When I began my first year of law school, or 1L year, I was a single parent, and this status meant that I was going to spend all three years of law school as a “PL”, or “Parenting Law Student.”
My long days included a 60 mile round-trip commute from the suburbs to downtown. I lived with my parents that year, and my mother graciously helped me with my preschool aged daughter.
That “easy” lifestyle soon changed drastically. My parents moved out of state, so my daughter and I moved downtown. I no longer had a built-in babysitter available for medical emergencies or school cancellations. Instead, my kindergartner and I woke up at 6 a.m. to leave our house, and we frequently were home late in the evenings for homework and dinner.
In my years juggling law school and parenting, each semester held a different challenge. Some semesters had heavier class schedules. Other semesters included internships during my “light” class days, including a 20 hour-a-week internship at the District Attorney’s office. My 3L year, I joined the mock trial team to improve both my resume and my litigation skills. Most nights that meant bringing my daughter with me, portable DVD player and snacks in tow, until 9 or 10 at night.
Despite the intensity, those years were some of the most fulfilling of my life. I was never bored, because no single day was the same as the one before. Beyond the daily stress, I found comfort in the support of my law school and my peers.
I was not alone in my parenting experience. One classmate of mine had 10 children of various ages. Another classmate gave birth to her first child in the middle of the semester and only missed a few days of class. Several of us would bring our kids to weekend study sessions, all of us armed with crayons and activities to keep the little ones busy. I was always amazed at the strength and resilience of my classmates, and I was encouraged by their determination and tenacity.
Each of the parents I met balanced law school differently. If being a “PL” alongside them taught me anything, it was to SCHEDULE SMART and PREEMPTIVELY PREPARE. For example:
- Schedule your classes around your kids, not the other way around. At the beginning of the year, I reviewed the local school district calendar to my own and marked the shared or different holidays. (I made the mistake one President’s Day of assuming that my daughter’s school was closed, and she missed a day of school.) I also reviewed my professors’ policies on children in class in case I needed to drop the class or ask permission to bring my daughter with me ahead of time.
- Budget for after-school care and/or childcare. When I compared babysitter rates, I realized it made more sense financially to pay monthly for after-school care, which was available until 6 p.m. every day.
- Know who to call for help. I had incredibly supportive classmates and family friends who were willing to help babysit for an hour, a day, or even a weekend to help me study or travel for a mock trial competition. Additionally, I included at least one trusted law school classmate on my daughter’s emergency forms at school.
- Study when you will be alert. I know one woman who studied at night while her son slept. In contrast, I scheduled my study time in between classes, so that meant I found quiet spots during the day to read for class. During finals, I would study while my daughter was in school.
- Use your “off time” to catch up on your tasks at home. It is hard to focus on a research paper deadline when stressed about the laundry and dishes. It is even harder if it is car trouble or plumbing issues. It is important to take care of your home, vehicle, and finances to allow better focus.
- Take time for fun! Law school is hard, and parenting makes it even harder! I made sure my daughter and I spent quality time together on the weekends. Sometimes this meant pizza night at home, but other times we went out and explored Houston together.
My law school years were some of my most fulfilling years to date because I took the time to schedule and prepare accordingly. The 3 years as a “PL” were always exciting, never boring, and provided my daughter and me memories to last a lifetime.