News

Chanel Dolinsky: The Pressure (and Cost) of Balancing Motherhood and Career

By Thai Phi Le

March 8, 2017

Last week, the D.C. Bar spoke with Jessica Markham, owner of the all-women Markham Law Firm, who tries to create a flexible work environment for her staff so they are able to find a work–life balance that suits their individual needs.

On International Women’s Day, we continue the series about parental leave policies, an issue that resonates with women around the world. We profile Markham’s colleague Chanel Dolinsky, a seasoned litigator who opened a criminal law practice with her husband in Florida and ran it for more than a decade. When she became pregnant with her first child in 2013, Dolinsky decided to be a stay-at-home mom. Within a year, she and her family moved to Maryland and she later returned to work as a family law attorney for Markham Law Firm. She chose to stay hourly to accommodate her family life and their travel schedules.

Below, Dolinsky speaks about her career and finding a work schedule that fits her life. At the time of the original interview in May 2016, she had just announced she was pregnant with her second child. She has since given birth to a girl in November, and in a follow-up interview she offers her perspective on maternity leave and child care the second time around.

Chanel DolinskyTell me more about your family and career.

I worked with my husband in Florida for 10 years. We owned our own firm together. We did criminal defense work. My son is almost two. I worked up until I had him. I think I was in court the day before I gave birth.

Wow, that’s impressive.

It took my mind off of it. My plan was that I was going to be a stay-at-home mom. I had my son and took a year off. In that year, we decided to move up to Maryland. Jessica is not only my boss, but she’s my best friend. She decided to open up this firm and asked if I would help . . . and come back to work. At that time, I was more than ready to [do so].

I think being a stay-at-home mom was not for me. I came back to work part-time in the beginning. I’m still sort-of part-time now. I was doing three days of work a week at first. Now I’m working five days a week, but I only work until 3 [p.m.].

What were the best aspects of returning to work?

The best thing is being able to sit and have a cup of coffee in the morning when I get to work and speak with adults. It’s really hard to be at home with a baby. I ran out of things to do with him. Every day I would wake up and say, “What are we going to do now?” The days were long, and they were hard. Coming back here took a lot of pressure off of me. I can have adult conversation. I can use the bathroom. I can have a cup of coffee.

I found being a stay-at-home mom very lonely.

Yes, it’s very, very lonely. I think that’s the hardest part. I always said if I had someone home with me—they don’t have to help me with [my son]—it would have been easier. I don’t need a nanny. I just want someone to hang out with.

What was the toughest part of going back to work?

The struggle obviously is, at least for the first month, I missed him a lot. I’m okay with him now being in school. I think he’s better off being there, interacting with other kids. I don’t feel that guilt anymore of him being in school and me being away from him.

What’s your biggest challenge as a working mom?

The financial aspect is difficult. School’s a lot of money. That’s something I struggle with, especially being part-time. I get paid hourly. There are a lot of teacher work days, a lot of holidays. If he has a fever, they call me up and I have to leave and get him. If he has a day off of school for teacher planning, I can’t come to work and that will mess with my money for that month in terms of paying for day care.

The other part is that you want to go home from work and relax a little bit. You don’t get to do that. You leave work, go home, and you’re on until bedtime. I feel like I don’t get to relax until 9:30 at night. It’s go, go, go, go from the moment we wake up at 7 to the moment we finally go to sleep at 9:30. Even getting dressed in the morning is difficult. I have to get up. I have to get myself dressed. I have to get him dressed. He has to eat breakfast. I have to make him lunch. All of the getting ready for work part is very challenging. Getting anywhere on time, as well. 

Are there parts of the family leave process that you would want to improve? 

In a perfect world, a lot of it is money. Even now, when I plan to leave [after the birth of my second child], there’s going to be an issue because I don’t want to pull my son out of school. I have to continue to pay for his day care, but I won’t be working so I won’t be making money.

We have friends who live in Sweden. She had a year [of] paid maternity leave. It doesn’t work like that here. There’s no paid leave. That part’s very stressful for me figuring out financially how this is all going to work out. Not having a business anymore certainly takes the pressure off.

It’s different when you take maternity leave and you’re working for somebody else because you don’t have those pressures. When you leave and it’s your own business, you don’t get to turn off. You don’t get to say, “Oh I’m not checking my email. I’m on maternity leave.” I think that part for me will be nice because I can tune out if I want. I don’t have to check my email. I don’t have to worry about work. But I have to worry about money coming in.

Your husband was running your firm when you had your first child. How did that impact your family?

He wasn’t able to be at home with us. He was there the day he was born, but he had to go back to work the next day because that’s how we eat. He was unable to take even a week to be home and help me.

Now that you’re pregnant again, do you know what you’ll do for your leave?

I don’t know what my plan is yet. [My husband is now] doing private contracting work as an attorney. He gets two weeks of vacation. I’m due right around Thanksgiving, so that’ll work out as far as not having to work that weekend. I had a C-section last time, so I’ll have a C-section again. Maybe we can plan it around a weekend where he can at least be home for a couple of days before he has to go back to work.

There’s also the day care expense. We don’t have family here that can help. That would be two kids in day care. There comes a point when it’s not financially responsible to come back to work. As it is now, because I work part-time, the day care costs and what I make here equal out pretty much evenly. I don’t really make any money, but it gets me out of the house. And I like my son being in school. If you throw a second one into that mix, I don’t know how that’s going to work for me.

Anything else in the process you want to talk about?

It’s very challenging. I’m happy I went back to work. I’m a better mom when I’m working than when I’m home with him. He gets more out of school than he does being with me all day. Financially, it’s definitely a burden. With me working, I don’t make money. It just allows us to send him to school. And it lets me drink my coffee in the morning.

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Since we last spoke in May, you’ve gone on maternity leave. How is it going? 

Maternity leave has been great in that I am able to spend time with my kids. I do a feel a sense of guilt, though, not being able to help at work when I know I am needed. I tried doing some work from home but, without fail, every time I sit down my daughter seems to cry and need my attention.

You struggled with finding day care. How difficult has it been?

Finding child care has been a nightmare. I called a few centers and the prices are astronomical. Having two kids in day care would end up costing me [more money than I make] every month to work. That being said, I know if I don't go back to work I will lose my job, so that isn't an option, either.

I then looked for nanny or nanny shares—again, way too expensive. I spoke with some other moms who suggested in-home day cares, so I called around to ones recommended and every place was booked solid until September. I finally went through a day care finder and was able to find an in-home [one] that works in our budget. The location is totally out of our way, so now I will leave even earlier to drop off both kids in the morning.

My frustration is, even with working out an in-home day care, between that and my son's preschool, I will bring [home] very little or no money each month. But I can't be in a position where I lose my job and I am looking for employment in four years when the kids are in public school, and I have been out of the workforce. So for my long-term [plans], I will work to put my kids in preschool to secure my job.

That being said, I am totally heartbroken about leaving my daughter. I was home with my son until he was 15 months, so I can't imagine leaving this little baby. I have been setting my alarm to wake up in the middle of the night to pump so I can build a milk supply [to return to work], which is also exhausting. Having kids and working is so hard! I envy my friends who have family nearby who can help in caring for their children. Between cost and actually having to leave my kids, it is just really hard.


Next week, we hear from Jillian S. Morris, an attorney at Markham Legal Firm, who was a stay-at-home mom for a year. She now has two children and with both, she's chosen to ease her transition back into the workforce by beginning on a part-time basis until she's ready to take on full-time hours.