By Ashley Oldfield

“I don’t know how you do it!”—that’s the response I usually get when I tell someone that I’m in law school and a parent.  I’m never sure how to respond because, frankly, I don’t know how I do it, either.  Law school is stressful and demanding for anyone, and it’s no surprise that having a family doesn’t make the experience any easier. In the end, I managed to effectively navigate through my first year, and I’d like to share a few of the lessons that I learned along the way.

Perhaps the most difficult lesson that I learned is that I can’t do everything that I want to do. Although I initially struggled with this, I eventually found a healthy balance between my personal and academic aspirations. Law school can consume all of your time if you don’t set up boundaries. Parenting is similar in that there’s always more that you can do to be considered a “good” parent. Before law school, I attended every parent-teacher meeting and soccer game, dropped in to read to my son’s class on a regular basis, and planned Pinterest-inspired birthday parties complete with hand-crafted invitations and decorations and homemade goodies. Even I was impressed with the Stormtrooper cupcakes I made for my son’s “Star Wars”-themed birthday party a few years ago.

However, once I was in law school, I couldn’t do all of that anymore. I missed a couple of soccer games, ignored every email asking for volunteers for elementary school events, and stuck some candles on an undecorated store-bought cookie cake for my son’s most recent birthday party. I felt guilty, but I shouldn’t have because none of those things define being a good parent. For me, being a “good” parent meant setting aside time—away from my laptop, 50 plus pages of daily reading, and outlines—to hang out with my husband and son. Most days we still sat down for dinner as a family (even if dinner was just take-out) and I still carved out time to read bedtime stories and tuck my son in at night. These were the moments that were most important to us, so I made sure to prioritize them and let go of everything else.

At the same time, I had to take a pass on some opportunities at school. Like many law students, I was eager to participate in everything that law school had to offer, from moot court and mock trial to networking events to a variety of clubs and pro bono work. Instead, I had to ask some hard questions about time commitments and honestly evaluate whether an activity would work within my family framework. In addition, I felt pressured by the highly competitive nature of law school to keep up with the activities and accomplishments of my peers. Knowing that my classmates were studying or adding a line to their already-impressive resumes while I was at the playground or building Lego towers was frustrating at times. However, while “mom” is not something that I put on my resume, it is a role that I proudly talk about during interviews. After all, successfully balancing law school and a family is an impressive achievement in itself. Ultimately, just as with parenting, I had to decide which activities were the most valuable to me and let go of the rest.

On a more practical level, I also learned that planning ahead is crucial to not being completely overwhelmed by the demands of school and home. Foremost in this was keeping a detailed calendar and having frequent talks with my husband about the who, what, when, and where of our lives. I also used school breaks to plan and prepare for the coming months. Over the winter holiday, I stocked my freezer with various home cooked meals. Two whole days spent cooking provided a couple of freezer meals a week during second semester. Of course, by the end, my family was a bit tired of chili and lasagna, but it was a great time saver on busy nights. I also learned to schedule appointments, such as doctor’s visits, oil changes, and haircuts for the breaks. I made the mistake of scheduling a checkup for my son at the end of January. I didn’t think I’d be too busy. As it turned out, I was wrong and I ended up canceling it. He went in May instead.

Another trick I developed was to consolidate all of my shopping for household items into one massive trip. Before law school I would make a trip to the store every few weeks to buy things like toothpaste or shampoo. Instead, I stocked up on about five months of supplies and was never stuck having to make a run to the store when I was feverishly working on a paper. These are all fairly simple and seemingly minor steps, but they provided a measure of security and relief during hectic times.

I hope that my advice and tips will be helpful to other parents embarking on this journey. However, neither law school nor parenting is a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Find what works best for you and your family and never give up. It’s only three years, right?