Name: Michelle Delancy
Job Title: Partner, Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel, LLP
City: Miami, Florida
Number of Children/Other Dependents: Six (6) children (ages 22, 13, 11, 10, 7 & 5)
Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated? Why?
There truly is no such thing as having “it all”. It’s neither realistic nor overrated, however. Having “it all” is not in the possession. It is in the sustaining. As such, the more you have – a husband; six (6) kids and a career, the more it takes to keep it running, happy and whole. As such, when your daily existence consists of getting out five (5) kids in two shifts every morning (which includes dealing with the moods, tantrums and whining); getting yourself ready in the morning to make sure you make it to work within the decency of bankers’ hours; working all day to satisfy and pacify your clients (and not commit malpractice); only to return home at 8:00 p.m. (or often much later) to homework that’s not yet done, the pop-up project you knew nothing about; the news of the drama of the day from the children (since the complaint box magically disappeared); while keeping the husband happy so that he does not leave you with “it all” to handle by yourself – the more you have, the more it takes to keep it running, happy and whole. As such, though you may have “it all”, per se, maintaining it diminishes the utility of having “it all”. This fact necessarily negates the idea that you have “it all” because part of having “it all” has to include your sanity. There is no such thing as maintaining your sanity under these conditions. You can only keep a stiff upper lip, take it a day at a time and carry on. Which leads me to my next point – The theoretical concept of having “it all” is not overrated.
Striving each day to raise happy kids, have a happy husband and satisfied clients gives me purpose and having a real purpose is what makes me happy. There is no question that there are tough days, real stress – personally and professionally – and days that you feel that you fall significantly short of being able to do anything really well, as balancing family and career is a significant daily challenge. But, as a whole, knowing that you are raising happy, adjusted and confident kids while maintaining a career which, in itself, is fulfilling, is a tremendous feeling and could never be considered “overrated”.
What is the best advice you have ever received on balancing your personal and professional lives?
I’m not sure I’ve ever been given any advice, as I truly don’t know anyone as crazy as me – to have so many children while maintaining a busy law practice. The most important lesson I have learned, however, is simple and trite, but incredibly significant. It is simply that you just can’t sweat the small stuff. A crucial part of that mantra is learning to forgive yourself because you are going to forget about a recital (even though it’s on your calendar), forget your kids’ name (routinely) or call them someone else’s name, or run late to a hearing or meeting because you just could not get what needed to be done as fast as it needed to be done. I’ve learned to lament for a moment and move on. It’s the only way to maintain your oh-so-important sanity and still be able to (genuinely) put on a happy face.
If you had an extra hour in your day, how would you spend it?
I’d spend it in a spa – on a massage table – being massaged by a masseuse named Fabio.
Looking back at when you started in the profession, and knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self?
Birth control is definitely NOT 99.9% effective!! As such, abstinence is the only way!!! Professionally (since I think that’s what the question really seeks an answer to), I would tell myself to not be so hard on myself. Embrace those mistakes only as something that needed to happen so that I could truly learn and grow personally and professionally.
Do you deal with guilt in trying to balance your personal and professional lives?
Most definitely!!! It is my biggest struggle. I constantly fight the notion that I am not doing anything really well. I’m only an “okay” mom; only an “okay” wife; and only an “okay” lawyer. I’ve learned to forgive myself every day and remind myself that I am doing the best I can and that just has to be enough.
What single change do you believe would have the biggest impact on work life balance or quality of life?
Honestly, I do not believe there is anything I could do to have a real impact on work life balance. I just have to continue to give to each the best that I have and that will just have to suffice. As for quality of life – in recent years my husband and I both have actively scheduled vacations alone and with the kids since it became clear that if we did not actively schedule them, they will not happen on their own. That has been a positive move towards better quality of life.
What part of “balance” do you struggle with?
My biggest struggle is giving my family the quality time I believe they deserve. It’s impossible. I have been truly blessed because my mother-in-law lives with us and she fills in the large gaps and helps in so many different ways so that the quality of time that I sometimes can’t give, she gives. She is “the village” that it takes. Without her, my story may be differently written, as work life balance would take on a different meaning – and did, before she retired a few years ago and came to live with us.
What part of “balance” are you improving at?
I try to improve the quality of time that I spend with my family since the quantity of time is often so restricted.
As a working parent, how do you balance your career and your role as a parent?
It may seem too simple to be true, but I literally tackle one day at a time and remind myself that, although I can’t be all things to all people – not even my kids or my husband – I can strive every day to be an example to them that they can work hard, love hard and give the best of themselves with grace, while forgiving themselves for their stumbles and failures. In that way, I use my career in my role as a parent and my role as a parent in my career. It’s the same grace that I attempt to show my co-workers and my opposing counsel, as well as my friends and acquaintances.
How important is civic and/or professional involvement to you and why?
Civic involvement is critical. Playing a part in our community – particularly as a Black woman – is a part of that balance that we all are striving each day to achieve. As such, though I may not be able to attend as many functions as I would certainly like to attend, I make it a point to make the most of those I can and contribute in other ways – i.e., through donations and volunteering on some weekends.
What’s the advice you would give a young lawyer seeking to strike a “balance” between family, self, and the practice of law or achieve better quality of life?
Find your comfort zone. Balancing is not an exact science and there is no universal answer. It is simply the area where you can do your best for your family and your profession without significantly compromising the other. The emphasis in that statement has to be on “significantly compromising” since at any given point in any given day, balance necessarily means compromising time that you could (and sometimes should) spend with one that you could and should be spending with the other. At the end of the day, however, as long as your intentions are good and you have perspective (where you’re not beating up yourself for your dedication to one and not the other on any given day), it all really does balance out.
Any other parting words of advice?
Prayer is real!!! It works!!!