This week we welcome guest writer Elizabeth Knox to talk about what it’s like to go to law school as a parent – an offers some advice for making it through!
She was beaming, thrilled by the pomp and circumstance. The crowd cheered for her as much as they cheered for me. Holding my five-year-old daughter’s hand as I crossed the stage to accept my diploma at my law school graduation was one of the proudest moments of my life so far.
I deliberately did not answer the phone the day the dean of admissions called to let me know that I had been accepted to law school. I knew I would want to replay the voice message for my husband, parents, and grandmother. My daughter was newly two and was taking a nap in the same room. I looked over her, sort of in a daze. Thoughts were flying: how were we going to move across the country with a toddler? Would she be potty trained before we left? How would she handle the upheaval of leaving her entire extended family? How would I handle it? Would we make friends?
As everything tends to, all of those questions resolved themselves. We made mistakes along the way, but corrected them as needed. For example, did you know that four miles in Texas is very different from four miles in Massachusetts? We did not, and that explained the rental market price differences. We made a better decision the next year by moving into graduate student housing far closer to campus.
We made the big move in July. At orientation a few weeks later, I looked for other young kids and non-traditional students. At the time, it felt as though everyone else had come straight through from undergrad, whereas I had taken five years to work and start a family. My fellow students were warm and engaging, but it was difficult to find sustaining common ground at first. That all changed once we were thrown into the standard 1L course mix.
We joined the family group on campus, hoping to meet similarly situated families. Everyone was fantastic, but it felt like the group catered toward families where the father figures were in school while the mothers took care of the kids. We enjoyed the events we attended, but my husband never really clicked with the group during my first year.
When we moved to on-campus family housing the second year everything changed. We were suddenly surrounded by non-traditional families and had an amazing community courtyard – we routinely shared dinners and childcare. We made friends with families from around the world and remain very fond of them. My only regret was not living there my first year.
Finding your people involves a lot of trial and error, but when you do, it feels magical. We loved being able to step out into the courtyard and meet people from other schools. This requires getting out of the law school bubble, but it is a fantastic way to expand your social circle. If living like this is an option at your school, I strongly encourage going for it.
I sometimes joke that I spent the same amount of time studying that my classmates did. Students with families can have more spare time than you’d think. Because I usually skipped out on happy hours and bar reviews, I had a fair bit of extra time on my hands.
I made it a priority to do a few social things every week – lunches, hosting dinner, meeting for coffee. I had a standing lunch date with another mom in my section and that was key to my happiness toward the middle of law school. We could share laments and offer support when things felt overwhelming. Years out of law school, she’s still my go-to person when things feel a bit much.
It is possible to do well in law school while balancing family and social life. I wasn’t nearly as social as many of my classmates, but I don’t think I missed out on too much. I just heard the gossip a day or two later than my peers. This balance would have been nearly impossible without a supportive spouse. He loved my friends as much as I did, and did everything he could to make our home a welcoming one.
We loved that people would just drop by spontaneously, and every now and then we would host more involved dinners. These were often reciprocated, and I was grateful that everyone took my daughter under their wings, inviting her to hang out with them or offering to babysit so my husband and I could sneak away for a minute or two.
My classmates were a godsend when I fell ill with a ruptured appendix over winter break during 3L. Those who remained in town swooped in to entertain a 4 year old for hours at a time before family could come to our aid. I will never forget that. Don’t be afraid to ask for help (or offer to help!).
The last year of law school was bittersweet. We loved our community, and we were so grateful for the friendships we had built. By contrast, the prospect of moving on to a federal clerkship thousands of miles away felt daunting. I found myself asking the same questions that I asked before law school started. They felt different because we knew we would only be there a year. It was hard to invest fully in a new place, knowing we would leave so soon. I knew that my law school experience was charmed, and I had hope that we would settle in equally well in our new town. There were challenges as I started my legal career, but the balancing skills I learned in school helped me more than I could have imagined.