Thursday, June 28, 2012

Honoring Balance

As described in Diane's Sunday post, Anne-Marie Slaughter's Atlantic article, Why Women Still Can't Have it All, gets to the heart of the debate about work-life balance, and offers thoughtful prescriptions for a "national happiness project." The article has provoked much thought and chatter, and in particular prompted me to think about those lawyers and law professors who have served as models for me in the realm of work-life balance. 
In this profession, I fear, such role models have been few and far between.  As a law student at Yale in the late 1990s, only ten of approximately sixty faculty were female; not a promising environment for work-life balance.  Similarly, as a lawyer at a big law firm and a civil rights non-profit, I looked up at the women above me and of most of them thought "I don't want to be that person who sacrifices her family life for her career."
Luckily, my experience in legal academia has been a different story, one of female and male colleagues alike who have supported me through the many challenges that face a working mother of small children.  Indeed, one of my favorite aspects of this blog is the implicit understanding of the importance of these demands.
Here at IntLawGrrls, we celebrate our transnational foremothers, so why not our living role models who have given us the courage to stake out our own work-life balance?
I'll start with one of my own, and hope that contributors and readers will join me in honoring the women and men who've been a model of balance in their lives.
As a law student, I often wondered how I would balance a demanding career with motherhood.  My own mother was a fabulous parent, but as a stay-at-home mom, the challenges she gracefully overcame were very different from those I would face. 
In my second year of law school, I had the good fortune of landing in the immigration clinic, where Jean Koh Peters was my professor and supervising attorney.  To my delight, in an environment where it seemed that nobody survived on more than three hours of sleep, Jean openly declared that she needed at least eight hours of sleep to function optimally.  As a dedicated eight-hour sleeper, this was music to my ears. 
More importantly, Jean arrived at the office promptly at 8:30 am each morning and left just as promptly at 4:30 pm.  She was not available by e-mail or by telephone outside of those hours, and made it known that these were her family hours, and her time with her family was not to be interrupted by work.  Jean is no slacker; apart from running two clinics, she has written numerous articles and the definitive textbook in her field, won a teaching award, and written a report on comparative law and practice in child protective proceedings.
At last, here was a person I could hope to be; a scholar, a wonderful teacher, a public interest lawyer, and perhaps most importantly, a great mom. 
Reflecting on Jean's choices through the lens of Slaughter's article: She has tailored her own work schedule to fit the needs of a good parent and clearly professed these work-life choices to her students, helping us to stake out those same boundaries in the future.  All in all, a significant contribution to the national happiness project, and to the ongoing happiness of those of us who were fortunate enough to have her as a professor and mentor. Thank you, Jean!
Who's your work-life balance mentor?  We welcome comments and posts honoring women and men who have made Slaughter's recommendations a reality in your life.

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