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Heather O’Connor is a 3L. After a seven year marriage and three kids, Heather went through a divorce that left her questioning what to do with her life. She decided to become an attorney and has never looked back since beginning the long journey. She entered a local community college after...



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My Secret Guilt (Although no longer a secret I guess)

Posted by Heather O'Connor on 03/12/2010 at 01:48 PM

How do you know if you’re doing the right thing?  Although this seems to be the main question of being in law school regarding so many issues, I am asking it in another realm.

I have three kids.  I am divorced, so although my ex gets visitation, I generally raise them on my own.  I knew I was taking a giant leap when I went back to school after my divorce, but figured it would be the best thing for my family in the long run, even if it made things more difficult presently. 

Undergrad was a change, but it wasn’t too bad.  I put my youngest into preschool rather than staying home with him like I had with my first two until they went off to kindergarten.  I’d experience guilt sometimes because he wasn’t getting the same one-on-one attention my other two kids were able to get from me when they were his age.  However, I rationalized this decision by pointing out the fact he was making friends, he was learning how to socialize, and most importantly, he liked it.  I was able to pick up all my kids by 2:30 when they got out of school.  I was still able to do all the “mom” stuff of cooking healthy dinners, baking cookies, taking my kids to the playground, going for bike rides, chaperoning their school events, cheering on soccer games, making cupcakes for their class on their birthdays, playing board games, sitting down and working on their homework with them, and of course, cleaning the house.

Law school was a new ballgame though.  I couldn’t get everything done anymore as I had in undergrad during the hours of 9 – 2 and then from 8 – 10 after my kids went to bed.  With the beginning of law school, all my kids had to go to after school care so I could “work” a full-time law school schedule and spend my day from 8:30 – 4:30 going to classes and doing my reading.  Soon after starting my 1L year, I discovered this wasn’t enough time to get everything done.  I started adding hours onto my study schedule after my kids went to bed.  The time I started going to bed started getting pushed back further and further until I was only getting five or so hours of sleep per night.  Being tired and getting through classes and reading is bad enough, but then add on three hyper kids with a lot to do between the hours of 5:30 – 8:00, and I was very, very cranky.  Red Bull and coffee weren’t cutting it. 

My life became a race against the clock.  How much I could get done in the least amount of time became my unspoken life mantra.  I couldn’t fall behind in school because once you fall behind, there’s no catching up.  But how do you pick kids up at 5:30, make dinner, get them to any activities they have, make sure they do their homework, make sure they take showers, clean their rooms, do their chores, food shop, pay your bills, take care of all the odds and ends, communicate with teachers so that you know how your kids are doing at school, get in doctor, dentist and counseling appointments, and make sure they are tucked in with a song by 8:00?  The only answer to this question is that you can’t.  Something’s gotta give.

So where do I cut back?  Exercising went right out the window.  Sleep was the next thing to go.  I stopped cleaning during the week and reserved Sundays as my cleaning day.  I bought paper plates, cups, and silverware to cut back on dishes.  We started eating at fast food places a lot more often.  My kids commented how their goodnight song was being sung faster.  Getting them to bed became a chore rather than an enjoyable experience.  We didn’t have time to go to the park anymore.  The board games remained on their shelves.  The hours between 5:30 – 8:00 became very similar to a warehouse production line and almost mechanical. 

And the guilt!!!  Oh the guilt I felt about all this was devastating.  Was I a good mother?  Was I really making the best decision for my family?  Is this really worth it?  My kids are only going to be the age they are now once.  Am I missing it?  Am I cheating my kids out of their childhood?  Am I being selfish?  Am I going to regret this later?

I promised my kids that I would make sure I wouldn’t get myself into a situation I felt I couldn’t handle again.  And there were many times during my first year that I felt I couldn’t handle it.  However, we made it through that first year.  This year is much better.  I’ve taken on more responsibility, but I feel as though I have a better grip on it.  There are still bad days, but the good days win over the bad.  I still feel guilty, but I’ve been able to balance my home and school life better this year.  My kids are awesome and will deserved this degree just as much as I do when I finally graduate. 

When I think of everything I have to do in my life right now, I can easily get overwhelmed.  So I try not to think about it too much.  Like Nike - I just do it.  I have learned to be ahead in my work because I never know if I’ll be taking a last minute run to the ER, or have to schedule an emergency meeting to discuss one of my kids’ behavior at school with the principal.  But generally, I look at getting through law school just like any other student – by taking it one day at a time.