Law school is stressful by pure design alone. The strenuous course schedule and endless reading assignments, learning and reprogramming your brain to think like a lawyer are the challenges most law students face in addition to outside pressures. These outside pressures may include romantic relationships, financial struggles, and the like.
However, there is one particular group of law students who are often not mentioned during discussions of time and stress management: parents.
The average age of an entering law student is 23 to 24 years old. However, a significant number of new law students are non-traditional students. Non-traditional students are those students who have spent a considerable amount of time in the workforce before applying and attending law school or are significantly over the age of the median 1L class age.
Some also consider students with children to fall into this category of a nontraditional student as well. Knowing the stress of law school for the average student, imagine that stress plus factoring in the responsibility of caring for a child.
Often things that those without children may overlook and not consider, are merely a normal day in the life of a parent law student. Generally, the younger a child is, the more care that is required. When I began my law school career, I was classified as a non-traditional law student. At that time, I was a 32-year-old divorcee and mother of two children. My youngest child turned one a few days before I began my first day of class.
I spent about 10 years in the workforce prior to law school and earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree. I earned these degrees while working and caring for one child, my oldest son, who I had as an undergraduate.
However, despite this experience of navigating school while parenting before, I found having a child in law school, especially a young child, to be nerve-wrecking and sometimes disheartening.
My first year of law school taught me several things concerning endurance. I went through a period of trial and error where I found what systems work for me to help produce a better result academically and mentally.
So, here are few tips/things I learned concerning balancing law school and parenting,
Support, Support, Support
We’ve all heard the expression, “it takes a village to raise a child.” This is especially true while in law school. Finding reasonable and safe child care is essential for success. It is best to locate multiple sources of child care. Although you may enroll a child in day care or before/after school programs if they are school age, it’s necessary to have another party to be able to care for you child for times when your primary method of care fails – for example, if the daycare or school closes for a holiday not observed by your law school, having a sitter or family member or friend to step in and watch your child is especially helpful.
By doing so, you’re able to attend as many classes as possible and save absences for true emergencies.
Additionally, a sitter is necessary for studying and to attend school events.
Child care is very expensive. Check with your state to see if they offer any child care assistance programs for which you could qualify. Generally, as long as you are a full-time student and your income is under a specific threshold, you should qualify. These programs are funded by the government and funding is limited; as such, there is often a waiting list – so apply early.
If you receive federal loans to finance your legal education, you can apply for a loan increase for dependent care. Contact your school’s financial aid office for an explanation and necessary documents. Generally, you will need to submit documents that verify the relationship between you and the dependent (i.e. birth certificate), a document from the child care facility which indicates the tuition amount, and any receipts or bank statements which will show how much was paid.
Spend quality time with your children
It may seem like you barely have enough time to tackle the workload of law school and the bare minimums of parental responsibilities, but it is additionally imperative that you spend quality time with your children. Younger children are not going to understand why mommy or daddy is not able to play with them all the time or see them as often as before, and older children still are unable to fully grasp the sacrifice you are making. As such, it is imperative that they have few moments of your undivided attention.
You may not realize it, but this time is also needed for your own mental health. Time spent with loved ones doing meaningful activities is an excellent way to reduce stress. Having a positive outlet to reduce stress helps improve mental clarity and will actually help you to be a more effective parent.
So, carve out time in your schedule to do an activity with your children. Read them a book, take your young child to the park, or attend a ball game. Check your local paper and online to see what fun and free activities are available in your area.
Allow your children to see what you do
Children are very curious about the lives of their parents. Allow your child to see you reading and studying. If your child is older let them help you review material and quiz you. Also, try to explain concepts of law to them.
This has at least three benefits. First, it’s an excellent way to ensure that you are familiar with the concepts of law if you’re able to break it down to a lay person. Secondly, your child will feel great about helping you. Finally, it’s a great way to bond.
For younger children, allowing them to see you read and write helps to reinforce and create a desire for them to do the same. Children often imitate what they see, so teaching your child to work hard and be diligent are excellent traits to pass on to future generations.
Seek help when needed
Understand that you are under a great deal of stress and if overwhelmed seek help. Many law schools provide mental health services either directly on campus or through a referral service. In Louisiana, we have the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program (JLAP). Many of the lawyer assistance programs extend their services to law students as well.
This process is arduous at times. Our children are often times a great motivation for us, and for many of us, they are the reason why we are going through this process. It says a lot about an individual who is able to continue to strive for goals in spite of challenges.
Whenever guilt comes to mind or you feel that your pursuit of law is causing you to neglect your parental responsibilities, remember that you are not alone and there are other law students who are facing the same difficulties and challenges as you. Keep in mind the phenomenal legacy of endurance and perseverance that your success will teach your child.
You’re doing a great job, and you’ll make it through!