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Joselyn Johnson has a question for other working parents: ‘What Is Your Secret?’

Senior Editor News in Photos

The Ft. Lauderdale lawyer developed a few workarounds of her own to find the time for both

Birthday party picture

First-time parents and lawyers Joselyn and William Johnson are struggling with work-life balance and Joselyn designed some principles to help ease the burden of being a working parent.

When Joselyn Johnson’s son, Abraham, was just 12 days old, he came down with RSV, a serious illness for babies and had to be hospitalized for three weeks.

“I never left his side, and I slept there, and I saw the sun once,” Johnson, 31, said. “I doubted that my life would ever go back to the way it was.”

Abraham survived. They returned home. But Johnson was different. A heaviness settled on her chest. And everywhere they went, she was looking for signs of anything that could make her son sick.

Her friends wanted to come visit to celebrate her first-born, but Johnson told them she couldn’t risk it. When her parents or her in-laws came over, they were masked, and immediately washed their hands.

Joselyn Johnson and her son, Abraham.

Joselyn Johnson and her son, Abraham.

“I definitely did struggle,” Johnson said. “I had postpartum anxiety. I feel like I did. I never got diagnosed with it. But I was always very anxious, even taking him out in the stroller, I was always on alert.”

Abraham was stabilizing by the time Johnson returned to her new firm, Marshall Dennehey in Ft. Lauderdale, in January.

Still, the transition back to work was hard. Some of the firm’s policies made it easier, though. For one thing, she was given a lock to her door so that she could pump breast milk. For another, she can work from home twice a week. (Her husband, also an attorney, has the same set up at his firm). And, finally, she was given fewer billable hours for a few months after maternity leave.

“I don’t think I would have made it without that to be honest,” she said. “It really helped me transition better, to not have such a strict billable hours requirement right as soon as I got back.”

Johnson’s feeling about billable hours is supported by research. In a new study released on October 25 by the American Bar Association that surveyed more than 8,000 lawyers across the country shows that “42% of mothers report that the number of required hours is a reason to leave” their law firm.

“Conversely, having a work schedule that fits their caretaking commitments for children was a reason for 60% of mothers of dependent children to stay at their firm,” states the report.

Almost half of the mothers surveyed who work in law firms said they were provided a designated lactation room, but just 3% said they were given on-site childcare. And large firms like Johnson’s have welcomed hybrid working policies since the pandemic, per the study.

“Many firm lawyers viewed hybrid/remote working as increasing their work productivity, the number of hours they worked, and the quality of their work product,” states the study. “Mothers and fathers of dependent children were especially likely to hold those views.”

More than three-quarters of surveyed parents working at firms said remote work helped them find a work-life balance. But that balance came at a cost. More than of half said it was deteriorating the quality of their relationships with colleagues, and about half said it made them feel isolated.

As the baby’s health got better, so did Johnson’s anxiety. But she also designed some principles of her own to help ease the burden of being a working parent:

  • Communicate with your partner. “Sometimes I can feel just so overwhelmed, and I need him to pick up the slack and vice versa.”
  • Be organized.
  • Welcome support. “Sometimes we’ve got to swallow our pride, like, ‘excuse me watch the baby, so I can sleep for two hours.’”
  • Make friends. “We’re still in that process. We’re trying to meet other people with families.”
  • Find downtime. “Work will always be there.”

Has her anxiety completely gone away with these workarounds? No. But it’s worth it.

“It’s the greatest joy and the greatest blessing that we have our son,” Johnson said. “I find so much peace in my family.”

Abraham turned 1 on Sunday. Johnson and her husband threw him a CoComelon-themed party, where some of her friends finally met him, and it was “ONEderful,” she texted on Monday. He’s doing so well that she’s now taking him to the park four times a week, where the ground’s soft, to practice walking.

Johnson may even enroll him in music classes, where she hopes to meet other working parents. Even after all her own lived experience, she still has a burning question for them: “What is your secret?”

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