I recently had a single mom of two young ones who is about 6 weeks into her first year of law school ask me for some pointers about how to balance all of her responsibilities and not feel so overwhelmed. I realized there are probably several people out there in similar situations wondering the same thing, so thought I would share the basics of my response.
Let me start by saying that everything you are feeling is completely normal. The first few weeks, actually the first few months, of law school is often overwhelming for anyone, add in things like kids, or a job, or any number of other responsibilities, and the adjustment really is simply overwhelming at times. Just keep moving forward, breathing deeply, putting one foot in front of the other, know this is normal, and the feeling will pass.
Next, know that as a mom, you will never feel like you can give as much to your studies as you would like. In addition, you will never feel like you can give your kids as much as you would like because you do have to devote time to school. This is a hazard of being a mom in law school. It sucks, because if you are in law school, you were probably an excellent student in college and want to know you are always giving your best academically. The truth is you can only to do what you can do. There are only so many hours in a day. As a mom, your priorities are different than your classmates that do not have kids. That is your reality, and it is OK. We are all on different paths.
Some of feeling more in balance is about changing your priorities. We all have to deal with things like kids, work, school work, household chores and well – life. They all may feel important, but the truth is, some things are more important than others, and some tasks will have to go lower on your priority list than you would like. Housework, for instance – you might have to live with the bare minimum, have the kids pitch in where they can (even little kids can put laundry in a hamper or play a game that involves picking things up off the floor) or maybe pay to have someone help out once a week, or do an exchange. Consider if you might be able to watch someone else’s kids for a couple hours a week so they can have a date night or go shopping while you are taking care of your own kids anyway (not while you are trying to study), and in exchange, that person could come over and do some housecleaning while you are at school. Another possibility is to offer to cook some meals for someone (just make double recipes when cooking for your own family) in exchange for something you need to have done. Your most precious commodity right now is your time, so if you can find a way to get more out of the time you are already spending doing a task and exchange it for something you do not have time for, that is a big win for you. Think creatively about the problem. It might be that brainstorming with friends or classmates could lead to helpful solutions for others, too.
For a single mom going to school, there is unlikely to be time for anything resembling a “life.” If you do not have a partner you are regularly seeing and communicating with, I would recommend you at least schedule some friend nights – maybe twice a month invite a friend over, you can cook together and watch the kids until they go to bed, then have some adult conversation time. I understand as a mom how much you need some adult support, but also know you will not have time or energy to really get out and have a social life or hobbies. That is the reality of your life right now, and it will be OK. Law school is short term, and so is having young kids. You just keep moving forward.
Keep in mind that you really are just starting and the first year of law school is the hardest. It is a time of adjustment. Everyone feels overwhelmed at first, even those who seem totally confident. I was convinced I knew nothing about Civil Procedures until very close to final exam time, and Constitutional Law? Ugh. Our professor seemed to love to make us feel stupid, and it worked at first, until I realized it was not his intention, just a weird style thing of his. You have to remember not to take these kinds of things personally. By the end of first year, it is unlikely you will ever feel intimidated by a professor, again.
Wherever you are, whatever small successes you have, such as really understanding a lecture, or feeling like you have a great grasp on half of your classes, allow yourself to feel good about that! There will be plenty of things to feel bad about (not that it will be a useful state of mind, but it will happen), but whenever you can, focus on what you are doing well.
Retention will feel like a problem much of your first year of law school – and maybe beyond. You are being bombarded with new concepts, new language and new ways of thinking. You cannot possibly remember it all, and no one expects you to. Right now, it is about indoctrination. You are absorbing more than you know, but you cannot possibly remember it all. That is OK. Know that is normal. Your new scheduled, new expectations and new life as a law student will take some getting used to. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you are feeling without judgment. Just hang in there. It does get easier.
Also, I recommend reading my book, if you have not, yet. I cover a lot of things you will probably find helpful and reassuring – things from my life, as well as classmate’s lives who were working outside the home, raising kids and going to school. It is an easy read and will be a great break from the casebooks!
Here is a link:
If you have a question, feel free to send it to me through my contact page , or via my Facebook page. I am generally able to respond directly to you within 48 hours, and as with this question, the answer may become a post that will help other parents like you who are trying to make it through law school, or wondering if they should even consider it!