Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on motherhood in the legal profession, in partnership with our friends at MothersEsquire. Welcome Winter Wheeler to our pages.
When the COVID-19 quarantine first started here in Georgia, I was … amused at the absurdity of being an ambitious lawyer and mediator confined in a house with my four young kids. Yet, I was also desperately trying to figure out how I was going to make all this at-home time work. So, I turned to writing, both to help make plans and to document how I was responding emotionally to the new normal.
Recently, I reread some of my words to remind myself of the self-care I had employed along the way, as preparing for pandemic-style back-to-school had me feeling incredibly out of sorts. I presumed the exercise would be a quick refresher; however, the reading spurred a more thorough reflection.
At the start of the lock-down, I was a confessed perfectionist, obsessing over the tiniest, most inconsequential details in outlines, blog posts, and even e-mails. But after one month, I found I did not have the physical or emotional bandwidth to maintain self-imposed perfection. Going over my writing — and my clearly intense feelings of doubt concerning my ability to maintain my career and also mother full-time — made me feel noticeably sad; for next to my honestly insightful words of self-reflection I would go on to flippantly joke that my family and career were moving forward based purely on luck.
I will never denigrate my true feelings and my true effort like that again.
I am succeeding with my family and career because I work incredibly hard. I support the remote learning of three small children, care for a toddler, work full-time and serially volunteer, providing me with real-world evidence that in the middle of a pandemic I can thrive. There is power and a sense of well-deserved merit in my ability to recognize this truth.
I also recognize that I arrived at this point by being self-aware about my strategies for self-care, which have helped keep me and my family grounded.
In Any Given Situation, I Will Not Do More Than What I Or My Family Need And Genuinely Want
Like many of us, I was blindsided this past March by having to suddenly adopt remote schooling — and my kids were so discombobulated after being ripped from their routines that they were extremely resistant to learning. But with a new school year, I am feeling compelled to try my very best to keep up with the schoolwork while working full time.
To-do lists remain critical in staying on task and panic free. And now that I have so much more on my plate, I have added a system of color-coded notebooks for each child and each of their special projects. My past perfectionism would have had me juggling several notebooks and self-generated anxiety at the same time. Now, I take out just one notebook, leaving the others behind while I get busy completing what one person and one family can realistically accomplish in one day. And at the end of that day, I know I would rather slow down our pace than strain the parent-child relationship with daily school battles. I refuse to push any of us further than is reasonable.
I Will Focus My Efforts On What I Can Believably Solve — And Ignore What Seems Beyond My Control
For this school year, I am resolved to not worry about what I cannot affect positively. And I am strengthened by the results of this mindset. My initial fears that I would have to scale back my business have proven unfounded. I am mediating cases both virtually and in the office. The kids have grown accustomed to being quiet and staying away from my in-home virtual mediation set, with “webinar” and “Zoom meeting” now being terms my kids commonly use. My children’s adaptability has given me the space needed to expand my business. So, what seemed insurmountable five months ago now feels par for the course.
I Will Ask For Help And Encourage My Family, Friends, Colleagues — And Yes, Even You — To Do The Same
I believe that I have thrived during this period because I have been willing to ask for help. I now shoulder more housework, so other tasks such as bookkeeping and making doctors’ appointments must be outsourced. And I am okay with that. My goal is for my family to emerge on the other side of isolation with our mental health intact and if it that means I must rely on a team of people, so be it.
And Lastly, A Note About Allowing Ourselves The Same Grace We Readily Give To Others
This principle has been hard for me to consistently implement but I continue to work on it, and I am proud of the growth that has resulted. As I have put in the effort, my kids have also risen to the occasion and afforded me the grace that I need and deserve. My kids have proven themselves to be far more selfless than I imagined a two-, four-, six-, and nine-year-old could be, and I am humbled by their resiliency and empathy. And as I reflect, I know this this to be the ultimate, most beautiful surprise of attorneying at home.
Winter Wheeler is a civil litigator turned full-time mediator based in Atlanta, Georgia. Winter left big firm life to build a full-time mediation practice right before the pandemic struck. She quickly pivoted from solely providing services in-person to strictly offering services online for a time. She was able to pivot so quickly, in fact, that she was sought out by several law firms to teach their lawyers how to translate their usual mediation preparation and presentations to the online forum. Winter has become a vocal member of the legal community urging litigants to use the online mediation tools available to them to keep their cases moving forward. In addition, she has become a significant voice in the dialogue regarding whether binding virtual jury trials are a reasonable option in this most unusual time.
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