The Working Mom: A Balancing Act

I’m only one year into this balancing act, but it’s no joke.

At the time I became pregnant with my daughter, I was working as a divorce lawyer for a mid-size law firm in Essex County. My day-to-day job is demanding, without the complications of morning sickness, fatigue, and swollen feet. I spend a lot of time in courtrooms, advocating for clients during the most stressful times of their lives. Whether I am handling an uncontested “simple” divorce or a complicated child support and custody matter, people rely on me. I am a counselor, a therapist, a friend, a confidant, and most importantly- the person my clients trust to handle their personal lives with utmost care.

I was so excited about my pregnancy, but I often had to suppress my excitement (or my nausea) to focus on whatever tasks were before me on any given day.

While I was pregnant, I continued about my career as if nothing changed. I continued to carry my typical workload, which was often 50-60 hours per week, commuting one hour each way every day. I was in court on Friday, October 30th, one week before my due date. I worked a full day, settling a case involving custody of the parties’ two daughters. I was physically and emotionally drained (which are typical side effects of my job, irrespective of pregnancy). All I wanted to do was go home and put my feet up. 24 hours later, my water broke, and approximately 26 hours after that, Brielle was born. Suffice it to say, I have not stopped to put my feet up.

People always asked me if I could go back part time. Put simply: my job does not lend itself to being part time. I am never off the clock. I am answering clients’ calls and emails in situations which are often not during “business hours.” So I went back full time. Committed to being the attorney & wife I was before Brielle came along. Simultaneously committed to doing as much as I could with Brielle and also committed to breastfeeding her for as long as possible.

I don’t have any anecdotal story about the day I realized it was hard. I think I always knew it was hard. I had to give up pumping earlier than I anticipated because I literally couldn’t stomach plugging in the pump in a public courthouse bathroom. I would leave my office earlier during the day so I could make it home for bath time, but that meant I was working later hours in the night- oftentimes interrupted by a baby who awoke at 3am daily and just wanted to play. (KNOCK ON WOOD: that ended when she turned 9 months old).

I invested in under-eye concealer and kept on keeping on. This went on for seven months. I continued to commute one hour each way, all the while working in a firm where the volume of work never lessened and in a place where things like Facetime and office hours were favored over working from home. Truth be told, I think I just accepted that this was how it was going to be.

Just shortly before Brielle turned one, I was offered a job at the Ruvolo Law Group. It’s owned and operated by two sisters who have six kids between them. Their business philosophy and work/life is refreshing. Not only would I have a shorter commute, but I would never miss my child's first day of school or stress about what to do when she was sick. It was the work/life balance I needed. (You can read more about Ruvolo Law Group & Ashley's services HERE)

So, here I am. Working from Panera Bread on Washington Street. Knowing I can go see Brielle at her music class in an hour, not calculating traffic patterns to make sure I’m home for bed time. I’m still (possibly too much so) connected to my office and my clients at all times. Emails and phone calls never stop. Clients know their cases continue to be handled with care because I’m still the lawyer I have always been. Nothing has changed for them, but this is a great change for me.

I always hesitate to say I am a “working mom,” because the reality is: whether you are employed outside the home or not, if you are a mom, you are always working. Nonetheless, that’s the label I’m given. I am the mom who is also employed full-time and struggles every single day to balance a career and a family. The balancing act is hard and I am still figuring it all out day by day. But ultimately, that balance, and being able to work has made me a better mom. Being able to be the lawyer I want to be has allowed me to be the mom that Brielle needs me to be.

Ashley Vallillo Manzi lives in Hoboken with her husband and one year old daughter. She is an family law attorney with Ziegler Zemsky & Resnick. With focus on prenuptial agreements, divorce, alimony & child custody, Ashley sees her role as "helping someone arrive at a new beginning." On the weekends, Greg, Brielle, and Ashley love to go out for brunch, playing in Church Square Park or chasing the birds along Sinatra Drive. With lots of friends and family (her siblings live here too!) this family is always on the go.