Opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors.
By Kellie M. Barr, Indiana University Health, and Matthew B. Barr, Barnes & Thornburg LLP
2020. Who would have thought that one year could change so many things? Things we thought were certain, non-negotiable and established norms as lawyers were cast aside along with vacation plans, professional sports and pants with buttons. This fall will bring even more uncertainty into our lives as we send our children back to school. We have a first grader and a third grader, and our public school has voted for an all virtual start until further notice.
The days that followed our school’s decision were filled with the same conversation over and over and over again: How can we possibly do this? How can we balance two full-time legal careers while also being able to help our children engage in e-learning? These questions and our doubts only intensified after our district released the virtual learning schedule it will use for its elementary kids. The schedule largely mirrors the timing our kids would follow in their classrooms—8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. with live and recorded lessons scattered throughout the day.
Our school district is not alone. Many schools throughout the Indianapolis area have chosen to push back their start dates or have an all virtual start, and it's possible that local or state officials will eventually mandate that all schools follow suit. Many virtual school schedules look similar to the one released by our district because of state requirements detailing what a day must look like to constitute a full day of school.
So, what is a working parent to do? We are trying to be honest with ourselves about what we can handle, talk to others about it and get creative. We’ve paired up with some friends who also have elementary kids at our school and plan to rotate a “parent on duty” for our young e-learners so that the other parents can work when they are not on duty. We’ve decided to be transparent with our colleagues about what is going on and that sometimes we will need to adjust our typical working hours or take time off to accommodate this. We’ve brainstormed with friends and joined online communities of parents to get ideas and find additional support. Many schools have Facebook pages where parents can connect with each other to share school information and find help from other families. If your school doesn’t have a page like that, perhaps you could be the one to start it?
Make no mistake about it: We know how fortunate we are to have the ability to work from home right now, to have each other and to have found other people willing to tackle this together. But even with all that, we are still going to need the help of our community and the grace of our colleagues to get through this. Some days it feels impossible to juggle the demands. If you feel that way too, please know that you are not alone. Be honest with yourself and those around you about what you need and what you can handle. Ask for help, and please help others in return when you are able and in whatever manner you are able. Try to be fluid, and remember that you are doing the best you can.
Here’s our ask: If you are in leadership or a position of influence at your firm or company, please know that this is a huge opportunity for you to demonstrate the values touted by your organization and build loyalty among those who work with you. The pandemic has taught us that most lawyers really can work from home and still provide strong client service. Let’s use that flexibility now.
If you’ve read this far and are not a working parent, thank you. We know that everyone has struggles right now whether you have kids at home or not, and nothing said here is meant to diminish that. Please be open with us about your struggles too and let us know how we can help. While 2020 has thrown so many norms out the window, it also has humanized our profession in a way that we hope will last long past the pandemic. We are all in this together—let’s hope that’s a true legacy of 2020.