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New roles and new priorities

How the pandemic taught us how to say no.

Tess Layton

In March of 2020, I was fresh out of the NICU with a 3-month-old infant, an active 2.5-year-old toddler, and a husband who was working extremely demanding hours at a national law firm. I was on maternity leave but worked part-time from home and went into the office at odd hours and during naptime to maintain some connection to my practice and my life outside of being a new second-time mom. I juggled many volunteer commitments and social engagements, both of which seemed to consume any spare moment I could find. The days were long, and the nights were even longer. It was busy, but at the time, I thought it manageable. 


Then, COVID-19 hit and it was as if someone had pulled the rug from under me. The pandemic provoked fear, concern for my health, and the health of my vulnerable little ones and aging parents. There was uncertainty over my job and my husband’s and a general sense of desperation and helplessness. It became glaringly obvious how fragile and unprepared we were for any force outside of our control. 


I found myself suddenly working full-time in a shared office space with my husband, just outside our daughters’ playroom in our tiny bungalow. We often had noisy and demanding home office visits from our understandably restless and house-ridden daughters and their nanny, who was doing her best to keep the girls safe and entertained just outside our door. The workday for both my husband and me consisted of inefficiently managing demanding law practices in short, rotating shifts over what seemed to be a 24-hour cycle so that we could care for our girls while simultaneously responding to frantic clients. It was exhausting and unmanageable, and we knew some big long-term changes needed to be made. Pandemic or not, we had no desire to maintain a hectic and overburdened schedule that was creating anxiety, stress and a reduced quality of life. 


My husband and I re-evaluated our discretionary commitments and our careers and made difficult and sometimes risky decisions. My husband left his private practice job mid-pandemic to spend time with our girls and support our busy home, and after a few months to re-group and prioritize, he took an in-house position. Public health restrictions allowed us to get in the habit of saying no to other commitments that were consuming our time and energy.  


Now, after a short breath of what felt like sweet pandemic relief and the return to normal life, we’re deep in the fourth and most deadly wave. But this time, we’re ready. We have new roles, new priorities, and more importantly, new (fortified) boundaries.