Helping Working Parents Keep Their Lives in Balance
Working parents have a lot on their minds. In addition to their jobs, there’s homework, drop-off, pick-up, cleaning, chores and all the other tasks that go into raising children.
According to Leopard Solutions 2022 survey of Women Leaving the Law, more than 80% of women cited a lack of flexibility in the work environment and work-life balance as the reasons for leaving a top 200 law firm.
As part of ongoing efforts to help attorneys, the New York State Bar Association hosted a session on strategies to aid working parents, including time management, connecting with others and getting in a better headspace.
Lori Mihalich-Levin, CEO and founder of Mindful Return, an organization that helps working parents, led the discussion. Mihalich-Levin also works as a health care lawyer in private practice.
Time Management Strategies and Tips
You may find that to-dos come up and pile up during the week. Mihalich-Levin recommends writing down these tasks, sorting them into buckets – school, work, kids, home, etc. – and then categorizing these tasks into urgent/not urgent and important/not important to help prioritize.
Mihalich-Levin also shared that a weekly meeting helps her and her husband prioritize and plan. During the week, they put tasks in a basket so they can deal with them later. “If that task has a parking lot, like the basket, then it doesn’t keep looping around in your brain,” she said.
On Saturdays, they go through the list and discuss who’s responsible for picking up and dropping off kids, meal plans, paying bills, filling out paperwork, as well as scheduling date night and time with friends.
To get through a difficult or unpleasant task, Mihalich-Levin suggests the pomodoro method, which means working on one project for 25 minutes with no distractions – that means no social media or email – and then taking a five-minute break.
According to Mihalich-Levin, it is most effective to do three pomodoros and then to take a longer break. “Your mind will wander while you are doing your pomodoro,” she said. “So you write down a little note to yourself about what it was that your mind was wandering about, and then you direct yourself back to the task at hand. And repeat. I love using the pomodoro not just for work, but for life in general.”
Building Connections With Others
Mihalich-Levin said it was important to connect with others, including parents at your children’s school or daycare. “Most parents who are hanging out there – they know things,” she said. “They are sources of information about what is going on in my kids’ school. They’re going to be able to help me out with coming up with summer camps and all the things that a parent needs to know.”
She also shared advice for being present and connecting with kids. One way is to ask your kids questions and take down their answers with a pen and paper to show interest. To help come up with questions, there are Q & A books for kids, or you could discuss what you all enjoyed this summer, or what they are looking forward to in the coming school year.
Children also benefit from farewell and transition rituals – like saying goodbye at school drop-off. “We came up with this ritual: hug kiss push,” Mihalich-Levin said. “We allow the kids to give us one last squeezy hug, one last squeezy kiss, and a literal push out the door of daycare. Now the push out the door sent them into fits of giggles because normally they are not allowed to push us around – and it physically got them disconnected from our bodies so that we could leave and go to work.”
Mihalich-Levin noted that it’s important to connect with the self as well – like pausing for a five-minute mediation before work or taking a long breath in and a longer breath out between calls.
“If we’re going to combat guilt and burnout and disconnection, we also need to just stop and breath and take pauses,” she said.
Mihalich-Levin said the words we use also affect our mindset, and changing those words changes our perspective. “I’m a lawyer, you’re a lawyer, we all believe in the power of language,” she said. “It really matters.”
She advised that instead of saying “I don’t have time,” try “it’s not a priority.” Instead of “I feel guilty because,” try “I made this decision because.”
“I replaced the word ‘busy’ with ‘full, active,” Mihalich-Levin continued. “My husband and I have a joke – we look at each other when things are just flying around like crazy, and we say, ‘We’re not bored.’ Which is a very different framing from ‘oh my gosh I feel busy, and I can’t handle it.’”
Watch the full program here.