- Chelsea Sahai shares her views.
As a working mom, how do you balance work and career?
I'm an immigration attorney for a non-profit serving low-income New Yorkers. I could easily work 15-hour days and still not be caught up! My husband is still in residency for orthopedic surgery, and unfortunately, he isn't as available as both of us would like. Balance is really important to me, and something that you have to look at in the big picture, not day by day. I think the most important thing is to find an employer who respects your boundaries. I am completely upfront in interviews: I will be in the office 9-5. I catch up on emails after my son goes to sleep, or during nap time on weekends, but otherwise once 5:00 hits, I am in mom mode. There are a lot of co-workers and employers out there that will understand and respect those priorities. Sometimes, a pay cut is worth the freedom from guilt for not being in the office 12 hours a day.
The second most important thing is to ask for help! While my family lives halfway across the country, I am lucky to have the financial resources to outsource. I hired a cleaning lady to come twice a month so I don't spend my Sundays cleaning, I have a dog walker come so I can hang out with my son weekday mornings before work, and I do a nanny share with a family in our building so I spend less time in transit on weekdays. Even if you don't have the same resources, you'd be surprised how willing people are to help out if you need a hand.
Finally, I meditate almost every day. Life can feel pretty out of control, but meditation is a no-cost, drug-free, clinically proven ticket to feeling more peaceful and present. It helps me really "be" at home when I am home, instead of stressing about all the things at work that I didn't get done.
How has everything currently happening with US immigration, impacted your work as an immigration attorney and your feelings as a mother?
It's been an emotional time! I think all of us feel really helpless, overwhelmed, and so saddened by the cruel treatment of families crossing the border. It was hard for me to escape, and I felt this huge responsibility since I've been an immigration lawyer for several years, and suddenly the work I know intimately is on the front page of the NY Times every day. It was difficult not to bring it home. I would wonder what the kids in detention were eating for dinner as I was making my son, Niam’s, food. Every night as I was putting him to sleep I would get choked up, imagining the agony of not knowing where my child was. In moments when I was stressed about work, or struggling to find that balance, I would take a moment to feel extreme gratitude for the fact that I knew my child was safe.
I also began involving Niam (at all of two years old!) in my work. We went to a protest together. We read A is for Activist. He sat on my lap while I briefed cases. I know he won't remember, but I think it is important to start engaging him in my work so that he understands why I leave for hours a day. There will come a time where I can't make a game, a concert, or a school event. I want him to feel proud of what I do, and feel part of the cause—not like I am choosing work over spending time with him.
What is one piece of advice that you can share with other moms out there?
It's not all about you! As hard as it is to hear, as soon as they cut that umbilical cord, they are no longer part of you. They are an inimitable human, with their own complex alchemy of desires, aversions, inclinations, and thoughts. Their cries are not a reflection of your inadequacy; their early crawling is not a marker of your successful parenting. There is so much going on in their little bodies and minds that there are inevitably days (or weeks!) where they are so cranky and bratty and you feel like you just can't get it right. I try not to match his frustration with my frustration. I try to remember that he may be having a crappy day, just like an adult. I try to focus on our relationship to one another, celebrating him as an individual, giving him space to (safely) explore, and nurturing his own identity. That also helps me feel happy when he's excited to see our nanny, or I see pictures of him playing at the park with lots of kids while I'm at work. Instead of feeling sad I am not there, I feel happy he has so many great relationships.
NY Immigration Attorney