This week we welcome guest writer Rigien Bagekany-Jackson, a recent law school graduate, to talk about how she has balanced motherhood and law school the last three years.
Do you ever reflect on how you got to where you are now? I do.
Sometimes you can pinpoint that moment or decision that brought you to where you are. For me, that moment was in June 2016. I was 35 weeks pregnant with my first child working at a bank when an armed man walked in and held me up at gunpoint. This was the point when I decided to start law school. I had initially thought to postpone my offer of acceptance, but at that moment, I knew that there had to be a way to make law school work with having a newborn child.
Call your village for help
Since then, I have had many people ask me how I made it work. How I managed to also have my second child in the summer between my 2L and 3L year. How I handled being a new mom twice in law school while also breastfeeding, doing my readings, cleaning diapers, going to classes, being a wife, and studying for midterms and finals. The long answer is: I gathered as much family help as possible and had my husband share parenting because our children are as much his as they are mine. I learned from the start that I had to swallow my pride and ask for family help, and I am glad I did. We sought the aid of my mom who helped the first semester of my law school and my mother-in-law who stayed with us the second semester of law school. Both of our moms lived far from us, and we were grateful that they were able to move to help, not only with childcare, but with other chores around the house too.
Furthermore, I am fortunate enough that we are able to afford childcare through my husband’s job. Childcare gave me the option to treat law school like a full-time job. We found an amazing daycare whose teachers take care of my son and daughter as if they were their own children. Unfortunately, law schools are not designed for non-traditional students especially the ones with children. Every now and then when one of my kids were sick, I had hoped that my professors would allow me to join in the class online instead of missing it completely. However, that feature was not available. I’m very aware of some of the struggles my classmates faced who did not have childcare or who had to work part time or fulltime to provide for their families while in law school.
I recall my Constitutional Law professor telling me about a student he had a few years ago who made him furious because she would fall asleep in his morning classes. He recalled calling her to his office one day to confront her. To his surprise, she had started apologizing first explaining that she was a single mom of four kids, who was working night shifts to provide for them while also going to law school during the day. She would fall asleep in his 8 AM class because she was exhausted from working the night before. I had three other amazing classmates who had children during our second and third year of law school. It was hard for all of us, but we all made it work because of our resilience, but also because some of us had great family help.
Choose Quality over Quantity
The short answer to how I made it work is: I became unapologetically efficient in my work ethic. Especially after my 1L year, when I finally learned how to study for law school. But above all, I used my good judgment in deciding what needs my attention most. I learned to balance my priorities by choosing the quality and importance of my work over how much I could really get done. Did I really need to do all the readings for my Wills and Trusts class or just focus on that assignment that was due in two days? What percentage of my grade was this midterm worth in Constitutional Law compared to my Appellate Litigation paper? I skipped classes when one of my kids was running a fever. Yes, that wreaked havoc on our week’s meticulous planned calendar, but at the end of the day my number one priority was the health and happiness of my family.
I also chose quality over quantity to decide what would make my resume look good. I was interested in joining several organizations, but instead chose to stay with one single organization while I fiercely and successfully competed to be on our school’s law review. I chose to say no to several other attractive student organizations, fundraisers, parties, and happy hours. Instead, I would go home and soak in another hour or two of my family’s love and affection.
Moreover, I learned how to compartmentalize my law school and family life. This was probably the hardest thing to learn at law school because it is easy to get caught up in your thoughts and in your mom guilt. Meditating and doing breathing exercises helped me take some of the anxieties away. I tried to be present physically and mentally when I was with my family, and present when I was doing my law school tasks. Of course, I had times when that didn’t work so well especially during finals, but my husband always pitched in by taking the kids out to the playground or for long walks if I was studying on the weekends. Sometimes, I would just let my kids shower me with their love, laughter, and their tantrums and forget all about law school.
And, I learned to repeat this mantra when my mom guilt got the best of me: If I am not happy, my family will not be happy; I would be a miserable stay-at-home mom because I actually like what I am doing at law school; I’m doing this because I enjoy it and I am good at it; I am doing this for our family; I am doing this for our kids so that they can have a better education.
I come from an immigrant family who fled Iraq in the 1990s. I have learned from my parents to break barriers early on in order to compete with my peers who didn’t have the same struggles as me. I am in my last semester of law school, and I have worked very hard to get to where I am now. I am proud to say that I have enjoyed most parts of law school because of my two small children and not despite of them. I hope one day they will use me as an example to advocate for themselves and their studies.