort of sexist behavior, and treats everyone very well. So, yes, those places do exist! I’d look elsewhere for a better firm. Find ones who are rated at the top by their peers.

      2. Can Man*

        Also, if they manage to get into a top tier school, the financial aid is amazing. A mid tier private school can be expensive no matter what, but I went to an Ivy League school from a middle- to upper-middle-class family, and it cost less than going in-state to a state school (with merit scholarships). Not an option for everyone (and perhaps risky to bank on), but it is far from pointless to apply to an expensive school that has the money for good financial aid. Just my little rant to counteract the assumption that lower income == no chance to attend a highly ranked private university (though there are certainly structural issues that can make it challenging to build a resume to get you in, but if someone manages to do that, the cost of school shouldn’t be the deciding factor for applying).

        (That said, my career hasn’t really been any more impressive so far than those of friends who went to state schools or even without a degree. Yes, I had some amazing experiences I couldn’t have gotten elsewhere and met some extremely cool people, but I don’t think my life trajectory would have been any worse had I ended up in my state school instead.)

        (Sorry for overusing parentheses.)

        1. CSD*

          I will also mention that my alma mater (Ivy Plus) specifically allows for children from families making under a certain threshold to attend for free, and offers generous financial aid to those making what I would consider a typical middle class salary.

        2. Stephanie*

          I didn’t go to Ivy Leagues for my BS or MS, but went to similarly selective engineering schools. Both my undergrad and graduate alma maters ended up being cheaper than the state school options. But I was able to get merit aid to attend both.

        3. Eva*

          I would also add the OP’s kid is a baby, and she should consider how she will feel if she stays at the firm in the plan that the kid will want to go to a private school, and instead the kid wants to go through a trade program to be an electrician. Fund a 529 for the kid to the best of your ability, but you can’t predict what they will want to do.

          1. Lucette Kensack*

            Oh my goodness.

            This is not remotely what she wrote in about. I’m quite sure she’s already getting plenty of judgment about how she raises her child; she doesn’t need an admonition from a stranger on the internet about the value of trade schools.

            Her comment about private college was, obviously, an example to make the point that giving up her lucrative career will have real impacts on her family; she’s not snootily dismissing trade schools or the kind of careers that follow (and if she is, it’s still not our business).

            1. Washi*

              I think Eva’s point is that you don’t know what the future will hold, and you want to think carefully about making yourself completely miserable for 18 years because of something that is not even a given.

            2. JSPA*

              On what basis are you assuming this is one of any number of examples? Along with medical debt, debt to cover full tuition at a private school is a premier driver of functional poverty. And also (in most of the country) full tuition is as expensive as buying at least one (if not two or three or four) spare houses.

              OP isn’t at risk of homelessness, food insecurity, etc working from home. OP is very specifically worried about one big cost. If OP sacrifices for 15 years to cover that cost, OP does not get those years back, if the driver for the sacrifice isn’t relevant after all.

              OP does absolutely need to consider that, and either stay with a mindset of “no f#cks given,” work from home, move elsewhere, or be cool with the idea that she’s going to keep grinding to prove a point and to cover the POSSIBILITY (vs the certainty) that her kid will, for whatever reason, need a private university (and not qualify for much aid).

              I’m wondering if her firm offers something like LWOP to do non – profit work (innocence project etc)? That might a) let them recognize how much she does b) give her a chance to enlarge her resumé while c) making more contacts d) give her a feel for what “saving lives while being paid not much” feels like and e) leave a path back to the current job, after a year, if that turns out to be the better answer.

      3. Junior Dev*

        Or a less prestigious firm!

        I work at a tech company you haven’t heard of unless you also work in tech. I have coworkers who moved here from Google, Microsoft, Intel… all of them seem happier from what I’ve heard. The pay and impressiveness is less but we have much better work-life balance.

      4. bikes*

        Yes, this! Look for a job at a better firm before you lean out.

        Network with as many women attorneys as you can, particularly ones who have both the career and the life balance you are seeking. Ask them how to move forward.

      5. Ellie*

        This OP. I’m a woman in STEM and I recognise a lot of this too… what I did was change projects within a large company – one where I knew I was valued, and I knew would work with me on flexibility. The feeling that I was working myself to exhaustion just to fail at everything faded away, as I got on top of the work. Stress (and lack of sleep) makes everything feel worse.

        This firm does not sound like the right place for you, but your child is only 10 months old, and that phase is really, really hard. If you can, I’d suggest putting off any life-altering decisions until they’re a little older, but a new firm that values work-life balance would be a great bet.

    2. AnonEMoose*

      I can’t say this any better. They’re buying into and perpetuating some really ugly stereotypes about women who have children in the workplace.

      I don’t have a law background, and don’t have kids by choice, so I can’t offer anything other than being furious on your behalf. This is hugely unfair to you.

      That said, there might be options. Currently you practice a specific type of law – is there a related form of law you’d be interested in practicing that would have more/different job opportunities to offer in your area? Are there ways you could supplement your income if you do decide to take on a work from home job?

      I’m so sorry, OP – I wish I could say that I thought that if you went to your bosses waving data demonstrating that you’re very nearly as productive as you were pre-baby, and pointing out the discrepancy in how you and your co-workers are being treated, it would improve things. But I don’t think it will. You could try riding it out for a bit longer and see if things improve, but I personally am not optimistic.

      Whatever you decide, I wish you the best, OP.

      1. Lizzo*

        I don’t think there’s anything wrong with gathering that data and bringing it to leadership’s attention, provided that you recognize the end result may be you leaving the firm anyway. If you’re going to leave, do it in style: make some sort of ruckus before you do go that either will 1) miraculously improve your own situation or 2) potentially help out someone else down the road by taking a few bricks out of this sexist wall while you can.

        1. wondHRland*

          Or 3, you leave with a nice, big fat severance package in lieu of suing them for retaliation (for taking maternitiy leave), an gender discrimination (they promoted someone junior to you who doesnt’ have kids, is likely less qualified etc).

        2. V*

          Female lawyer, non-parent lawyer, practicing for about 15 years in a somewhat niche area of the law here – I’d only take this approach if you are comfortable that you have a strong network outside of your firm that can help you land another job. Lawyers in niche areas, especially in smaller markets, tend to know one another through Bar Sections, Inns of Court, etc. If you get labeled as “difficult” or “a liability for asserting a harassment claim” word can get around. So just make sure you have other reliable potential job sources and references before you push back too hard on your current firm. It pains me to give this advice because I know it just perpetuates the problem, but I also do t think it is fair to expect any one individual to significantly harm their own career to push back against injustice that they didn’t create.

    3. Engineering Mom*

      Also STEM (engineering), and pregnant with my first. I haven’t told anyone at work yet, but I’ve seen this exact behavior applied to other women both at my company and in my field at large. I’m trying to think through the options now, but my company is notorious for being really behind the times on flexibility. So I either A. continue being the high performer I am at the expense of my soon-to-arrive child, B. find another company who will offer more flexibility, which will be challenging as I’m the trailing spouse, or C. say to hell with all of you and your sexist tendencies, which right now feels like admitting defeat.

      You’d think we’d have this figured out by now, as long as women have been part of the work force.

      1. Rockin Takin*

        I also work in STEM/am pregnant and while everyone in general is accommodating, I’m trying to move away from my people management role into something more flexible so I can have a better work life balance.

        One of the frustrating things is I’ve been sick a lot during my pregnancy and have intermittent FMLA and come in an hour later than my team (I still work a min of 8hrs daily). During my performance review my boss was telling me I need to be more engaged and be there more for my employees.
        Most of this stems from me calling in sick or having to leave early, and people in general don’t want to come to me for help because I’m super pregnant and they don’t want to bother me.
        So I can’t force people to tell me stuff, and I can’t make myself not sick every day, but I am still blamed for it.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Your boss is sexist, IMO. If you were a man with a serious illness that required extensive medical appointments and left you sicker more often, he probably would fall all over himself to be accommodating.

          1. Helena1*

            Well maybe not – some people are disablist as well as sexist. I have definitely known people suffer for taking time off with illnesses such as lupus, and being run over by a car. There are many reasons to be unreasonable to your staff.

        2. MeganK*

          Ugh you have my sympathies. I was so sick the whole pregnancy (baby is now 8 months old) and it was just so hard to perform anywhere near my usual level when I was nauseated basically all the time. They finally found me a medication that helped, but it was ROUGH. Hang in there, this internet stranger is rooting for you.

      2. Veronica Mars*

        I just wanted to encourage you that there ARE STEM companies out there with great attitudes toward women. It is possible. My fortune 100 company is amazing to mothers, as is, amazingly enough, the startup where I worked last. Companies that allow work from home seem to be, in general, more flexible in other ways for working parents (and better for your tailing-spouse situation too).

        I know that doesn’t help you right now, and I know the odds are against you. But keep your chin up, there is hope.
        Also – its not your job to make sexists be not-sexist. The entire anti-sexism movement doesn’t rest on your shoulders. Its not defeat if you decide fighting that fight isn’t what you want for your (and your child’s) life. You have to do whats right for you.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          +1 to all of this; my fortune 100 tech employer has been pretty good about helping me balance career and family, and regularly wins notice for it.

    4. Minimax*

      Agreed this is a them problem.
      Can I recommend option 3? Apply to another firm at the same or higher level?

      As a high performer who had an emergency surgery and was treated very similarly to you – comments on my timeliness, annoyed coworkers exasperated at covering for me, denied work opportunities, even though I was demonstrably taking less PTO then others… I think a lot of companies suffer from shifting baselines. This also happened to me at a prior company after a car accident.

      If OP was a 10 and is now a 9 then management only sees “a decline”. They may even promote a 6 above you because they are not objectively seeing anything but your “worse performance”.

      I was never able to reset this framing in past bosses minds. Yes I think sexism is part of it because I have worked with many men with emergencies whose lower performance was not only accepted, but lauded much like your male coworkers.

      I think you have to switch firms. Come in working at the new level you want to. My past experience has been that coming in at what felt like 5/10 to me was treated like 10/10 at a new place.

      1. HerGirlFriday*

        +1
        I had a similar experience after my maternity leave. The male-dominated office had formed a “boys club” in my absence, they couldn’t adjust to my return and had fallen into entrenched patterns with each other. One of my subordinates even maneuvered to take my job! And he was my personal pick for the team. Our boss ended up demoting me over undefined “performance concerns” and promoting him. It was humiliating.
        I had to leave, and I’m much happier. I’m working fewer hours, better-defined schedule, higher salary, better benefits, a better work/life balance, and I have an AMAZING supervisor who values and supports me. My mental health and self-esteem have noticeably improved. I’m not on my original career plan, but it’s an adjacent role in the same industry and I’m frankly much more satisfied here.

      2. Krabby*

        Yes! I was trying to think about how to say this, because it was exactly what I was going to bring up. I just had this happen with a colleague. She was a top performer before she went on maternity leave and had the output of two people. Her work upon returning is still 1.5x that of a normal person but our boss was treating her like she was our worst performer because she wasn’t where she used to be. Eventually my coworker rightfully chose to leave and is very happy getting the positive feedback she deserves in her new workplace.
        And also ditto about this still being an issue of sexism. Our male coworker was an okay performer before his first kid. Now he chronically misses deadlines and leaves early, but our boss says, “of course he’s not at 100%, he’s got children at home.”

        1. Sharon*

          > had the output of two people. Her work upon returning is still 1.5x that of a normal person but our boss was treating her like she was our worst performer because she wasn’t where she used to be

          Completely aside from the pregnancy issue, I think one thing you guys are all pointing out is that if you set a VERY high precedent as a top performer, a time may come where you can no longer live up to it but will still be expected to!

          1. Krabby*

            Yep! I continually told my coworker this. She worked extra hours, brought her laptop home every night. It was setting up unrealistic expectations for me and everyone else even outside of her just being able to complete more than us in a regular day. When she left and we had to hire two people to replace her… I can’t say I was above saying “I told you so” to her or my boss :)

        2. LaMont*

          I am a project-based worker with a union and mostly reliable work, hopping from job to job (and, typically, employer to employer though sometimes one employer will call you in for sequential jobs), and most women in the field will simply leave one job and come back to another when they’re ready to put in for more work. It’s not easy, but it has the benefit that you don’t have to work with the same people who saw you pregnant and thus took a sledgehammer to their perceptions of your competence.

      3. Sarah K*

        +1 on this advice. Look to change firms. If you are not yet a partner, it can be both easier and harder to change. What is your book of business? What is portable? That is going to be significant with respect to your options when you try to lateral transfer. Also – find other women in your practice area and talk to them. Reach out to your contacts built from your BD efforts pre-baby.

        Sometimes you can address this with the partners and sometimes you get nowhere due to their sexist BS. It is going to be easier to fix your situation by looking elsewhere than trying to fix it internally. I’ve tried that.

      4. But There is a Me in Team*

        Yup, the more of a super star you are, the higher the bar raises. My last office was female dominant so it wasn’t a sexism issue but an overwork issue. Now I specifically don’t do at least half of the “extras” that I think of, typically give 20% longer than necessary deadlines for completion, and I just got a raise. Go figure. Good luck OP- you’re educated, resourceful and motivated. You’ll figure it out!

      5. valawmom*

        Prosecutor mom here and this is basically what I did. Prosecutor’s offices are all underfunded and deal with public emergencies, so its the norm to work 24/7. I specialize in crimes v. kids so handling that 24/7 while having a child was destroying my soul. I switched offices. I do the same work but I came in working at the level I wanted to work at and instead of putting out fires 24/7 and being constantly informally on call, I’ve set boundaries from the beginning and its working out. I may never work to the level I was previously, but I’m really good at what I do, I like what I do, and I have time with my child. As women in Law I think there is a strong pressure to work constantly and be the best. Being really good and happy is great too.

    5. goducks*

      Yes, this. Reading this as a mother who has always been an achiever in her career, all I could think is that OP is being penalized for being a parent and a woman. If her work isn’t actually suffering, but the feedback she’s receiving is suddenly negative, it seems pretty cut and dried.
      Now, if she wants to lean out because that’s what she wants and what works for her, great, but I’m so sad for her that she’s seeing this as failing, rather than being failed by her organization.

    6. BTDT*

      It’s sexism plain, pure, and simple. IME as a female professional there is no winning this battle.

    7. Ser pounce*

      Baby girl I have two vices…askamanager and courthouse news alerts. You are not alone. google Sanford Heisler Sharp and systemic bias. This is not a you problem

  2. EBStarr*

    I don’t have any advice, just a question: is there a coparent? If so, they are not mentioned.

    If one person does lean out, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the LW.

    1. cheeseburger*

      + 100. Have your coparent lean out. If you have the Big Career, have someone else stay home with a feverish baby or do daycare dropoff/pickup. Better yet, swap the daycare for a nanny.

      Your kid is 10 months. This is peak Awful Time. My kids are 2/4/7 and I can tell you it really does get better!

    2. Lean Out OP*

      There is a co-parent, he’s already “leaned out” as far as he can be (9-5 job, no overtime ever). He does a lot, and we strive to split things like sick days and ongoing kid-care tasks based on each person’s job needs (for example, he does kid laundry because he’s home more, I usually keep track of things like diapers/wipes/formula because those are things I can order from my phone from my desk), but even if he did every single thing, I still miss my kid (and still catch criticism for “time management issues” even as I miss bedtime every single night and continue to work more hours a day than my recently-promoted colleague).

      I didn’t mention him because this isn’t a “my co-parent doesn’t do anything” problem, at least as I see it – it’s a “there is a certain quantity of parenting that I want to do, and believed I would be able to do, that my workplace is now not accommodating” problem.

      1. remoter*

        Can you afford a nanny? Both myself and my husband are high achieving career people and having a nanny changed our lives. We tried daycare at first and it just wasn’t working. Having someone who could be more flexible with us and that we trust implicitly has changed a lot of things – including our marriage, which is vastly improved.

        If you can afford it, I would recommend looking into it. I fully understand it’s not a solution for the vast majority of people, however.

        1. Lean Out OP*

          Our daycare has been an amazing resource and our daughter is extremely happy there. Plus, a nanny would be at least three times as expensive for the same coverage, hours-wise, and we’d take on a ton of extra liability by employing someone directly in our home. We can’t afford and don’t want the risk of a nanny.

            1. Anonforthis*

              As someone who looked into nanny shares: please stop. We get this all the time. Nanny stuff is really complicated and has a lot of unexpected expenses and difficulties. When my son’s main caretaker at daycare is sick, they are the ones who cover it, not true with a nanny. The hours are pretty similar too, I could have my son at daycare from 7 to 6 if I wanted (I typically don’t). A nanny you have to lay overtime for that.

              Nanny shares get complicated due to the other parent issues too.

              Just, stop. I hate getting this “have you considered a nanny” all the time. Yep, before I got off the waitlist for my daycare. It’s not this magical panacea.

              1. Ann*

                The LW wrote in asking for advice. Alison put the question to the readers for advice. You don’t get to scold people for giving advice just because you don’t personally like it. Geez.

                1. Anonforthis*

                  The LW already said she loved her daycare. If she hadn’t sure.

                  The mommy blogs and stuff go nuts on this and women get so, so much guilt and pressure for putting their kids in daycare. It’s near constant and people need to stop.

                2. Julia*

                  How is getting a nanny going to get OP treated fairly at work? She already said she’s working more hours than her younger coworker who got promoted over her. This isn’t anything she’s doing, this is the company trying to push her out for daring to have a baby.

              2. Anna*

                To Anonforthis, it’s good to know that the nanny life is not a panacea, but please do know that these suggestions don’t come from a place of condescending/bandaid solutions, but trying to understand OPs situation, and seeing what can work for our own future. I have wondered how to manage the work life balance as a woman, not in law but in health care, and it is a tricky one by all means. Being told to STOP at nanny talk isn’t very helpful, and mom blogs are enough to drive one crazy, so I won’t be running there for advice either. Some of us are just looking for opportunities to brainstorming, whether good or bad ideas come to the table, and AAM is a safe place to do so. Doesn’t fix OPs toxic workplace, for sure, but having these discussions may at least give us (other readers) insight as to how to address our own lives and situations.

              3. Ms. Pessimistic*

                OMG yesssss, thank you! We had a nanny and her husband got a job and they moved 3,000 miles away. So, we got another one who ended up getting super sick (think cancer), luckily it was summer found a college babysitter who was recommended by a friend. May sucked…took time off, in laws came for a week, we made it work.

                All this to say, At first I loved the flexibility of a nanny but daycare is worth it. They’re always there, always open, my baby finally has some consistency.

          1. Amy*

            Do you know many families with nannies? I thought our daycare was great (and it was.) And then I got a nanny. It’s been life-changing. Kids can by happy in all kinds of places.

            I’m honestly not really sure about the ton of extra liability part. We’ve done all the correct legal things, payroll taxes, a contract, we have umbrella coverage etc. Maybe it’s not being a lawyer, but I don’t see employing a nanny as much riskier than daycare.

            Yes, it’s more expensive. But it’s short-term. Opting out can have long-term financial consequences that I estimate to be higher in my family than the nanny’s salary.

            1. Tidewater 4-1009*

              I don’t know families with nannies but I know three people socially who are nannies, if that helps.

          2. Flyleaf*

            When thinking about the costs of a nanny, it might be helpful to consider the long term impact on your career and not just the short term costs. If a nanny let’s you stay on a career path that you want, the large costs could be offset by long term increased earnings. Even if the nanny costs this year are a net negative to your budget, it might allow you to stay on a high-earning path in subsequent years. Stepping off a high-income path, as you suggest, might make it harder to re-join later on, so spending money today may very well be a good investment.

            1. Nanny free*

              I don’t know the OP’s financial situation of course, but often when people say something is too expensive it’s because they couldn’t afford it even if they wanted to. I would prefer to have a nanny but where I am nannies cost as much as my yearly salary. I can consider it every which way and at the end of the day couldn’t pay for a nanny. OP has said she can’t afford a nanny, there’s no reason to try and convince her that she can. She knows better than others what she can and can’t afford. Plus she’s already said she doesn’t want one.

              1. Amy*

                It likely would not hurt to balance the cost of the nanny against “a significant pay cut and would completely sidetrack my career progression, possibly forever.” For example, for me, daycare was cheaper for one child. Then I had twins and suddenly the math changed. A nanny was cheaper. For some families, a nanny might be cheaper than a significant pay cut.

                Also an issue with WFH (which I do 1-2 days per week) is that you are often required to have childcare and can’t easily handle a child’s sick day either. Despite working from home, I still have to take a PTO day when my older child is off school. WFH doesn’t necessarily solve the sick day issue.

                But, that said, if she interviews elsewhere, she may want to ask about WFH policies. My husband does legal recruiting and it’s a very common issue that comes up in interviews. Some firms are starting to allow a day a week for more traditional legal roles.

          3. Thunder*

            I think you’re over estimating the legal risk of hiring a nanny, as a lawyer, you’re TOO aware of legal risks that are statistically irrelevant. I have a middle class income and hired a nanny for a year, saved my life, career, and marriage!

          4. Working Mom*

            As a fellow high-performing working mom – my advice is to do it. Don’t apologize or feel guilty – but go ahead and lean out. (If you financially make it with the pay cut, of course.) There are plenty of work from home jobs with big corporations (remote work is all the rage these days).

            While it may be a step back career wise now, it may not be forever. You can find a work from home job that challenges you and demands high performance. But; also allows you to physically be home which makes life SO MUCH easier. You would still need full-time childcare, but WFH full time allows you to sneak in chores, cooking prep, errands, etc. during the workday.

            I’m telling you this because I have this job – I am expected to perform at a very high level; have big responsibilities, and manage a team all remotely. I can still do school drop off & pick up, cook a homemade dinner (because I don’t have to wait until I’m home at 6:30 to start cooking) and so on.

          5. Lies, damn lies and...*

            Maybe you could pre-emptively screen for sick day care. I know, it’s hard to leave your sick kid, so it’s not ideal, but some days, it’s necessary. (I WFH so I have a lot of flexibility, but I travel, and one day had to bring in sick day care who I literally never met, but was highly recommended by a family who I trust).

            Also, F your employer. Definitely start looking – you can look for similar jobs and hopefully find workplaces that AREN’T filled with sexist leadership. If you have a network, start asking around, or closely look at their staff/employees on website/linkedin to see if they have a lot of women .

        2. Cathie from Canada*

          I would second this – a nanny would be the best solution. Its expensive, but only for a few years, and in the long run it keeps your earning power intact.
          Immediate alternative: find a daycare closer to work.
          Long term alternative: move closer to work. You don’t need lengthy commute problems along with everything else.
          But I came here mainly to say this — please stop apologizing: to your workplace, to your colleagues, to your baby, to your partner, to yourself. Trying to manage a career along with a family is just hard, and its always going to be filled with less-than-ideal choices, but they have to be made and so you make them and keep going.
          What your management may be picking up on is your own distraction from the 100% work focus you once had, and this is giving them the sense that you aren’t “managing” the way you used to do.
          And that’s actually likely to be true – so I would recommend, just own it!
          Yes, of course your focus has broadened. And overall, that’s a good thing, you are actually bringing a broader perspective to your work now than you had before. So be confident about that, because it is true, and project this confidence into your dealings at the office and at home.
          Be confident in yourself, that you will continue to work it out day by day, hour by hour.
          Be proud of yourself, too, for how well you are doing even on the days when things are not perfect.
          And don’t forget to grab moments of pure joy with your baby and your partner and your work, to treasure whenever you need a boost.

          1. Juggling it all and dropping balls now and then*

            Yes, and thank you for writing this! I’m not the OP, but I’m a working mom reading this thread while my kids are running around and my husband is still not home and I’m just barely starting dinner now even though it’s already completely dark outside. Also, I didn’t eat breakfast or lunch today. So reading comments like these are a nice reminder that I am still doing alright because this is all I can do right now.

        3. Double A*

          A nanny doesn’t buy you time with your children nor emotional peace when your work is making you feel like crap for not working insane hours.

          You can make more and less money in life. You will never get time back.

          1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

            This is how I interpreted the letter, too. It’s not so much the issue of childcare as being able to spend time together. Suggesting a nanny doesn’t help the situation.

            1. Anonforthis*

              Yeah, look, I could have my son in daycare from 7AM to 6PM. I don’t because I don’t want to.

              And the irony of working extra hard so you can pay a nanny to cover those extra hours you’re working…

          2. Amy*

            My nanny does buy me about 30 extra minutes a day with them since I don’t have to drive to pick-up and drop-off. I come straight home.

            1. Trex*

              Having a nanny saved my career and ironically allowed me to spend more time with my child. It also decreased our stress levels of constant pick ups drop offs and early sick days.

              In any case, if there’s an hr dept you could talk to them about what’s happening as a first step… and depending on other factors like comments made to you about your pregnancy or being a mom (if any), file a complaint. Obviously promotions aren’t guaranteed, but if they passed over you after you took protected leave like fmla for example … well that could be an issue. Given that you have invested so much time and energy in this organization – perhaps give them an opportunity to explain why you weren’t promoted or fix the underlying comments and perception of women in the workplace. Although mostly men, you prob won’t be the first woman working there and you can be the leader in setting the tone for future women in your situation!

              If you don’t care about this company anymore or don’t want to try to salvage what you’ve built up there over the years .. then yes move on. I find it’s really hard to interview for these potential prejudices as everyone has their best self on in an interview… so the situation may not be better at the next place either (sorry it stinks but true). Looking for companies where there are mostly women leaders may help but may not… it depends on the person. There are many men who are also supportive of working mothers and women who may not be… so not really an indicator of company culture in my opinion.

              Good luck I’m hoping you make the best decision for both family and career! Definitely a hard balance –

              1. The battle with myself*

                Same here, we can’t financially afford a nanny and we cant afford not to have one. My career can’t take me or my husband taking off every time our children can’t go to daycare, needs to come home early, daycare closes due to something. My male counterparts take off for their kids 3 times a year at most for recitals and plays never for sick babies. The dirty truth is if I want to be on the same playing field for the same raises and promotions I can’t leave early more than they do and I cant do that without a nanny. Which means there are days I don’t see my kids because if I leave at 5pm someone asks if I am working part time now with all my kids (I have 2). It sucks and its not fair and I cry about it more than I want to say. But I’m not at a point in my career to make a difference here so I can play the game or move out of this area and into something less hectic. Its a ongoing battle in my head to move to another area so I can be a good mom like my mother was and tuck my children into bed every night or to do the job I love to do and can do better than most people.

          3. Parenthetically*

            Yep. “My work situation sucks because my bosses are sexist” isn’t a problem that’s solved by getting a nanny.

          4. BeckySuz*

            Yeah I realize I’m super late to the game here but to me it sounds like this high performing woman wants someone to tell her it’s ok to want to be home with her baby more and at work less right now. And it is OP. You can never get back the time with your kids. And it’s ok if that’s more important to you right now than your job. It doesn’t make you less of a lawyer or less of a feminist. It doesn’t take away from your achievements or your hard work or education that you earned. It’s ok. Lean out. Babies and kids don’t care about money, they just want mom or dad. Why try to split yourself in two when one half of that equation doesn’t care about you at all?

        4. Ella Bee Bee*

          Having a nanny wouldn’t change the issue of missing her kid and wanting to do more parenting at home.

          1. serenity*

            It’s also not a solution for a workplace where your work is being devalued and you’re facing gendered expectations. Also, nannies are quite expensive! This isn’t great advice.

            1. Amy*

              If a major pay-cut is on the table and it has a lot to do with struggling with baby sick days (my baby had something like 24 sick days his first year in daycare), it’s worth considering all the options.

              Before taking a major pay-cut, I’d personally consider a nanny. Yes, it’s insanely expensive. But so is a major pay-cut. If that helps improve things, great. If not, then I’d take the pay-cut.

        5. NoviceManagerGuy*

          ? OP wants time with her kid, not a childcare situation that would let her and her husband work 12-hour days.

        6. I will kill people with this cricket bat*

          But a nanny doesn’t solve the problem of wanting to be home more with her child. Yes, it may make her life easier, but it doesn’t solve the central issue at play here.

      2. EBStarr*

        Ah thanks for clarifying! I’ve noticed that sometimes women don’t mention their (male) partners because the default assumption on their part or the husband’s part is that he doesn’t have to do anything, and I was wondering if you had an unspoken sexism-at-home problem to go with the obvious sexism-at-work problem. I’m so glad you don’t!

        Like I said, I haven’t worked in law (though for the record, my dad is a BigLaw lawyer and never “leaned out” in the least, which he doesn’t regret, and neither do I as his daughter) so I don’t have any specific advice but I 100% agree this is a workplace sexism problem. And they’re lawyers!! They should know better. But of course they don’t. Ugh. I hope if you bring it to their attention they realize that they’re courting, well, a lawsuit and quickly mend their ways.

      3. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        This was my question, too. Thanks for clarifying, OP.

        A friend of a friend recently “leaned out” from a major corporate firm to take a government position at a major pay cut, for all of the same reasons you’ve described. Commute is about the same, but hours are ~40/week and consistent, it will give her valuable experience for her longer term career goals, AND between the health insurance (PPO) and the (defined benefit!) pension, her benefit package is much much much much richer than it was previously. Some things to consider, there may be other benefits you aren’t thinking of right now.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          I second the suggestion to look at government work carefully – the total compensation is often much, much more than the pay rate would lead you to believe. For example, all government employees in my county get great health insurance with dependent coverage that’s about $10/month per dependent, vision and dental coverage (that’s actually good!), a defined benefit pension plan, wellness and education benefits, parental leave for both parents, and paid time off starting at 38 days per year (12 sick, 26 vacation) which goes up with seniority.

          Plus other perks like better job security, 40 hour work week, transparent pay scale, and transfer agreements with other local agencies.

          1. Joielle*

            I third this suggestion! I’m an attorney who works for a government agency, and while I’m not making big firm money, I make a very comfortable living and have truly excellent benefits. I never work overtime, hours are flexible, and I have 6 weeks of PTO per year plus holidays, which I’m encouraged to use. And I’m just a staff attorney – the higher up attorneys in our agency and other agencies make quite a bit more than me in base salary. For them, there’s definitely a trade off for working more hours, but no billable hours requirements or worries about making partner or any of that.

            Before this, I was working a lot more hours at a more prestigious job, and it absolutely was not worth it to me. I’m so, so much happier now and less stressed. I don’t have kids, but from my own childhood experience, I wish my own parents had been happy, present, and fully-realized in their own right, rather than trying to figure out what might be optimal years down the road.

            1. RecoveringSWO*

              +1. Also, it’s relatively common for attorneys to jump between BigLaw and gov’t, so that addresses LW’s concern about killing her future earning ability. Even if LW takes a state gov’t job with lower pay/benefits, it’d be easier to switch back to BigLaw if that’s what she really wants.

              PS. If there are any law students reading this thread, if you decide to go BigLaw, don’t trap yourself into requiring a BigLaw level salary to pay off your mortgage or other expenses (beyond student loans). Any job with those hours might require a sudden departure due to stress-related health conditions or toxic management/discrimination.

              1. Curmudgeon in California*

                Hmmm, doing the government lawyer thing while the kids are young might be a good idea, and broaden your experience to boot, so when the kid is a teen (and doesn’t want to admit you exist) you can switch back to BigLaw.

              2. NotAnotherManager!*

                This is incredibly common in DC. I worked in BigLaw for years, and we had people leave for and return from government all the time. For some, they have a government job that allows them to specialize and come back into a high-level position, others just lateral back in. Some have to do consulting counsel/of counsel for a few years before they have enough business to make partner, but it definitely happens.

              3. Contracts Killer*

                I have been a government attorney my entire career and cannot say enough good things about it, for all the reasons stated above – decent pay, flexibility, 40 hr workweeks. And it’s cheesy, but it’s nice knowing my client is working to help the citizens of our state, versus having to take on some less than savory clients (not that it is always the case with government, LOL). And there are lots of attorneys who go back and forth between the public and private sector. One thing to consider if you’re going to be a government attorney, in particular if it’s a niche area of law – will ethics laws in your state prohibit you from working for a private company later that is now state regulated?

                One bonus to government or any in-house legal practice – You aren’t surrounded by attorneys you are competing with. Fellow attorneys are collaborators, and you are working with people of other professions who likely don’t have a “billable hours” mindset. In my office, it is very family friendly and no one bats an eye when I (female) need to leave for a family emergency. I haven’t noticed any negative treatment since coming back from maternity leave several years ago. If anything, I’m treated better, with much compassion when family duty calls.

                1. Attorney in the Desert*

                  I know I’m late to the party, but I want to wholeheartedly second this. I am also a government attorney, and this is my work experience as well. My supervisor knowingly hired me while I was six months pregnant (sure, employers aren’t supposed to discriminate, but I appreciated his support). Both he and my division were super accommodating to me at that time, and also as a new mother.

                  Sure, I don’t make the same salary I could earn in the private sector. But the flexibility and work-life balance are priceless. The benefits and retirement cannot be matched by many private firms. Plus, the loan forgiveness program is a nice perk. I also find the work environment to be collaborative.

                  I give it to SAHMs. I briefly went that route, and it is tough work. I found that I need both family time and intellectual workplace stimulation, and my government job affords me both of those things.

                  I wish all of the working moms out there the very best. I hope all of you find the personal and professional fulfillment you deserve.

            2. Veronica Mars*

              I am a child of a high power mom. She went from high-power-job, to SAHM, to “9-5 easier job” and then back to high-power job.
              When we were younger kids, the 9-5 was the best balance. Everyone was miserable when she tried doing the SAHM thing – she was unfulfilled and cranky. Her high power job, I was only 5 and I still remember her “stress face” when she picked us up from daycare, so that clearly wasn’t sustainable. But once we were teenagers, she really loved having a hard job again. She might not have climbed as high as she could have if she never left, but she did feel like every day was a challenge and that’s what she was really after.

              You might not be able to “have it all” at the same time, but chances are you can have the thing you want most now, and figure out how to get what you want most if (when) that thing changes down the road.

              1. HighPowerWorker*

                Thanks for writing about this. I’ve been trying to dig up a study that was done comparing the outcomes of children of working and SAH mothers. They asked the question differently than other studies in that they calibrated whether the mothers wanted to be work or SAH and what they were currently doing.

                The study showed what mattered most was the the mothers were doing what they wanted whether it be working or SAH because the children from a very young age could tell if their mothers were happy or not.

      4. Jules the 3rd*

        It’s a ‘what do you want’ problem compounded by your company’s sexism. Think through what makes you happy and your priorities, short and long. *Then* think about your options. Is missing 2 bedtimes / week ok, and 5 too many? Or is missing 5 ok?

      5. MomofTwo*

        This is the typical, insidious “you don’t seem as committed now that you have a kid” attitude that places that over-work their employees love to throw at women. You can demonstrably prove that this is not the case–you are meeting billable hours, etc.–but are still being penalized for having a child. You can try to demonstrate evidence of your continued commitment to your job and make the case for why you should have received the promotion over your colleague. However, if it seems like no one is listening, it’s because they aren’t. Start networking and find a better situation for yourself before trying to scale back.
        Things do get easier, and you may feel differently in a few months or a year, but the attitudes in your workplace likely won’t change any time soon. Focus on your needs and finding an environment that will allow you to thrive professionally–you shouldn’t be punished you for being a parent and having obligations outside of your firm.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          … you shouldn’t be punished you for being a parent and having obligations outside of your firm.

          This.

          The guys aren’t punished for fulfilling their parenting obligations, but you demonstably *are*. This is sexist as hell.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          “The real truth, Employer, is that now that I have a kid YOU are LESS committed to me. You loved me when I did 2X in productivity. Now you are unhappy because I do 1.5 X in productivity. What this actually means is that the targeted productivity level has MOVED. Excellent productivity was 2X, what you are saying here is that 2X is now labeled as ‘normal productivity’. The target moved once I came back from having my child.”

          The sad fact of the matter is that this firm is not concerned about their people. The dads probably have to wear name tags at HOME so the kid recognizes them. This cannot possibly be good for family relationships.

          While I totally agree this place is sexist, I also see that this is a very money driven operation to the exclusion of other things. I could be wrong. But if you think about it from this perspective does that make it clearer in your mind what you want to do next?

          I was that kid. My father worked at a place about 6 hours away from home for the first few years of my life. I only saw him on weekends. Of course, I grew and I learned to walk. I can remember being TERRIFIED of being separated from my father in stores because I could not remember what he looked like. How would I find him if I did not know what he looked like. I can remember going into stores and refusing to leave his side for even a second.
          My bias, of course, but I am giving this whole firm the side-eye.

      6. learnedthehardway*

        I think you need to push back with the partners at your law firm – make it crystal clear that they are criticizing you for things that they are praising male colleagues for doing, and that they are NOT working with you as they had promised.

        Of course, be prepared for this to not work, so I would also be actively job hunting for a more female-friendly law firm that has a track record of promoting women into partner positions, and where there is a commitment to work/life balance. (Be careful to make sure that the women in the partner roles are actually women like you – ie. involved parents – and not women who succeeded because they mirrored their male counterparts. eg. totally outsourced childrearing to nannies/spouses, etc.)

        Your colleague being promoted over you – it depends on how long you were off. I’m in Canada, where 1-2 years is possible for a mat leave, and that can make a real different to someone’s experience vs. their colleagues’. I’m guessing you are probably in the USA, though, and probably only took 2-3 months off. That is not enough to make a material difference to your experience vs another colleague’s, and I’d be furious, in your shoes. And I’d very likely say something about it, probably to whatever labour board you have that looks into human rights discrimination. I’d find another job first, though, before burning it all down.

      7. Atalanta0jess*

        Yeah, no amount of childcare provided by other people can solve the “problem” of wanting to be in your kid’s life x amount. Which of course is a totally reasonable thing to want. This stuff is so hard.

      8. Hang in there*

        My co-parent is also a 9-5’er, and as my kid has grown (she’s 8 now) this has definitely allowed me to work the longer evenings / weekends that my much more demanding job requires. A few people have already mentioned that you are currently in the midst of the most intensive and demanding parenting months — the back-to-work adjustment coupled with the overall lack of sleep and high needs of a baby are A LOT. I personally found that I was much more able to juggle everything effectively after the 1-year mark, so just my personal experience that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.

        Also, re. the co-parenting issue: I recently read and LOVED this book called FAIR PLAY. It’s all about how to effectively divvy up jobs and responsibilities at home with a partner, especially post-kids. My biggest take-away was her idea that each of us has to fully own the jobs on our plate. So, if my husband is making for my kid, he’s responsible for all parts of the dinner — planning, shopping, cooking, and cleaning up. I don’t get the panicked 5pm texts asking “what’s on the menu tonight” and as a result we fight less and problem-solve more. Not sure if this applies in your situation, OP, but it’s been a game-changer for us.

        But none of this is worth anything if your employer isn’t willing to work with you and support you in this time of transition. I wish you a lot of luck navigating this. A lot of us have been there, and the fact that there aren’t any easy answers is a huge societal problem. Keep us posted.

        1. Amy*

          Yeah. We stagger our schedules and split mornings and evenings. I leave early and mornings fully belong to my spouse. Then I come home early and evenings until 7pm, fully belong to me.

          It works very well.

      9. Marcy*

        If you are close to getting out anyway, why not lay it on the line with your bosses? “You keep telling me I have time management problems but I’m here later than everyone else and billing more hours. You’ll need to be more specific.”

        Another option is to just stop giving a fuck about their expectations and leave when you’re ready, ignoring their sideways guilt tripping (and I personally would be argumentative if they brought it up with you directly). You’re clearly not going to get a promotion anyway working long hours so why bother? At least then you might feel less resentful.

        You can also consider and EEOC complaint, especially if you are considering leaving anyway.

      10. Diana*

        I’m in law, this happened to me. (Mid-size firm in a mid-size city).

        The only thing you can do as a practical matter is to work to build up an independent book of business. Your reputation at your firm is now “not a moneymaker,” and you can only combat it by making money. If I had it to do over again, I would work LESS trying to please partners who won’t be pleased by performing and hitting my billables and spend more time out in the community building meaningful relationships with colleagues at other firms and with clients. (If your clients are big institutions, join their trade groups, go to their meetings, etc.) Don’t give that time to your firm. They treat you badly because they can. You can’t perform your way out of it, so don’t drive yourself crazy by trying to.

        I went to do government practice in my niche (with a brief stint in-house) which was wonderful and kept my skills sharp and which I highly recommend if the tradeoff is something you’re up for. But the income hit was massive.

      11. DeeEm*

        I’m a lawyer. My advice is to first talk with your boss or the main partner about your concerns and ask about their reasons for their promotion choice. It sounds like you’ve got some general feedback, but not enough specifics. Explain your concerns in a calm and respectful manner — with a tone that Alison has suggested many times. But start looking to leave even before that conversation. Look at other law firms. IF you’re known in your field, you should be able to find something. If you absolutely love the area of law you’re in, then of course try to stick with it. But also consider something in the same arena, but slightly different. Frankly, I jumped from general litigation to in house employment-HR-law and am making more money with better hours, and I like the work most of the time (though it does have its moments, of course)!

      12. Curmudgeon in California*

        This is definitely a “they have a sexist lens when looking at you because you are now a mom” thing.

        You could turn all the childcare over to hire pros, work 16 hour days in the office, never see your spouse or kid except a few hours on the weekend, and they would probably still see you as “underperforming”, and promote average level junior men over you. They have mommy-tracked you, you can’t fix their perceptions, get out and maybe sue the shit out of them, since you will have documented every bit of this like a boss.

    3. The Bean*

      This. I’m in biglaw. The men who make partner tend to have a stay at home wife or wife who has a job more compatible with child care. Some women do make partner with kids and a husband with a demanding job, but it’s more of a struggle to balance things.

      If OP is an attorney at a law firm, the expectation is generally that they are not the ones staying home with the sick kid. I have only known of one person. I have worked with to do that out of many, but only after wrapping up meetings that day while the kid lay on a cot in the school’s nurse’s office. And that only happened because his wife was not available.

      Obviously it’s a shitty standard but as a family unit OP and her partner need to decide what they are going to prioritize and then what division of labor makes sense based on that.

      1. The Bean*

        Oh, I thought of another example of an attorney being the person with a sick kid. In that instance it was a hospital stay for something serious and she was still completely accessible and drafted a brief over those days working remotely from the hospital.

        So yeah it sucks but it doesn’t shock me that they’d expect her to work from home.

        1. a heather*

          There’s a difference between being in a hospital where there are also nurses to provide care (with a kid who is likely to be sleeping more than when they have just a regular cold at home) and being at home alone with a baby who is feeling horrible and just wants you to hold them ALL DAY.

        2. a heather*

          And while I’m at it, there’s a huge difference as a child ages. Working from home with a sick baby or toddler is pretty much “work while they sleep, if I manage to get them to sleep somewhere that’s not on top of me”, but it gets easier and easier as they can occupy themselves for longer periods of time. Now mine are both in school and as long as I keep them fed they’ll gladly spend most of the day watching TV (not the best educational experience, but it’s a sick day, so…) without needing much from me.

  3. KX*

    I leaned out. It was a huge financial mistake.

    It was not a huge mother mistake. I had a lot of fun with my little babies and my K6ers, and now with a lowish paying easy job secondary schoolers I am still having fun.

    Which would have been the bigger mistake? You can’t compare them.

    We lived on one income and now we still do. I am saving a lot of money now. As soon as the younger is off to college I am going to get a much higher paying job at a more stressful place. And I will never cook dinner again and I will hike every day again and I am optimistic about the future.

    1. cheeky*

      Are you working? If not, and not in a high-powered job, it might be very hard to get a high-paying job (or any professional job) when you’re ready. My sister-in-law is stuck in this trap right now after leaning out for her kids.

      1. KX*

        I am working. I had a ten year full-time employment gap, which ended five years ago. I started basically at the bottom of this company (not entry level work, but the lowest rung here) and now I am in a different position with skills and responsibilities that I believe I can leverage elsewhere when I am ready to go. I am staying put for now because it’s an easy job to balance family fun with.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      18 years when my kid really wants to go to private college and we can’t afford it.

      This really struck me. There’s nothing wrong with public state schools (except they cost too much too), but those private schools are ridiculously overpriced now. I hope the educational market is fixed before the LW’s kid starts college so that schools are not still overpriced.

      If the LW chooses to lean out (which has been my choice and I don’t even have kids but I am not particularly ambitious), just recognize that a certain level of wealthy lifestyle is off the table like paying private college tuition. That doesn’t mean the LW loves her kid less. Investing time spent with the kid instead time at work where you can make money to spend on the kid seems more rewarding and probably has a bigger payout in the kids quality of life.

      It’s a fact of American life that a lot of these high paying jobs come with commitment to working more than the standard 40 hours and being on call and are conducive the work life balance.

      Consider, though, your baby is only 10 months old. Will it get better when the child is older and you’ve caught up on those sleepiness nights that a baby brings.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        Apparently the bottom is supposed to fall out of the college market in 6 years. 2026 marks 18 years after the 2008 recession, when the birthrate fell and never recovered.

        There will be lots of colleges with lots of empty seats. Many will get cheaper, some will close.

        1. cheeseburger*

          I’ve not seen any data to support this. Wouldn’t you assume that colleges would just charge higher tuition to make up for the empty seats? Admission might be easier but not less expensive.

          1. Faith*

            A lot of colleges are starting to prepare for this, actually. Colleges can’t just charge higher tuition to cover the loss of empty seats–in some public systems, they are limited by their state governments in the amount they’re allowed to raise tuition, and also more and more people are being told that they don’t need to go to college because the benefit doesn’t outweigh the cost *right now*, let alone if tuition skyrockets more than it already has. Combine that with wage stagnation, and we’re going to hit a point where people who are raising kids now are still paying off their student loans and aren’t in a situation to save for their children’s education. You can bet those people are going to discourage their kids from taking on the same kind of debt.

            College tuition has risen so much over the last 10-15 years because state governments have repeatedly slashed education budgets, and because colleges have the option of raising tuition even a couple percent (where k-12 doesn’t), they’ve gotten a disproportionate share of those cuts. And even though the economy is doing better, the funding for most state universities has not returned to pre-2008 levels/percentages. Many colleges are actually operating on near-shoestring budgets already. It might look differently on the outside, because you see new buildings, etc., but one-time things like a new building w/ new equipment/furniture gets paid for by capital campaigns/donor and alumni fundraising, and one-time grants. Sometimes money from student fees will get rolled into buildings like a new gym, but that’s usually a tiny percentage of what pays for it.

            And you can only lower admission standards so much before the degree your university offers becomes seen as less desirable and could cost the university its accreditation.

          2. Librarian1*

            I’m not sure of the reasons (meaning I don’t know if it’s caused by a declining birthrate or by something else), but colleges are definitely expecting enrollment to plunge (it’s kind of already started) and there are a ton of articles about it in the Chronicle of Higher Ed.

          3. Starbuck*

            I would also assume it’s likely they’ll pivot to recruiting more international students as well, and they usually pay the highest price anyway.

        2. Ms. Pessimistic*

          Some are closing already! I work in Admissions at a University. This is talked about often.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          That is true. I don’t see how the current model of “make a degree cost a jaw-dropping amount, offer loans with insanely high interest that starts accruing the day they take the loan out, then raise the prices every year” is sustainable long-term. Sooner or later people will start opting out.

          1. Amethystmoon*

            The problem though is they are requiring 4-year college degrees for jobs that really should just require computer literacy and good Microsoft Office skills. Yes, you can take Microsoft Office classes in college, but there are other ways to learn it. When I was temping, I would go to the library and get books on it and do the projects. Some of us went through college and maybe only had to learn PowerPoint. But yet, you still need to get the piece of paper for a decently-paying office job with benefits. Most of what I’ve learned for my job, I learned at work.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              Most of my MS Office skills I taught myself by going through the help, but I had a knack for it. I eventually leveraged that into a switch to Linux and sysadmin work. There are few degree programs in Linux Operations – it’s all programming degrees, which I find boring. My job is mostly expected to be self-taught, learn on the job, but still lots of places want a CS degree for it, and that degree teaches you little or nothing about how to do it.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              Some where in the first decade of the 2000s I read an article that talked about employers using college degrees to figure out if the potential new hire could read and write. Meanwhile, in my area folks were laughing at a well-known school in our greater area that charged $120K for a degree and for that you could get a $30K/year job.
              Back then I saw that people from the surrounding area would not go to that college. This meant the school had to reach out farther to attract students.

          2. Professional Confusion*

            Small correction – federal student loans don’t accrue interest when you take them out, they begin to accrue interest 6 months after you stop attending (graduate or drop out). Source: was a college dropout in 2013 and a college graduate in 2018 with federal student loans. You’re right about private loans, though.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              IME, you have to be way WAY WAY low-income to qualify for a federal loan. I know they exist, but never met anyone who qualified. Doubtful that OP’s child(ren) will.

              The “parent plus” ones that they kept trying to get me to sign up for were the worst. Interest was almost double what I pay on my mortgage. This is madness.

              1. Eisbaer*

                You can be a billionaire or a billionaire’s child and qualify for a federal student loan. You can also be completely destitute with a credit score of 400 and qualify for a federal student loan.

              2. Librarian1*

                That doesn’t make sense to me. There are certain types of federal loans that you have be low income to qualify for, but there are other types of federal loans that are open to anyone.

                1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                  Do you mean unsubsidized? Because those appear to accrue interest from day one.

                  https://studentaid.gov/understand-aid/types/loans/subsidized-unsubsidized#subsidized-vs-unsubsidized

                  I mean, most of my friends’ kids went to college at around the same time as mine. If there was a way for all of us to qualify for a deferred-interest, low-interest loan, I’m sure the word would have spread and we would’ve all done it. I filled out the FAFSA every year (at least while the kids had merit scholarships, you had to) and every year it’d tell me that my EFC exceeded the actual tuition at my sons’ schools, but, if my sons or I still wanted to take out a loan, we would be welcome to do so at 8% interest rate.

      2. char*

        Also, there’s often plenty of financial aid available even for private schools. My parents couldn’t afford the tuition at the private college I went to, but because we couldn’t afford it, I qualified for a very generous grant that covered about 75% of the tuition. (Admittedly I still had to take out loans even so…)

    3. Bee*

      This is what my mom did – she didn’t have a high-powered career before having kids, so it was an easy decision to stay home with us when we were little, but once we were in school (plus sports) from 7-5 every day, she started one. It means she’s currently working at a wildly unsustainable pace to make a lot of money so she can retire in a few years, and she hates her job right now, but on the whole I think she’s happy with the balance she’s struck over her life.

      In short: taking a pay cut now so you don’t lose your mind while your kids need a lot of attention DOES NOT MEAN you’ll be stuck there for the rest of your career.

    4. Same Boat*

      “Which would have been the bigger mistake? You can’t compare them.” I’m not the OP but this is the perspective I needed to hear. I’m in consulting with billable hours and I (inexplicably) love the deadline-adrenaline and intellectual challenge of my job but also wonder if “leaning out” is now the right move. This is not something I seriously considered pre-kid so the mental math is unfamiliar. I spend a lot of time wondering what I would lose vs gain. But, what is parenthood if not making decisions with imperfect information. It HAS gotten better since the 10 month mark, but some weeks I still feel like I’m just rushing from one rat-wheel to another. Male leaders at my company are supportive day to day if I need to miss work for a pediatrician appointment, but not in the big picture — e.g., we have a maternity leave policy but no paternity leave policy; requests for flex schedules may be met with shade depending on who your manager is, I was granted 3/4 time but at my annual review got feedback that senior staff noticed my billability was down (like, duh?). Mixed and hidden messages like this make it hard for new parents to determine what the company truly expects of its staff.

      OP: Can you speak directly to your boss or an internal mentor about all of this? If you job hunt: be prepared that it’s doubly hard to job hunt while working overtime with a new baby, but it doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. Others are posting good transitions that don’t “lean out” so much as shift your career to make it work better for you and your new priorities. Change can be good! Good luck and I’m here with you in solidarity!

      1. J.B.*

        I don’t know what’s the right decision for you. For me it was to have a lower stress job with itty bitty kids and I’m now back in school. The intellectual challenge is fun, although I now have to find a job which is stressful.

      2. CM*

        As a parent with older kids who left a law firm job to go in-house with no billable hours, I think everything you said is spot on. There is no clear answer. One thing I would say is that I’ve seen a lot of people successfully ride out the baby years. As they advance in their career, they have more control over their schedule and when their kids are school-age they feel the sacrifice was worth it. Other people feel like each moment is precious and they would rather sacrifice some money and prestige to be there with their kids. It seems like you should know which kind of person you are, but I find that it’s really difficult to figure out which approach is right for you! Too bad we can’t tell the future and see how things would turn out either way. Whatever you decide, acknowledge that you are making a decision (“choose your choice!”) and it doesn’t have to be forever.

    5. Grown Kid*

      My mom leaned out. It could possibly be classified as a financial mistake. From a financial perspective, we missed out on some material items growing up. Our friends with two working parents had more Things. They went to more Exotic Locations.

      My mom never did get back to work. She tried. She couldn’t compete against new college grads with lower salaries.

      It was a huge family win. I’m glad my mom opted to spend time with my siblings and me. As a child, I have never regretted her decision. We survived just fine on one income.

      1. Sad tale but...*

        My mother had a very high-paying job before I was born — this was in the mid-1970s. Higher-paying than my dad’s job. She quit it. She never held a job again in her life. (This wasn’t entirely because of a skills gap, because she had some mental health issues as well.) But being a homemaker clearly left her feeling trapped and frustrated for the rest of her life (she died in late 2019).

        Do not assume that your kids would rather you “lean out.” I would so, so much rather have seen my mother have the brilliant career she was capable of, than the life she lead. Women should have stellar, high-powered careers. Your kids are watching. If they see you lean out, what do *they* think they have to strive for?

        If you lean out, it should be for *you*. Not your kids.

  4. Academic again*

    Question: have you documented specific occurrences and had a big picture talk with your bosses? If not, I would prep the documentation, schedule the meeting, and be ready also to propose specific changes that you want to see.

    (I’m not a lawyer, but I work in another industry – academia – that has similarly bifurcated career paths. If that’s the case, you shouldn’t toss the high-paying option away without seriously pushing to make it work, and you might find that others would support your efforts to make your workplace fairer.)

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      +1 to this. Since the OP is ready to lean out, why not first throw down the gauntlet and call them out for their bull-shit first — privately first and then publicly next. If she wants to stay and make it work, I wouldn’t advise torching the bridge though.

      1. Mazzy*

        “Calling them out on their bs?” OP themselves said they are technically billing the same number of hours but are receiving feedback on how long things are taking, and they don’t seem to refute that, which means they think it’s a legitimate issue. Very easy to say on the internet “that’s bs,” extremely different situation to actually be a manager and be in the awkward position of having to give out credits to customers or lower hours/ parts on an invoice because an employee is now taking ten hours to do what used to take seven. That is something that a boss will need to address regardless of whether the person is young or old, have zero kids or ten, is male or female. Actually, this is almost a monthly occurrence in my job where some project takes too long (either because the employee wasn’t focusing or didn’t know how to do something). We’re on the other end of the invoice. We’re not going to keep paying for twenty hours to do a fifteen hour project, because then we’re going to have to get way too personal with all of our contractors personal situations and start making allowances for everyone. It’s just not realistically possible or professional after a certain point. I mean, we just tell them something seems to have taken too long. I can’t really ask them if they have health issues or didn’t sleep the night before. It would be odd and insulting

        1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          This is BS I’m talking about: “If my male coworkers…take time off for kid-related stuff, they get lauded for being good dads. If I need a day to deal with a sick kid, I’m assigned two urgent projects and three mandatory hour-long conference calls…” This isn’t about billable hours, which she actually indicates she’s keeping up with, it’s that there is a double standard — men aren’t criticized or bombarded with additional tasks when they take time with family, but she is. Also, if she’s keeping up with billable hours as far as the company is concerned, how is it possible that her (business) time management is off? I acknowledge that the time is coming out of her personal time, but if the business isn’t impacted, then why would they criticize her time management?

    2. PaddyHaha*

      This. Why is your choice binary (suck it up and continue, or leave)? You need to have discussions with your bosses/hr/supervisor about what the firm thinks they offer, the bs you’ve put up with, and how the firm is going to approach the future. This is not you forcing them to give you extras, this about the firm being a good place to work and allowing the firm to be a high level employer. Maybe they haven’t had to deal with this issue before, but ostriching now and hoping it will all go away is not a good look. And if they are going to ‘different track’ you because you have family obligations, then make them do so openly and in a way that you accept (like scale back hours or half day Fridays). If they want to be craven, sexist jerks – make them say it. Don’t do their work for them by assuming culture/policy and accepting less. And push back on any negative assessments, keep records of your work/hours .

    3. Lean Out OP*

      I’ve spoken with my bosses, and there’s not much that can be done to change expectations. Also, nothing that is happening is overt enough to be actionable in my jurisdiction (discrimination law is literally my area of expertise). I had a part-time arrangement for three months after my maternity leave officially ended, it was a nightmare and a disaster. Our clients expect full-time coverage and then some, it unfortunately isn’t realistic to be a part-timer in my practice group.

      1. RC Rascal*

        Do you have any options to become a corporate attorney?

        My SIL did this after her long hours cost contributed to the end of her first marriage. Her background was employment defense law, and she was able to transition this to a corporate career. It was a huge pay cut at first, but she said it was worth it for her sanity. 8 years in she has now been promoted and has been able to get most of her money back. SIL has an MBA as well.

        1. Pwyll*

          This is honestly my recommendation as well: can you move in-house for a few years until your kid is a bit older? The amount of stress I was able to drop by moving into a bank from a law firm was more than worth it to me for the initial pay cut, and I’ve since made it all back in raises/promotions anyway. Plus, we can work from home whenever we want, hours are more manageable, and everyone I’ve dealt with has been far more understanding of family or health issues interfering with a call or meeting.

          Even if you’re plaintiff-side discrimination law, I would think that a few years in-house at a big corporation could round out your experience such that you could go back to plaintiff-side in a few years. Don’t just look in your own region, either! I applied to my current bank legal role where I knew they had a small satellite office but the role itself was posted 6 states away. The bigger corporations tend to have some flexibility because they’re all pushing for more remote work (reduced property expenses) anyway.

          1. Abogado Avocado*

            Agreed. OP, you may also want to look at government positions. No, you won’t earn the same amount of money as in private practice with a large firm, but large city, county, and state governments tend to be years ahead in terms of offering family leave benefits, really good health insurance, and fully funded retirement. (I am not including the feds here since family leave has long been an issue there.) Plus, you will find many other attorneys in government practice who are making their families a priority and who will not criticize you for doing the same. Best of all, if you practice in a government attorneys’ office (think City Attorney, County Attorney or State AG offices), you won’t find it so hard to return to private practice or a large firm because government attorneys’ offices always need outside counsel for conflicts and you will have the inside track for such work.

            1. Celeste*

              Every lawyer I know here in state government has said they fled practices for the state so they could have a life and see their kids. For the most part it’s a 40-hour week. I hope it can be an option for you.

              1. valentine*

                there’s not much that can be done to change expectations.
                Is it worth discussing the vast divide between you thinking flexible meant having a day off here and there to take care of your sick baby, versus five minutes to arrange childcare; and working from home meant around childcare, versus clients not knowing you weren’t in the office?

              2. PunnyGal*

                Agreed. I am a government attorney, which means that while I make a less than I would in private practice, I don’t have billable hours, I don’t worry about partner track, I get amazing benefits, and I leave everyday by 5. I can also work from home when my kid is sick or otherwise off from school. They call working for the government the golden handcuffs for this reason; the pay isn’t stellar, but the benefits are enough to make you stay.

            2. Word of Caution*

              Just be careful and do your research before moving anywhere. Government has a reputation of being cushy, but honestly, my state AGs office was the most toxic work environment I’ve ever experienced. It was insanely understaffed and what support staff there was had never learned even basic computer skills so lawyers were just doing everything themselves. The pay scale was a disaster and the only way to get raises was to go to the private sector and then come back, or force the office to make you a counter offer by showing them a written offer from somewhere else and hoping they didn’t call your bluff. Also LOTS of systemic but subtle sexism, like asking only female attorneys to do admin-type stuff, etc etc etc. A lot of government offices are great, just make sure you don’t accidentally end up in a worse environment than where you are now!

      2. DW*

        What about making a before-and-after comparison of performance, hours, client satisfaction and internal feedback? Even if there isn’t anything legally actionable, having that comparison to show to your bosses and saying “the only thing that’s changed is your feedback, why is that” might be helpful? Your specialty is discrimination so I imagine your bosses have some familiarity too, from what I know of law firms.

        1. Mazzy*

          Thank you for this. This is actually a good way to approach the situation and analyze it for yourself before you raise it to management

      3. NaN*

        Depending on your relationship with your bosses, this might be a good place for some of Alison’s “I know you would want to be supportive” or “I know you care about equality” language, where even if you don’t know that’s true, phrasing it that way helps put your boss in the mindset to get on your side. You said they were supportive when you announced your pregnancy, so maybe there’s room to remind them of that?

        Even though it shouldn’t be your job to educate your bosses about these issues, it might be worth laying it out for them just like you did here: When men take off for kid-related stuff, they get lauded for being good dads. Men are seen as more committed to their jobs when they have kids, women are seen as less committed. That’s a reality women deal with, but your bosses may be completely unaware of what’s happening here until you put it in those words for them.

      4. RecoveringSWO*

        Yeah, you know what you’d be up against if you tried to take on your firm. You do not need to be a martyr and take on all of that labor/stress.
        Based on your replies so far, it seems like your “type-a” tendencies are linked to earning power, because of your background. If you lean out at your next job and somehow find your type-a tendencies getting restless again, you could reframe your goal to something like addressing sexism in the legal field through alternate avenues like the bar association and political advocacy–something that wouldn’t take over your life and could have an impact. BUT, if your new career path and motherhood are fulfilling and/or demanding enough, don’t feel obligated to take on more just because you were another casualty of our profession’s toxic culture.

      5. Ismonie*

        This was my experience watching other women become mothers at big firms as well. We all *know* what’s going on, but convincing a court and a jury is another thing altogether.

        I echo recommendations to look for another job. If you really like the aspects of your job (long hours, prestige, adrenaline) that you would be giving up, I don’t know if you should completely change tracks to working from home. Speaking as someone who jumped off the big law track a decade ago, for personal reasons (hello, benign sinus tumor) I do know that I can never go back (unless I segue into some prestige position, but I’m not seeking to do that, and if I did, I still wouldn’t go back.)

        However, if you think you can’t get interesting cases at smaller firms, that’s not correct. Same for government. I’ve worked in both. Some smaller to midsize firms pay quite well, some don’t. Smaller firms can be unstable, but they can also be flexible. If you still want the firm experience, and don’t dislike midlaw, I would look there rather than jumping straight to work from home, unless work from home appeals to you. Some firms are also more comfortable with remote work, if that would interest you due to the time saved on commuting.

        If I were in your shoes, I would think about the type of work and life you want, and not just default to leaning out because your current firm is being terrible. A firm that hires you as a parent already may suck less. But yeah, as a lawyer, I usually stick my husband with the sick kid.

      6. Quinalla*

        I’ve read all your posts so far OP and I wanted to respond to this one. Based on this, I would say you have a job problem. They thought they could give you flexibility, but actually they can’t. I think you have a few options:
        1. Take a “lean out” job and maybe build your side hustle and/or network with your extra time. I’m in STEM in a field with not quite as high expectations, but still you must get your work done before you leave expectations and I ended up staying in a job where I could “coast” much longer than I would have when I had kids. When my kids got older, I got into a new job with a much higher paycheck and expectations and I’ve been killing it as they say :) I am also working to change the culture of my current workplace to be more and more flexible to help everyone including moms like me, but everyone has life stuff they have to deal with, speaking of…
        2. You can stick it out and try and change the culture at your current place. It sounds like you have tried some on this front, maybe get creative with job sharing (is there someone else looking for flexibility that might be willing to work together with you with the same clients so you can provide better coverage?) or something else if your company is willing? Is there another creative way you could take a step back? How long would you want that to continue?

        There is an HBR Women at Work podcast: “How to Make Part Time Work” (S4E6) for You that you may want to listen to, I’ll provide a link in my reply so this post goes through right away. Basically they talk about how stepping back can and often does hurt your career, but not always if your employer is willing to work with you.

        Also, wanted to say I’ve seen research that reaffirms that Men with kids have better salaries than men without kids who are slightly over women without kids who are well over women with kids and the how you are perceived is not in your head either based on studies. We do see Dads as awesome for doing “normal” parenting stuff and we see Moms as “hohum” when they go above and beyond in parenting because it is expected. It is slowly changing, but it sucks right now!

    4. Lana Kane*

      Yes to all of this. And my first question to this leadership team would be to explain how my time management skills changed pre-maternity leave and post-maternity leave.

      1. Mazzy*

        The problem is that this and other comments are coming across as if management will have no answer for this question, does everyone think employees don’t go through slumps in productivity ever? It also makes OP look a little clueless if they’re putting the onus on this to the manager, in case something really obvious is sticking out (tps reports are taking four more hours a month since September isn’t something you want someone else to point out to you).

      1. SometimesALurker*

        That threw me for a moment too — I assume Jennifer means Sheryl Sandburg, the author of “Lean In.” I haven’t read it but from what I’ve heard it mixes some solid advice on being assertive in the workplace with a whole bunch of nonsense blaming women for structural sexism (and anti-work/parenting balance-ism) in workplaces and in our society.

      2. Current 2L*

        I’m assuming they meant Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of the book “Lean In.”

        As a female law student, the behavior of the biglaw firm is disheartening but unsurprising. I’m hoping other people have tips with how to deal with this.

      3. autumnal*

        Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In. And a billionaire, so there’s that.

      4. roisin54*

        Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and the co-author of “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” She’s a huge proponent of the somewhat problematic “lean in” philosophy in regards to women and their careers. Which at it’s core is a good thing (we need more women in leadership positions) but can really only work for women in certain careers and with certain economic advantages.

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Hasn’t Sandberg even said as much — she walked back some of what she wrote in her book.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yep, and I hate to see women punishing themselves for not living up to everything in the book.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        Absolutely — after her husband died, and she got a different perspective on everything.

    2. Sit at the table*

      I’d say read the book but disregard the nonsense that the media puts on top of the message. The book is a lot of advice of her witnessing individual choices and responses to internalized gender norms that woman can avoid — it’s not a guide to take down institutionalized sexism or saying women must be all things. For example, don’t “lean out” three years ahead of a baby because you aren’t sure how you’ll make it work when you get there — not that women shouldn’t make the choices that are right for them when they are at those junctures.

    3. Annony*

      I agree. Reframe it in your mind. The choice is not “lean in” or “lean out”. You are choosing what you want to lean into.

  5. A Little Bit Alexis*

    Oh my goodness does this resonate with me. I have a 6 month old and a demanding job with travel, early/late hours, and random urgent deadlines. I had been promised flexibility and minimal travel for the first 12-18 months, and so far it’s not happening. I am interested to see what others think, because changing jobs/career tracks would be hard to recover from once I have more flexibility in my personal life.

    1. Anon right now*

      Right there with you, I also have a 10 month old and a job with intense travel “seasons” each year.

  6. Wing Leader*

    Unfortunately I don’t have any specific or awesome advice. But is it possible to have a sit-down meeting with your bosses about how this has been going? Point out how they promised to support you, but that’s not really been happening. My main thought is this is most likely a subconscious thing on their part and they are not purposely trying to mistreat you as opposed to your male colleagues (although I could be wrong, so if this is intentional I think you really need to consider leaving). But I wonder if it would help if you bring it to their attention.

    1. KayDeeAye*

      That’s what I was thinking too. If they’re out-and-out, unrepentant sexists, nothing will help. But if they want to do the right thing but have unacknowledged biases that they need to get under control, maybe – just maybe – some things could change if the OP approaches them in the right way.

      Can you sit down and give them some very specific examples, OP? You don’t want to make them feel too defensive, but a little guilt might be pretty helpful, because truly, they should be ashamed.

    2. Annony*

      I would come at it more from the angle of asking for clarification on their criticism and disagreeing with it rather than the lack of support. For example, ask for specific details about what exactly they want you to improve time management wise. Point out that you have just as many billable hours as before and if possible have information on productivity that also supports the fact that you are doing well. Get specifics on what they see as a problem. Did you miss a deadline? Do they simply assume if they don’t see you you aren’t working? Are they unable to actually work around your daycare pickup needs and just don’t want to say it?

      Hopefully having the details laid out will make them back off but at the very least you will have a better idea of their expectations and whether you can feasibly shift things around to meet them or if it is an exercise in futility.

    3. LCH*

      yes, have they defined “time management issues” or is it just a general complaint? i’d want to hear specifics to either push back against or fix.

  7. AThought*

    OP, I think a big factor here is if it’s the actual time that’s the problem or the perception at your office that’s a problem. If you can’t (or don’t want to) do the hours the job requires anymore, then I think there’s a lean-in/lean-out issue.

    But if it’s that you are billing as many hours as anyone else and taking equal amounts of time off and would be willing to continue at that pace if you were getting equal recognition for it, then I think the issue is slightly different. (Its a gender discrimination issue).

    It sounds like it might well be a little bit of both? BOTH you’d like the same recognition for spending equal time AND you’re ready to spend less time at work? But if it is purely the second one, then an option you haven’t named is to find another law firm job that has a more supportive/less discriminatory culture.

    1. Ominous Adversary*

      If the men are getting praise for being good dads and she’s getting punished for doing the same thing, she isn’t the problem.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        Those men may be praised for being great dads the few days a year that he leave work early to see his elementary age kid’s school play while his wife handles everything else including staying up with sick kids.

        I do think AThought is right. There is a combo here. There’s at least some sexism, but the LW seems like she wants to be able to not miss bedtime every single night and this job may not support it. It is possible that this job may not support work life balance for anyone.

    2. GothicBee*

      Right, I think the sexism is muddying the waters in the sense that the sexism is the most egregious issue, but it sounds like the list writer doesn’t want to have to work these hours anymore either. I would say that LW should first figure out if they’d be happy with the exact same situation minus all the sexism (which is infuriating btw). If they’d still want to have less work hours even in a less sexist workplace, then I’d go for finding something that doesn’t require as much time.

  8. Jessie the First (or second)*

    Yup, this sounds like life at a law firm to me. I had a similar experience as you, and I saw it happen to so many women attorneys. This kind of aggressive sexism is really prevalent in lots of law firms.

    What I did was leave for a job in state government. I didn’t want to spend my time billing hours and keeping up with work while also trying to change my whole law firm’s culture. I just wanted to be a lawyer, and be a mom, and not be fighting about it all the time. I haven’t regretted it, but yes, it did come with a big pay cut.

    I don’t know your practice area, but you say your options are your current place or a work from home job. Maybe do a little applying for jobs in addition to the research you’ve done? Maybe you would be surprised. Maybe you could pivot practice areas a bit (I did that and it was not as hard as I thought it would be).

    1. QED*

      I second this; if you’re a litigator, those skills are very transferable regardless of practice area–many nonprofits, government agencies, and boutique firms are looking more for the legal skills rather than an encyclopedic knowledge of a specific practice area. If you’re a transactional attorney, look into general counsel jobs at companies. Again, the skills are more likely to be important than the practice area itself–if you do mergers or deals, you use the same skills regardless of the types of companies merging or doing a deal.

      1. Lean Out OP*

        I’m well aware – the problem is we’re too far out in the suburbs for most of those opportunities to make any sense as “lean out” jobs. The nearest big city is about a 2 hour commute each way, there are very few opportunities closer to my home, and because of the population density, the competition for those opportunities is completely outrageous and people usually take the “lean out” local jobs and keep them until retirement. It’s not impossible that I could find an in-house or government job close enough to home for it to make sense to take it, but it will likely take a long, long time and I’m not sure if I’m prepared to sacrifice so much of my kid’s childhood waiting around for the “best” opportunity, instead of taking what’s on the table now (the work-from-home gig).

        1. Anonforthis*

          Would you be able to move if the right opportunity came along? Suburbs does limit career choices a lot.

          1. Annony*

            That is definitely a good thing to think about. Long term, would you be happier staying and potentially “leaning out” or moving somewhere with more feasible job opportunities?

        2. Anonforthis*

          But also, you can take the more flexible job now and search later. If you’re on the verge of a burnout, it’s fine to take action now.

        3. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          Can you take the Work from Home gig “for now” and keep your options open?
          Another thought (and this may not be feasible, but I tend to throw things at the wall to see if they stick): can you do this for, say, another year or so while you prepare to build a private practice?

          1. Lean Out OP*

            This is honestly where I think things are about to shake out – taking the WFH gig “for now,” then using the enormous amounts of extra time I will have to do more local networking, with an eye towards hopefully ending up back in something “career track” but more flexible than my current situation.

            I also have a currently-dormant side-hustle that could theoretically turn into a main hustle (don’t want to describe it specifically, I’m concerned I’m already giving too much identifying info here!), and I’m considering using my extra time while working from home to see what I can build there.

            1. Anonforthis*

              Kind of sounds like you have your answer here.

              You need to do what’s best for you. Your mental health matters. Your tiredness matters.

              I know the feeling. You go to law school and want to save the world. But the reality is, you can’t save the world whe you’re so tired you can barely function.

            2. DMK*

              I honestly think this is your answer. I have had lawmama friends who have done just this – that is, take the “for now” gig while working towards something better – but getting out of the terrible commute and away from the toxic workplace. It’s a long game but one that is worth playing if you want to build a career that has more balance and therefore more satisfaction.

              It doesn’t sound like you’re totally trapped in this mindset but I want to re-emphasize that the emphasis on “prestige” that lawyers seem to internalize is really just a lot of BS. The more years of practice I get under my belt, the more I see how toxic that mindset is, too. Be wary of characterizing a move to a “less prestigious” job as “leaning out” – you can advance and build an amazing reputation working somewhere other than BigLaw/BigTech, and often without the horrible trade-offs (long commutes, never seeing your kids, being at the beck and call of rainmakers and clients who don’t respect business hours).

            3. KWR*

              This sounds like an excellent business plan. I have a lawyer mom friend that went out on her own, and she said it took her approximately a year to build up to the salary she was at in a bigger law firm.

              For what it’s worth, my husband is a lawyer and we would 100% not make it if I did not have a job with flexibility. I don’t love what I do, but it provides me with good pay, good insurance for our family, and time with my toddler. Right now that is the best decision for our family.

            4. Swingbattabatta*

              Hey – I left a comment below, but I was in almost exactly your shoes (big law, feeling like I was dropping the ball on all fronts after having a kid, transitioning to a work from home environment, etc etc) and I think this is a really good approach. This doesn’t have to be your forever, and you wouldn’t be derailing your career if this is a stop gap measure. I also think your brain is probably completely full (and tired), and you will have a much easier time making an actionable plan once you are able to take a step back and remove some of the stress.

              Good luck!

            5. nonprofit writer*

              It sounds like you have a lot of options! You’re not leaving the workforce altogether (which can make it harder to get back in), you’re just stepping back from what sounds like a toxic situation while continuing to work and make connections that may help you make your next move down the line, either back to a big firm or somewhere else entirely.

              I’m not a lawyer but one of my friends worked for a big law firm and left in part because of the sexism. She started her own firm with a former colleague. It wasn’t easy at first but I think they are doing pretty well now.

              Again, I’m not a lawyer and have never had a particularly intense or time-consuming work life, but I stepped back from a 9-5 job (with a 1.5 hr commute on either end) a couple years ago to become a freelancer and spend more time with my kids, and I have not regretted it. I have maintained my professional connections (they are how I get 100% of my freelance work) and my skills and I am confident that I could get a full-time staff job again if I needed or wanted to.

              Leaning out is not something to be ashamed of. In fact, I think much of the time, it’s a wise choice if you are able to do it!

              Good luck to you!

            6. MeganK*

              Honestly this sounds like a great option, because in addition to buying yourself time to spend with your baby and time to network, you’ll also get some time and space to breathe a little. On thing I’m wondering about with my new baby (8 months) is how to get myself some space to figure out what *I* really want (as opposed to what I used to want, what my colleagues expect from me that I’ve internalized, etc.).

              Good luck, OP – I’m sorry this is happening to you but I hope the work-from-home and some combo of networking/side hustle works out for you and your family.

        4. YRH*

          What are the substantive differences between what your practice looks like now and what it would look like in the work from home job?

        5. Double A*

          Do you want to live in your current community forever? Are you near family (if that is a positive thing for you)? I’ve realized being near family is, for us, the most important thing and we’ll sacrifice a lot to make it happen. But we are supremely lucky in the regard.

          I know the idea of moving is probably horrific right now, but 1) ten months is like RIGHT when things start to get seriously better with a baby and 2) it’s just something to start thinking about, not something you have to take action on.

        6. anonanna*

          OP, it sounds like the big issue you’re wrestling with isn’t the firm; it’s your desire to be with your child. My two cents: the firm’s already shown they don’t value you. Spend these precious years with who really matters (your baby) and make peace with leaning out for a while. I was raised in a one-income family and paid for 80% of my (private) college tuition. I turned out fine and I’m grateful for all the years and sacrifices my mom made for me.

      2. AnotherSarah*

        Yes! Many of my friends went in to in-house counsel after children, and as far as I know, did not take a pay cut, or took only a very small one. I also want to echo that the problem is your firm–IF you decided not to leave, I think it’s worth considering whether you can push back on the “not committed” idea. Even as a question–“I’ve gotten feedback recently that I’m not committed to the practice. Since I’d done x, y, and z, can you explain more about what you mean?” But you might want to cut your losses, because these people may not be able to see past their own noses.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          IMO, they’ve already pointedly shoved her onto the mommy track and out by promoting a junior man over her, and making her time that she needs with the kid more hassle than it already was. To me, the message is clear “We don’t want women with any other obligations on their plate, only men get to be ‘parents too’. Women are either mommies or lawyers to us.”

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Specifically, life in biglaw. I temped at two big firms. I wouldn’t want to work at either. They are miserable places. The Partners are miserable and make sure the associates are miserable as well, the misery flowing down to the paralegals and secretaries. It doesn’t have to be this way. Medium and small firms can be happy places. They can be every bit as miserable as the big firms too, of course, but there is the potential for happiness. And then there are any number of legal jobs outside of law firms.

      My suggestion to the OP: Do you still have law school debt? If so, suck it up to pay it off, then get out. Or if you don’t have debt, get out now. Take the pay cut. It will be worth it.

    3. fun with duct tape*

      No kids, but I did this too. Left the all-male boutique law firm with its antiquated notions about women’s competence and went into government. The pay cut was a shock, but earning less didn’t change my life in really significant ways. I found the work very satisfying and am glad I didn’t stay in private practice. I would encourage you, OP, to see what might be available at the state or the federal level. If your practice area is employment discrimination, there might be a number of avenues open to you. Good luck with whatever decision you make.

    4. CheeryO*

      Yep, I work with a bunch of attorneys who are constantly singing the praises of state government benefits and work/life balance. We have strict 37.5 hour weeks and 6+ weeks of vacation/personal/sick time, and there are options for working a reduced or compressed schedule. I am not familiar with attorney salaries in the private sector, but positions here top out over $100K in a low COL area.

      1. OhNo*

        That’s an awfully dismissive response. If it’s so implausible, perhaps you’d care to explain why rather than just dismissing a suggestion out of hand?

          1. cheeky*

            Did I say anything about large firms? No, I did not. And while I’m not a lawyer, I’m related to several, and I work in a male-dominated engineering industry and have seen firsthand the benefits of having women in leadership.

        1. lol*

          I feel like that’s really obvious based on the letter and also based on extremely common knowledge about law firms. I don’t think it’s a dismissive response, I think it’s a dry joke based in accuracy.

          1. OhNo*

            I’ve worked in two law firms and both had women in leadership, so maybe I’ve just had a very different experience from others.

            Regardless, I think the idea is worth checking on, rather than just dismissing. It’s certainly possible it’s not an option in the OP’s case, but who knows?

    1. Silence Will Fall*

      Depending on the market, it’s possible. We just had an attorney (and new mom) leave for a nearby firm that has a female managing partner as well as women in other leadership positions. She was quite candid when leaving that women in leadership roles was a big factor in her decision.

      1. Elenia*

        Yeah I’m in a relatively small market and there are quite a few female-led firms here. It’s actually a thing – they advertise as such and reach out proactively to female attorneys.

    2. Anonforthis*

      Women can be just as brutal. My law school professor once mentioned she was back to work 4 days after her kid was born and made a comment about how female attorneys have to do things like that.

      1. SusanB*

        Yep. I’m not even a lawyer and when I had my first baby I had a female VP (who was awesome) but my female direct supervisor was extremely antagonistic. Once I came back she knew that I had to leave at 5 on the dot (which was not a big deal there) and she’d assign me huge projects at 4:45 that had to be done before I left. All the time. When that had never happened before I had to leave for daycare. Then at another job I had a female VP who pointedly told me that she was working 2 hours after giving birth and I should probably bring my work computer to the hospital just in case. I mean, I’ve had great female managers and terrible ones. Being an asshole isn’t gender specific.

    3. Lean Out OP*

      My most problematic boss is female, and a mom herself (although a generation older than I am). Women in leadership doesn’t necessarily translate to a better working environment for women, at least not in private practice.

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        This is sadly not that uncommon a mindset. “I didn’t have special treatment*, and neither should you!”

        *It’s not “special,” of course. See also: student loan forgiveness.

        1. Leisel*

          This! I had a coworker who had been with the company for over 20 years. She complained about men in our company taking paternity leave. Her reasoning was, “well I didn’t get maternity leave!”

          She literally had a crib in her office for years and brought all 3 of her children with her to work at some point. She also left every day at 2:30 to pick her kids up from school, and continued to leave early even after all her kids had graduated high school. It made me angry for her to look around and act like she didn’t get special treatment, but also gripe and gripe when someone else got ANYTHING.

        2. blackcat*

          And a lot of women of a generation who have adult children who “leaned-in” had *their* mothers watch their children.
          That was something my mom didn’t have when she was a lawyer. Her mother was, in fact, still practicing law through my childhood! (I am a STEM PhD and a total disappointment to the female lawyer tradition in my family)
          But her female peers who stayed in law (in the 70s/80s), all had either their mothers or mothers in law move in to provide the lion-share of childcare and housekeeping. But women of my generation (I’m in my early 30s, like I suspect the OP is) often have mothers who are either still working or too old to care for young children full time.

          I’m in a very male dominated area of STEM, and you still do get the advice of get a wife. People claim it’s not sexist because “women can get wives, too!” (insert eyeroll emoji). But the reality of how things worked previously was that there was often an “extra wife” in the house. In my grandmother’s case, there were TWO LIVE IN HOUSEHOLD STAFF taking care of the house, my mom, and her sister. That’s how she had a career in law in the 1950s. That, and she built her career in government in a small state in which she was related to some powerful people. Nepotism definitely helped.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Not the legal field, but when I was having a family emergency my boss asked what was wrong. I explained.
            He said: “Oh I let my wife at home handle all that! You should…..”
            I said: “Go ahead. Finish that sentence. I should ‘let my wife handle it’? I want to watch you say that.”

            Oddly, I did meet his wife. Within the first five minutes of conversation she managed to work in the fact that she no longer slept with her husband.
            Lots going on there.

            1. 'Tis Me*

              “Let” her handle it. Heh. I’m sure she’s absolutely thrilled that whenever anything comes up she’s expected to deal with it single-handedly without his input, assistance, etc…

      2. Meg Murry*

        Is there anyone else that you’ve worked with in the past (men or women) that have left your firm/group that would be open to networking with you about other possibilities beyond this job? Someone else that either got squeezed out due to mommy-tracking, or left for better work-life balance, etc? Or someone you went to law school with that lives in your area?

        I agree that women in leadership doesn’t always directly equal a better working environment – but what I have found is that companies where most of the employees are part of dual career couples (instead of one super-powerful career and one stay-at-home or part-time spouse) tend to be MUCH more reasonable.

      3. 2 Cents*

        Nope, I can (sadly) back you up on that. The least-supportive coworkers at my old job were all women 1 or 2 generations older. Their “we had to do everything the hard way, so why should it be easier for you?” came through loud and clear, especially when the HR woman (with two kids of her own) said in reviewing my maternity leave coverage “I can’t believe we’re paying you to not work.”

        1. Sal*

          I got that last line (not in quite those words) from a federal judge (aka those folks who decide the Title VII cases).

      4. Curmudgeon in California*

        Bucket crab. She probably had a nanny and passed off all the childrearing stuff, or did the impossible and thinks that everyone else has to as well.

      5. Lies, damn lies and...*

        Ugh, what a pain. Then cross out my suggestion above about looking at who’s employed. However, use your network (or build one) to find places where this is not happening. It sounds like you don’t want to lean out, but you want to not be discriminated against for being a female parent.

  9. Ali G*

    OP, I don’t have kids, but I have been where you are for different reasons. I didn’t just “lean out” I friggin jumped ship and have never been happier. Stop thinking that your current trajectory, which I am assuming you chose close to a decade ago, is the only “right” thing and start getting creative.
    20 years from now do you think your kid would rather have a great childhood with parents that were present and happy, or 4 years at a private school? It’s OK if these things are mutually exclusive and it doesn’t mean you have failed.
    You deserve a stable, healthy home for you and your family. Use this time to figure out what that looks like (not a carbon copy of now, just “different”) – what do you want your day-to-day to be? How much of change can your finances take? What are your partner’s life and career goals? You’ve been given the gift of time to sort this out and figure out how to shape the next 10-20 years of your family. It’s scary but worth it!

    1. Ali G*

      Also, some are suggesting looking at Gov’t and that’s a good idea. Another is non-profit. Bigger non-profits many times have legal staff, especially in certain areas (I tend to see them in areas of land acquisition and start-up financing). The right non-profit may no be that much of a pay cut, depending on where you are, and the benefits and flexibility would be actual, not promised.

    2. AnonAnon*

      Agree. Single mom in STEM here. Child with special needs, to boot.
      3 years ago I was very lucky to be able to jump ship. Same company, same pay fortunately. I was tired of being tired and having to work every night at home just to keep up and not getting recognized for it. My child needed me more than work needed me.
      In the past I have taken jobs because the money looked good and cried every night because I hated it.
      I learned quickly that money doesn’t equal happiness.

    3. boop the first*

      Yeah, I’m only ASSUMING that the private school thing was just a chosen example of a broader concern. At least I hope it was, because by the time the child grows, odds are they’ll have zero interest in an expensive private school. Schools were starting to have a little difficulty with maintaining their illusions ten years ago, I can only imagine what things will be like 20 years into the future.

      1. Lean Out OP*

        Yes, “chosen example of a broader concern” is exactly how I intended it. I guess, though, judging from some of the comments it didn’t come across as clearly as I thought – it is surprisingly difficult to write a letter to Alison that includes all of the necessary information without turning into a novel!

    4. Sparrow*

      I’m like you – no kids, but I did reevaluate my career path and long-term plans because I was finding it didn’t fit with what I wanted for my life outside of work. I decided to leave that career path and enter an adjacent career that has less long-term earning potential but that I enjoy and am good at and that consistently allows me to go home at 5. It’s been almost a decade, and I’m glad I made that decision. Will I have less money 20 years from now? Almost certainly, but I hope that I’ll also have 30 years of genuine work-life balance and being able to live my life with no regrets.

      I think the suggestion of thinking about what’s likely to be more important to you 20 or 30 years from now is a really good one. I’d also say to try not to get too caught up in what ifs, since there’s no way to anticipate or plan for every “what if” in existence; instead, focus on what you know. For me, I knew one choice meant continuing on a career path likely to lead to decent money and prestige but that I already knew would massively impact my personal life and therefore make me miserable even if I liked the work itself, and the other choice meant finding something else that probably wouldn’t pay as well or sound as impressive or that I might not even like as much but that would allow me time and space to do other things I cared about and to be happier overall. Put like that, it was really obvious to me that in 20 years I was more likely to regret living in misery for years than having less money. But it was still a hard decision to make, and I honestly spent some time in therapy working through the feeling that I was failing to live up to my potential by choosing a seemingly easier route. But even in the midst of that, I knew it would ultimately be worth it for me, and it has been.

      1. MeganK*

        Thanks for sharing this, it is hitting me hard. I also appreciated someone’s comment further up that they never remember seeing their mom smile when they were a young kid.

        I have some more thinking to do and maybe some appointments to make, sounds like.

  10. Van Wilder*

    I’m a CPA at a Big 4 firm and I experienced the same thing when I returned after my first child. I’m sleeping 4 hours a night, working 80 hours a week, and breastfeeding 3 hours a day. And yet, still failing everybody. Nobody on my team had kids at the time (now several of them do) and they were like “yeah we’ll work with you” but also like “why is this late?” So, it sucked.

    I did get promoted. It took me an extra year but I got it. I recently returned to work after my second child and it has been a little bit easier this time around.

    In your situation, I would say that your only options are not (a) suffer where you are or (b) career digression and paycut. I would at least try a couple things:
    (1) Find a partner at your law firm that you relate to and talk to them about the double standards you’re facing. And/or
    (2) Look for jobs at your competitors. It might suck just as much but it might not. Really probe about the culture and balance and how many women they have working and how they treat parents.

    That said, I still haven’t figured it out. I think about taking a less stressful job closer to home but I can’t afford the pay cut (and am also worried about the career derailment, as you pointed out.) I’m still at my firm. Things have gotten better but I still don’t know if I’m on the partner track and I still spend more time away from my babies than I want to.

    So I’m following and hoping that people further along this path have concrete suggestions.

    1. lurker :)*

      I actually work at a Big 4 too – but took a circuitous path. I’m a lawyer and started out in government litigation and after having my daughter (living an hour from the jurisdiction I worked in) couldn’t manage the commute and the schedule. Through my network, I took a position that was totally different from what I was doing at one Big 4 Firm (but lawyer adjacent) and have been progressively promoted and hired away to another Big 4.

      I know it’s easier said than done, but I think that when we stop making the question binary – Lean in/Lean out – we open ourselves up to really awesome opportunities!! Maybe instead – we Lean to the right as we make a change of direction (sorry if I’m beating this metaphor to death). I know it’s particularly hard when you work in an industry like law or accounting where you feel so specialized – but the skills that we’ve developed really do transfer!

      One book I loved and would recommend is Range by David Epstein. Really great analysis of how some of the most talented innovators switched career paths multiple times before finding their niche and how their prior work really helped them excel!

      1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

        I LOVE the “lean to the right” framing. Lean yourself in a few directions, OP, and see what happens.

    2. Ophelia*

      IANAL, I’d also suggest looking at medium law. My husband downsized from a biglaw job, and while there was a paycut involved, his current firm seems to do a much better job at work-life balance, and seems to retain a lot of working parents of all genders. Still some late nights, and it’s still law–clients are still clients–but the “hey, it’s 9pm on Friday, surprise we need a conference call with someone for a brief that’s due Monday!” seems to have really gone away.

  11. Cassandra*

    Have you considered looking for attorney positions in the government? They are (understandably) much better about sexism issues and with the new parental leave policy in the federal government, you would have the option to take a few months off if you have another child. Then if you want to transition back to the private sector you wouldn’t have a gap in your resume.

    1. Leaning Halfway In*

      I did this and strongly recommend it. You won’t escape all of the sexism and you will definitely take a huge financial hit. But. You can do interesting and even meaningful work, with reasonable hours, and people will (mostly) respect it. I’m part-time in government and it is actually part-time, not working 40-50 hours a week and being paid for part-time. It also keeps your options open, making it much easier to move back into a firm job later on. I’m not arguing against “leaning out” completely; just saying that if you want the most flexibility now and in terms of leaving your options open down the road, government can be a good choice.

  12. A Simple Narwhal*

    I have no advice, I’m just so sorry this is happening to you LW. It’s infuriating and you deserve better.

  13. Julia*

    So I have a toddler, and I work in an adjacent field – billable hours, mostly men, etc., and I also am leaning in hard to the workplace. So I think I feel your pain.

    I would say, don’t get yourself in the trap of thinking there’s only two choices – staying in your current firm, or leaning out. There are other firms out there that do more than pay lip service to the idea of supporting working mothers. If you like your work, but are unhappy with your work environment, look into your competitors! Having to fight this battle and work extra for recognition that others are easily granted, is basically an part time job that you didn’t ask for. It will exhaust you.

    Plus, I imagine at this point, you’ve lost respect for at least some of the people you worked for. That is very hard to gain back.

    I personally have financial goals that I want to achieve, and I like working. By all means, lean out if you want to, but do not let yourself be forced into a decision you don’t want. Get a recruiter, interview with your competitors, and then make the decision that’s best for you.

  14. Ominous Adversary*

    Don’t lean out. Fight back. You’re a lawyer, you know how to do this.

    There’s no market for your skills with other firms? Fine, then you don’t need to worry about it hurting your career if you push. Start documenting everything – your hours, your work assignments, your evaluations and how they changed, comments made to your male colleagues vs those made to you – everything.

    Find a really good employment lawyer and talk to them. I would bet you are not the first person to have problems with your firm, and you certainly aren’t the first woman to have problems in the legal community where you practice. It’s never just one firm.

    Your goal here is to have the lawyer negotiate an exit for you that comes with enough money for you to take time to transition to a different kind of practice, and a good reference. If your firm isn’t run by complete idiots they’ll want to throw money at you to avoid an embarrassing lawsuit.

    Yours is one of the oldest stories for women in law and you can’t lean your way into a good ending with a firm like this.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      lol – turns out OP *is* an employment (discrimination) lawyer…. but I agree, this should be an option OP looks at carefully.

  15. Unexpected Journey*

    Lean out. Follow your gut. I graduated at the top of my class from a good law school. I could have had big law jobs that pay triple what I make now. I opted against it, because I wanted to see my kids and my family. I ended up in public service jobs with flexibility. I built a good reputation both personally and professionally…. and even though my kids are still relatively young…. I am now a judge. My point is that leaning out doesn’t necessarily mean derailing your career. It can sometimes lead to opportunities that you never imagined possible.

    1. Lizzo*

      +100. Stepping back (and stepping into something else, e.g. work from home) offers a different perspective on everything and may open doors that you didn’t even know existed that will satisfy you in all the ways you need to be satisfied.

      The majority of real career paths are **not** linear. Both my husband and I made some significant career pivots in the last 5 years that, at the time, were probably not the most financially sound decisions, but today we’re doing *really* well because of those decisions 5 years ago.

      OP, you sound smart, talented, and kind. All of the best employers I’ve known in my life value these three things, and they show it in how they treat you and how they compensate you. You can find these things elsewhere! Maybe not right away, but give yourself the time and space to do so. Give your current employer an opportunity to make things right…and if they don’t act swiftly, take your awesome self out the door and home to your adorable baby and whatever new opportunities are ahead for you!

      1. lurker :)*

        Cannot second this enough!! I am a lawyer who made a career pivot 5 years ago and am now making twice as much as I was and I have flexibility to work from home most days. It can be hard to have perspective when you are in a niche industry with a niche practice area – but you have transferrable skills!

    2. I don’t post often*

      I Have not read through the comments so someone may have stated something similar: When you are 80 year old in the retirement home, what will you regret? Not having the dream career or not spending more time with child? Or perhaps a third option, not standing up to company on this issue?

      I think that is the question you must ask yourself and be truthful about the answer.

  16. Tableau Wizard*

    Some of the things I would want to ask myself as part of this evaluation:
    1. Is there a different firm that might allow you to still work at your level but would actually be more mom-friendly?

    2. If relevant to your situation, do you have a spouse who could take the step back to be the primary parent? Which career would it impact more? (For my situation, my husband works closer to home and has a more flexible schedule and more PTO, so he’s the one who does the sick kid days and last minute calls from daycare most of the time)

    3. Are there other things that you could take off your plate to lighten the general load and not be so tired? I highly advocate for using your income to save yourself time – hire out a housekeeper, a yard service, etc.

    4. Would it help to move daycare closer to your work? Even if it’s not as convenient for spouse, maybe an option?

    Finally, I will just say that it’s absolutely okay to decide that you want to take a step back. I think there’s a lot of rhetoric out there that women have to be it all and conquer the world, but it’s also okay to decide that you want less in terms of professional “accomplishment” and more in terms of life satisfaction.

  17. Anonforthis*

    I’m a lawyer working for the government and a mom to a toddler.

    It’s terrific. I work a maximum flex schedule and have the option for full time telework. I am on a production rating so sometimes I do have to work late after my kid goes to sleep to make the caseload numbers, but it’s not every night. We also have the option to work comp and overtime. I specifically declined a management position because the high degree of flexibility is so great with a young child. I don’t make biglaw money, but it’s not bad and I don’t work firm hours either.

    When I was in law school we had a chat from a bunch of attorneys, most of whom had started off in firms and then had gone in house or public interest. They generally said they were happier hopping off the firm model.

    Some firms may be better than others, to be clear. But it’s 100% okay to stop climbing that ladder for the sake of climbing it. You sound exhausted. Being happy is important.

    I should note not all agencies are as flexible but a lot of my coworkers from law school work for the government and telework full time.

    1. Emmie*

      Are you able to share which agencies are more open to telework? I ask because I am currently 100% full-time remote as an attorney in the private sector, and I didn’t realize government attorneys sometimes had that flexibility too.

      1. Pwyll*

        For an anecdote: when I worked for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), they were extremely telework friendly.

      2. Anonforthis*

        I have friends at HHS, the VA, USPTO, and SSA that are teleworkers.

        I should note at my agency you don’t start off on full telework, you have to go through in person training for a year first.

  18. CatCat*

    I am in government and literally none of my colleagues who came here from private practice regret that decision despite the pay cut.

    1. CatCat*

      Also, You say your worry that “I may regret my choice in, say, 18 years when my kid really wants to go to private college and we can’t afford it.” Not being able to send your kid to private college is okay. I can’t send my kid to private college (he’s in high school now) and we have frank conversations about the costs of college and best options for his plans that fit in our budget. That isn’t something I regret.

      1. Where’s busy bee?*

        I’d like to second this reply! Don’t borrow worry from tomorrow. Life is so short and kids grow up so fast, you may actually regret not spending this time with them now as opposed to regretting being able to pay for a fancy college. Not that you shouldn’t make prudent decisions on long term saving, but you don’t know what the next 18 years will bring!

        1. Anonforthis*

          At the rate of inflation private college will be a million dollars a year and you’ll never afford that anyway.

          1. Lean Out OP*

            This made me laugh, and is so true.

            Spouse and I both grew up poor and blue-collar, and we’re kind of “the kids who made good,” so I think we’re both battling the notion that we “owe” it to our kiddo to provide financially for her in a way our parents weren’t able to for us.

            The reality is, I know kiddo will be fine without private college (or relying on her own ability to get scholarships to pay for it, as I did, if she goes private), but it’s tough to shake that internalized pressure to maximize my earning potential just because I’m fortunate enough to have the option to do so, even if it makes me miserable. These comments are helping to reinforce that I’m not dooming kiddo if there isn’t a half million dollars in her college fund by the time she’s 18!

            1. Lizzo*

              I understand this pressure. My dad grew up poor, worked his ass off to put himself through school, earned two advanced degrees, worked two jobs when we were little so mom could be home with us, and both my parents busted their butts to ensure that my sister and I could go wherever we wanted to for college with minimal debt. Education = VERY IMPORTANT + A PATH TO A BETTER LIFE.

              Now that you have some context: my husband made a decision a few years ago to leave his professional desk job and go back to school to learn a trade. My dad was very…disappointed, to put it mildly. To him, this was a step backwards for my husband, and something to be embarrassed about.

              Well, it’s been three years now, and husband is done with trade school (top of his class!!!!) and is working and making more money in his entry level role than he was making at the professional job he had been at for more than a decade. He is happy, he is satisfied, and he’s more engaged in his short and long-term career prospects than he ever was in his previous profession.

              Career paths are very interesting, and realistically very non-linear things. You have no idea what’s in store for you, and you have no idea what your child is going to want to do with their adult life almost two decades from now. There’s nothing wrong with saving money for your own long term financial stability (which should be priority #1, according to our financial planner), and there’s nothing wrong with saving money to give your child some sort of springboard for whatever they want to do.

              1. Chipper*

                My husband is a global CIO at a fortune 50. He tells his nieces and nephews to learn a trade. Preferably something I that can’t be automated. A lot of jobs that now exist will be gone in another few decades.

            2. Sparrow*

              I fought this exact thing when I decided to pivot my career: “it’s tough to shake that internalized pressure to maximize my earning potential just because I’m fortunate enough to have the option to do so, even if it makes me miserable.” I mentioned elsewhere that it was something I actually worked through in therapy because I felt a ton of guilt and even a sense of failure for making that decision even though I KNEW I’d be happier. But I did it, and I am indeed happier, and I have no regrets about following my gut, even when it was hard.

              Good luck (and congrats on the baby)!

            3. RecoveringSWO*

              I’m your kid in this scenario and you know what happened? My Dad paid for my older siblings college and then the bubble burst in his industry and his pay was cut in half and retirement busted through no fault of his own. We both paid for my college and took out loans. I could tell he was disappointed to not meet his goal of paying for all of his kids’ education. But you know what? I’m closer to him than either sibling and the way he dealt with that setback only made me love him more. Your involvement in your kids lives is more important than paying for private school, ultra travel sports, individual tutors, etc. Heck, just watch a kids movie–half of the plots are “parent too busy with work=bad for kid”

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I *went* to a private college and it’s absolutely OK not to be able to afford that. That’s the way it goes for millions of families and their kids go to public universities and do just fine.

      3. Count Boochie Flagrante*

        Agreed.

        When I was 17, I had my heart set on an expensive private college. My folks, although affluent, said no — the tuition was stratospheric and it wasn’t like my career goals leaned toward being a big earner to pay off the kind of loans I’d need to make it work. I went to a good in-state school and have done absolutely fine.

      4. Double A*

        Yeah, if you just decide now that they don’t get to go to an expensive private college, the problem is solved!

    2. Anonforthis*

      I’m a government attorney and pretty much every government attorney I know is really happy. I should note I work in a very politically insulated job.

  19. I Love Llamas*

    Let me preface by saying I am not an attorney, although I was married to one for 25 years. When we had our first child (many years ago), his law firm literally told him to go find another job because basically family men wouldn’t work hard enough as associates. Law firms are brutal.

    I did lean out when I had my kids. I slowed my professional career down while I raised my kids. I refused jobs that required long hours. I sought jobs that provided the flexibility I needed. Partly because the then-husband was leaning in and working 6 days a week and partly because it was my choice.

    You have to do what works best for you and your family. Perhaps you can shift to a more boutique firm that is family friendly for a few years. Perhaps you can call the firm’s misogynistic BS and see if they will change (doubtful, but you never know until you confront them). You need to do you.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      That is excessive even for law firms, especially when we are talking about fathers. Leaving such a place cannot but be a good decision, regardless of one’s family situation.

  20. curious*

    OP I’m not saying what you are going through is fair. Professionally it seems like this company is giving you the short end of the stick whether it’s intentional or subconsciously.

    I think everyone is giving you some good advice – document, talk to the boss, etc. If things won’t change, just as an alternative option, maybe this firm isn’t a good fit for any parent. Can you go into practice on your own? Are their other firms that are more parent friendly near you?

    I personally don’t think you should have to switch jobs, especially with what was promised to you… I just keep imagining you are working at corporate or at a place that (in reality) is all work no home life.

  21. AndersonDarling*

    Is there an opportunity to be General Council for a business? I don’t know what kind of salary you are making vs what you would make as a standard employee of a company, but I know many attorneys that chose this path when they needed more work/life balance. None of them had specific backgrounds that would have led them to a General Council role. It seems like it is more important for employers to have a solid personality rather than a perfectly matching set of skills.
    And you work for jerks so it is better to just find something better than try to change them. They won’t change.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Oh, and reach out to a staffing firm for attorneys. I can guarantee that there are more opportunities than you know because companies are going directly to staffing firms for professional roles.

    2. Legally a Vacuum*

      Just be aware that the good work/life balance is not guaranteed when you go in house. You really need to know the company culture in advance.

      – in house counsel

      1. another in house counsel*

        +1 ! I don’t have billable targets anymore, but I do work all hours supporting a global business. Sounds pretty basic, but not all in house jobs are the same.

  22. No_woman_an_island*

    I feel like every working mother goes through this exact form of agony, and probably more so in your case because of your field. One quick piece of advice is give it another 6 months or so before making any rash decisions. I had thoughts like this daily during my first year of motherhood. My rational self eventually emerged, and I was better able to compare the pros and cons.

    At this point in my life, I don’t regret staying in my career (STEM related), but there were a lot of days I beat myself up about never being a great mother and never being a great employee. I think the financial benefits have been worth it, but I’m saying this in a place that for the most part doesn’t retaliate against motherhood. So your choice may be different ultimately. And neither choice will be the perfect one. Decide which concessions you can live with and go from there. And be gentle on yourself — there’s a reason the mommy wars continue to rage.

  23. LadyByTheLake*

    Attorney here. I have seen this kind of culture at law firms a lot, particularly bigger firms. While it is appealing to say “fight against the culture” the fact is that that is a losing fight. However, I generally have not seen this kind of culture in-house, particularly at larger companies. Unless your goal is to be a high-powered litigator, going in house is not a loss of career potential. In house jobs generally have high prestige, interesting work (far more interesting than law firm work IMHO), greater work life balance (choose the company carefully), greater work from home opportunities etc.

  24. Unexpected Journey*

    P.S. The advice to consider filing suit is legitimate. This is a “them” problem, not a you problem. But sometimes taking care of yourself and your family is more important than taking on the tremendous burden and work of fixing an institution.

  25. Mama llama*

    Find a new job, and don’t mention the baby. Negotiate with your partner (or a nanny or a family member) that you will not be the primary parent or backup childcare for six months or so (they do the doctor appts, they do the majority of the nighttime wakeups, etc). Then, once you’re established, you can take off a day for a “sick kid” and they won’t have it in their minds that you want to go back to maternity leave.

    1. Sleve McDichael*

      Yes. Awful as it is, you’ve been “tainted” by maternity leave in the eyes of these sexist grease traps. But there is every possibility you can go back to a normal level of respect at a new place.

  26. JJ*

    This is so difficult and unfair OP, I’m sorry you’re dealing with this! This is not a choice you should have to make.

    I’m not a parent, but I am someone who has thoroughly “leaned out.” I am a freelancer who flits from project to project and has to buy their own healthcare. I know I’m leaving plenty of money on the table compared to my traditionally-employed friends, but I’m gaining back my time (in your case, time with your baby) and that’s enough for me. I see friends who work in offices who are miserable for 8 hours every day (+ commute) and I can’t help but think, “this is your one life and you’re spending it this way for money?” My path is not an option for everyone, of course, and I count myself very lucky to be able to do this. With child expenses, you may *have* to choose a more money-focused path.

    I know this is a very hippy response, but for me it’s much more valuable to cut out extravagances and be able to feel so much more contentment and freedom every day. My career is now an amorphous blob, it’s not a path anymore, and I’m ok with that. Consider what would make you the happiest *now*, that’s going to be the best thing for your kid, much better than being unhappy for their first 18 years just in case they might want to go to a $$$ school. Do whatever is best for you, it will translate into so many rewards for your family too. Good luck!!

    1. Senor Montoya*

      I ‘d advise thinking several decades ahead, however (and maybe you are doing this) — but you may not want or be able to “hippie” forever. Are you saving towards retirement? That’s something that’s easier to do with a traditional employer, but certainly possible if you’re self-employed.

      Retirement age may be a long ways away for you, but that’s good actually — it means you have time to save and for your money to grow.

      1. JJ*

        I think it’s a common misconception that non-traditional workers don’t think about the future, don’t understand how to save for retirement or are impractical in general. Or are young, as you seem to have assumed I am. I’d argue that non-traditionals/freelancers think about the future a lot more, because we have to plan for inevitable slow times. The general wisdom is you want to have at least a few months to live on saved, a full year is ideal. Most traditionally-employed people I know save for retirement, but they don’t have a safety net saved up in case they suddenly lose or need to leave their job. Most freelancers I know do have this, in addition to retirement savings. Plus a lot of freelance agencies offer retirement, health insurance and PTO programs, so it’s not too hard for us to save either.

  27. LongtimeLurker*

    As a high achieving professional who spent the first seven years of my child’s life juggling 40 hours at a desk with keeping everything at home grounded, making okay money but not amazing money, spending ten hours a week commuting to work, missing school plays and child sick days, all for the sake of building a career… it took me too long to see how totally miserable I was and how I wasn’t really excelling at any one thing and just absolutely hating my life. I developed anxiety and started having panic attacks and intrusive thoughts. Spent months thinking about giving up my salary for a self-employed work from home role in the same field. Well two months ago I just did it. Terrifying! But I now regret that I didn’t do it years ago, wasted so much time swithering. Balance is so so SO important. As a woman you are often expected to work like you aren’t a mom, and be a mom like you don’t also have a full-time job. Some people can do it (don’t know where their super powers come from) but I felt like I was drowning. Now I’m making the same money, I pick and choose my days, I don’t miss any of my kids activities. Okay so I don’t have a guaranteed salary but that’s my sacrifice for the right balance. I believe in myself, I know I’m good at what I do, and I put in enough effort to make things work. My advice is to follow your gut. Good luck!

  28. irritable vowel*

    I’m not an attorney but worked until recently in a law-adjacent field, so I’m familiar with the culture and its toxicities. But my advice is not really field-specific anyways: you clearly want to leave, so leave. You’ll figure out what comes next. I promise you aren’t going to be wishing you hadn’t left, you’re going to be thanking yourself for taking a positive step for yourself. I recently left a high-paying job, and a career I built for over 20 years, with the definite possibility that I’ll never make as much money again, and I’ve never been happier. It feels so good – if you can make it work financially for now (don’t worry about 18 years from now at this point), do it!

    1. irritable vowel*

      Replying to myself to say that I saw you mentioned elsewhere that you specialize in discrimination law. Have you considered higher ed as an alternative to private practice? You could work in the general counsel’s office, in HR, or in positions such as ombudsperson for dispute resolution. The hours are sane and job security is good. Even smaller colleges (you mentioned you’re not in an urban area) would hire a discrimination law specialist.

      1. Lean Out OP*

        Oh yes! I have put in at least half a dozen applications to higher ed positions. So far, no interest in my resume. I’ve worked with recruiters as well, all of whom agree I’m an “excellent” candidate for in-house positions, but I apply and then… crickets. Not clear what’s going on, other than that these jobs are extremely desirable and far more rare than firm positions, so the competition level is high.

        1. J.B.*

          Applying for jobs is awful. AWFUL. So tired of the black holes although I should be an excellent candidate blah blah.

        2. Ismonie*

          I’ve been told you really have to network your way in to in-house positions, and it takes 1-2 years.

        3. Jessica (tc)*

          I don’t know what keywords you’re looking for in higher education, but given your area of specialty (and if you’re not already!), look for Title IX positions. Those are filled with lawyers and your current expertise would be perfect for that!

        4. fashionable_HR*

          Lean Out OP- I handle recruiting for a corporate company and the 2 legal roles we had open in the last few years, especially the GC role, had hundreds of applications. Apparently it is very desirable to go in-house! We posted to a career site specifically called “goinhouse.com” that might be a good place for you to watch. Keep looking and hopefully you will find the right role. In the meantime, networking is great- make connections with other in house legal folks and that will help you be in the know when a position opens in the future. Good luck!

  29. d*

    Is it worth considering moving closer to your office, or finding a position closer to home? I did the latter, and was able to cut my reasonable, 25-minute commute to about 5 minutes. It’s changed my whole life for the better, including mothering my four kids. Good luck!

    1. Atlantian*

      I can’t believe I had to scroll this far down to find this comment. OP, I know it’s scary, especially if it would involve selling your home, but moving closer to your current firm could do a lot towards alleviating the stress and exhaustion you are currently feeling. Going from upwards of 2 hours in your day spent commuting, to less than 30 minutes would be a game changer. It would also allow you to do things like, go get the baby from day care, take them to an appointment, and then return them to daycare before returning to finish the day. Or, schedule early morning or later afternoon appointments so that you can limit your time away from your desk. You will also benefit from that as the kid enters school and you can take off a little early to attend the school play, go to the awards ceremony or just go have lunch with them without it requiring half a day off of work. Believe me, I have an elementary aged kid and a 1 hour commute and this is the thing I regret most about the house we bought and where it is. I have to take a full half day to attend any school events, or parent-teacher conferences. I can’t join the PTA because they meet before I can even make it back to town, etc.

      Also, not to downplay the sexism going on in the firm, but is it possible that the fathers you work with are getting better treatment because they, and their kids, live closer to the firm than you do? As a manager, I would be much more willing to be flexible with the parent who can leave work, go get their kid from school or daycare and then be available again while at home within 20 minutes, as a opposed to the one who needs over an hour to accomplish the same task. Is it fair? Probably not, but it’s also just easier to deal with.

      1. RC Rascal*

        This is a good comment. My mom chose to keep her career as an elementary school teacher after I was born, in the 1970s. The year prior to when I was born, pregnant married teachers were forced to resign as soon as they showed. She was thrilled to get to keep her job until her 8th month, and then to get it back. So she kept it.

        At that time there was zero consideration to the needs of a parent. She made it work because we lived less that 10 minutes from her work. Dad commuted downtown.

        When I tell her the crazy schedules kept by my working commuting mom co workers, she shakes her head.

  30. Small biz*

    Please don’t let one workplace decide what your life should look like! Or let money decide your career path. I know Lean In tries to bully women into stating in the workplace, but you’re allowed to slow down and then claw your way back in/dip your toes back in after these precious young years with your family. You can’t predict how this will or will not impact your career, but you know exactly what it’s doing to your health, sanity, and happiness right now!

    (Small business owner here, Doubled my income and everything’s looking very promising after Coming back from two maternity leaves in two years)

    1. Temperance*

      “Lean In” doesn’t “bully” women; it’s a book that encourages us to prioritize career success, if that’s what we want. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth a read.

  31. NW Mossy*

    While I’m not in law, I went through a similar sort of trajectory after my first child in 2011. I was burning the candle at both ends and the sides, feeling like a failure at work and at home, missing out on opportunities that easily could have been mine had I not procreated when I did, and seriously doubting whether or not I was cut out to balance kids and a full-time job.

    The piece of advice that helped me through was from my husband, who said “don’t make any big decisions until you’ve been back a year.” He could see what I couldn’t objectively observe, which is that a MASSIVE part of why life felt so d*** hard all the time was that I was chronically sleep-deprived due to having an infant! Once we got off the intensive constant-feeding treadmill and I was getting regular sufficient sleep, it was like breaking through clouds on a flight and seeing the ground again. I could see the path ahead, and I was able to start making some of the stress-alleviating decisions that I felt too paralyzed to deal with before. After she was about a year old, I felt much more normal and my career trajectory started to turn back the way I wanted it to go.

    You’re still very early in this new territory of being a parent, and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed, uncertain, and daunted by what seems like a yawning future of ceaseless struggle. But just like babies grow into and out of phases, you’re growing into a new one too. What is right now isn’t what will be forever, and it’s 1000% OK to just pause and breathe in a phase even if every fiber of you is screaming CHANGE IT NOW. At least from me, releasing myself from the internal pressure to take action on every issue made life feel way more manageable until I could gather my energy again.

  32. Senor Montoya*

    Not in law, but I was ambitious and moving up; I had mentors who were helping me move towards an administrative deanship within a few years. Fortunately commuting was not the burden it is for the OP. I was back on track.

    Until my son got cancer. I became a really crappy employee. (Still grateful that I wasn’t fired.) I decided to step off the leadership track.

    Eventually I tried to get back on that track. It became clear that it wasn’t going to happen — other people had taken my place, and I had lost momentum. Higher ups appreciated my leadership skills, but they no longer saw me as someone to promote into actual leadership positions. Need someone to lead a new project? Senor Montoya! Need someone to be associate director? Crickets. And the longer it goes on, the less likely moving up becomes.

    Moving is not an option. My spouse and I did the long distance relationship thing for five years before we had our child; neither of us liked it and neither of us wants to do it again. I think I could have restarted my upward progress otherwise. Possibly that is the case for you too, OP, I don’t know how your area of the law works.

    And also: your employers really really suck.

  33. Mama Bear*

    Different career, but I left a high-stress job when our youngest child was a toddler. I was tired of missing everything, not being rewarded at work, and paying hundreds weekly for the privilege. For me, I was OK with stepping back career-wise for a while, regaining my mental health, finding a new work/life balance and focusing on my family. At the end of the day, the job wasn’t going to care about me in my old age, and I even had a therapist tell me that I should seek another job since the stress was so bad. With my spouse’s support, I stepped back for about 6 years, working PT some of the time and being a full SAHM part of the time. I got back into FT work when my child entered elementary school, and have ramped up from there. I’m actually pretty comfortable where I ended up after that break, and I’m sure my family appreciates that I’m not constantly on the verge of losing it. Could I have made more money? Maybe. Was it always easy financially or on my relationship? No. But my only big regret is that I didn’t bail on the soul-sucking job sooner.

    If you are worried about your child’s future tuition or your own retirement, make a game plan. You never know how things will turn out. One of our older kids receive a nearly full academic scholarship. We tend to “what if” our way into bad news but “what if” it turns out OK?

    I guess the question you need to answer for yourself is what will you regret most in 5 years? 10 years? If you have more children, this push-pull of the head and heart will likely get harder. IMO, if your regret is time with your kid, look for a job with a better appreciation for your skills and respect for your parenthood.

  34. Temperance*

    I’m a lawyer. Do you have a partner who is involved?

    I work in BigLaw, in a pro bono role. My firm does not penalize mothers; women have regularly been elevated to partner after taking maternity leaves (6 month leaves), sometimes while on leave.

    Is part-time work or job sharing an option in the area you practice now?

    1. virago*

      OP has weighed in several times (Lean Out OP) to say they have a partner with a 9-5 job, no OT ever, who is as “leaned out” as they could be, and they divide child care and child sick day responsibilities as evenly as possible considering each person’s daily job demands.

    2. Big Law Mom*

      I’m an attorney and mother in BigLaw – simply elevating women to partnership after taking maternity leave does not equate to “not penalizing” mothers. Are the working moms invited to the same client opportunities that the men are? Take a hard look at the folks at the golf outings and happy hours. Are these being scheduled to take in consideration that the working mother likely has a hard pick up time to get kids from childcare?

  35. Speedwell*

    I did the Lean In. BUT I don’t like babies and my spouse works half-time. Ten months is really young and difficult. Did you actually enjoy the work and environment before kids? Whatever you do, know that you are not letting anyone down by looking for a less stressful environment. You as a high-performing woman can do just as much to change the system by saying “I’m opting for less insanity” than sticking with it.

  36. Leaned Out*

    Fellow mother and lawyer here. The situation you describe is rampant and nearly unavoidable in private practice. While I was expecting my second child I decided to “lean out” from my big firm position and go in-house. The pay cut was significant, and it didn’t end up being the best fit, but it did give me significant leverage in my next position. I was recruited by another law firm that was more progressive than my previous firm. They understand that they will continue to lose their investment in female attorneys if they don’t make some changes. I was able to keep my in-house hours and am on a modified partnership track. I don’t do nights/weekends/emergencies but I am fully engaged during regular working hours. I can ramp up at any time to get back on full track (right now I’m about to have my third kid – so that isn’t happening soon). This likely only worked for me because I lateraled, and everyone knew those were my working terms from the very beginning. It is much harder to scale down and effectively manage people’s expectations. I encourage you to talk to legal recruiters as they have been a huge asset to me and several other fellow mothers/lawyers in finding the firms/positions that really work.

  37. Jennifer in GA*

    I just want to add that it’s more than okay if you can’t afford to send your child to a private college in 18 years. Something like that doesn’t even need to factor into the decisions you have to make *now*. The decision to lean in or lean out should be based on your needs and wants for the future (with the support of your partner of course).

    1. juliebulie*

      That jumped out at me. 18 years is a long time and you don’t even know for sure that you won’t be able to send your child to a private college by that time.

      It is good to have long-term goals, but you won’t reach them if you don’t put one foot in front of the other first. You need to decide where you want your feet to be right now.

      And before you give up hope, do try to work with your colleagues to fix this. Possibly they will continue being jerks. But it is also possible that they will listen to you and be surprised to realize how crappily they’ve been treating you. Only one way to find out.

    2. Sleve McDichael*

      An alternative long term goal is to teach the kid really well before school and encourage their learning so they can do the IB and get into a uni in Europe where the degree cost is free but the entry requirements are high. Cheaper and opens lots of doors.

      1. Julia*

        Entry requirements aren’t even that high, depending on what you want to study. (Medicine is notoriously har to get into, but isn’t it everywhere?) I am German with a fairly average IQ and GPA, and made it into a program I wanted.
        The only issue might be schools requiring knowledge of the local language, but a lot of universities offer English-only degrees now.

  38. Lg*

    I leaned out. I worked at a Fortune 500 company and was relapsing on my way up. One of the youngest managers ever and the youngest female manager. Then I had a baby. I was tired of going days without seeing her because she went to bed before I got home, or giving up the time I did have with her to client and sales rep phone calls. I was in the international sector so I took calls night and day due to the time difference. When I got pregnant with my second child I quit. I couldn’t face it again. Even though my partner made less money and helped me out enormously with kid duties, I still had no options at work like flex time, work from home or anything they could offer to help me be a parent. I stayed home for six years and hike we may never get back to that level of financial footing, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I actually went back to school to switch to teaching. I figured if I’m going to work all the rest of my life, I want to do something I love. So in addition to the financial hit, I now have student loans. Still totally worth it. My kids are 21 and 18 now. Both in college. One has student loans and one goes to community college. But, they are successful and happy.

      1. Dream Jobbed*

        Thanks for clarifying. Was wondering how you did all that with a drug habit. :D

  39. Anon Associate Prof*

    I too faced something similar. What ended up working well for me as an individual was switching workplaces to one that didn’t know me before maternity leave. I found there weren’t constant comparisons of pre/post leave and while I still worked a ton the perception that I wasn’t went away. Also my kiddo is now school-aged and let me tell you that makes a wooooooorld of difference! I’d have been disappointed to have leaned out only for in a couple of years for life to get so much easier.

  40. Two Cents*

    I am not a lawyer, but I work in insurance and we have an in house legal department. I don’t know what you are making now, but our counsel series goes up into the low 6 figures ($200k – $300k). Maybe try looking for a larger insurance company? Just an idea if you decide you want to switch from your firm.

  41. MOAS*

    Following closely. I’m going on maternity leave this year (God willing) and wondering what will happen. I like the majority of my job (management @ an accounting firm) including my boss & team, and while I’m doing well, it’s not top billing @ law firm. We had 2 managers go on maternity leave 5 years ago and neither of them came back for various reasons.

  42. Eeyore's Missing Tail*

    I work as administrative support in academia, so I’ll be the first to say that I know nothing about law. But, I’m 100% thankful that I changed jobs after my daughter was born. I’m a happier mom and I’m not miserable every day that I’m at work and away from my LO. The thing that made me change was when I asked myself “What’s more important to me?” If I was still at my old job, I would have left the workforce months ago.

  43. Law Mum*

    I am UK not US, but in law. Is there any option to move to another area of law that is less demanding or driven? Is there an option to move to a smaller/more relaxed firm? I made the choice to stay with a family friendly firm and yes, I don’t earn what I would over the road, but have decided that trade-off is worth it for me. I also work on a team with three other mums who are all part time as well and if you tell them you have a sick kid will reach for the handbag and give you some of the Calpol they keep at all times as you are putting your coat on to go get them- rather than send you urgent work. Put feelers out to the community, you may know who in the area is more family friendly and see if you can make a shift.

    1. LawandKids*

      Same here. I could have written this letter. I am in law in Canada, not the US, but I know what it’s like to feel like you’re doing 100% more than your male colleagues and being seen as doing 50% less. You’re “uncommitted” no mater what you do. It’s unfair and it means the firm doesn’t deserve to keep you. I whole-heartedly agree with Law Mum – I found a better firm, with more women in leadership positions, better balance and more women with young families at my level. Those firms are out there, or there are in-house positions. Yes, you give up the big salary but you’ll still be earning well.

      A nanny works for some people, but it may not be a good solution if the problem is that you miss your kid and feel like an absent parent.

      Honestly, the big salary will not make up for missing your kid’s early years. This time goes so fast and you only get it once. Make the choice that helps you be the parent you want to be, no matter what that looks like.

  44. Nothing Certain but Death and Taxes*

    Fellow lawyer/mom here. Have you spoken with anyone on the executive committee, in HR, etc.? I know a lot of law firms out there state that they want to retain more women (who jump ship from big firms more frequently than men, due in large part to experiences like yours) and there are diversity committees, women’s forums, etc. focused on how to make this happen. I’d love to say that this comes from a place of inclusion, but TBH law firms look bad when they can’t retain women and it may affect their AmLaw ratings (not sure about that). You may gain some traction by going around (not necessarily above) the partners you work with directly to discuss your experience. Also, law firms are generally more worried about lawsuits than other employers so the discussion of the gender inequity should spark them to do SOMETHING about this issue. I also echo what the rest of the commentariat said about documenting everything. Good luck and congratulations on your little one!

    1. Lauren19*

      Agree with this approach. Make this about THEM. What are THEIR diversity, attraction, retention goals? Which of your competitors are doing this well/have policies that support dual income parents? An easy one that a lot of major firms have is back-up daycare. That certainly helps at this age when that 24 hour fever free rule seems to suck up so much parent time. Depending on the culture of your office, I found one of the hardest things was the optics of walking out with your coat and bag at the end of the day. Can you strategically schedule client meetings out of the office towards the end of the day and then go home after those? This gets you home a little earlier and lets you choose how to balance your time between bedtime and logging back on to finish up work.

      I leaned out when my son was little. I left my firm job to go in-house. It involved a 15% pay cut, but the bigger loss was the raise/bonus/promotion potential — I just don’t have the same opportunities as before. But, I’m much much happier. Good luck!!

  45. J. F. Scientist*

    I have a science PhD and was working in a high-paid tech job when I quit to stay home with my (then quite ill) 1.5 year old. I stayed home for 4 years, worked part time for 4 years, and now have a full time job which, for partner reasons, pays about 1/3 what I’d be earning if I’d stayed at my job. I am somewhat regretful, but at the same time the situation, at the moment I quit my job, was not sustainable.

    I have paid and am still paying a substantial penalty for dropping out of the workforce for 5 years, but at the time, it was the only thing that wasn’t going to end in homicide or divorce. In other words, I’d do it again, and then 10 years later I’d be regretful all over again. However, I will say I have three great kids and a wonderful marriage, and a comfortable life, and my youngest is 5 and we all sleep now.

    I feel like life with young children is very like “Money, time, happiness: pick two.”

    1. Double A*

      Yes, motherhood came with a significant financial penalty for me, as well. The choice our society has made is that raising children is less than worthless; the work you’re doing isn’t even worth Social Security.

  46. memyselfandi*

    Go with your gut. You don’t know what will happen in the future. You have room for many more careers in your life. You will be surprised. Very often those of us with professional degrees are told that there is only one path to professional success because it is the one most highly valued by institutions. You will find once you step outside of that specific career ladder, that it is not meaningful to others. They will respect you as a professional, anyway.

  47. Jules the 3rd*

    It seems to me to be an either / or – we can’t really have it all, especially when the kids are young. I picked my family over my career, and I am mostly satisfied with that decision, though worried about retirement.

    Context: I work for a fortune 500 company in supply chain. US South, MBA, high achiever, 1 kid. I am main breadwinner, but my spouse has done a great job as a SAHP, including dealing with a lot of dr / therapy appts due to our kid’s autism. Kid is 12 now, mainstreamed, but spouse has not been able to rejoin the workforce as planned. He does have a part-time job that is where he needs to be right now, but the income is not a lot.

    Work side: My employer had me tracked for management, including a 2-year overseas assignment. I said I would not be able to do this, let’s find something different. I’ve stayed in almost the same position for about 12 years, with some additional growth and pay raises that slightly outpace the cost of living. I’ve been able to take advantage of internal education, and am working on shifting to data science / analysis (I’ve always been on the tech-ier side, use SQL regularly). While current pay covers costs + some for retirement, the calculators have me working until I’m 67 before we have enough for a safe retirement.

    Home side: I wanted to be a parent since I was a young child, so my emotional investment is probably greater than average. I worked from home the first 10 years of my kid’s life (and still do 2 days / week), which would not have been an option in management. Mr. Jules / day care / school had primary responsibility, but… that 5 minute hug and hello when he gets home from school makes my day. And regular hugs n kisses (without having to worry about being accused of having an affair, lol) with spouse at lunch are pretty nice too.

    WFH also let us spend a summer in rural southern France, which was amazing. I worked remotely, spouse & kid wandered around the countryside. I got to join them on weekends, and we spent a week holiday in Paris, meeting up with my parents. Did I mention amazing? This would not have been an option if I’d chosen the career path.

    Down side: I am not looking forward to working until I’m 67 (spouse and I are working on that, now that kid is older and needs less…).

    Net: I have had a lot more fun and joy here and now than I would have if I’d chosen the career path. I knew that was possible, even likely, and decided it was worth it. But I was already highly emotionally invested in family, so others may not get the same reward.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      It sounds, though, like OP’s current employer has already decided they’re going to mommy track her, despite her continued productivity. I’m not convinced she’s got a choice of leaning in with them and getting a good result.

    1. NW Mossy*

      Thank you for sharing this – it was fascinating, if depressing in a very Late Stage Capitalism kind of way.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      That is a cool article that really speaks to the issue LW’s facing: the problem is her company’s culture, including its focus on overwork. They do a good job of talking how individuals get to that point. It would be even more interesting if they’d assessed it as a symptom of a larger culture issue, where maximizing short-term profit is the goal.

    3. iwouldlikeacookie*

      This is a great article – thanks for sharing!

      The main point that stuck out to me is that when presented with the data and conclusions, the leaders of the firm STILL were not willing to let go of the idea that “it’s basically the mother’s lot in life to be torn between work and family” and that they were so closed off to hearing about solutions to the real problem. What a bummer.

  48. Come on Barbie lets go party*

    Non lawyer,or a mom but I a woman. First I think you should try to re frame the idea that you are failing everyone. I’ve seen that sentiment by many women and it is so sad. You have ownership over your life. You have the ability to push back and set limits and if someone wants to give you a hard time I think you’re within your right to call them out on it (to vary degrees of politeness/snarkiness depending on who it is). In addition you have ownership and abilities to set boundaries on your work/life balance. I know there is importance for career advancement but if you like your job and you like the work you do would you be okay with accepting that you need to scale back your hours for this time in your life? Maybe just now you don’t need to be working as hard as you were pre baby. It might not have to be stay or go but just accepting staying but scaling back. Even with that idea though I think you should definitely bring up these things to your boss. 1) They said they would support you and 2) you’re seeing inconsistencies and want to understand the expectations and 3) you’re seeing sexism (though this might not be something you can tackle since it sounds like general cultural norms about how we treat moms vs dads). I lean toward family time having a bigger impact than career time but I also think you should be valued for what you want to do and what will keep you happy and satisfied. But I think that is what you should focus on: what will make you happy and satisfied? Maybe do some soul searching, do some meditation. Between family and career what balance will nourish you? And it doesn’t have to just be the amount of time you spend with family but could also be the activities you take part in. Maybe you want to be a career mom which means you don’t see your kid all day but you get an awesome couple hours of a bed time routine. I think kids benefit not so much from the quantity of time but the quality of time. Two things I recommend that have helped me: The Battle Tactics for your Sexist Workplace podcast and the book Happier by Ben Shahar.

  49. JR*

    I’m not in law, but rather a business management role with cross-over to the non-profit sector, so this maybe or may not be possible in your circumstances. But here’s what I did – and all throughout this path I was terrified that I was destroying my career, but looking back from where I am now, it was a pretty ideal balance (to the extent that these kinds of trade-offs can ever be ideal).

    First, I planned to go back half-time – I wanted to be home 100%, but I also knew I would later want the half-time option and I knew it would be almost impossible to find a new part-time job, versus arranging that with my existing job. However, we then decided it was time to make a cross-country move that we’d been planning for awhile, so I left my job. I stayed home while we planned and executed the move and settled in.

    When my son was around a year, I started doing consulting work part-time from home. I worked primarily for a consulting firm I had worked for full-time in the past, supplemented by some projects I found myself through networking. (The former was much steadier, the latter more lucrative.) I did that for about five years – at first, just 8-10 hours per week, but gradually increasing over time as I wanted to work more. This was an amazing set up because it kept my resume active and my brain remembering that I could do this, while still giving me lots of time with the kids (but still some solid breaks from them, which was important for me, too!). It was also terrifying because I was gambling that someone would want to hire me full-time when I was ready. It was also hard because I’m ambitious and my career has always been important to my identify, and for five years, I was in a position where I couldn’t mark my progress with promotions, raises, reviews, etc., and I knew people I interacted with couldn’t assess my career progress through a title, etc. – for some people that would probably be really freeing, but for me it was hard.

    After several years of this, I found myself more attracted to various interesting job descriptions I came across – while still wanting to be home with the kids more than a traditional full-time schedule would allow. So I started applying really selectively, to jobs that I thought would be flexible or where the opportunity was just so good that it would be worth it. After four or five interview processes like that where I wasn’t hired, I found my current job, which is really a unicorn – part-time and super flexible, but also a leadership role with significant growth opportunity. I’m really glad I held out for it!

    So I guess this is a long was of saying two things: 1) Are there other ways you could think about putting your career together that would allow you more flexibility while keeping yourself in the game? Some combination of writing, consulting/freelancing, teaching or training, potentially even skilled volunteering, etc.? 2) You sound like a talented high-achiever, and I hope that, if you can find your way to keep a toe (or a foot or a leg) in, you can have confidence that that will be enough, and give yourself space to enjoy being home if that’s what you decide you want.

    That said, that’s only my advice if you WANT to be home. If you want to work but just want to be in a better situation, look for a new job!!

  50. MI Dawn*

    OP: as others have said, look for options. General Counsel for insurance companies, big businesses, etc all use lawyers and have more sane hours. I know our lawyers (health insurance) work pretty much a 40 hour week (more or less – obviously more when fires need to be put out, less when things are quiet). My company works hard to offer child care in house, parental leave, decent pay and benefits. Others around you probably do also.

  51. Duckles*

    I was in the same position (very well regarded in Biglaw). I had been over it for a while and looking for jobs, but when I got a dog (I know it’s not the same!) it rapidly became apparent how ridiculous my life was— when I was already paying to have my dog walked twice a day and partners were still unhappy I was leaving at 9PM because I refused to leave my dog home alone any longer. A few months later, a work-from-home opportunity fell into my lap from a really interesting company. I’ve been there for over a year now and while I do agree that I’ll never make that much money (taking into account bonuses, I’m making less than half of what I was in Biglaw)/closed a lot of doors by the move, but I haven’t regretted it for a single day. I am healthier, I don’t always cancel plans, my dog has less anxiety, I have plenty of money and just prioritize it better, and I genuinely look forward to working in the morning. I realize I don’t have the “breadwinner” burden, but even so, you’ll make it work. Do it!

  52. Double A*

    Burn the patriarchy to the ground. I never really FELT misogyny in my life until I became a mom. It’s infuriating.

    I have arranged my life where I am no longer ambitious. But I began doing that years before I had a kid, even though I was top of my class, Phi Beta Kappa, all that jazz. I chose to go into teaching because I knew I needed a job I could get anywhere; I’d have to make too many sacrifices if I chose a profession that required me to tie myself to a high COL area. I now live in a rural area and work from home; it’s still exhausting. But I don’t regret it. I’m in a community I feel connected to, and that I’m looking forward to nurturing roots for years, probably the rest of our lives. I realized that being connected to the place I am is more important than money. Between our two incomes, we just clear 6 figures most years, and that is fine for us.

    I don’t have advice for making this transition, since I’ve been kind of laying the foundation for it for years, but living in a small town near family and a rooted community is a wonderful life choice, if it’s available to you. Your firm sounds terrible.

    Your firm also sounds like a EOC complaint waiting to happen and I hope you document the hell out of everything and sue them.

  53. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    Different perspective here: former nanny to various high powered women. My happiest employer (in terms of her personal response to the maternal work life balance – she is a corporate accountant for a multi billion dollar oil form) chose to fight the system SO that she could prioritize her kids. She wanted to change the road ahead for the women coming after her so they wouldn’t have to slog through what she did and could take a sick day with her kids. She asked for help to do it though! (That’s where I come in), and I helped to make up for things when she was stretched thin and needed to reboot. Having a nanny enabled her to worry less about logistics but in no way handed off mothering. This way, when she was with her kids, she actually was with them and NOT bombarded by exhaustion and guilt. Make sense?

    Flip side: my absolute worst employer had a medical practice, and was making excellent money but had a nanny to essentially allow her to give her life and time to the practice without having to emotionally connect to her kids. She put them on the back burner so they wouldn’t hold her back from competing with the big boys, never thinking she could actually make change in her industry. That’s not the vibe I’m getting from OP. Find a nanny or au pair who you trust trust trust, and let her manage the sick kid and diapering because (and I promise), you won’t miss out on bonding if someone else is cleaning up the mess. Employer one’s kids KNEW that when their mama came home, she was ready for them. E2’s, not so much.

    You can do this!

  54. Maybe Stay In*

    Former NYC BigLaw Senior Associate here. I’d vote to stay in (though it sounds like you’ll have to make a lateral move to another firm) and hire someone to be your child’s primary caretaker.

    I leaned out in a big way after our son was born 4 years ago. My spouse is also in BigLaw, so we decided one of us should step away so that someone would be home for dinnertime/bedtime 95% of the time. I now work at a small (40 lawyer) firm in suburbs, making $5k more than I did as a first year associate. No bonus. I bill about 1200-1500 hours a year. I can take sick days without working from home at all, with no questions asked. I like my coworkers a great deal. All of that is exactly what I was looking to find, but I couldn’t have predicted the downsides.

    I miss my old, pre-baby life, work stressors and all, tremendously. If I had it to do over again, I would absolutely hire a nanny for the evenings after daycare/preschool. I don’t think having evenings at home and the ability to step in during sick days was worth the trade-offs in salary, career potential, and socialization. It’s unlikely that I’ll ever make even 2/3 of my old salary again, will not be making partner, and the isolation of driving to work and then driving home to sit in an otherwise empty house while my son sleeps is really taking a toll on my mental health.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      This is a very useful comment, though I’m sorry you’re going through this.

      My wife left BigLaw when our twins were 2 (and the less said about those first two years the better…) and went to a government job. She’s a litigator and they promised her litigation experience, but it was super slow paced. Most of the cases settled very early. That meant great work/life balance and low stress, but she was never getting to take or defend depositions, show up in court for anything, manage complicated discovery processes, etc. She was pretty unhappy because she went into litigation because she likes a challenge and enjoys working hard.

      She left the government job after a year or two and went to a smallish firm with pretty reasonable hours expectations, and it’s the right balance for her between the craziness of BigLaw and the meh feeling that a low-stress job gave her. She travels a couple of days a month, sometimes works in the evenings or on weekends, and overall it feels like our lives are too busy, but litigation is inherently prone to but the job is giving her great experience and she’s motivated and invested in it and happier overall.

      So OP, maybe take the WFH job, get your bearings and catch your breath, and then keep looking for the long-term thing that feels like the right balance for you and your family if the WFH thing turns out not to be it (which it might!).

      1. Maybe Stay In*

        Thanks for this. I hadn’t put my finger specifically on how the low-stress job might be itself contributing to the “meh” feelings–that actually makes a lot of sense. Maybe I’ll start considering how to take your wife’s experience as a roadmap for my own career path. (Also, I can’t imagine BigLaw with twins for two years! What a feat for your family.)

    2. LawLady*

      Yeah, the people I’ve seen make this work have both a nanny and a daycare. So the kid’s at daycare 9-5 and the nanny handles mornings and evenings.

      1. Grapey*

        +1, this is where “having a village” used to step in.

        Even then, the village for childcare was mostly older women like aunts and grandmas, and well, they now want/need to work too. A lot of people in my generation aren’t seeing the point of having kids anymore.

  55. AnotherLawyerMama*

    OP, my heart goes out to you. I feel like I could have written this post although my circumstances are different. I also have a 10 month old, but rather than go back to my old job after my leave ended (I took a leave of absence after my time ran out) I took a new job at a firm that says it is family friendly. While I am not experiencing the rampant sexism that you described, I am struggling to prove myself in a new position and firm to my new colleagues while dealing with a constantly sick child thanks to daycare. Like you, the daycare is near home and I commute 45 minutes each way to my office. Having my partner lean out is not an option for us at this time. I don’t have any advice for you, but please know that you are not alone. Following the post for others’ experiences and suggestions for how to be a good and present parent while also working in an extremely demanding field.

  56. Madeleine Matilda*

    My brother leaned out almost 17 years ago because his third child had special needs that required a parent to be available at times during the day (not everyday, but often enough). He has worked at night since then and his wife during the day. That child is now off to college in six months with a full scholarship and my brother is about to lean back in with a new job that will provide a better income and benefits. I know from talking with him, his wife, and their four children that none of them regret the decision he made. It was hard financially, but the right decision for the well being of their family.

  57. Been There*

    I am an attorney of 25+ years. I have 3 kids and have been where you are. I went from full time to part time after the birth of my first. It took a long time but I worked it out and got to a pretty good place. I am now a partner in a small, specialized firm and my kids are grown. I am happy that I was able to do this personally, but professional and financially I am way behind and will never catch up. My best advice is, if there is a co-parent, they need to also make changes and sacrifices. Don’t allow yourself to be the only one. If possible, do the daycare drop off and have your partner do pick up. That way you can stay later and not feel rushed out the door. I know attorneys tend to come up with things at the end of the day that are, of course, always “urgent.” I used to come in early (like at 7am) and leave at 4:30/5:00 to pick up the baby, but what I learned is the time from 7am to 9am didn’t count for anything because no one saw me then. Face time at the end of the day was more important than simply working the same number of hours front loaded at the beginning of the day, no matter how unfair that seems.

    You are in a really rough time period right now. If your baby is 10 months old and you took an extended leave, I assume you’ve only been back to work for the last several months. It might take some time to work things out – both personally and professionally. I can totally relate to the feeling of failing at everything no matter how hard you try and I am sorry you are struggling right now.

    1. Caroline Bowman*

      Yes! This.

      I know the OP hasn’t mentioned a father / patner for the baby, so there may not be one , BUT if there is, then he can do 50% of the baby stuff, which should ease her burden a lot. And I mean 50%. I don’t mean ”well it’s haaarrrddd… and I work far away, so…” I mean, I do it this week, next thing that comes up, you do. 50-50. It sounds cold and transactional, but it is important in this area if there is another parent who also wanted a child in the picture.

      And yes, get a nanny. This will drastically reduce the ”feeling completely frazzled and unable to be in two places” feeling. Drastically.

      Also. Point out sexism when and as it happens. Ask why you didn’t get that promotion. There may actually be a very clear reason which may be unrelated. They are unlikely to admit sexism in the moment, but if anyone is remotely thoughtful or concerned, if there is sexism afoot, it will make them think for a moment.

      1. Ismonie*

        Or maybe 60-70%, given his lower hours and shorter commute. Not being harsh, but that may make sense for them.

  58. wittyrepartee*

    The women that I met from pharma said that after they had kids they moved to another company so that they were working at a place where no one had seen them pregnant and everyone didn’t know what the structure of their homelife is.

    1. Double A*

      This is so gross (that this happened to them, not that you’re sharing this!). It’s a special type of misogyny — momsogyny.

  59. Mama Bear*

    I’m having trouble posting, so maybe a shorter post will work. From here it looks like the problem is partially that the OP wants to be there with their kid. That is not something hiring an nanny will improve. I had a great daycare for my kid. But I was paying hundreds a week to spend most of my time in a soul-sucking job. It wasn’t better because I had a caregiver. *I* wanted to be that caregiver, or at least feel like the trade-off was worth it.

  60. Goose on the loose*

    I am so sorry you are going through this, LW. I am also an attorney and have a year and a half year old. I started my practice at a big law firm straight out of law school and continued to practice there until I had my son. I was a senior associate at the time and took my normal amount of leave – 5 months.

    I came back when my son was 5 months old and tried to make it work, but I too felt the immense pressure of time management. With pumping, billable hour requirements (I too stayed at full budget and was expected to bill at the same amount as before having a child), and having to relieve our nanny by 6 pm, I felt very burned out by the experience.

    I ended up going in-house and love it. I do think it’s worthwhile to consider a career shift, but I would really hesitate to take the steps you’ve suggested. Taking a work from home position like that will substantially derail your career. There are some pipeline projects to assist women who take time off like that to get back into the law firm world, but they are scarce and even with additional resources, making the jump back is extremely difficult. You are limiting your earning potential and career trajectory significantly.

    What about doing something else? Perhaps applying for a clerkship, which could give you a 1-2 year break from the grind of big law but is still prestigious and offers great exit opportunities back into private practice? Or an in-house role, which would give you more of a 9-5 schedule (hopefully, check out the culture to confirm) but isn’t seen as a step backwards but instead a shift to a different market? Although the path back to big law is not as obvious as a clerkship, many do make the jump. Or you may find, as I have, that I like the work in-house so much more that I wouldn’t consider going back to big law. Other opportunities could include government work. You didn’t mention what kind of work you do, but some government positions are seen as quite prestigious and can lead to other opportunities down the line that do not set you back so much financially.

    Another perspective to consider (and I assume you are not yet partner based on the “title change” you are hoping to receive) – just wrap your head around the fact that the next few years will not be your best at your firm. If you love the work and don’t want to make a big change, it might be worth considering staying, doing your best, but being ok prioritizing your family. At least at my old firm, you could ride it out 1-2 years as a lower performer, especially if you had the built up capital for your many years of service before that point. It’s a hard thing for high achievers to swallow, but if you do think big law is the place you want to stay, do what you can to keep yourself on a trajectory to get back. The solution you have suggested would present a lot of obstacles to get there.

  61. These Old Wings*

    I work in advertising, but I was really burnt out a few years ago with all the demands of a young child and work, so I opted to stay home for a while. I had another baby and was able to be home with her for 16 months. In total, I spent nearly 3 years at home with my kids. It’s definitely challenging, but I don’t regret it at all. And I have an awesome job now paying more than I was making before I left. It doesn’t sound like staying home is necessarily on the table for you, but I mention it because so many people have this idea that if you take some time off, you will be forever unemployable and screw yourself financially, and it’s just not necessarily the case. I’m so happy I was able to step back and spend that time with my kids.

    I hope you are able to find a new job with a more flexible schedule. And never feel like you’re not living up to the false ideal of “having it all” and kicking ass at working and being a mom. Because it’s nonsense and you are always going to feel like you are failing someone. And I can tell you that I have felt that way both while working full-time and being home full-time.

  62. L*

    I practice law in-house and have done so throughout my entire career so far. Whenever a new colleague joins us from a firm, they’re usually in shock for the first few months at the idea of again owning their time and working for people who respect boundaries. One of them described the career trajectory in a law firm as “a pie eating contest where the prize is more pie” and that really seems to sum it up. If you do get that promotion, or you do make partner, is the time you have for yourself and your family going to get better, or worse? If you think the latter, then you have to ask yourself what you’re chasing. I think most people would agree that being a present parent who is not stressed every moment of the day is much more valuable to your kids than one day paying for their private school, so my suggestion is to not view abandoning firm life as abandoning your career- explore your options working from home, or even in-house. Balance is worth more than a partner salary!

    1. Linzava*

      I love this perspective, I’d also like to add the the harder your work and run yourself down, the less actual life you have. If your running at 110% for years, your body breaks down faster. I don’t prioritize work or money over my health, but some do, and that’s okay if they want that, but it should be part of the decision making process.

  63. Data Nerd*

    This is unfortunately a wat too common scenario. I’m sorry you’re going through it. I have no helpful advice but I hope you feel supported knowing you’re not alone.

    I’m currently reading a fascinating book about this and other related topics called “Invisible Women” by Caroline Criado Perez. The premise is that the world is designed for and from the perspective of men and women are considered “abnormal” when it doesn’t work for them. Due to a gender data gap and data bias, it’s not easy to point out or change how disproportionately impacted women are by the situation.

    It’s simultaneously validating and enraging to read about, but I think is important to fight the “we don’t know what we don’t know” battle. Good luck OP!

    1. Krabby*

      I’ve been reading this too! I’ve never felt such simultaneous rage and validation. Highly recommend for anyone who wants to learn more about how our society was not constructed to let women succeed (even public transit systems are guilty of this!).

  64. Amy*

    If you can afford it, I strongly suggest getting a nanny instead of using daycare. Our nanny is worth her weight in gold. Yes, she will have sick days and gets vacations but it’s generally a drop in the bucket compared to the number of days a baby might be out of daycare.

    We used daycare for our first baby and a nanny for our second babies. There’s simply no comparison. There’s no packing up, there’s no baby sick days. Before you take the pay cut, you may want to try it. She makes my life and the lives of our kids so much easier.

  65. LawReject*

    I feel for the LW, one of the (very many) factors that led me to giving up on traditional law practice was watching a senior associate at my firm get “mommy tracked” and then forced out when she decided she wanted a second child.

    Have you considered looking outside the traditional legal field and into legal-adjacent work? I work in legislative and policy analysis and advice, almost everyone in my field has a legal background. As a public sector worker I have amazing work/life balance and the pay was comparable to what I was making as an associate. While you can’t expect the kind of money being a senior partner would pull in, there is tons of room for advancement to management here and women are actively recruited into these positions. Maybe a position in a department or organization that deals with labour issues?

    No one warns law graduates that the legal profession is basically a hamster wheel of being varying levels of “associate” unless you have connections or get an opportunity to jump off. My advice is jump off the wheel, get out of the cage, and find something that still uses your background but isn’t a firm.

  66. Linzava*

    My question is, who are you doing this for? What do you want? Do you prefer to be at home with the child or do you prefer to be at work? Same with your co-parent?

    There is no judgment with these questions, I spent years feeling judged because my house isn’t spotless. I work full-time and go to school, I’m a woman. My partner, a man, works a more challenging job full time, but doesn’t go to school and has more free time. His family judges me for the house not being spotless. I only recently released that judgment from myself.

    Your workplace is being sexist, so you might have to move on, but where you go needs to be based on the compromise you reach with your partner, based solely on what’s best for both of you, free from gender based judgments. Nothing wrong with one of you taking a step back from work, and nothing wrong with both of you continuing down your paths, knowing that this stage of your baby’s life is temporary.

  67. MJ35*

    I’ll give you the advice that was routinely given to new mother associates at my old Big Law firm by the women partners when asked how to make it work: “Get a full time nanny or a stay at home spouse.” Not surprisingly, nearly every female associate ended up leaving the firm for other areas of the law within a year to 18 months of having children. None of the ones that I have talked to who left regret it in the slightest. The frenzied, trying to please everyone and pleasing no one lifestyle is simply not sustainable.

  68. ynotlot*

    Money can’t bring happiness, but babies definitely do :) :)
    I think that even if it was a permanent step back in your career, it would still be worth it. But I don’t think it will be permanent! You are a smart, high performing, driven professional. Even if it takes a few years to catch up, I think you can get back to a successful level very quickly (maybe immediately) at a respectful and supportive organization. Women-owned orgs are sometimes better (sometimes not, unfortunately).
    I know this is a ‘thing’ for a lot of companies, but I just can’t give it credence. OMG, you took a few years off work to raise the next generation, as coded in our DNA? THE HORROR! People who act like babies are an imposition, instead of A MIRACLE, make me really tired. I’m in HR and there are others like me in HR and leadership, and I think our numbers are growing faster than the other camp.

  69. Working Mom*

    That is unfair and not your fault. I’d say table your ambitions at your current company, continue working there for the paycheck and keep job searching. You may be able to find an alternative job without such a dramatic pay cut if you give yourself more time. Or you may hit a point where the job+commute+baby stress is too much and the pay cut is worth it. I left a demanding job with lots of room for growth for a very flexible gig (that pays great but has no room for growth) when I was pregnant. It’s kept me sane and I think it was the right decision but I still worry I’ve tanked my career growth for good. There just aren’t great choices for working parents in this country.

  70. Still Trying To Adult*

    The anecdotal evidence I’ve seen is that a) law firms are tremendously resistant to changing how they operate, b) really awful about following labor law, esp. with regards their own female employees, c) still damn sexist in general. Might go so far to suggest many law firms suffer from their own form of narcissistic personality disorder. We’ll, they don’t suffer from it, they rather enjoy it, it’s the rest of us who suffer. All I can say is good luck. They really won’t change until it’s more painful for them to remain as they are.

  71. MBA mom*

    Being a working mother sucks. “We’re expected to do our jobs as if we don’t have children — and then raise our children as if we don’t have jobs,” she said. “If you think about the model of the ideal mother, it’s the person who sacrifices everything for her child. The ideal worker is someone who can drop everything and go on a business trip at a moment’s notice, and who can stay late — not leave at 5 o’clock to pick up kids. So if you’re trying to be both, then you are faking it.” https://www.google.com/amp/s/theweek.com/articles-amp/627821/ugly-secret-working-moms

    1. AnotherSarah*

      In my line of work, this hasn’t been my feeling at all–ideals exist but they’re not the same everywhere.

  72. Anon for this*

    I am a transactional lawyer working in a salaried non law firm setting with the ability to work from home several days a week. I negotiated a longer transition back to work. Like you, on paper, I am at least as productive as I was before. I recognize how lucky I am to have a job I love, excellent coworkers and benefits, and flexibility far beyond what most lawyers (and frankly most people in general) have. I am also not EXPECTED to work outside normal business hours but I used to before baby and now feel like I need to in order to maintain my usual pace (also a high achiever).

    But I feel like I’m failing at everything. I feel guilty that I’m not able spend more hours in the office/stay late for meetings (as I have to leave at a set time to relieve our child care provider) and I feel guilty if I have to leave before the baby wakes up or when I see the baby is crying and I’m not the one providing comfort. It all feels terrible. And that’s WITH support from my employer.

    Though I believe the quality of my work has remained the same, the big shift is this: it honestly doesn’t matter as much to me. I’m still a very conscientious worker, but in the larger scheme of things, my priorities have drastically shifted, as I believe they should. Ultimately for me the thing is this- I never wanted a big law career and if I have to choose I would be sad to give up my job but would not regret being with my child more. If I reach a breaking point and have to choose, I would sacrifice my job.

    Law is a notoriously difficult field to take time away from and generally horrible for work life balance. I can’t tell from your letter whether you want that big law career or if your primary concern is your potential income. If it’s the latter, I will say that another option would be a position in an alternative, law adjacent field (eg compliance/contracts/HR/risk), which may offer more standard work days and more reasonable expectations. Even if that’s something that would potentially interest you, I don’t know that it would help resolve how you’re feeling. I think to some degree part of that is unfortunately just part of being a parent.

    But in addition to all of this feeling like you’re missing out on both things, it sounds like a discussion with your firm might be in order. I say this with the massive disclaimer that I have not ever worked in big law (by choice!) so only do this if it makes sense or you’re not worried about fallout. Can you sit down and discuss the conversation that you had before your child was born, your productivity since you’ve returned to work, the concerns you perceive on their end, and the challenges you have on yours? Because you’re a high achiever and presumably good at your job, is it possible that they would be willing to hear you out?

    I really hope things get better for you.

  73. MBA mom*

    This isn’t just “sexism” – after you have kids your priorities change. At least mine did. I WANTED to be home with my kids. I didn’t want to miss bed times and baths.
    OP- lean out. Take a pay cut if you can afford it. I scaled back when mine where little. And now I’m ramping back up. Maybe I’m not where I could have been, but I never missed kissing my kids goodnight. And I’d take those memories over being in the C suite any day.

  74. NerdyPrettyThings*

    When I found out I was expecting, I was supposed to start dental school in two months. I couldn’t afford to stay home, but I knew I couldn’t keep up with my studies if I took maternity leave in the middle of my first year. I deferred my enrollment for a year and started teaching biology at a high-needs school. I loved education and having time with my baby so much I never really considered going back to professional school. I never actually had to give up the high earnings, but I did give up the potential for them. I’ve gotten my masters and worked my way up to district level admin role, but I still make far less than I would be if I’d gone to professional school. Seventeen years later and with my kid starting college this fall, I’m still happy with that decision most days! :)

  75. QED*

    Not a parent but am a lawyer. I think the most important thing to figure out is whether you actually want to be working in law, full-time moving forward. Figure out where you want to be personally and professionally now definitely, but where do you see yourself in five years? In ten? If the answer is you want to be home (either working part-time, or WFH, or take more time off), and your finances are such that you’ll be able to afford what you need if you do that, then don’t worry about whether or not you’ll be able to afford private college. Who knows what the US will look like in 18 years anyway.

    If, however, you do want to work in law full-time, and you want to be able to move up in your career, you just want a more flexible schedule and better hours, especially now, then I have a few pieces of advice. First, talk to your boss. You have nothing to lose here–they’re already not promoting you and not respecting what they told you they’d do. Bring up what you agreed to before your maternity leave, tell them you think there’s a double standard, etc. If the firm recruits at your alma mater, and you do any of the recruiting or are in touch with the career office, mention that this situation will reflect badly on the firm if you’re asked questions about maternity policies by students. I doubt this will change anything at the firm, but again, you seemingly have nothing to lose by bringing it up, and if you have any interest in staying, this is the chance to make thins better.
    Second, look at all the legal jobs in your area. Unless you are super-committed to your current practice area such that you wouldn’t consider any others, start by looking at legal jobs generally. PSJD is a good site for nonprofits and government jobs, and your alma mater may have an account with them so you can log in. Salaries will be lower than big firms, but if you have a lot of experience, it may not be that bad. I worked at a nonprofit where attorneys with 10+ years experience were making six figures, which was a pay cut, but not that big of a lifestyle change. There are also nonprofits that tie their salaries to the federal government’s in order to remain competitive, and again, if you have more than a few years experience, you may not have to make any lifestyle adjustments. If you went to law school near where you live, it may also be helpful to look at the alumni resources to see where people are working now–for better or worse, law school connections can be helpful in changing jobs. If there are any companies headquartered in your area, check their websites for general counsel positions. I’m not just talking big companies–hospitals, for example, also need GCs. If you know anyone working for a different firm in your area, contact them and ask about how their firm is with flexible schedules, valuing parents, etc. By anyone, I mean even people you don’t know well; this is a basic conversation and many firms are always looking to poach from their competitors. It may be that a competitor has better work-life balance than your current firm, or that balance is something you could negotiate and get as part of an offer. I would also see if you know any lawyer moms in your area and if so, ask them what they did! Where did they find support? Was it hard for them to move into a higher-powered role when their kids were older? You could also reach out to alums of your law school about this.

  76. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    I am in IT and not in law, but I had an unplanned “lean out” and my career never recovered. However my circumstances were entirely different. My sons were born in a country that was going through a massive political and economic change, and was also experimenting with a free market with no regulations. As a leftover from the old system, we still had long maternity leave. One ramification of it being that daycare centers did not (at least in the town where I lived) accept children younger than 18 months. When my son turned 18 months and I tried to return to work, I was told to stay on unpaid maternity leave indefinitely (on paper, I still had my job at that place when we left for the US 2.5 years later!) We needed money, I took a part-time job outside of my field, then a contract job. At one point my boss from the old place changed jobs himself and tried to bring me in on his team at his new workplace. Was told “we do not hire women” by the CEO (like I said, no regulations). So I said “screw it” and had another child and did not try to go back to work until we came to the US in the mid-90s. Again, things were different and nobody cared about my CS degree and relevant experience from the home country – I was hired as an entry-level for the lowest pay possible for a dev. Changed jobs three times in the first 3 years just to get to a job title and pay more in line with my credentials. Found myself in a large, stale Fortune 500 and after trying to find work someplace more cutting-edge (without success), I told myself that, as stagnant as my workplace is, the flex hours and the good medical insurance are good for raising children. Unlike yours, my coparent wasn’t much use at home and with the kids. I had parents living nearby though, who helped with childcare. Either way, I decided to stay at my large company, and have been working at large companies ever since. You have to always be learning new things to stay marketable in my field and these employers wanted us to mostly maintain the old stuff. If they ever wanted something new produced, they would typically hire contractors for that. It has always been an uphill battle to stay relevant, that I’ve been mostly losing. Doing pretty well for myself now (granted my sons did not go to private colleges, but both have graduated state schools with no debt via a combination of merit scholarships and me paying the bills, and the oldest is now a far better software developer than I had ever dreamed of being myself), but I have a feeling that my career is nothing compared to what it could’ve been if I hadn’t had kids. I was doing really well in my very first job, learning a ton of new tech as it came out and getting raises and new projects, and then… a nosedive and starting over at entry level at age 30. However there were so many additional circumstances in my case, and it was so long ago, that I hope that what happened to me then is not the norm here in the US now. I kind of hope we can do better than that in 2020? Will be following the comments on this post because honestly, I am curious to know if things have gotten better. (Apparently not at your current workplace though, OP! I’ve already been feeling angry at the systemic sexism in this country for most of this week, and your post made me even angrier. They praise dads and reprimand you/set you up to fail for the same childcare duties? I have no words.)

  77. NJAnonymous*

    I’ll share some thoughts as a management consultant in a director role, in a similar situation as yourself. I will also share some observations I’ve made of my husband, who is a lawyer in a leadership role and how he has flexed to this situation.

    Management consulting is similarly high-pressure, client driven, all hours kind of job. I currently have a 3.5 year old and have been traveling anywhere from weekly for 4 days/week to perhaps a day every other week. My schedule and location is all over the place. I similarly share your perspective that I am very proud of my job, I really like what I get to do, and I don’t want to give it up. However, my current team is male dominated, very ‘old boys club’ in some places, and not actively supportive of the flex needs of parents (lots of lip service, no action to back it up).

    Some solutions: I set expectations with my team that there are set days where I’m not available from 5 until at least 9. Similarly, I work it out with my husband where I have set days where I can be available at all hours. I don’t overcommunicate what I’m doing when I’m away from my desk unless absolutely necessary (pretty typical for consultants to be out and about and in meetings), so if I need to step out for an hour or come in late/leave early for doc appointments, daycare events, etc., that choice is not telegraphed across the firm/practice. Finally, I try to behave the way I would want my firm/practice to encourage. I kill it with my clients. I make my sales and collaborate with others to do so. I expect work will be done within work hours and bar emergencies, actively discourage ‘firedrills’ that aren’t actually firedrills. If other people work 16 hour days and are more successful, great, but that’s not what I want out of life or my career. I figure if my firm won’t support/adapt/encourage the way of working that works for me (and my clients), then it’s not a place I want to work.

    My husband, meanwhile, is counsel at a lawfirm He left another firm a few years ago where they not only discouraged him from taking time off when our daughter was born, but denigrated the idea that he should be involved in the childcare at all (actual thing that came out of his partner’s mouth: you’re not breastfeeding it, why do you need the time?). He’s since moved to a firm where he has a lot more autonomy, and as long as he’s getting his hours in and his clients are happy, no one gives him problems and many of them support parenting duties. It helps that a lot of his work is on the road/remote, but he had to move to a smaller firm to get it. Also worth suggesting – there are a lot of “women-owned firms” (we get a law magazine monthly on these firms… I don’t know if this is a thing in other areas?), especially in the NYC metro area, where they’re more supportive of these needs.

    So, hopefully some of that is helpful. Finally – eff your firm partners. From what you’ve shared, it sounds like a pretty clear cut case of discrimination (armchair lawyer here… so many grains of salt, obviously). You’d think at the very least they’d be sensitive to a PR crisis.

  78. Retail4Life*

    I agree that this is a huge pile of sexism and it’s unfortunate that you are taking it on as if you’re doing something wrong and have fewer choices because of it. I’m so sorry. The world sucks sometimes.

    I wonder if there are more than the two options you mentioned – leaning in or out. Why not do the hookey pokey?

    Is your type of law something you can practice independently? Can you start your own firm where you’re the boss? Partner with another lawyer or two? Can you move onto an adjacent law specialty that might be more supportive? Can you move closer and find a daycare closer to work? Can you move to a new city to find a less sexist law firm to not derail your career? Can you follow up with your boss who made you these promises before the baby and point out that they aren’t being met? Can you find an ally in one of the fathers at work and have them help you when you’re baby has a fever? Can you move to a corporation instead of a law firm to practice similar law but in a less stressful area?

    My point is, maybe take a minute to reopen the what if’s. Your choices feel really limited now but the sky is the limit. And maybe you’ll ask yourself 100 questions and look at all the opportunities and the two you mentioned are still the best options for you. That’s okay but I still think it’s worth doing.

  79. GaviaCM*

    I am going to be Debbie Downer, a bit, but I want to put a few things out there about the choice between lean in, lean out, and opt out:

    -It is really hard to get back into the workforce after a significant break. Really hard. I know people still trying after ten years of applying for jobs.
    -You will not be coming in at the same level or remotely the same salary. The people I know who have made it back in after being a SAHM have gone from c-suite level jobs to jobs requiring a high-school degree and 1-2 years experience. Yes, literally.
    -If you have the chops to be a Big 10 lawyer, you will advance from those jobs pretty quickly, but not overnight, and not back to where you were.
    -The “lean out” jobs are not strictly 9-5. Those jobs don’t exist any more. If you go to a clerical job for a third the pay, you will still be expected to stay late and answer emails at all hours. It will likely be less work, but it won’t be as limited as you might hope.
    -You don’t get those years back with kids. They will never be two years old again. They will never be babies again. The regret is real, and it is bitter.
    -A lot of parenting is actually pretty boring and isolating. It has moments that you will never forget and will smile about on your deathbed, but day to day, it sticks you at home without adult company and a lot of frustrating, repetitive tasks. It is hard.
    -Belt-tightening sounds fun in theory, but ask yourself if you know what it’s like to live it. Depending on how you grew up, you may not understand all that it entails. It’s not just cutting coupons or making food at home. It’s things like – do you know which bills can slide the longest? Do you know how to patch a muffler with duct tape? Have you visited the public schools in the places you would be living? It can be a shock for people who have only lived as a poor law student with roommates to realize what it means to live with less once kids and a spouse are in the mix.
    -You will probably have to choose between giving a child the good schools, the good tutors, the enrichment activities – and giving them time with you.
    -Being able to make that choice puts you in a privileged 10%. For most people, it is neither.
    -What kind of lifestyle do your friends have? The only working mom in the community of well-off stay-at-home moms has it tough. But if you dial down your lifestyle but keep your well-off friends, you are going to spend a lot of time with your nose right up against things like vacations or kiddie language lessons you can never have. Know going in whether this bothers you.

    Finally:
    This is not a you problem. We treat work like a cult, and anyone who wavers in their commitment to it is banished to the wilds without a safety net. It’s a broken society, and you shouldn’t have to make choices like these.

    1. The Rat-Catcher*

      I have a state government job that truly is an 8-5. Maybe once a month I am expected to work outside of that because of travel to and from meetings. A few times a year I have to be away for one night, and annually I do a trip that is more than one night (3 nights is the longest I have ever had). It’s about as close to a “lean out” job as it gets. My salary isn’t great but it’s livable, and my benefits, PTO, and short commute make up a lot of costs I would have at other jobs.

      1. The Rat-Catcher*

        I forgot to add the point! Many people at my place of work “leaned out” in this way when having children. When their kids got older, they “leaned in” and now are in management positions. (Still not great pay, but them’s the breaks, and it’s certainly more than the “lean out” jobs.)

  80. Rex*

    How many other working mothers do you know in your field? If you don’t know any, start building those relationships now.

    In my field I know about a dozen, and as life has meant we have had to lean in and out, it’s good to have people in your industry who have been there and will give you a hand getting back in. You can return the favor some day.

  81. Way to the Dawn*

    I am not in law but my boyfriend is. He is very early in his career but moved from a small firm to government and absolutely loves it. All of his coworkers have been there for ages because they love the lifestyle and benefits that it gives them. And yes, it doesn’t pay as well (even though it was a significant pay boost for him since his firm was treating him like garbage) but everyone seems really happy there. There are a lot of mothers there as well. Best of luck in your decision!

  82. Ms. Ann Thropy*

    Lean out. Your child needs you. Your law firm doesn’t. (And I say this not to in any way diminish your abilities as a lawyer.)

  83. Brian S.*

    The best work advice i’ve ever gotten was from a dear friend who passed away recently: “working is about trading money for your time. You can always get more money.”

  84. The Original K.*

    My best friend took an in-house counsel job two years after her first child was born. She loathed her BigLaw job from day one though (she was a high performer, she just hated the work and the lifestyle). She took a huge pay cut but doesn’t regret it at all; she wants no parts of BigLaw life ever again.

    Having said that, she says she’s not sure what’s next for her – she’s gone as far as she can go where she is and is feeling a little stifled. But in terms of the lifestyle change, she’s much happier.

  85. Cat*

    Uggggggh. This is precisely why there’s so few women partners at law firms.

    I’m currently on maternity leave and having a similar debate with myself. I am at a humane firm but it’s still a firm. Honestly, I don’t think billable hours requirements are conducive to having a family and added in here is explicit sexism. I don’t know how to address the second. I’ve never been sure places like that are salvageable. But when it come stir he first, I’m thinking I need a government job. I can’t take the pressure to constantly be billing every second.

    That said, I wonder if the choice isn’t as stark as you’re worried about. I don’t know your precise situation but I think people who aren’t at firms think firm jobs are less prestigious than people who are at firms. Are there options that aren’t in your precise sub specialty? What about something like the city attorney’s office where you live?

  86. Missy*

    A lot of commenters here are saying this is her company’s problem, not a ‘lean out’ problem, and I genuinely want to know if those commenters have kids. Because I have to say, this has happened to every. single. mom. I know, myself included, and it didn’t matter what field they were in. It’s f*cking impossible to balance and the expectations on mothers run rampant inside and outside of work.

    OP, I took a major lean out step after my second baby and I’m not going to lie, it’s been hard. It’s been hard to reconcile my idea of who I was / am with this job. I had to start therapy, to be completely honest with you.

    But my stress is so much lower, my kids and family are happier, my health is much better (after my first kid it took me 2 years to get back to pre pregnancy weight and this time it took only 8 months – this isn’t about vanity, I genuinely am healthier, eating better, walking more, getting more sunshine, etc). I hope I can get back into a competitive career in a few years but I also know I may never want to again, and that will have to be okay. My second kid is only 10 months old so I’m still giving myself some grace. I focus on things like certifications, and other opportunities, to make sure my resume won’t have a huge gap in it, and in a year or two I’ll reassess.

    It’s not as simple as ‘burn down the patriarchy’. I would love to say it is, but this reality is overwhelming and suffocating sometimes. Take a step back if you need to, catch your breath, re-evalaute your priorities. Try out something different. You may not like it but at least you’ll have more information about what you do want.

    I’m sorry, it’s hard, and I’m there with you.

  87. Lean Out OP*

    I feel like I need to clarify that while my firm has Biglaw-level expectations (2000 hour billable requirement, basically 24/7 responsiveness to partners/clients), I’m not actually in “Biglaw,” I’m out in the suburbs. So I don’t have the finances for “just hire a nanny,” and I’m less competitive a candidate than I’d like to be for government/in-house opportunities because I’m not coming from a “name brand” firm. I took this job years ago because it was supposed to be a “work-life balance” job after I burned out commuting 2+ hours each way to our nearest metropolis, and I believed I had a reasonable shot at making partner here. Having a kid has obviously changed the calculus enormously.

    1. Ominous Adversary*

      “Work-life balance” at a firm run by straight men means you get time off for significant milestones like your kid’s graduation or a Super Bowl game, but you’re still supposed to have a wife handling the childcare and household management for you.

      If you aren’t making BigLaw money and benefits, then your firm has no business expecting you to work the BigLaw hours and the quasi-Mad Men lifestyle.

      1. Lucette Kensack*

        lol/crying for “significant milestones like your kid’s graduation or a Super Bowl game”

    2. Goose on the loose*

      First, don’t rule yourself out as a competitive candidate for in-house positions. Many companies are located in suburbs rather than cities and you may have the skillset they are looking for.

      Second, if you are not being compensated for Big Law work expectations, it’s not worth it. It’s not a good deal for you, and you don’t have to make this sacrifice. It’s better to move to a firm with lower billable expectations and take a salary cut (although maybe not as dramatic since you’re not getting paid at Big Law levels). You’ll be able to ramp up later in life while maintaining continuity in your practice.

      I would start looking for other opportunities while scaling back at your current job a bit (by scaling back, I mean still hitting deadlines but setting boundaries about weekend work by saying you are unavailable, leaving work at a reasonable time and not logging back on unless absolutely necessary, being ok with billing less, etc.) Time is even more limited once you become a parent and if you’re not being compensated for having to bill 2000 hours/year with an expectation of being available 24/7, it is no longer worth it.

    3. NW Mossy*

      When you say you’re “less competitive,” has that been reinforced to you through actual job search results or is that a non-specific impression of how things work in your field/region? I ask because if you’re not searching because you’ve predetermined that you’re a weak candidate, you may be selling yourself short without realizing it.

      Law is definitely a field where big names carry a lot of weight in some circles, but it’s also a big tent that encompasses lots of organizations where the names don’t matter as much. Those organizations are smaller ponds and there are limits that come with that, but they do exist and a low-key job search might bring you interest that you weren’t anticipating.

    4. Lawyer*

      Hi there, OP. I recently left a position as a biglaw partner to become GC of a public company. I’m expecting my first child now. I wondered if you were in midlaw, because honestly, it often seems like midlaw firms are the worst at this – biglaw hours but not biglaw $$, and they’re often behind the curve in supporting parents (my biglaw firm was great).

      Honestly, I’d suggest thinking hard about a pivot in terms of practice area and an in-house job search. I’m not sure what the WFH job is, but your long term career prospects will be better if it’s a more standard legal position that happens to be WFH and not, say doc review. I switched practice areas 5 years career – it was definitely doable. My experience is that in-house employers may be more willing to consider say, an employment litigator for a general litigation position. You’ll likely take a pay cut, especially if you want better hours (I didn’t but I’m also a GC, and it’s something of an always-on job), but it’ll preserve your career prospects better than taking a doc review job would.

      Also, if you need more time to find the right position, you have my permission to just lean out at your current job. Law firms don’t tend to let people go quickly and you can likely get by for longer than you’d expect by just pushing back on project requests, telling people you’re unavailable, etc. Will you be their most favorite associate? No, but you already aren’t, so release the desire to please them and give yourself the gift of treading water while you search. Law firms also are notorious for never giving bad references, lots of firms won’t give them at all, and this kind of lean out is difficult to describe so probably wouldn’t result in a bad reference anyway.

      1. LawLady*

        I fully agree on midlaw. I’m in biglaw, and I’ve seen several people get lured by the “family friendly” promises of midlaw firms that really turned out to be 90% of the work for 50% of the pay. You’re right that at least with BigLaw, you have the money to hire help.

    5. Nom de Plume*

      Wait, I’m sorry, but what? You’re working biglaw hours and with biglaw pressure and for biglaw (let’s face it) assholes but aren’t making a biglaw salary? Who is telling you that you’re less competitive for other jobs? Do those same people stand to make money off of your billable hours?

    6. Ismonie*

      Most government jobs don’t care as much about big firm pedigrees as you might think. Very few of the government lawyers I know were in big firms. Knowledge, skills, and fit are much more important.

  88. Jean*

    Your bosses and coworkers suck for this. Truly. But I advise taking the pay cut to be with your kid. Despite all the bullcrap we were fed in the 80’s and 90’s about “having it all,” eventually we all wake up and realize that’s not possible. Eventually you will have to choose.

    Don’t kill yourself and back-burner your kid for this job. They don’t care about you. Look out for yourself and your child, because no one else is going to do it for you. Best of luck.

  89. Sharon*

    I think one of the greatest disservices to women is the idea that you can “have it all”. I mean, I guess you can, but not all at once. Life is about choices and trade offs. I have a slightly different perspective. I worked in a group with several men that were very active with their kids. Our male boss gave better assignments to myself and the other single woman in the group because we were more reliable / available.

    Look at it from your employer’s point of view…. they need lawyers, but they also need satisfied clients. Without the clients, they can’t pay the lawyers

    1. Jean*

      YES. Thank you. That’s exactly what I just said in my last comment. The “have it all” trope is so toxic to women and it needs to die.

      1. The Original K.*

        As a family friend (herself a working mother) once told me, you can have it all but you can’t have it all at the same time.

        1. Caroline Bowman*

          but yet men can. They become fathers all the time and yet…

          they have it all.

    2. Cat*

      Wow. Nothing in the letter indicates that the OP isn’t making her clients happy. This is a really awful comment.

      1. Cat*

        Also the “can’t have it all” thing is a cop out. No you can’t literally do everything. But it should be possible to have a satisfying career and also raise a family. The fact that it often isn’t is sexism, not mandated by the laws of the universe.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          The structure of US capitalism makes it very challenging to have a satisfying career that pays for a middle class lifestyle and also raise a family. This is why we’re seeing the erosion of the middle class here – companies are focused on extracting maximum profits for shareholders. Company power is so much greater than labor power that it makes labor costs one of the easiest places to squeeze. Add in core costs like housing and health care that are rising much faster than inflation or wages, and… it’s not a cop out, it’s a structural issue.

          1. Cat*

            You misunderstood my comment. It’s a cop out to say “women can’t have it all” as a way to dismiss structural issues.

            And somehow despite the issues you raise , men are not penalized in their careers when they have a family. In fact, statistically they make more money than men who don’t. Hmmmm

        2. Sunflower*

          Law, especially BigLaw, is an major outlier to most professions. The hours are insane- but so is the pay. A first year in BigLaw makes 190k plus bonus(At t my old firm, it was 190k across the board regardless of whether you worked in New York or Charlotte). The OP knows she can move into a less intense role but it’s a paycut. It’s not that the pay is dismal- it’s just a very hard pill to swallow. It sounds like the OP’s company is a special form of terrible(no women coworkers is a huge red flag) but I think she wouldn’t find a ton of change by moving to another BigLaw firm.

          Partners in BigLaw make their lives work around work- they live close to the office, their kids go to school close by. Most of the partners, both men and women, have spouses who don’t work or flexible jobs. This works for a lot of the lawyers I know and they are happy- and they do it because the money is there. OP can make this arrangement work but she wants less stress- she’s never going to find a job with less hours/stress for the same pay. The bar is set too high when you enter the field.

          1. Cat*

            OP said above she isn’t in Big Law. I am also at a mid-size law firm and would never even consider Big Law but it’s still hard to find a good work/life balance as a lawyer and there’s still plenty of sexism.

    3. cmcinnyc*

      But guys get to go to kiddo’s soccer game and they’re such great dads to do it. Women don’t even *ask* half the time because it’s a huge ding on your reputation at work. We can’t have it all if the bros are playing keep away.

  90. Snark no more!*

    Before I even read the comments, this happened all the time at the firm I used to work at. Try looking for a job as an in-house attorney. That’s where a lot of our women went!

  91. CupcakeCounter*

    I (finance) leaned out about 8 years ago and just started leaning back in now that my son is able to be home along for a couple of hours. Several reasons I left that job were similar to things you described (lower level male promoted above me, additional pressure to be more available than everyone else, etc…)
    I don’t regret it – the stress reduction alone was worth the pay sacrifice (although I didn’t take a pay cut).
    Here are a few other things to keep in mind:
    -start a 529 plan for your son now – we opened one at birth and have a few hundred a month automatically go into that account. Hubs and I agreed we will pay for tuition and books but we want him to have to foot some of the bill such as room and board. We saw too many of our fellow students either not take their education seriously since mommy and daddy were footing the bill or run up massive amounts of student loan debt that will impact them later in life
    -with the WFH job, the extra time you save not having to commute will give you more time with your baby and make you more productive long term
    -you don’t need to adjust your career path for the full 18 years – I was able to start ramping back up shortly after my son started 1st grade
    -Potential relocating. Depending on your partner’s job, which I did see your comment above about, look into positions in your field outside your current area. Up and coming areas probably have opportunities for both of you and while it is a significant change, you are already looking into making big changes to your life. Probably doesn’t have to be a cross-country deal, maybe just a few hours away closer to the bigger cities you mentioned so still in the same general region. Look for something in between the WFH job and the situation you are in now.

    Either way, I don’t think you are going to ever be happy again at your current employer. If this was me, I’d take the WFH gig for a couple years and then look into options as my kid got closer to school age (for reference we moved to our current location when he was 4 and school systems played a large role). Also keep in mind that if you decide to have more than one you will have to go through this all again with your current employer while the WFH will give you the flexibility you will need during that time.

  92. Anonattorney*

    Attorney here! I know you mentioned you did some research in the “local market” but have you considered going into local/state/federal government? I never wanted the private law firm life (see all reasons in LWs submission) and have worked for non-profits and local government for my entire career and have not only had a pretty good work-life balance, but I’ve also been able to progress and make a decent salary while also building up my network. Law firm culture in general is pretty toxic and heinous (again, this is based on second hand accounts from friends and colleagues who are either living it or left it because of the culture and lack of balance) and I know it can be pretty hard to give up the pay but for your own sake, it might be a good shift. Also, you can keep progressing in your career in a more “traditional” office setting and then seek to switch back to private/in-house at a later date without having to work from home and miss out on connections/networking/bar events/whatever.

  93. Is butter a carb?*

    I stay in my lower paying job because I can’t travel. I am NOT WILLING to travel. Even if I wasn’t a single parent, it would be difficult for me to be away the amount these other jobs want me to be. At my job now I have tons of flexibility and don’t have to travel almost at all. To me, it’s worth it. I get more mad that my current company doesn’t pay market, but at this point in my life, I think it’s worth it. Could it affect my career and earning power in the future? Absolutely. Is being with my kid more worth not being able to pay for a better college in the future, yeah that’s my choice. I’m at a very high level at my company, I am a smart and high achieving person, but if I would be offered the job above me, I actually would have to decline. I just don’t want to do it. I need more work/life balance than that offers. I think others would not make the same choice, and that’s fine.

    I’m sure there will be lots of commentators discuss how this isn’t fair you have to face this and they are right. But you have to see what you personally want for your life and it may have to be a choice that sucks. I just don’t want you to feel like you CAN’T make the choice to lean out (or alternatively lean in), because of some standard of success that other people may have for you, or what is culturally ‘acceptable’ etc etc.

  94. Booksnbooks*

    From a practical perspective, you could put your baby in a daycare that was near to where you worked so that you could buy back those two hours of commute time that has to occur during daycare’s open hours. It would give you two hours more with your kiddo as you commuted, too. Unless, of course, you are splitting the drop off/pick up with your partner, or he is doing all of it. (I myself found having daycare near work impossible, especially when I was sick because then I was sick with a baby to take care of. But I know people who swore by it, and enjoyed commuting with their baby.)

    Your employer isn’t going to suddenly be more kind about you being a mom instead of a dad. I’d make the decision that works best for you now, commit to volunteering significantly with applicable associations in your field–especially those related to retention of women and work/life balance–if you do change jobs, and enjoy your time with your kid. When they are old enough that you can go back to the high-flying career, you’ll be able to in some way or another. It might take longer than it otherwise would if you hadn’t had a kid, but just like your bank balance and time for hobbies and travel are taking a hit by having a kid, your job progression will to. But it’s just temporary and you will recover. I’m on the other side and have seen moms in all fields (from finance to PR to journalism to management) come out of the younger-child years stronger than ever and VERY rapidly climbing the ladder that they thought was closed to them.

  95. Jodie-Across the Pond*

    So from the sounds of it, your employers have not kept up with their side of your bargain, and on that note have incredibly short memories of you being a strong performer. I do not feel like you should take a step back from your career as from the sounds of it you are very passionate about what you do and how well you do it. I do feel however taking a step back from the situation would provide some clarity here. I am of the opinion that having children should not stop you from being able to achieve, but your employers must be helping you with this as they promised. You need to have this discussion with them about the flexible hours promised as I think this would be the most stressful part for me too, especially having home and day care both an hours commute from your work! Perhaps if possible you can look into a more local day care to work as this might elevate some of the stress and pressure of rushing between your child and work. If you have a sick baby, then work should sympathetic to this, the last thing you need is having 3 hour conference calls when you’re wiping tears and snotty noses! If your employers are saying that you are “not committed enough” and you feel you are, this HAS to be addressed. Perhaps call a meeting with you superiors to discuss this. “Jane, I have been thinking on what you have mentioned regarding my work ethic and would like to discuss this further. I have been adjusting to my return and feel my effort and results have been indisputable. I was wondering if you could give me an idea on where you feel I am missing the mark?”.
    This would also be a perfect opportunity to bring up the additional support that was mentioned and not delivered.

    Of course, if your work are just going to be absolute arses about you becoming a mother and only be sympathetic to the male parents of your work force, then maybe it is an idea to look for other options. What is the most important thing here is your mental health and your baby.
    Right now your little one is very much dependent on you and you need to make sure you are not missing any of those milestones you will regret. Whats to say that when your baby is all grown and going to “big school” you cant delve back into the career you love to provide a strong college fund? Perhaps you can find a good position in a more local area to your home also?

  96. Bend & Snap*

    I had my mom love in to take care of my daughter for a year and kept my career momentum during that time. After we started daycare I got mommy tracked. Then I moved to a family friendly company and things improved.

    My best advice is to find a firm that’s not openly hostile to mothers.

  97. Llellayena*

    Honest assessment: Are you having time management issues as compared to pre-baby? Can you do a self assessment on whether you are finishing tasks with the same level of completion and the same general time frame as before? If you are still working at the same level and the problem is mostly a perception issue (due to flex hours, more WFH where people can’t see that you are working), call them out on it! Get them to explain specifically why they think you are less efficient than before and show them they are wrong with data. If you find you are less efficient than pre-baby can you reassess how you work and come up with some new ways to be efficient with the new flexible schedule. Your old way of working just might not fit with how you now need to organize your life. Then you go to them and say, I’ve recognized I’m a bit less efficient since needing to balance with family needs but I’m working on adjusting for that by doing, X and Y. (I’m sure Alison has better wording somewhere on this site!)

    For the baby sick day: Pre-baby, when you were home sick did work send you things to do or meetings to call in to? If yes, how did you handle that? Do that again. If they left you alone to be sick, then you should have a conversation with them that when baby is home sick treat it like YOU are home sick. Or give them an expectation of how much you are likely to get done (I can get half a day’s normal work done, but can’t call in to meetings).

    If you do this assessment and find you can’t sustain the same amount of work, figure out how much you can do and present that to them as a “flexible” accommodation like they said they would do for you. This needs to be the new normal for businesses, they should learn to not react to woman-having-a-baby as “now she can’t do the job well anymore.” Call them out on the sexism and see if you can get the attitude to change – how will they react when one of the men comes and says “I need 3 months off because we’re having a kid?” Will he have the same attitude from them that you’re getting?

    1. Maria Lopez*

      Just documenting like you are suggesting can be a big help to relieve some of the stress. I think she should approach this as if she is preparing to file a discrimination lawsuit, confirming things in e-mails, documenting disparate treatment between her and her male colleagues, asking for clarification when they are making obviously sexist assumptions. She doesn’t have to file a lawsuit, and in my opinion it would be a big time sucker to do so, but it can empower you mentally and clarify that none of this is your imagination. I was a surgeon, and the amount of sexism in that field is legion, as are the attempts at gaslighting. Even after retirement I can see how much worse it actually was than when I was in the thick of it.
      The other thing is that your child isn’t even a year old yet. He won’t remember any of this, so don’t worry on his behalf. YOU may remember, but you may not. My kids are in their thirties, and they have told me that it was so important that I was home when they were teenagers, a time so many parents think they can finally not spend so much time with the kids. That is actually the time that is most important to be there and to talk to them.
      As long as you have a great daycare or someone like a family member or nanny who is a loving caretaker, it will NOT scar your child that you weren’t the one at home when they were toddlers (It might scar you, but only temporarily).

  98. worker bee*

    I was a litigation paralegal in a big firm. It’s a terrible environment. I’m now an attorney in government. Have you considered looking at non-firm options (a non-profit, government, judicial)? Not sure where you’re located but in DC some jobs on the Hill are sane but others are not. I encourage you to look for a better work-life balance elsewhere and hope when you leave you can communicate to them why you left.

  99. Classroom Diva*

    It sucks that you have a company who is treating you like this. They are wrong.

    Having said that, I want to ask you to really ask yourself, “What does having a high-powered career really mean in the long run?” Does it really matter if you have lots of money, but no relationship with your family? Does it really matter if you have accolades at work, but you have no life outside of work? On your death bed, will you say, “I wish I’d spent more billable hours working on the Murphy account?”

    I took off 14 years from being a teacher to be with my kids. And, then I went back to teaching. And, yeah, I lost A LOT of money in those years (not what an attorney would lose, of course. Teachers get paid beans! But, beans still add up.) And, it was hard getting back into it after being gone so long.

    But, I don’t regret it a bit. My kids all went to fine colleges (not the top of the top, but top tier and fine). The two who have graduated have fine jobs. The third will do well as well.

    What is life? Is it amassing as much career accolades and money as possible? Or could it possibly be something else?

    I decided on the latter.

  100. mouse*

    I agree with all of the commenters who say that this situation is sexist and not of your making. I’m a woman in manufacturing with small children. In the short term, I recommend that you be less proactive about your flexible time and not bring it up. It’s not fair, but you’re also not in a position where you’re going to force your workplace to change. I took a hard look at my workplace and realized that I’m more conscientious than most people I work with. I want people to know where I am and how hard I’m working. You can do less of that! You can say you’re feeling under the weather and coming in late when it is actually your child. You can mark yourself unavailable on the calendar and just say that you’re not available at certain times but are available other times. You’re still logging your hours and getting results. By de-emphasizing talking about your family priorities (and talking up your commitment even if it feels like lying), I think the work situation might get easier in the short term.

  101. Swingbattabatta*

    I haven’t read any of the comments yet, but as a fellow former big law attorney who made a big career shift after having kids, I have some thoughts.

    First, the mommy track is real and deeply unfair and it SUCKS. And it is really hard to prove if you want to fight back. So, just wanted to say I’m really sorry you are dealing with this and I see you.

    Second, I transitioned to a work from home situation when my oldest was 8 months old. I also felt like I was losing it, I was missing everything, I was overworked and exhausted and I felt like I was dropping the ball on all fronts. At a certain point, I decided that it wasn’t worth it. When I’m 40, 50, 60, what do I want to look back and remember? Frantically burning the candle at both ends? Or living a life with less stress and more family? Moving to a work from home situation came with a hit to my salary for sure, but the IMMEDIATE relief I felt made it so deeply worth it. Seriously – I went from feeling like my heart was racing constantly, crying multiple times a week, being short tempered and unhappy, to just pure satisfaction. I was a better partner, mother, attorney, and I felt like I had time for myself again.

    I’ve been doing this for about 4 years now, and have two kids now, and every now and then my husband and I talk about whether it would be worth it for me to go back to a traditional firm (or in-house). Would the increased pay be worth it? And every time, the answer is no. Granted, we are fortunate in that my husband makes good money, and that allows me some additional flexibility. If he made less, that might make us re-evaluate. But my flexible work hours and reduced stress has benefitted the entire family as well as myself, and I’m still working and fulfilling my desire to be a working adult who is not at home with the kids constantly.

    One other thing to consider – our financial advisor has noted that it is not beyond the realm of possibilities (and may be likely) that the tuition bubble has to pop soon. The rate at which private college tuition is skyrocketing isn’t sustainable, and something has to change. Those comments came up in the context of why we shouldn’t ramp up our 529 plan savings (and instead put that money into an account that can be used for different needs), but the reasoning stands when looking 10-2o years down the line.

    Good luck with everything. It can be an elaborate juggling act to keep all of the professional and personal balls in the air, but there are options and alternative arrangements out there. I’m sure you and your partner will find something that works for your family.

  102. AardvarkDriver*

    I certainly sympathize with the OP, and while I’m sure sexism is a part of this, this is the kind of tradeoff that people in top-decile jobs often have to make, regardless of gender. I’m a high-end consultant, and part and parcel of making solid six-figures is prioritizing work above your personal life, in most cases. That’s just the reality of it. I can’t count how many recitals and games and kid-things I had to miss because the client paying my company $400 an hour for my time *needs me today in Atlanta* period. If he didn’t? He wouldn’t be paying $400/hr.

    And, to be fair, this is perfectly reasonable.

    I’m not sure there is a good answer. I want to give my kids certain things that require a substantial income. To do that, I have to accept the negatives that come with such jobs.

    Now, my experience has been (in tech consulting, not law…that may be very different), if you jump out to a “normal” life, and come back in a few years later? It’s not a problem. if your skills are worth $400/hr now, in a certain context, unless either your skills or the problem changes in the intervening years, nobody cares that you were out of the game for a while. I’ve seen several other consultants do this, but again that is in tech.

    Now that said, for me personally, I found ways to be present in my kids’ lives even with the travel and the work requirements. Yes, I missed games, but other games? I was there and focused on being with my daughter. On the work side, I set certain limits, knowing those limits would ensure that I didn’t progress as fast or high as otherwise I might.

    I have found that for me, there are ways to balance the demands. None are optimal, but if one wants the benefits that come from making a ton of money, then one simply has to accept there will always be very significant drawbacks.

    1. J.B.*

      It can also be true for the first year but not necessarily thereafter. I had my biggest work accomplishments after having kids. Not great time management the first year but supercharged after. Companies want everything to come from the employee and not recognize they are human beings with lives.

  103. TiredMama*

    Lawyer and mom here too. My career path is different, I worked for federal and state government agencies before deciding to stay home after my first daughter was born. My work place at the time was toxic and I felt somewhat similar, that I would fail at being both the mother and lawyer I wanted to be because I was lauded for the extra hours and commitment before kids. I took a few years off, had a second baby, and now am working for a firm that appreciates my expertise while also always ensuring that the balance is right. It is amazing and I never thought it would be possible to find. I make more money than I did before, work fewer hours, and feel respected. So it is possible. One thing that helped was connecting with other mom lawyers through Facebook groups, MAMAs.

  104. fogharty*

    I’ve never heard/read the term “lean out” until today. Googling shows me a book… is that what everyone is referencing?

    (It’s also a weight-loss product as well, but I’m going out on a limb thinking it’s not that one.)

    1. ACDC*

      There’s a book called Lean In written by Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook). “Lean Out” is kind of a counter response to that.

  105. Anon For This*

    While I am not a lawyer, this sounds very familiar to what I went through when my kids were young. Everyone talks a good game about being supportive, but then when you actually need that support things are suddenly different. I’ve seen men get awards based on my work, and be given promotions that should have been mine supposedly because “they were putting in the hours while I was playing with my kids.” It wasn’t true, but try arguing that! The good thing is that the workplace has changed, and taking a step back is more common and not penalized as much. I’d recommend you think about the life you want to have. If you think your future is at your current firm – do you want to stay on the fast track? Be full-time staff attorney but one that is deferring your run for partner for X years? Be a part time staff attorney until your child(ren) is older? If so, approach your bosses with a proposal.

    Or is your future in some other kind of law: another firm? in house counsel? Government? If so, look into your options.

    It’s really hard to step off the fast track, particularly when you’ve been running on it all your life. But you have a lot of options, but in the crush of work, and the incredible challenge of a new baby it’s hard to see that. Take some time to think about what will make you happy, and then go after that.

    Congratulations, and good luck!

  106. Bryan from Illinois*

    I am a lawyer. Your firm sucks. Unfortunately, that is true for a lot of law firms. In general, my experience has been that attorneys are terrible employers. I’m not surprised that this is happening to you. Realistically, you will need to either have to luck into a job at a better firm (are you looking?), find a job in house somewhere, or go into practice for yourself.
    I am a solo and I can tell you that it is terribly stressful. There are days that I hate it. However, the flexibility that I gained is unbelievable. However, the life is not for everyone. Further, I am convinced that once you go solo, you eventually become unemployable as a practical matter.

  107. drpuma*

    Reminder that the WFH option greatly expands your geographical options. My SO was in solo practice for years and recently joined a ~20 atty firm in a major legal market a few hours away. He is not the only remote attorney and still has the same schedule flexibility as when he was solo (for kids from a previous marriage). His earnings are comparable to or greater than at a big firm due to the way compensation is structured. Talk to a couple of legal recruiters – he was contacted by a few before he landed here.

  108. Anne of Green Gables*

    Lots of good advice here for ways to think about your situation. I agree that the problem is that your firm is sexist and it sounds like things are not overt enough that you can do anything with it, and you’d know if you could since that’s your legal specialty.

    One thing that I would add as you consider what you want now, in the medium term, and in the long term is that my own personal experience is that the missing your kid part? It actually gets worse as they get older. Yes, the first year is particularly hard and you find a rhythm after a while, as others mention. There comes to a time when they realize they don’t see you. And they may verbalize it. And it’s hard when a 3-year-old doesn’t understand why they are one of only two kids at the daycare with no parent at the Thanksgiving lunch.

    I left a job I absolutely loved, that also had pretty major growth opportunities where I was the heir apparent at my location, when my son was 15 months old for a job with a shorter commute and both a better and more flexible schedule. Tomorrow, I’m taking the morning off because he’s now a Kindergartner and was named student of the month, and you better believe I want to be at the celebration at the school. And in this job, I can. Weigh those kind of situations as you think about long term and short term. I say that not to try to capitalize on mom guilt, but to genuinely point out the kinds of things that will come up in the next 18 years. What do think you will be ok with missing and what will you regret?

    There is no right or wrong answer here, and I hope that you are able to figure something out that works for you and your family. Good luck.

    1. NW Mossy*

      I’ll add to this: know yourself, and know your kids! Every parent-kid relationship is different, and what might be really rough on one relationship may be no big shakes in another.

      When my eldest was about 18 months old, my husband told me a story from when he was getting her ready for daycare that day (normal routine – I’d leave before she got up most days). She asked where I was, and he told her “Mommy’s at work.” She responded “Mommy work,” nodded crisply, and got the heck on with her day.

      I cherish that story because it made me realize that I was sending her the message that my working is normal, appropriate, and not at all a reflection of how much I do or don’t love her. It’s just a reality, like air or trees. Ultimately, she’s highly likely to spend a good portion of her adult life working too, and it’s important to me that I show her an example of what that can look like. She’ll make her own choices in the end, but she’s learning something from what she sees in me.

  109. cmcinnyc*

    I’m an EA and I’ve see this kind of hazing play out too often. Yes, I said hazing, because that’s what it is. You were part of the frat, you left to have a baby, and now you’re a pledge and they’re going to make you jump through every hoop and then some to get back in and it will never, never be enough. You’re a lawyer–you need an experienced and tough EEO lawyer in your corner. Or you can lean out and budget for groceries and use your research skills to scope out college scholarships because you won’t get back in.

    Sorry, this sounds terrible. It *is* terrible. It makes me furious. And that you have only male coworkers? Like I said, EEO lawyer. A good one.

  110. GS*

    Non-lawyer professional here, no kids but I do have a farm (weird sleepless hours and emergencies, also needs presence & love). Four months ago I made a switch from industry to government work – call it 55 or 60 hours per week to 35 hours per week plus double the vacation and flex time. I’m making half to 2/3 of what I was previously making.

    I am amazed at how much more present I feel in my life and in my… self, I guess. I have conversations about things that are not work, I spend my time thinking about things I enjoy and then doing those things, I feel like a person rather than a thing that’s supposed just keep producing and responding. It’s been hard financially but I think I’d make the same choice again.

    Out of my childhood – I remember the year my mom made the switch from self-sacrifice for her kids to caring for herself. She had been miserable pretty much all the time, then she started putting time and energy into things she loved and out of the things making her miserable. It happened when I was 12 and she was in her 40s. From my early years with her I got the need to be a perfectionist, to push myself hard and to feel that my best was never good enough. From watching her do that transition I was able to develop the ability to listen to my own needs, to be kind to myself, and not run myself too hard. So I’d say, think about what you’re modeling for your kids, not just what you can buy for them.

  111. Lean Out OP*

    So, I started this as a reply to one poster, but it has become broader and I think it needs to stand on its own:

    I come from basically nothing, and had a really great childhood anyway because my mom is amazing. So as cool as it is to be successful/make money as an adult, I worry I don’t care about it as much as I “should.” My gut instinct is to chuck it all and be there for my kiddo and trust things will most likely work out relatively okay (as my mom did), but I am concerned I’m undervaluing the benefits of a high-powered/well-paid career over the long-term because it just isn’t something that was part of my experience looking at the adults around me growing up (even those who made more than my parents were generally better compensated because they were in strong labor unions, not because anyone had a traditionally “professional” or “white collar” job).

    So basically, I sent my question to Alison to try to get a wider array of input – and WOW am I getting a lot of input. :-) Thanks for the perspectives, everyone.

    1. Booksnbooks*

      Go with your gut! You’ll be able to get back into the high powered career when you’re ready — just do what you can to stay active in your applicable associations and you’ll stay current.

    2. Blarg*

      In this context…

      There’s no right or wrong here. There’s just different. You aren’t choosing between good and evil. And your choices aren’t permanent. Sometimes there’s a clear trajectory. This isn’t that. It’s deciding what you want for yourself (you count, too!!), your spouse, your child, and your job now, and staying open to all of it changing. It’ll be scary at times, and you’ll sometimes wish it were different and on other days be pleased as punch. And then it’ll change again.

      It will be a different life than you had, than your coworkers have, than maybe you idealized. It will be your life. And none of your options are wrong.

      Best wishes to you!

    3. MrsBucky*

      FWIW, I had the opposite experience (a dad that was gone a lot, and afforded a lot of affluence/opportunities) and still chose to have both my husband and I “lean out” (see my other comment, below). Just to assuage your fears that you’d be choosing “wrong” to opt out of high earning because that wasn’t your historical context.

    4. J.B.*

      I’m going to come back with a different perspective than I had before. You said in a different comment midlaw with biglaw-ish hours expectations. Is it possible that they are relying on gaslighting? I know you won’t get promoted but if you push back strategically will you be fired? In that case you could push back strategically and bide your time. Don’t dismiss the value of not giving an eff.

    5. Greengirl*

      I am over here with a six month old and a flexible boss and supportive job rooting like hell for you. Good luck!!!!

    6. Confused*

      It’s ok to not care about it! I get how you feel and I live in an area where people really care a LOT about what they do and what it says about them as a person. But it doesn’t actually say anything! In my opinion (and your priorities may be different) the only purpose of your job is to provide enough money to live your life. Many people view this very differently and see their job as an intrinsic part of who they are, and I think that leads to a lot of unhappiness.

    7. Ismonie*

      Ahh, I get that.

      Different advice from me then. Ditch the high powered career. It isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I have friends in their late 30s early 40s who are partners (some at big firms) who are figuring out their next moves because there is no guarantee they will remain a partner. Big firms, and mid firms, and even small firms are changing. They are shedding clients, cutting costs, dropping practice areas.

      So instead of prestige for the sake of prestige, figure out what you like doing that will give you the power to transition into something else (govt, in house, another practice area) when things change. Because they will.

      But also trade money for time. I did about ten years ago, and never regretted it. At smaller firms, I got to handle really cool cases. I argued a summary judgement motion in federal court while six months pregnant, I drafted and argued appeals, and I went to trial and took more depositions than I can recall. This was at firms of 2-10 lawyers.

      Best of luck!

    8. BeckySuz*

      I know this is late but that gut instinct is just recognizing that was you had was sacrificial love from your mother. And wanting to give your kid the same. Money will never buy that time back with your baby. You had less growing up so you learned what mattered most. That’s a lovely thing to grow up with. You shouldn’t feel bad for wanting to be home with your baby.

      My sister used to be a nanny for wealthy people. Those kids had everything. Big house, toys, vacations. But they called my sister mom. It broke her heart.

      My other sister used to work in finance. She got out because she wanted to have kids. She knew success at work and having kids wasn’t compatible. Every night she watched her female boss FaceTime her two year old because she never made it home to tuck him in. And she was gone before he woke up. To him mom was some lady on a screen. His nanny was who he was connected to. I don’t say that to shit on working mothers. But really which parent do you want to be? Do you want to be a face on a screen or the person tucking your baby into bed at night? If you stay at your current job that might be the choice you have to make

  112. Nita*

    Different industry, but also high-pressure. Not as high-pressure as law, admittedly, but pretty intense. I’ve leaned out. I’m never going to get promoted – in fact, I’m already a couple of levels below my peers. It’s OK. I keep reminding myself I made the choice to no longer be indispensable. I still have a job, thankfully, but it was an adjustment for everyone when I went from being the person who’d do anything and put in any hours to make it happen, to someone who struggles to put in more than eight hours a day and has gone on long maternity leaves.

    A coworker took a different path. She’s a much better manager than I am, so she built a team and can continue to do high-level work – it just involves more delegating. She took shorter leaves than I did, but telecommutes more often. It works for everyone.

    A friend who’s a lawyer couldn’t make it work this way or that way. Her office just wasn’t supportive. For a few years she only saw her children on the weekends – they were asleep when she left, and asleep when she got home. Eventually she built up enough savings to quit her job, and look for a more family-friendly office. She found one through her network, and was job hunting specifically with shorter hours in mind. I believe she was in insurance law originally, but unfortunately can’t remember what she switched to.

  113. Kristinyc*

    I’m not a lawyer, but prior to having a baby 11 months ago, I was a pretty big name in my industry and spoke at conferences all the time. I’ve since “leaned out.” For me, that mean not going to conferences/speaking engagements, leaving work at 5 on the dot, and pretty much not doing anything extra outside of work. But I also work at a female-centric nonprofit, so the culture is a lot more understanding of motherhood than this law firm.

    OP – could you consider going part time or switching to a company as in-house counsel? We have a few attorneys at our organization, and they work normal 9-6 hours.

    Also, if you decided to take a few years or more off – there are organizations that help women transition back into work when they’re ready (Check out “Path Forward”).

  114. Leah K.*

    I leaned out even before I had a baby because the amount of hours I had to put in made it impossible to find the time (and the energy) to make said baby. Seriously, I was driving home from the office at 6 am knowing that I had just enough time to take a shower, get 3 hours of sleep, and I had to be right back at the office. So, I left my job and took a similar job at a much smaller and slow paced company. That’s when I was finally able to have a kid. After a couple of years, I decided that I was ready to dive into the world of “Big Llama Grooming”, and got another job at a large company with much better career prospects. Thankfully, the new job has a much better overall culture and work-life balance, so I was actually able to have baby number 2 without having to make any additional career sacrifices. Yes, I am a little disappointed when I see that the guy who was an intern at my old employer when I was there has now reached a director position, and I am not even close to that level. But then I look at my children, and I know that I’ve made the right choice.

  115. JustMyImagination*

    Can you lean out while keeping your job? For example, instead of working towards promotions right now is there a way to coast along for a few years where you work 40-45 hours instead of 55-60 hours in a week and then switch back into high-gear later?

  116. LiLi*

    One of the reasons I had to leave my new job of only a year was because of this issue. And what made it worse was that the CEO was a woman. She criticized staff for leaving “early” for daycare pickup. Male managers put pressure on everyone to “make up” work over the weekend during family emergencies, even if people were using emergency days…ya’know, days made for this purpose. I was recruited for a better position at a newNew company and laid it all out on the table – that I was a new mom who had to leave on-time everyday, and may have to deal with sick kids more often than others. So far, they’ve been as supportive as they’ve promised, fingers crossed.

  117. Jaybeetee*

    Not a lawyer or a mom, but I know a number of people in the legal field, and I’ve had various career travails of my own, including leaving my field for a few years.

    Frankly, it doesn’t sound like you’ll be able to turn it around at this firm. What jumped out at me was that they seem to “create emergencies” when you do need flexibility, such as hitting you with tight deadlines and conference calls on days you’ve asked to work from home, etc. That’s rather passive aggressive, toxic tactic setting you up to fail (in a very unhealthy relationship I had some time ago, that was one thing my ex did from time to time if I was doing something he didn’t like, and is apparently not uncommon in toxic/abusive relationships). If that’s where it’s at with them, they’re committed to seeing you a certain way and you’re not likely to change their minds no matter how much “data” you gather. So, go forward with that idea anyway.

    The other thing I wanted to mention from my own experience is, stepping back from career for awhile doesn’t necessarily mean permanently or that you can never get back to where you were. I graduated into a recession, and jobs in my field had largely dried up, and most of what was available was extremely low-paying (think, a few dollars over minimum wage). After years of slugging it out in those jobs and not being able to advance, I gave up and left the field, I presumed permanently at the time. Well, eventually I settled into a different career, better money, moving up… and had a great job in my previous field basically fall into my lap! On top of that, the experience I had gained elsewhere actually helped me get this current job! It’s hard to tell in my case how much I “lost” from the years away, the point was that I was able to get back to it, better than I was before. So when weighing your options, don’t think that stepping away now necessarily means you’ll never be able to get back.

    Of course there will always be lost earning potential for the years you were out… but honestly, with Big Law salaries, it’s not like it’ll put you on the soup lines. You’ll still have money. You’ll still make more money. You can still save for your child’s education. If you do take a pay cut for the next few years, one idea might be to speak to a financial advisor about the best ways to achieve your goals on a lower income. You might be surprised to see what could still be possible.

  118. Leaned Out Lawyer*

    I have done this. I have three elementary school age children. I bill about 100 hours per month. For reference I’m 15 years out of law school and work at a large firm. But it’s only possible because my firm is super supportive and my practice area is transactional.

  119. IV*

    Yeah, there’s a big grey area between leaning all the way in (which big law firm job sounds like) and all the way out.

    Take the work at home job now and in a few years, when you’re ready, start a competing women-owned law firm in your area that is more diverse and inclusive and also kicks ass. ;-)

    I worked from the time my baby was 6 weeks old and know how hard that balance is. But there are a lot of ways to be a successful career woman in the world and a lot of ways to be a great mom. You’re smart, motivated, and have resources. You can figure this out for now and for later. Don’t let anyone put you in some box made of sexist expectations.

    Best of luck and remember, in the blink of an eye they’ll be graduating from high school.

  120. TheGlueThatHoldsItAllTogether*

    I am not a mom but I have the feeling that being a mom and a “full time worker” (read work like a man) are not possible. The idea of “the perfect worker” needs to be adjusted. Unless men and women are viewed the same when it comes to raising children, it will never be as easy for women as it is for men. Many of the posters have mentioned that men get applauded for staying home while women are being punished for not being present enough. The question is one of culture overall (within society), not just in business. The same is true for single people vs people with family btw. Adjusting our ideas of what is “the perfect worker” might not be an easy thing to do. Often we play into it as well.
    While this is not particularly “advice”, I hope the OP will have the chance to make a decision that’s best for her and her family. Best of luck!

  121. Nancy*

    I hear this profoundly. I am in law at a reasonably forgiving job (government work, mentally demanding with a great deal of responsibility, reasonably finite hours with the tradeoff reflected in the salary) and see the demands of Big Law since my husband has always worked in a firm. Even with my less-demanding work, I asked if I could go part-time when my second child was a year old because I felt like I was carrying too much responsibility to be less than perfect at either home or work. No part-time position was available, and I resigned. I lucked out 6 months later when a part-time position did open up and I was welcomed back…that has now become full-time again. A few things that I really have on my side as I navigate this are (1) working in an environment that not only includes other working moms, but also demonstratively working dads. The kind who stay home with sick kids, don’t just leave early once in a while to attend a concert and be applauded for being Dad of the Year for doing so. The kind who push back against being called on their days off and therefore protect that boundary for everyone. Find a more progressive workplace if you can. Network through friends to know the workplace. (2) an incredibility amazing local networking group for mom-attorneys where we commiserate (many times just on social media, where we have the time to do so) and share resources. Many women in this group have made job opportunities possible for others and helped each other develop life-work opportunities that are more beneficial and fulfilling.

  122. CoffeeandTitos*

    I am not in law, but was in another brutal profession (news) and I can say I leaned out about a decade ago for the same reasons only to come back stronger and with new skills and a newer perspective than I probably would have had I stayed floundering in mediocrity (on a good day). I went freelance, but I did so with my former full-time employer. Turns out, they were lovely to deal with when I wasn’t dealing with them on the day-to-day. I also was able to be assigned to projects that I wouldn’t have otherwise which allowed me to develop my skills. Now that both my kids are older, I was able to lean back in and go in a more innovative (and flexible) career path. Childcare is hard when you freelance since it’s spotty and I recognize that I’m fortunate that I was able to take the cut in pay and go on my partner’s insurance, but if it’s an option for you, do it, but use it to your advantage, not as a source of shame.

  123. SAHM, Esq.*

    I was an attorney, but not Biglaw. I also thought I would be able to negotiate better work life balance after having my baby (hoped to go part time). During maternity leave it was made clear this would not be an option. I didn’t go back. Although I do miss work sometimes, and being home with (now) 2 toddlers can be its own kind of stressful, I have never regretted my decision. One downside I hadn’t thought about is that my husband (always the higher earner) has had to lean in even more, which is hard on all of us sometimes. But my being available for all the sick days, doctor visits, late night feedings, etc makes it easier for him to do that. It works for our family, and I am very happy.

    I have mom friends who have work a lot, a little, and not at all, and no one is immune from wondering if they did the right thing or if they will grow to regret it. I say this not to worry you but to help you feel ok with feeling uncertain! Good luck!

  124. What She Said*

    OP, I am so glad you asked this question. While my situation is not exactly like yours I have been debating daily about leaving my current place. All the responses you are getting have been a great help to me as well so I just want to say thank you for sending this in and I wish you all the luck in the future.

  125. A Kate*

    It sounds like another part of the calculus here is where you live. Do you love it enough for it to be causing you this many problems? (Long commute, even longer to a metropolis with more opportunities). Moving isn’t easy, and I don’t suggest it lightly, but it may solve some of your problems (either by making your current gig less stressful or by offering you a “lean out” option that isn’t a complete step off the career merry-go-round).

    1. Lean Out OP*

      I definitely agree, where we live isn’t helping matters, but we’re super-close to family and to my husband’s job (which he likes and is well-paid for, so he’s not particularly interested in seeking out a new one), so moving to be closer to my job would likely make my life easier at the expense of the entire rest of my family, and would substantially increase our housing costs.

      Not saying it’s not theoretically under consideration for the exact right opportunity, but it would be an enormously hard sell.

  126. not that Leia*

    Oh, OP–first of all, I have so much empathy for you. You are doing a really hard thing, and it truly sucks that we live in a world that doesn’t make it easier. I’m not a lawyer, but in a field with similar culture of billable hours and perceptions about “committment” tied to long hours and availability. I’m also ambitious, and have generally been a high-achiever at workd. Before I had my first child, I told everyone at work that I was going to come back at the same level, that my husband was going to take on childcare, that I would travel once a month, etc… Then once my son was born, I COMPLETELY changed my mind. I just couldn’t reconcile being a parent with those demands. I ended up taking a lateral move to a much smaller (and less interesting) office, but with a lot of flexibility so I could prioritize family in the early years. That has made me bored, but kept me reasonably employable, and I’m happy to report that 3 years later (I had a second child a year ago), I was offered a high level leadership-track job at a larger firm. So it is definitely possible to “lean sideways” in a way that postpones but doesn’t derail your career.
    However, one of the things that’s been the hardest is the guilt associated with stepping back. I definitely have struggled with feeling like I’m letting myself (and other mothers) down, that I’m not taking advantage of my education/talent/past opportunities. And it’s hard to be a working parent (which is stressful even with an increase in flexibility) if you’re not that motivated by what you’re doing. So, a lot of virtual support and encouragement, and if I have any advice, it would be to find ways to moderately lean out, so it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. For me, having an office where there’s no guilt or fallout from taking a kid sick day (or doctors appointment, or whatever) has been the biggest mental/emotional benefit, even if I’m generally still working similar hours.

  127. Entry-level Marcus*

    I can’t comment on the sexism or career profession angles, but I do have one thought. OP, with a law degree and working spouse, even if you “lean out” and take a pay cut, you and your family will still be able to live a very comfortable life.

    Sometimes it can feel like you need two six figure incomes to live a comfortable life, especially if you work in a high powered field. But you don’t. You can have a combined household income of $80k-$100k (for instance) and still save for college and retirement, buy a house, go on vacation, eat out occasionally, etc. if you manage your finances well (unless you live in a really high COL area like San Francisco or New York). Maybe you eat out at less fancy places and have less lavish vacations, but that’s by no means living on the brink of poverty.

    I promise you, your kid will have a good life even if they go to public school and have to stay in-state for college.

  128. LeighTX*

    I’m in accounting, not law, but I have two nearly-adult daughters and have worked in every possible permutation: stay-at-home mom, working part-time from home, working part-time in an office, working full-time, working full-time while going to school, working some days in an office and some at home, traveling for work . . . and here is what I can tell you:

    Babies need attention, kids get sick, elementary students have field trips to be chaperoned, older students need to be driven to practice, parents are needed to staff the concessions stand at the 5pm games. In some families, the mom does a lot of that work; in other families, the dad does it; some partners can split it equally, and others have a nanny or grandparents who help out. It’s true that dads get more kudos for basic parenting than moms do, but set that aside in your brain for now; the important question for you and your partner is, who will be taking on the lion’s share of responsibility not just now but over the next 18 years? If one of you is leaving whenever the baby gets sick or the kid has a program at school, that person’s career will take a hit, regardless of gender. Are you willing to take that hit now, with the understanding that in 5-10 years your partner will take on more and let you focus more on work? Can you trade back and forth, with outside help when needed?

    Here is how it worked for me: I stayed home/worked part-time until my youngest was four. My husband then took a job at the kids’ school and has been the on-call parent ever since, while I built a career and brought home the higher income. He drove car pool and picked up sick kids and planned fun outings on school holidays; I set doctor appointments and bought birthday party presents and came to all the evening volleyball games. Now our youngest is heading to college in the fall, and husband is looking to make a career change. Was it an ideal set up? Not really; I missed a lot of field trips and lazy summer days at the pool, and his career has been fairly stagnant all this time. But we did what was best for our family, and we managed to raise two decent humans.

    In my experience, you CAN have it all–just not all at once. Somebody’s career won’t go as perfectly as it could have gone; somebody will miss out on kid time; you might spend more on child care or earn less than expected. But as long as you’re doing what is best for your family at that point in time, that is truly all that matters. Good luck, LW!

  129. BestofLuck*

    Not a mom or in law, but one piece of advice I recently received from a mentor that completely shifted my mentality is “make decisions on what is” we don’t know the future, we can’t predict every outcome, maybe your child may not want to go to a private college, maybe college will become more affordable, maybe workplaces will actually take families into account more … we don’t know. The only thing we know now and can control is our reality and then make decisions based on those options. If you feel differently later then you make another decision at that time. As I usually got stuck in the what-ifs and missed the what nows this little insight really impacted me deeply. I wish you the best of luck in whatever decision you make.

  130. Interviewer*

    I work in a law firm. If you have access to an affinity group for women or working parents in your bar association, it’s a great way to get some support and resources at a vital time in your career path.

    Others have advised you to track the data and call them out on the BS. Definitely one way to go.

    Things I’ve seen:

    Consider proposing a reduced hours schedule, i.e. 50-75% of full-time. It’s not a perfect solution, since many firms don’t know how to dial down the workload, so maybe you can work with them to develop it. I have a couple of colleagues who moved to counsel positions within the firm – off the traditional partner track – and they are feeling far less pressure in that role. Keep in mind below a certain threshold of working hours, you may not be eligible for benefits, so look carefully at that before you dive in.

    You may already know that firms are struggling to get women (especially new moms) to stay long enough to be promoted to partners. In my experience, the firms that create flexible schedules, new roles, etc. likely have important clients requesting diversity stats and retention profiles. You may have more leverage than you realize.

    I hope you are able to make a decision that’s best for you and your family. I would love an update. Good luck.

  131. Not That Kind of Lawyer*

    Law is still fairly conservative and misogynistic. As a female attorney who saw this happening at a prior firm, I can offer the following pieces of advice:
    1. Document changes from how you were treated before and after announcing your pregnancy
    2. Document to the best you can (even if it is a personal list) the meetings you had when you were promised that the firm will work with you
    3. If your negative feedback is related to work you previously received praise for, demand written documentation regarding how your work now is different from before you went on leave
    4. Document what happens when male co-workers take time off for kid-related reasons vs. what happens to you
    5. File a grievance and bring up your concerns – demand the full process. It must be the grievance process to discourage retaliation and create a written record of the issue, the agreed-upon solutions and expected timelines
    6. If things change – great – be sure to keep the firm accountable. If things remain the same or get worse, consult an attorney who specializes in workplace discrimination cases. If you can show the discrepancy in pay you will receive because they are forcing you out of a job through their actions (they are even if it is not a conscious effort) that can get you a nice settlement.

    Good luck. Unfortunately, I cannot promise things will go back to how they used to be, but maybe things can be better than they are now.

  132. Wednesday*

    This is a question for Corporette commenters. It’s exactly their purview–tons of high-achieving women in Big Law. Ask over there.

  133. BigRedGum*

    I don’t have any advice, but this seems so typical. Ugh. Have you seen the canadian tv show Working Moms? Your story is part of the plot.

    1. Daisy-dog*

      I was just thinking this! Particularly when OP mentioned that her worst boss was also a mom – I was like: “Kate??!!”. I love that show other than Jenny who is clearly a sociopath.

      Watching the show won’t help you make a decision, just give you something to laugh at because life is messy and complicated with no simple answers, but it can also be funny!

  134. remizidae*

    Have you considered moving? That hour commute each way is only making your life harder. Could you live within walking or biking distance of work and daycare? (Many people will reflexively tell you it’s impossible, but lots of us are out here doing it!)

    And yes–it’s always a bad idea to “lean out.” Think about how that’s going to change the dynamic between you and your partner. Do you want an egalitarian relationship? Then you need to make AT LEAST as much money as your partner.

    1. Ismonie*

      Re your second point—no. I have made more than my partner at times, and probably are making less now. We still have an egalitarian relationship. He has more ability to work from home, so he does more of her appointments/daycare closure days.

  135. AbaDab*

    I was so busy (and stressed as hell) trying to be a provider that I missed being a mom. My kids were housed, fed and clothed, due to my hurricane motherhood…but I was either so tired or sometimes selfish or resentful that I didn’t get to ENJOY my children.

    If you can afford it, lean out.

  136. Kotow*

    I am a lawyer although not one with children (by choice) and am in solo practice. I assume you’re in a larger firm just from how the question was written. What is it about this particular position that makes you want to stay? Is it the practice group, the salary or the fact that you like overall environment (meaning that you would hate small firm life)? Are you dead set on your specific practice area because it’s something you’re very passionate about or extremely specialized or can you switch to a comparable area? The way I see it happening most times is that women end up moving into a comparable position in a different firm; it’s easier to advance when you come in as the “new hire with a child” versus “the one who billed 2500 hours last year but only billed 1950 after having her child” (even though 1950 is still above the requirement).

    I have to say I really hate that the advice is little more than “go somewhere else” or “start your own practice.” Starting your own practice in the first few years means you’re constantly on call and there are very literal prices you pay for being your own boss and making your own hours. And although you don’t have someone going over your hours, the billables and collection rates (people love to not pay their attorneys and a lot of my time each month is spent reminding clients that I’m not working for free) are so important to keeping everything afloat. And small firms come with plenty of drama when one person suddenly calls out at the last minute because of a child’s illness.
    The culture itself in large law practices doesn’t allow for women to advance by staying in the same firm for decades. The only people I know who have been able to do that were in jobs where they had a full-time, live-in nanny when their children were small. And while they always say that it worked really well, the reality is that it was the nanny spending the bulk of the time with their child and some parents (understandably!) don’t want that. In the last 10 years it seems that women-focused practices are becoming more common and it’s probably because of this very issue. If any of those are an option it may be worth looking into.

    Personally I do family law and I tell my clients all the time that private school college (and college tuition in general) is not their responsibility (this is true in my state) and that their child can take out loans–we all did. It’s not a personal failure to not be able to afford a certain lifestyle. It’s a failure of the industry to create a culture where you have to choose after all those years of presenting a vastly different picture of how life in firms would be.

  137. MS*

    Employment lawyer here. First- have you read this recent ABA report on this issue? It’s a big issue in our field.
    Second, start keeping a journal of every incident of different treatment- the comments, the conference calls, etc. including dates.
    Third- I hope you realize that it’s likely they are going to push you out. May be a termination, but may also be by multiple cuts (the performance criticisms, being taken off assignments, etc.). You need to be proactive and address this, or you might find yourself on the market as the associate who was fired for underperforming and another female statistic in an ABA report.
    I really recommend talking to a local plaintiff side employment lawyer to game plan how to address this with your boss. Go to NELA.org. This can be solved, but you will need to be strategic. Good luck!!

  138. C Average*

    I don’t have experience in high-powered law, and I don’t have experience having kids.

    What I do have is experience being the kid of people who prioritized their own quality of life over my hypothetical future options. By and large, I’m glad they did, even though it meant I secured my own college funding and grew up without some of the material advantages other kids had. I grew up with parents who weren’t stressed out, who enjoyed their work, who had time to be present at home, etc.

    I realize things are somewhat different now: college is costlier, the job market is more competitive, etc. But in my opinion you are not a failure as a parent if you do not make paying your kid’s full college tuition your first or only priority.

  139. Law school admin*

    I haven’t read all the comments, so apologies if this has been mentioned. I wanted to pass along a resource. MothersEsquire is a nonprofit founded by mom lawyers. They do advocacy and support and might be a helpful sounding board: https://www.mothersesquire.com/

    Good luck in whatever you decide!

  140. MrsBucky*

    Dear OP- Long time reader, first time commenter. I am not a lawyer, but my husband is. I am in tech, another male dominated field. We have two kids, 5 and 18 months, and would like one more. I am so angry on your behalf and for women everywhere for the situation you find yourself in, and I’m really sorry. That said, you can’t control the firm, the partners, your colleagues or the world, all you can do is make choices knowing the reality you are in and accept the consequences of those choices. There is no right or wrong answer, but I will say please don’t let fear make the default be that you stay. It sounds like you’re unhappy. You feel ill used, you feel like no matter what personal sacrifices you make you will still be mommy tracked, and thus unhappy both professionally and personally. That’s really valid, I’m not surprised, and it super duper sucks.

    After my first was born, I stayed for 2 years for the job security, because my husband’s job, while high paying, was not secure. I had good bossed but felt stretched too thin and like I was failing at everything. Eventually, we both leaned out. He took an in house job (which he actively applied and interviewed for over the course of 2 years, and required a significant move for our family). I eventually quit, took 2 years off and recently opened my own LLC and do subcontractor work I enjoy part time, making about 75% of my old salary for part time work. We both took significant pay cuts, and have limited our earning potential. It’s still hard and a juggle, but we are so much happier. I feel like I am in control of my own time , while still doing good work and keeping my skills sharp, and my husband does interesting work for really really good people (though he is still recovering for how toxic firm life was for him, and for our marriage). All of which is to say— nothing is forever. No decision is immutable. Trust your skills and hustle and abilities. If you want to stay and fight, do it. But if you want to leave and are scared– leave. Work your network to find a better fit. Know money isn’t everything. Being happy and feeling valued at work is possible and almost always worth the pay cut. Hang in there, and know I am rooting for you.

  141. EG*

    Working mom with an 18-month old. Happy to be back at work, but fortunate to be in a government job that is pretty 9-5.

    What’s happening to you not fair; it is sexism and it’s the culture of your firm — maybe your field.

    But try to break yourself out of the binaries. It’s not a big successful job in this field OR a mommy-track job that’s low earning and less satisfying. There are way more possibilities than that, especially if you try to take a longer term view of your career and. I’m not trying to say you will find a way to have it all the way you imagined. It might not be in the field you’ve been in. You might need to take a pay-cut for a while and change directions a bit. You might need to pull back for a few years and then on-ramp back in a different place. I just try to remember that careers are long and few peoples are as linear as we imagine them to be — especially, I think, for interesting, fulfilled people.

  142. Bg*

    I’m not in law but I will say I felt a substantial change in the amount I could take on after my first and then I had twins. Prior to kids I would often bring work home. Now I have to stick largely to the work day. I feel badly sometimes that I’m not the shining star I’ve been in the past. But I’d rather feel like a decent parent. But overall I feel like motherhood is just always feeling like you are mediocre at one or more things that are important to you.
    That said I have a friend with a law degree who works with a legal research organization. She does well and has a decent work life balance. Sometimes looking at other options can help with balance.
    Hang in there mama. You are not alone.

  143. Liz*

    This one hits home for me pretty hard.

    I’m not in law, but I worked in finance when I became pregnant about about 2 1/2 years ago. I was a high performer and well-regarded by my supervisors and peers. When I told my boss I was pregnant, they were wonderful and supportive and very much how you describe your own office as being! But once I came back, oof. The transition was incredibly rough. My bosses were hyper critical of my time management. Every time I would need to take a day off for a doctor’s appointment I was heavily criticized for not being committed enough, despite putting in 60+ hours a week in addition to a 1 1/2 hour long commute each way. I barely saw my son at all since even over the weekend I would be working remotely and couldn’t pay much attention to him, which was hard on my partner as well.

    I stuck it out for months hoping that things would improve after numerous discussions with my supervisors, but it never did. I ended up seeking other employment and found another job six months ago. Taking the new position meant a not insignificant pay cut, but I don’t regret it. My new bosses are very flexible, I get to see my son more and spend much more time with him, and I have a much shorter commute. The overall work/life balance is so much better that I wish I’d done it sooner rather than being stuck in a position where once I returned from maternity leave I continuously felt the need to defend every minute of my day and every action I took.

    If it’s financially feasible for you to do so, then I would encourage you to strongly consider it. I won’t pretend that I wasn’t terrified that I was making a horrible mistake. I was super hard on myself for weeks while I considered it, too, since I’m also a high-achiever and this felt like I was letting myself and my husband and my son and everyone else down . . . but ultimately, those doubts have faded and I’m incredibly happy with my decision. Best of luck with whatever you choose.

  144. Elisa Batista*

    Hey there, I, too, was once mommy-tracked from a prestigious media position, and ended up re-defining myself as an organizer for MomsRising.org. (check them out as they address the “motherhood penalty” which is par for the course in this country that doesn’t even guarantee paid time off to new mothers!)

    I ended up making more money, working from home, and my children who are now 16 and 12 have never not had me at home. I did not miss a single school potluck, soccer game or piano recital, and most importantly, I got to preserve some precious sleep and sanity! And while yes, sexism and the motherhood penalty is alive and well and I am currently trying to break into journalism again, I have never once regretted my past decision to leave. My two kids are polite, thoughtful, and overall great people who still talk to me even though they are a teen and tween. lolz. It’s been an honor being their mom through the good times and the bad. Best of luck to you!

  145. Kix*

    What kind of law do you practice? And while not all attorney find writing contracts enjoyable, I do know from personal experience that public sector contracting (federal or state) are always looking for skilled people, and in the federal sector, a good contract writer can move up the ladder quickly to a pretty decent salary (not corporate law level, but good benefits and a better work-life balance).

  146. Law Partner Mom*

    I am in BigLaw and have spent most of my 15+ year career in it. I took 4 years off to work for a judge when my daughter (now 10) was born. My spouse was a stay-at-home parent for 2 years. I finally made partner within the last year at my firm, which is a pretty humane law firm overall (and we give up some money for that). A couple of random thoughts from someone who has been where you are:
    1. If you do make a career switch, make sure it’s something that will advance your career in some way. For me, working for a judge impacted my financial situation long-term, but it was prestigious enough and was helpful in transitioning to a new market. Several people have mentioned in house, which could work well if you are in L&E work (which it sounds like you are).
    2. There are firms out there that are more humane, and no, your clients should not dictate your schedule that much. Yes, some clients are overly demanding, but my experience is that lawyers are terrible at dictating boundaries, and corporate clients are MUCH more amenable to boundaries than lawyers think. If you have good judgment about what is actually an emergency and can be reasonably reachable, you should be able to generally dictate much of your schedule, especially outside regular business hours.
    3. Consider whether you want to suck it up for a few years for bigger benefits. I “leaned out” when my daughter was an infant and toddler. In many ways, I might have been better served by staying on track to partnership and having more flexibility as a mid-level partner when she began elementary school. It’s pretty easy to stay involved with babies and toddlers, and it becomes less so as your kids get older.
    4. If you do decide that you don’t want to stay on the BigLaw track, it’s OK!! I really struggled with feeling like my career was off track when I didn’t make partner the year I expected to, and I looked hard at other jobs. Ultimately, I am glad I stuck it out. Law is incredibly sexist in both explicit and implicit ways, but it is better than when I started, and I am grateful that I’m currently in a position to help younger women succeed.
    5. Finally, if you are looking at other law firms, look for women in leadership (as others have said) and also look for the number of women in their 30s and 40s. That’s when most women seem to opt out, and a firm that has managed to retain women through their childbearing years is doing something right.

    1. CM*

      Also a lawyer, but I left BigLaw when my second kid was young and having health issues. OP, I feel you!! Law Partner Mom has good advice. Here’s my perspective as someone who did not stick around.

      Your law firm is not going to change. But before you leave, consider calling them out. Make a list of concrete demands, and areas where you have evidence that you are being treated differently than you were before — not for purposes of preparing for a lawsuit, but to make your firm aware that this is happening.

      In the year before I left my firm, I repeatedly raised concerns and was told that I needed to be better about setting boundaries. When I left my firm, everyone was shocked and said, “But why didn’t you say anything was wrong?” I had that same feeling like it was my fault and I was failing everyone. A while after I left, I finally realized that boundaries are meaningless if other people trample over them.

      You have power in this situation. I’m sure the partners at your firm don’t want to lose you, but they are clueless about how you are experiencing your post-baby law firm life. So you need to be very explicit. Sit down with each partner and hand them a piece of paper detailing exactly what you need. Client meetings, certain types of work, no meetings after 8 p.m., whatever. Tell them that since you have been back, despite billing the same number of hours you have received negative feedback about time management, and everything you wrote in the letter. Will it sound a little threatening? Who cares? You have nothing to lose if you’re already thinking about leaving.

      After all that, should you “lean out”? I have absolutely no regrets about leaving biglaw. I’m very happy in my current job and I think it’s BS to say that only a big law firm can give you challenging work and good experience. Remember that when you get career advice, people are basically coaching you to have the same kind of career as them. My law firm partners all warned me that I’d be derailing my career by going in-house, and from their perspective I probably have, but I have an intellectually challenging and mostly 9-5 job now.

      Also, anecdata – my law firm has repeatedly tried to get me to come back so it’s not necessarily a forever decision if you decide to leave for a few years. Especially if you go in-house, do government work, or get other experience that is in your practice area and that law firm clients may value because most firm lawyers don’t have it.

  147. Much Ado About Nothing*

    Wooo….what you said could have been me 5 years ago. When my kids were at the toddler age and those formative, diaper flinging, learning to ride a bike, first time doing a Thanksgiving pay at school years; I lived your life and felt like I was worthless as a mother, wife…compared to everyone else who threw the best birthday parties, went geo-caching with their kids, and somehow had houses taken straight out of Pottery Barn.

    My kids are pre-teens now and let me tell you, it doesn’t get better when they are older and easier to manage, it’s harder because you see 18 looming and know you are running out of time with them that you will NEVER get back, NEVER. I’m sorry if this is negative or not encouraging but it is. I’ve learned that there is a true, true genius when people (men or women) say, F-U to careers and scale down or stay home to raise kids even for a few years.

    Here’s some of the silver lining….
    – You can have the big career and kids, you can but you must manage the balance. Get help…pay for it. Pay for the stuff that doesn’t matter, have someone else do it….cleaning the house, meals, even clothes. Anything that isn’t quality, meaningful time with them…outsource it. Think of it like running your department and growing it, that stuff that doesn’t need you, hire it out, do as little by yourself, do little by hand as you possibly can. Reserve YOU for the stuff that matters. If you can do only two things….work and be a mom, leaving everything at home to a program of meal deliveries, house cleaner, financial consultant, and other life management professionals…do it.
    – Scale back on things outside your family and home that suck up your time. Friends that aren’t really friends, neighbors you felt, “mehh” to begin with, even relatives who suck up your time. Slash accordingly. This might feel harsh and self serving but look back on the past 10 years and then look forward 10 years, who would you have loved to be close to then and who would you love to still be friends with in either direction? Keep those.
    – If you choose to lean back, you can get the career back. It may take a while to recover but it you have the skills, if you have the goods, you CAN get it back. A career trajectory that is an even, smooth arc is not the only way to get to the top, sometimes you’ll see a weird flat line and then a rocket-like jump straight up. That was my arc…a 5 year flat-line where I focused on a good paycheck, making connections, getting experience at a job that wasn’t nearly as senior as I was but I was bidding my time. Then a huge leap up to a high stress, 60 hour/week, position that paid a poop-load of $$ for two years and then another leap up to a position that paid equally good $$ but with better balance. Because I was already earning the money, I had a strong negotiating position to get more perks and flexibility. I did sacrifice for two years to make that jump but I used it to recover my earning track record. You can make it back but you must be good. Actually, you must be great.

    Lastly, while I did say that time is running out and you will never get it back, you won’t lose what you already have. so take comfort in knowing that you are present for your kids and you haven’t failed in anything. Actually, you already see the challenge and are setting up to handle it. Good for you!

  148. Anon just because*

    This is a hard thing to consider, and I admit I tend towards weariness and cynicism and fear based on my experience.

    I don’t mean this post to reflect on the original poster, but just as something that all co-parents, especially women, should consider when making employment decisions.

    If your marriage does not last, what employment decision would be right in that case? I almost ended up in a situation where I would have had to pay my ex-husband a lot of money because I had a higher-earning role, despite the fact he eventually received large inheritances that I never will get. On the other hand, maybe being a higher earner would help in the event of divorce.

    As for the private college, the trend nowadays is that if family income is below a certain level, the student can often get a “free ride.” But I suspect you would not have a low enough income for that to kick in.

    What if you got household assistance that would be very costly for the next few years, but would allow you to keep your current high-paying role? Run the numbers. For example, if you are making $250K a year, and are considering a $100K role, what if you instead allocated $50K to household help in addition to your current daycare costs? You also have to consider your retirement picture in these calculations too. Some families have two nannies to make their two-career-households work. It is not an indulgence to have daycare, a nanny, and a housekeeper if that is what you need to keep a high-paying job.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      If your marriage does not last, what employment decision would be right in that case? This is an excellent question. In my case, I think it helped everyone’s sanity and peace of mind greatly that the ex and I were making roughly the same, and were able to each take our own and go our own separate ways.

      As for the private college, the trend nowadays is that if family income is below a certain level, the student can often get a “free ride.” But I suspect you would not have a low enough income for that to kick in. I didn’t and highly doubt that OP would. Where state colleges only look at the custodial parent’s income, private schools look at both parents, whether or not both parents are helping pay the bills. (Which seems fair, because otherwise everyone would just use this as a loophole.) If you divorce and one or both of you remarry, the school will look at your new spouses’ incomes too. But, like I said above, state colleges treated us extremely well in terms of merit aid. Kid #1 graduated 10th in his class of 350 and was a National Merit Finalist (not even Scholar) and the school covered all of the tuition and a portion of room and board. Kid #2 graduated in the top 10% of his class and (another) school covered the tuition in full, until his grades dropped and he lost the scholarship.

  149. Burned out lawyer*

    OP, I am right there with you. I’m very close to leaning out myself, and I’ve come to think being a partner is a trap anyway. I have been told it gets much easier when the kids are old enough to go to school (e.g. 4+), but it’s still two years off for me.

    I’ve also been told by powerful female partners that you can get back in later, that you can say “I stepped back when my child was younger, but now I am ready to step back up.” I don’t know how much this works, but it’s been told to me.

  150. Former Trumpet Player*

    I’m a lawyer, and I chose to lean out when I got pregnant (age 37). I was at the height of my career. There’s no “correct” answer, you just really have to feel in to what you want your life to look like, short and long term. Since elementary school, I have received all As in everything- all the way through law school, and then I worked my way up in a male-dominated practice (energy) to the point where I was directly handling high worth clients and managing a small practice group (in my early 30s). I have been conditioned to drive and achieve. It’s second nature and what I’d always been known for. Until I realized it was not making me happy; in fact, it was affecting my health and my relationships. It has been a hard road and YEARS of therapy, coaching, and not looking back, but I’ve finally let that part of my identity go- it simply wasn’t serving me anymore. I’m now in a job that is actually fun (still in the legal field) and allows me to spend time with the people I love and not be a huge ball of anxiety. Yes, I took a rather large pay cut, but I haven’t regretted it for one second.

    Sheryl Sandberg didn’t disclose the full picture. Sure, you can keep leaning in after kids, but you have to have a spouse with a much lower stress career (*HER husband did not work at all after they had kids) or be willing to pay up the nose for 24/7 childcare (and not see your kids all that much).

    Right now it sounds like you’re kind of standing in the middle of the road. You’ll feel better once you make a choice to lean in or out. Whatever you choose, just make sure it’s really your decision. Your kids will be better off if you’re happier, no matter what that looks like (working the same amount with more support, or working less).

  151. RecoveringJD*

    Lawyer here. Just came here to say: it will be ok. So long as you keep listening to yourself, you will find a path that works for you. I hired out of school by a well respected boutique litigation firm. I had two children while there and was named managing partner when my youngest was 6 months. Ultimately, I realized the stress of partnership combined with a heavy litigation practice was not sustainable with the relationships I wanted with my partner and children. It took a while to untangle my ego from the job (and it still pops in now and again). I still hold the license, but I haven’t actively practiced in 6 years. It’s such a personal decision, and there are many paths you can take. I encourage you to get out of your firm now (seriously, that sounds awful), which should put you in a better frame to evaluate and make decisions. (Also, I didn’t have a nanny (couldn’t afford it!) and I did enjoy law and litigation very much!)

  152. Slanted & Enchanted*

    I did a quick search and didn’t see this mentioned, so my apologies if it’s already come up. Harvard Business Review just published an article, “What’s Really Holding Women Back?” by Robin J. Ely and Irene Padavic, in the March–April 2020 issue. I’m not sure if I can include a link or not, but it’s free to read and is readily found via Google: http://hbr.org/2020/03/whats-really-holding-women-back

    This quote is their findings in a nutshell: “Women weren’t held back because of trouble balancing the competing demands of work and family—men, too, suffered from the balance problem and nevertheless advanced. Women were held back because, unlike men, they were encouraged to take accommodations, such as going part-time and shifting to internally facing roles, which derailed their careers. The real culprit was a general culture of overwork that hurt both men and women and locked gender inequality in place.”

    This article has blown up on my social media feeds, and I felt like this really highlights that it’s the American approach to work that is a systemic problem.

  153. Tracey*

    I felt horrible for you reading this. I think you need to speak up for what you need to be successful and supported if you want to stay there.
    I’d definitely bring up the junior level person being promoted over you.
    I’d document everything you’re doing and frame it as you’re doing great work at a high level so what gives?
    If the men are lauded I’d being it up and say that there is inequity and it needs to be addressed.

    If you truly want out I’d do it. But if you want to work I’d give me them a chance to make it right and document everything – how the changes happened after the baby. Record EVERYTHING.

    Stand up for yourself!

  154. LawLady*

    An article I found really instructive was published by the NYT a few years ago, called “The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In”. In 2003, the NYT profiled a group of women (called the Opt-Out Generation) who were taking time off of professional (often high powered) careers to care for their children. When they went back in 2013 to find out how the women fared, the picture was pretty complicated. I would highly recommend reading both articles.

  155. WantonSeedStitch*

    I vote for “lean AWAY”–from this sexist firm. See if there might be opportunities out there at other firms where you will be treated better. Comb industry publications for info on what firms are considered to be the best places for women and parents to work. Look at Glassdoor reviews. Use your network, too: do you know other lawyers who are mothers and who might have some insight about this?

  156. somebody blonde*

    Have you addressed the overall pattern with your bosses? They did a lot of patting themselves on the back before you went on leave, which leads me to think they are probably not aware of what dynamic you’re actually experiencing now. I think you should specifically talk to them about how dads doing the same things as you in your office are getting different treatment and see if that gets you anywhere. You still might need to leave the firm, but I think you should see if your bosses respond at all to what you’re going through first.

  157. Koala dreams*

    If your current employer is the only law firm that offer good salaries, is it possible to move? For many professional jobs, the market is very different depending on location, and I think it might be worth it to consider if you need to move to a better market, where the choice is not A) work for sexist assholes or B) take a huge pay cut.

    If you want to stay for non-monetary reasons, it’s good to spell out for yourself what exactly the advantage of staying in your current location is, and make a concious choice. If you feel it’s important to be close to family, or to have better quality of life, be clear with yourself. “I’m choosing to sacrifice my emotional well-being (or a higher pay, if you go to one of the lower paying companies) because it’s the best choice for me and my family.” It’s much easier to endure a difficult situation when you feel that you own your choices. In the ideal world, nobody would have to make that kind of choices, but we live in this world and we have to make the best of it.

    I also think that if you find that you need to stay at your current company, some of your male co-workers might be willing to be your allies. You can get a feel for them by talking about issues around parental leave and work life balance, and if they seem sympathetic, maybe they would be willing to go together to management and demand improvements. (Or maybe not.)

  158. DCAnalyst2020*

    Is there a way to lean out but stay at the firm? For example, could you renegotiate your work load/expectations with your managers, come on as a consultant, or move to a less stressful department in the firm? I totally get your concerns about sidetracking your career, so I’m curious if there is a way to get more flexibility without changing your pay or title significantly. That way, if you ever want to “lean back in” (for lack of a better term) you aren’t having to move far even if you eventually decide to leave the firm for a different one. Just a thought!

  159. Fikly*

    Your firm is not all firms. Which is not to say that there are many firms that are genuinely supportive of working mothers – I’m guessing probably not. But they do exist.

    I work for a company that helps support women who have recently had babies (either through pregnancy, adoption, or surrogacy) return to work, and we are paid by their employers, not the women. So there are places out there that value this!

    It may not be all or nothing. I would look hard at what other firms have to offer. And if you can, reach out to other women there to find out what it’s actually like, not just what the firm says it’s like.

  160. GG*

    “and I may regret my choice in, say, 18 years when my kid really wants to go to private college and we can’t afford it.”
    For me, I can’t imagine there’s a kid in the world who would prefer going to a fancy, private college over having had more time with their mom or dad growing up and having a parent who isn’t stressed out all the time with a super-demanding job. Also, this is a great read about the myth of “having it all.” https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/06/why-theres-no-such-thing-as-having-it-all-and-there-never-will-be/258928/

  161. Nom de Plume*

    That sounds really tough, and honestly, it sounds like you work for a bunch of assholes. I work in a field that is not known as a big moneymaker (life sciences), so career progression and making a lot of money has never been important to me, so my perspective is coming from that place. Even though I work in consulting, I’ve been able to find a job that requires very little overtime. So that said, when I start to feel guilty for not working enough, I remember something I heard on the radio years ago. I think it was a review for a book or something like that. I think it had to do with interviewing folks who were at the end of their lives. The person on the radio said that something really struck them about the interviews. Many of the people talked about their lives and things they were proud of, things they regretted doing. The people who mentioned work and families all said they wished they had spent more time with their families. Not a single one of them said they wished they had spent more time at the office. Maybe that’s overly dramatic, but we all have the power to make choices. I do hope you are able to find a company that at least treats men and women equally.

  162. Lucia*

    I’m also in a male-dominated STEM field. For most of my career I was single/divorced raising 2 kids, so it was a tough time. I couldn’t afford to “lean out”…money ends up being kind of important! I’m glad I didn’t lean out, now that I’m nearing retirement and my kids are almost thru college. I have women friends who are my age (late 50’s ) who are in terrible financial condition, due to dropping their careers early in their marriages, and then they were hit with a divorce later and could never recover their earning power.
    One thing to remember is that your career/job/life is about YOU getting what YOU want. Do not expect your employer (or any employer) to “be nice” or “supportive” or to help you get what you want. The messaging about “we support women” is just hot air – these businesses are there to make money. Discrimination against mothers is extremely widespread in the workplace. Yes, it is WRONG, but this makes no difference – you need to deal with the present reality.
    For me, I never mentioned my kids at work, if I could help it, because if they hear about women&kids it activates unconscious sexism in my workplace. It is indeed unfair that men&kids generates goodwill, but the reality is that if a woman mentions kids in her workplace it will hurt her career. So if I had to leave early to pick up a sick kid at daycare, I only said “I have a really important meeting!” as I ran out. If I’m taking time off for spring break, I only say that I’m taking a fantastic vacation – I don’t mention my kids.
    Think about other things that would make your continuing to work easier. Why not move closer to your work, shorten your commute, and simplify your life? Choose to live in a modest house/apartment, so you have extra money to hire lots of help. Housecleaning, lawn mowing, childcare – it costs money, but not as much as dumping your career. For several years I used both daycare plus a regular babysitter who came to my house in the morning and took the kids to daycare/school, and who also picked them up in the afternoon and brought them home and fed them their snacks and helped with their homework. It was great! And my kids got the benefit of a “big sister”! Stop doing the optional things that take so much time: Consider not having your kids participate in sports (most kids will not become olympic of college athletes and it’s so time consuming), skip the school science fair (most kids won’t become scientists, and many scientists never participated in the school science fair anyway), never volunteer for any church or school events, don’t bother trying to have the prettiest garden the neighborhood or keep up with the Jones’. You don’t actually need those things. Spend your extra time enjoying and spending time with your children, read to them, talk to them, take them to the park and camping and to visit family. You can do this while also working full time. My kids turned out fine – they are almost through college, one plans to pursue a STEM PhD, they are happy, healthy, active, etc.

    1. Jennifer*

      I agree with most of what you said except for the sports/science fair/garden aspects. Kids are typically curious about everything and you never really know what will spark their interest. I grew up with parents who were very anti-sport, anti-“hobby” events unless it was on a short, approved list of things that were highly convenient for them. I appreciate your overall message, that OP should simplify as much as possible, but I’d hate to see her kids as bored, understimulated, and sedentary as I was. It sounds like you did things right but this can easily go the other way if *every* activity is sacrificed with the goal of simplification.

  163. Jenn G*

    I can’t advise on the long time impacts on a legal career, but I will say that my husband and I experienced this in our careers. For a while, when I was still high-flying, we resolved it in part by working as a team:
    – he was first pick for sick child care and doctor’s appointments, although I sometimes had to jump in too of course based on our respective deadlines etc.
    – he did pick up at day care 3 days a week; I did pick up at day care 2 times a week including Fridays which was a lower-volume day for me. He was perceived as responsible for leaving on time for child care, and I maximized my visibility on my later-night days
    – we did a lot of bizarre switching of responsibilities by meeting halfway between meetings and client events and all those things
    – he looked after our kids when I was on work trips, and vice versa but again he took more of the hits

    However, I will say it wore us down considerably and I ultimately did take a career step sideways, which I have some mixed feelings about but it works better for our family…I ended up needing to do that when my eldest hit middle school, as in the early years we had so many competent caregivers but at that time he really needed an actual parent.

  164. I'm just here for the cats*

    I’m sure you’ve thought of this but do you have anything in writing that shows that you were promised flexibility and are not getting it. If there are specific examples can you show them to your boss and say you need them to comit to what they agreed to?

  165. Anonymous Cat Smuggler*

    Your situation was mine 20 years ago. I thought the solution was to take time off and be with the children while they were small, then start my own firm to meet these high-achieving goalposts that somehow ran my life. Long story short, after dealing with the fact that no, you can’t keep doing things that wear on your soul and make you unhappy even if they look good on a resume, I found Brene Brown, and this quote: “it seems as if we spend the first half of our lives shutting down feelings to stop the hurt, and the second half trying to open everything back up to heal the hurt.” From her, I also realized that there are far too many critics out there and no matter which direction you lean, you can’t please them and that they have no underlying right to be pleased.

    Leaning any direction is pleasing a critic, IMO. My peace comes from trying to just stand.

    1. CM*

      I love this comment! Absolutely, a big part of this decision is to separate ego and other people’s expectations from what you really want your life to be like.

  166. Lady Lyndon*

    I am a female attorney. I feel exactly like you do, except I do not have or want children. This profession is extremely consuming for everyone. If you perceive males getting support for childcare, it is pure lip service. I have a male colleague that’s a great dad and we all think of him as the biggest slacker in the firm. I do not think my firm is uncommon. Unfortunately, the law is not a jealous mistress, she’s a nymphomaniac and it requires you to sacrifice your family life.

    Get out but understand that you’ll likely have to work very, very, very hard to ever break into a law firm again.

  167. Jennifer*

    OP, one thing that comes to mind is taking a hard look at your finances and deciding whether it’s worth it for both of you to work full time while X% of the lower earner’s salary (whether that’s yours or his) goes toward daycare. You might also consider downsizing your current housing situation to take some of the financial pressure off, if there is any, so that you don’t feel like you *must* stay in the law firm environment. I’m personally a big fan of people like Dave Ramsey and Mr. Money Mustache who advocate for things like the elimination of debt and spending reduction, and people like Marie Kondo who advocate for mindful purchasing habits. Obviously we don’t know your situation but I know that lifestyle inflation is a big source of pressure for a lot of us in law, especially those of us who come from blue collar or poorer backgrounds where a) we want people from home to be proud/wowed by us; and b) are getting our first taste of this sort of lifestyle.

    I also think that the “hamster wheel” you’re on is bigger than you’re framing it. It’s feeling like you need to work at a law firm job so you can send your kid to daycare, so you can work at your law firm job, so you can send your kid to a fancy private college, so they can get a law firm job, so they can send their kid to a fancy private college. Literally everything is optional. You can choose to step off.

    I’m biased because I chose the in-house route (and a lower paycheck) so that I could have my life back. If I could do it all over again I’d do the same thing. Yes, I have to budget, and no, I don’t drive a Porsche. But I’m also only working 50 hours a week, and I’m not sitting up at night agonizing about how to make up billable hours because my doctor’s appointment ran half an hour too long. No one’s shunning me because I got the flu and took a week off.

    Perhaps more directly on target to your line of questioning, I’m curious about how your firm operates. Forgive the very basic line of questioning, but if you put an out of office message up on Outlook that said “I’m away from work with no access to phone and email” would that be something that Doesn’t Go Over Well At All, or would that be an option for you? I work with outside counsel regularly and even at BigLaw firms they have messages like that up, so I know they’re unavailable. Would it be possible for you to do something like that that’s either only seen by people in your firm, or only seen by clients? (Though I know there could be issues with clients seeing it and trying to reach someone else in your absence).

  168. nom de plume*

    I admittedly haven’t read the comments, but OP – this is upright sexism. Make no mistake – you are being punished for being a mother. You are NOT being accommodated, and the constant doubting of your professionalism is textbook sexual discrimination. THAT’s why you are being pushed into making a choice you shouldn’t even have to be making in the first place.

    Maybe others have said it – but in case they haven’t: SEXISM.

    1. Jennifer*

      OP said that she specializes is in discrimination law and wouldn’t be able to prove anything/nothing rises to that level, unfortunately.

  169. Big Law Wife*

    I am married to a Big Law lawyer, and I’d like to make a couple of observations that might feel relevant:
    First, we love each other very much, and he does everything he can to be present for me and our kids (age s11 and 6). Despite that, our marriage has come dangerously close to dissolving on more than one occasion due almost entirely to the stress his Big Law schedule puts on our life (it’s not just the hours, it’s the needing to be constantly on call, as well). We spend $1,000 a month on couples counseling – and while that’s beneficial in many ways, it wouldn’t be nearly so necessary if he didn’t have this particular job. (That’s not just me, he and our therapist both agree with that assessment.) We take this financial hit because, yes, we want our marriage to work – but honestly, looking at it practically, divorce would be WAY more expensive! And I hate to be fatalistic, but I fear that your spouse may end up feeling as hostile about the situation as I have!

    Second, I find that his years in Big Law have left him with pretty serious tunnel vision regarding what’s possible professionally, frequently brushing aside any suggestions for networking or other company research by telling me that either such a move would mean too much of a salary cut, or that his background simply wouldn’t allow him to even consider such an industry/job/etc. Now that we’re both actively job searching (thanks to a decision to move away from our super high-cost-of-living area, arrived at with the help of said therapist!), he’s finally acknowledging that perhaps what he assumed to be true wasn’t necessarily so… but I share all this to push back on what you share about “the local market for the type of law [you] practice” – what else might be out there? Different market, different type of law, different firm, maybe get out of law entirely? – there could be so many other options out there that you haven’t even considered because law programs drill a certain mentality into your head about what path you should take after earning your JD. (Again, assuming your law school experience was at all like my husband’s.)

    I wish you all the best, and have high hopes that you’ll arrive at the solution that’s right for you and your family!!!

  170. V*

    Lots of companies hire in-house employment counsel; are there any clients you are close with who might want to bring you on board? Are there any partners you trust who could help place you with one of their clients? Firms are often very helpful to attorneys seeking to go the in-house route because they hope the existing relationship and goodwill will translate into your sending them business when your new company needs outside counsel

    1. nerfherder*

      For sure. I have a successful lawyer friend, and her life was hell when she was balancing her firm job with parenting. But everything got a million times better for her when she found an in-house counsel role. She actually goes on vacations with her family sometimes now.

  171. Anon Anon Anon*

    Can someone tell me what “lean out” means? It seems like everyone knows what it means but I’m completely baffled….

  172. anonymous meat puppet*

    Not a lawyer but I’m also in a field where it’s common to work long hours and be always available for clients. What you describe happened to me – I was basically pushed out. After I came back from maternity leave, my workload (with shitty clients) was tripled and I was told I had to figure it out or else, etc. Eventually I found another job, but it took me almost a year (and I am in a biggish city).
    In that year, my child went from 2 months old (when I went back to work) to a one year old. Most weeks I would put my baby to bed on Sunday nights and then not see her until the following Saturday morning, with the exception of nighttime wake-ups. For a year. It messed the child up, it messed me up (I still can’t talk (or type, hah) about it without tearing up). It was super tough on my marriage (I have a stay at home parent as a partner, who didn’t appreciate being isolated with an infant for 80+ hours a week.) I don’t feel guilty, precisely (I am the breadwinner and had no choice – I was doing what I had to do for my family) but I wish I’d had more/better options.
    Based on my experiences, I would say this: if you can pivot to do something else, and you can swing it financially, do it. Even if it means less money temporarily, or getting off the partner track completely, and that means some different life choices ahead. A sane happy you will be a better parent, better partner and better employee at whatever else you do. You just probably won’t be paid better, which sucks. On the other hand, you will be around to help with your kiddo’s homework and help them apply for scholarships or whatever when college rolls around.

  173. JessicaTate*

    This is not going to be the most helpful advice on this page, but… Your situation is bringing to mind Michelle Obama’s book and her discussion of her career path and “swerves”. I think she left Big Law pre-kids, but still had a go-go-go career with the city, etc. Somewhere in there, she talks about facing the trade-offs and decision-making around “trying to do it all” with the kids (and a husband who was rarely home) and where she finally landed – it was carving out a position that used her expertise but in a different way and in a more flexible (and respectful) organization.

    I’m not in law, nor do I have kids. But her story makes me wonder of whether there are any other “creative” alternative paths you could take your legal expertise and awesomeness – beyond the work from home you mentioned? Something that would be fulfilling for you and have upward trajectory – even if not quite as lucrative as Big Law – but still where you could negotiate for more balance?

    Other than that, you have my sympathy. Your bosses are making me ragey just thinking about it. I hate injustice!

  174. Underemployed Erin*

    You are being pushed out. Your options are to either go with a quickness or wait until they suck enough that you can hire and employment lawyer and sue them. The latter path may be unhealthy for your career.

    I stepped out of my career in STEM for a number of years, and you do what you need to do.

    If you are in a crappy lifestyle firm, it may be time to look for a smaller place that allows more work/life balance.

  175. Kitty*

    I’m not in the legal field so maybe you have already considered this, but are there other firms out there that might offer the type of work and compensation you want, while still offering more flexibility that you need? Or are all/most firms as institutionally sexist as this and will deny you promotions because of your kid? I don’t have the knowledge, but I’d encourage you to do lots of research into other firms and talk to lots of other parents in your industry to gauge this, before you decide that working fully from home with a major pay cut is the only other option.

    I’m sorry your company is treating you like this, it’s complete BS.

  176. Perpal*

    Uh OP it’s hard.
    For what it’s worth, from a small sampling of lawyers who jumped from what sounded like BigLaw to government/otherlaw with regular hours etc, none regretted the move.
    It sounds like you should make the transition to this other work from home job. Let’s break down options
    1) keep doing what you’re doing. It will probably get a little easier as the kiddo gets older, but it’s going to be miserable for a long time and career may stagnate. And do you want more kids?
    2) Hire a nanny and/or some other backup childcare arrangement so you can work as if you didn’t have kids. Unfortunately it sounds like BigLaw and your company are structured around the idea that successful folks are those who have a support group doing everything else so they can work like mad. Hopefully at that point your career will go back as it was pre-kiddo. If it doesn’t, go elsewhere because this is actually overt sexism not hm, whatever you call it when anyone can fit expectations but those who are likely to are those who adhere to a 1950s male stereotype (they don’t have to be a 1950s male, just act like one).
    3) quit and go to alternate work that may be less lucrative but lets you spend more time with the kids
    4) try to work out some kind of arrangement with the current place where where you discuss what’s happened, and perhaps try to work out some arrangement where you are “part time” or have a lower salary but lower billable hour requirement, or less “on call” hours, or whatever (I’m in medicine not law so I’m not sure of the language). Discuss what it will take to advance in that kind of role OR if you can do that and understand advancement will come later once kiddo is older and you can do the kind of things they want potential partners to do. Frankly I don’t hold out much hope for this happening because I think you wouldn’t be in this position if it were possible, but perhaps it’s worth one talk to see why you are getting such bad reviews and if there is any enthusiasm for a modified track. If they say yes but nothing changes (or more likely, you take the paycut and they throw just as much work and crappy reviews at you, and decide you’ll never really be partner material) then bail within 3-6 months.

    1. Perpal*

      Also OP if you look at my conclusion that it’s best to just switch gears now and think “oh hell naw!” then you are your own best judge and listen to that!

    2. Perpal*

      Also I realize college may just be a symbol for nice and expensive things, but there are ways and there are ways. private college; scholarships, loans, financial aid; some of which are probably easier to get if you don’t have a ton saved up to pay upfront. It sounds like you and your kid would prefer time with you now to a few extra luxuries later. I mean, it’s also fine for folks who just like to work and make money and would prefer to hire a nanny etc, being a good parent is about taking care of your kid one way or another, but OP it sounds like you want to be on the more hands on side.

  177. Not So NewReader*

    OP, I only got half way down the comments, if you are reading this all the power to ya.
    I wanted to say that there are two parts of this question. There’s the decision itself, which is plenty of work right there.
    But the second part is to commit to which ever you decide. Pick something and decide to pull out all the stops, do everything you can think of to make it work well and to maximize the benefits of the route you chose. I am saying this because it sounds to me like you are starting to lean out and perhaps that is concerning you. Every setting has its advantages and disadvantages. Which ever you path you chose, decide to find all the advantages along that path and maximize as many of them as you can. You have gotten this far, so you are no stranger to this idea. Work it, leverage it.

    This can be scary stuff because we can think of it as a moment we will always refer to as “life changing”. Very seldom do we stop to think that we can let go of something and actually move on to something bigger. Part of that is because we don’t always see that bigger thing right now.

    One exercise I like to do, OP, is pretend I am old and I am sitting in a nursing home reflecting on my life and my life choices. For me, I don’t want Older Me saying to myself that “I was not BOLD enough. I shied away from big steps too often.” Commit to which ever choice you make by deciding that you will tap the advantages you see along the way on that chosen path. Maximize the advantages of which ever road you chose.

  178. LC*

    I went through this exactly at a big law firm. Can you propose alternatives with your current firm that may seem impossible but just haven’t been tried yet? I went from full time billing 200 hrs a month to part time (four days a week) to two days working entirely from home. This has bought me years of maintaining this big firm name on my resume while getting time with my kids. You can lean out without quitting entirely!

  179. Legal aid soon to be mom*

    I’m 4.5 years into my law career, and all have been at legal aid. I love my job, mostly! I’m pregnant and am jumping ship to government work for better compensation, stability, and benefits. I’m having a hard time accepting that I’m moving from a job I really, to potentially a less exciting job. I’m giving up the opportunity to advance in my field to start over in a new field. To me, it’s all about shifting priorities. My priorities now include a job with stability and better pay. I’m putting my preferred career on hold. It’s tough, but when I feel sorry for myself or doubt what I’m doing, I remind myself that my new priority is my family, not my career.

    I say this because maybe a shift in perspective will bring you more peace with leaning out, or leaving your current position for something new. You won’t be giving up the prestige or opportunity for advancement, you’ll be gaining more time with your family. Good luck!

  180. Meepmeep*

    Before we decided to start a family, I worked in BigLaw. After we made the decision to have a kid, I “leaned out” by starting a solo practice and then joining forces with my spouse (who is also a lawyer) for a jointly owned law firm. Our kid is now 4, I work part time, Spouse works full time, and we are making about the same money as two BigLaw junior associates. Not millions of dollars, but not bad for “leaning out”. And we get to spend time with our kid while she’s little.

    At this point, I wouldn’t go back to BigLaw for any kind of money. I did a short in-house contract for a while, just to have a line on my resume and to see how it went, but then I happily went back to working in our family firm.

    1. Meepmeep*

      And for what it’s worth, a well-run solo practice is more lucrative than BigLaw. If you’re the boss, you keep all the money.

  181. atma*

    I haven’t read all the comments, but many, and only one person touched upon what I wanted to say: did you sit down with your boss and address this together? Like, they know you have a child now, but they also know you are working. You are practically up to the same capacity, you are managing your work load, your time, and can we talk about what they’d like to see change, and can we talk about also how they can work with you in creating the best possible situation.

    I see many calls about it’s not legal and maybe sue, which I imagine would really sour the relationship, but have you tried framing it in such a way as Of Course they are supportive and want you to succeed and of course you want to absolutely do your part, but how do we work this out together?

    I see that often here from Alison, framing something like you know the other person will do the right thing.

  182. Marie James*

    I am a lawyer, so I understand the big firm pressure. I want to encourage you NOT to be afraid to make the leap to whatever gives you the most happiness—including fulfilling work AND family time. There are so many legal jobs out there—mostly in government (and you might *start* with a lower salary, but there is room for advancement (generally), especially if you are a hard worker). Just do good work, always apply for promotions that would fit your skill set, and you’ll get there. Think of it as getting to a higher salary . . . just slower. Get to know attorneys and judges, let them know you’re looking; teach at continuing education classes; write articles for your bar association’s publications; volunteer for service projects. There IS a bright future outside of big firms. Get out there and explore!

  183. Confused*

    It’s total bullshit and I’ve gone through it myself, making myself available 24/7 with no acknowledgement or thanks. It took something happening to me at work to realize – it’s just a job. I was working what I assumed would be my dream job, it paid decently, it was 100% my degree field, and it theoretically had a lot of opportunities for advancement and opportunities in my field. But I was miserable. I was so stressed I legit stopped eating for a month and lost 15 lbs, picked up smoking again, which I’d quit years prior, and I realized, it wasn’t worth it. It really was just a job. Even cool important jobs that we’ve worked our whole lives to do are just selling our labor to exist in this post-capitalist hellscape. That is literally all any job is. I had to really decouple my feelings of self-worth from what I did to earn money and start looking for roles that would not damage my mental health for the 1/3 (or more) of my day that I had to be there. I took a bit of a turn in my career path and I love where I am now – even make more money than I did in my previous role.

    Unless you’re very attached to the idea of making partner or something, I’d encourage you to look for roles that are more conducive to work-life balance. Many of my friends are attorneys and have said the same thing as you. One of my best friends was in biglaw for some time, worked 16 hour days, and still was passed over for cases that went to people more junior than she. She’s now working for a legal clinic and is truly able to do the best parts of her job and has enough energy and drive to be on panels, write articles, etc, that she couldn’t do before because she was so drained.

    Whatever path you choose – it’s just a job. It’s ALWAYS just a job. Your child and family are so, so, so much more important than how you choose to sell your labor.

  184. kgulo*

    I agree with everyone that this is a your company problem, not a you problem. I’m not sure what type of law you practice or where you’re located, but I am confident you can find a position at a firm that isn’t run by sexist a**holes. (Giving you assignments when you’re home with your sick baby?! My blood is boiling for you).

    I work (in a non-attorney role) at a law firm, and I know our firm is more supportive of family obligations that your current setting. There are firms/attorney opportunities that still pay well and respect you as a person. A reasonable company would look at your past performance and contributions and work to keep you. There has to be a role for you at another company or firm that’s between what you’re doing now and a work from home position that’s a pay cut. Start researching companies, other types of law, work with headhunters, and get out.

    The motherhood penalties are real – both implicit or explicit. You can find something better and more supportive.

  185. In-House and Happy*

    I worked in a law firm for 15+ years as a paralegal and now work in an in-house legal department. I worked for the managing partner of a law firm and more than a few times I overheard how he really felt about the female attorneys who had children and tried to continue working full-time. In public however, he always assured them they were doing fine and the firm would fully support them, blah blah blah. When the opportunity arose, I took a job working for an in-house legal department for a large company. The culture is so much better. I am sure there is a pay cut for an attorney, but I think you gain so much more as far as benefits and culture. No billing requirements, no malpractice insurance (at least where I work the attorneys are not required to have insurance because the company is their client), flexible work schedule, relaxed dress code, etc.

  186. Beanie Baby*

    I have no advice, but I chose to change jobs that meant a $15k pay cut, but lost so much stress, and gained so much more happiness, flexibility, and productivity.

    Good luck in whatever you decide.

    1. MGFR*

      Beanie, how did you go about finding your current job? I am in a fundraising role at a large organization in a major city, but reside in the burbs and am looking for a similar position closer to home. I am applying and interviewing, but I get the feeling I am too qualified for the “lean out” roles and thus the organizations aren’t considering me a solid candidate. It’s frustrating. And I can’t come out and say “I’m a mother looking for better work/life balance, support and flexibility.” Did you experience any of this during your search?

  187. Datalie*

    FQHCs certainly are not the best paying jobs but I’ve heard of a decent number of attorneys end up as in-house counsel who are either a director/chief of compliance or operations. Sometimes even CEO. FQHCs are all over the country and may be near so. Plus they serve the under-served and there are TONS of opportunities for networking.

  188. Helena*

    It’s striking that the LW doesn’t mention the baby’s father at all. Is she a single mom?

    1. Helena*

      Correction: LW doesn’t mention another parent for the baby, of any gender. Inclusiveness fail, sorry.

  189. Go For It*

    I took a significant pay cut to get out of an old job. I now work for an employer that is more flexible and understanding that life happens and always tells us to take care of ourselves, our families and then our work will still be here when we get back. Sure, we’re expected to work hard, but being able to balance things. I was shocked the first time that my boss asked me how things were going and how I was adjusting to the job. I realized I had never had a boss who seemed to care about that. On the plus side, I find that I’m better able to balance life, I can work harder when I am in the office; when I am at work, I am on and when I’m at home, I don’t have to worry about work. I feel it has actually let me succeed in my role and be more successful in my career as a whole. You can find something out that that works for you! Best of luck, it’s hard being a working lady in this day and age!

  190. Frankie*

    First time mom, too, though I’m not in an ultra-aggressive career path.

    For me, even being lucky enough to work in a job with some flexibility, it never feels like I have struck the “right” balance. I am always worried I should be doing more at home, taking more time off and hanging out with my kid, taking more solo time for my own mental health, or putting in a little more time at work.

    So it’s hard, but you have to let go of the idea that you will find a balance that feels like equilibrium. You just likely never will. It doesn’t exist.

    So past that, you can still make the balance more tenable. It’s not just “keep this job” or “quit working.” You’ll make sacrifices either way, but anything that allows you to feel like you still have a connection with your baby is worth it in the long run. To the extent you can, prioritize your own mental health and at least some sacred time with your child. That can look a lot of different ways.

  191. LemonLime*

    I know I’m late to this discussion but I hope OP sees this:
    You will never get this time back. Not the nights with your kid, or sitting on the couch with your husband with baby snuggled in your arms. I’m not saying to give up on a career and go full Mom at home, but right now in your mind it feels like an equal pull, but it’s not. You can take a break from being a super awesome high performer and come back to being that in 1, 3, 5 years and catch up. You can’t do that with your kid. Trust me, though it doesnt seem like that now, they do grow up fast and there will be a time when they don’t need or want so much attention and you can devote that time back to building a stellar awesome high performing career.
    Everyone has given great advice: Decide what you really want in life and adjust law firms/career paths accordingly. Just remember the decision isn’t 50/50 – you can’t come back in 5 years and redo your child’s childhood.

  192. Panda*

    I am not an attorney, but have a very demanding C-Level job that includes 50% travel. There are no easy solutions here. But I will say that—good, bad, or indifferent
    —sexism is real, and perception is reality.
    Your bosses and colleagues now perceive you as not having your head in the game. If you want to get off of the mommy track and have the job you want in five years, it is time to make some move closer to work (2 hours of commuting a day is ludicrous), and outsource ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING but work, kid, and monthly gals night you can until you are out of the woods. Order groceries online, get a maid, etc so you can bill more hours. I would also recommend Corporette as a site that has commenters with more perspective on jobs requiring this level of commitment. If you bail on this job, you will absolutely lose your place to someone hungrier. (No judgement if you no longer have the appetite. But it would be a mistake to give up now if you could be back on your A game in a few years and would be interested in doing so)

  193. chickaletta*

    As a C-level admin who has witnessed first hand several women who have deliberately leaned back in order to prioritize their families and juggled a successful, high demand career with raising children, this is what I know:
    – A good organization will still hold you in high regard if you cut back your hours to focus on your kids. They’re out there.
    – Even when you do cut back hours, the reality is that at this level you gotta show up when the meetings get scheduled. I have a boss who is part-time so she can focus on her children as well, but sometimes it’s impossible to accommodate her hours when I have a dozen other c-level people to schedule in the meeting as well. She has joined many a meeting on the phone from her car at soccer practice.
    – Respond to heavy requests and excessive work hours the same way you would if you didn’t have a child. “I have prior commitment at 4, can we look for another time for that meeting?” or “Should we prioritize the A account or the B account this week?”. Don’t bring your child into it until they do, which at that point you can deal with the discrimination appropriately.

  194. Evanna*

    I’m an attorney, albeit not for a big firm, so take this with a grain of salt. LW, you should leave your firm. A lot of the expectations of lawyers in big law are based around the assumption that there is spouse at home doing full time or near full time domestic labor. The very structure is sexist and unsustainable, and you’re being subjected to cruel and unfair double standards. Use your network, talk to colleagues that you went to law school with etc., find out which firms in your area are good for work life balance. Some try to be better about it. I would even consider leaving the area. I decided that I didn’t really want to work in e.g. NYC because the work life balance expectations are such trash and I found that living outside of major legal centers actually made me so much happier because I have reasonable hours and a job that’s flexible about time. As for your children’s college…it’s tough, but what you’re asking is will it be worse for me and my child if we have a middle class lifestyle and I have time to live my live and be present but my child goes to a public university? That’s not such a bad thing. But I also think that you can work out a middle ground, which may be moving to a boutique firm or moving to another city.

  195. Would love to be a SAHW*

    I admire ambitious women, of which I am not one. I would lean out with nary a care if in the same position. Life is short and I would not want to miss the best parts of it sitting in an office being treated poorly.

  196. Angela Salgado*

    You can’t get back the years that your little ones are little. There’s a lot of women who would take a pay cut for flexibility, less stress and more time with their kids (myself included – I would 100% take that but it’s not an option in my field.) So if you have that option, take it! Enjoy your child, enjoy their sick days when you can cozy up on the couch and watch movies and make them chicken soup. When they get older it will give you more opportunity to be there for their games, performances, playdates. I can’t say if your career will actually be damaged, but if it is I think you’ll still be glad to enjoyed your children’s childhood.

  197. 2Legit*

    ***OP, or someone else, will you PLEASE tell me where these work-from-home jobs can be found?*** (I was going to ask Alison this, but it sounds like you might be able to help me?
    My employer has been accused of fraud, it’s hit the news, and I do not believe they are innocent. I want to leave. They are super-strict on telecommuting, Not allowed in my position at all.)****

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