Twenty-five years ago I was a fresh-faced soon-to-be high school graduate. And I can still recall a conversation I had with a girlfriend of mine that summed up the working mom dilemma perfectly.
"So, let me get this straight," my friend began. "We are headed off to college. After college, we need to get jobs in our field while our skills are still relevant. Then we need to work in those jobs for as long as it takes to gain experience and hopefully get ahead." And here's where she got to the meat of the matter, "So when exactly are we supposed to have kids?"
I'll admit, I was puzzled. When is a working mom supposed to put her career on hold to have a family? Still, I thought that as a modern working woman — these were the 1990s after all, not the 1960s — that the solution would become clear to me over time.
I'm sure I don't need to tell you that it did not. That same question asked by my high school friend had been asked by women for decades before us and is still asked by women entering the workforce today. Women are continually told that they can have it all when it comes to career and family, but no one ever defines what all is — or how to make it work.
Two women in Northern Virginia are hoping to not only define "all," but also create a working path to achieving it. Rebecca Geller and Maria Simon are lawyers in the Washington D.C. area who realized quickly in their careers that the pressure and long, inflexible hours of working at a traditional law firm did not coincide with having a family. The message sent to women in the field was simple: "Outsource your life." Hire a cleaning agency, a cook, a nanny. But Simon and Geller wanted to play as large a role in their domestic lives as they did in the workplace.
So the two launched an experiment in working motherhood unlike any that had likely been tried before. And just like that, the Geller Law Group was born. A recent New York Times piece on the firm showed that on the surface, the Geller Law Group is like any other law firm. Lawyers meet regularly with clients, share office space, and bill by the hour. But dig a little deeper and one can see that the office space is rented on an hourly basis. The firms' seven employees are encouraged to work from home and to schedule their work around their family lives.
To make it all work, the members of the Geller Law Group team meticulously update their shared Google calendars and communicate multiple times each day using Gchat. It's a constant juggle, but it is working. The lawyers and paralegals in the firm work full workweeks while shuffling kids to after-school music lessons, attending afternoon preschool parties, and making it home for family dinners.
The Geller Law Group began as an experiment, but it may just end up being the model of parenting while working. Granted, there are many careers for which this model wouldn't work. Doctors, for example, can't be quite as flexible with their patient scheduling as they might like. But there also many, many careers that could use the Geller paradigm as a template.
And when that becomes the norm and is no longer the exception, working moms might really have it all.
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