Like any parent of an infant, Seth Whiteman ‘21 is eager to hear the first word that comes out of his six-month-old daughter’s mouth. He just hopes it won’t be a legal concept.
“She has been taking a lot of law classes,” he laughs, noting that he studies in the same room where she sleeps, especially now that he studies and works remotely due to the pandemic. “My room is my office, my bedroom, and my nursery.”
For Fordham Law students who are parents, this balance of the competing priorities of parenting, school, work, and other responsibilities is a daily reality.
Zandra* ‘22, an evening student, school guidance counselor, and mother of a college political science major, says she appreciates the new recognition of the challenges she and other student-parents face.
“It’s just kind of seen as, ‘Oh, my gosh, I don’t know how you do it,’ but that’s where the conversations typically end,” Zandra says. “And I think now…they’re trying to understand me a bit more, and trying to understand all the different challenges that come along with this.”
“There’s never nothing going on,” notes Whiteman, who started as an evening student before later joining the day division. Along with his six-month-old daughter, he also has children aged three and five. A typical pre-pandemic day for him begins with dropping his children off at a play group and with the babysitter before heading to work. After work, he swings by his apartment to pick up dinner and heads to class. Arriving back home between 9 and 11 p.m., he would try to study for a couple of hours before going to bed.
Dianna Lam ’22, mother of two boys—seven and nine—had a similar schedule before March 2020, working during the day as a legal assistant and sometimes returning to the office after her evening classes to catch up on reading or assignments for classes. She tried to take advantage of her lunchtime breaks by doing schoolwork or taking a walk.
Whiteman, Lam, and Zandra all note that they are not as involved in extracurricular activities as their peers without children.
In March, Fordham Law and the University of San Diego School of Law co-hosted an event for law students who are parents to highlight these types of challenges. The event featured Lauren Smith Brody, author of The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby.
“This event was just the first of a set of new initiatives we’re launching to better support our Fordham Law student parents,” said Jordana Alter Confino, Director of Professionalism & Special Projects.
“We recognize that being a law student is itself immensely challenging. As is parenting. But doing both simultaneously? That’s a Herculean feat,” reflected Confino. “But many of our students do it — and do it successfully. We are committed to doing everything we can do to support them along the way.”
Fordham Law has also launched a new student group for student parents and caregivers, which is supervised by Professor Clare Huntington, who is an expert in family law.
Show Your Kids How You Work
“Let your kids in on your work,” Brody also recommended, even showing them how you handle being overwhelmed. “If you’re doing [law school]to invest in your career, you are also demonstrating for your children the type of working life you’d like them to have.”
For example, Zandra’s son, now 20, emigrated to the U.S. as a child. After she had been caring for him for some time, he asked her to adopt him, which she did when he was 17. Zandra had a traditional undergraduate experience, majoring in political science and considering law school. “Then life happened.”
Zandra eventually earned a masters’ degree and now works as a guidance counselor, but long talked about going to law school. When her son was applying for colleges, he encouraged her to apply to law school.
“I just looked at him like he was insane,” she says. “That ship has sailed.”
Zandra’s son finally persuaded her to apply to one law school—Fordham because of its location and evening program. Today, she calls him her “study buddy,” and recounts how they would meet in coffee shops to do their homework before the pandemic.
With younger children, Lam says her boys did not always understand her work and school commitments, but they do now that she works remotely. “Sometimes, when they’re playing games with their friends, I hear them saying things that I would say to them, like, ‘In a meeting right now.’”
Effects of the Pandemic
Brody also encouraged students to make a list of the things that have worked for them during the pandemic and what parts of the experience they want to keep in the future.
These parents agreed that their schedules changed for the better when COVID-19 moved their work and school to remote.
“I was living on coffee and takeout,” Zandra says. She didn’t realize how burnt out she was until work and school moved online. Now, she can cook meals and watch the evening news, even if she’s on Zoom calls all day for work and logged into class in the evening. “I never realized just how much I needed to stop.”
Lam, who is the co-chair of the Evening Division Society, says she has been more effective at finding time for schoolwork during the day since she’s been working and taking classes remotely. Last summer, she had time to volunteer with the Asian American Bar Association of New York, where she participated in community outreach with other law students.
Raising children while in law school requires extra effort and discipline, but these parents are inspired by their kids.
“You’re doing this for us,” Zandra’s son tells her.
“It’s not easy, but it’s doable, and it’s really rewarding,” she says.
According to Whiteman, “You come home from a long day at school or work and you have the big smile and kids running to you to say ‘Hi, Daddy,’ and there’s nothing like it.”
*The student prefers not to share her last name.