Being a good parent under normal circumstances is not easy. Having just completed the bar exam, as a father of two girls (one 12, the other 1), I can say that being a parent during bar prep is a challenge unlike any other. To say that I nailed it as a dad would be a lie. On the other side of my journey, I offer these thoughts to help those who follow after me.
Have a Conversation
As with most things associated with the study of law, open communication with your family can go a long way towards understanding, support, and patience. I wasn’t able to have a deep conversation with my one year old about the bar, but my twelve-year-old was at least able to grasp the big picture. She was a bit confused about taking a test after graduating, but that she also understood with a bit of explanation. In the end, she did a great job of giving me time and space to leave each day at 6:30 am and not return until 7 pm. She did her best to become a bit more self-sufficient or to direct requests for attention from mom over the course of the two months. This was the primary way that she showed me support throughout the bar prep. In return, I made a commitment to her, which is my next point.
Regardless of the bar prep vender you select, your days will be spoken for. Your time will no longer be your own. Unfortunately, your kids don’t really understand the time commitment to this mysterious bar exam. It’s critical that you try to help them understand the process as discussed above, but in exchange for their love and support, it’s important to find some time for them. It does not need to be a lot of time; even sitting down for an hour to play X-Box or kicking the ball around the yard or sitting at a coffee shop to chat once a week can go a long way to make your older kids feel connected, despite your physical, emotional, and mental distance. For my one year old, I made sure that I was home every night to give her bath and put her to bed for the night. I also stayed involved in the morning ritual with the toddler so she wouldn’t forget who I was. Whatever you do, you have to make time for them, because once a connection with your children is lost, it can be difficult to get back.
Turn the Volume Down on Your Mood
This area applies equally to your children, spouse, significant other, partner, and (frankly) your pets. You have to do your best to modulate your mood during interactions with the family. Kids are especially sensitive to a parent who is chronically grouchy, stressed, or frustrated. I failed here. As the weeks of bar prep went on, I did not do a good job of taking care of myself physically, emotionally, or mentally. The result of that was a lot of unnecessarily short, terse, or rude interactions toward the very people who were supporting and loving me at my absolute worst. I found myself apologizing a lot (even to the dogs) for raising my voice, flying off the handle, or nit-picking over stupid stuff. It would have been a whole lot better if I had a) taken care of myself before I got to the point where I was chewing out the twelve-year-old for leaving a spoon in the sink, and b) taken care in the moment to confront myself in order to prevent unnecessarily loud, hurtful, or critical interactions with my family. If I had just taken a breath, put the issue that was causing me angst in perspective, and understood in the moment that this was not about the spoon in the sink (it was about the bar) I could have avoided a lot of hurt feelings over the last two months. My family was nothing but supportive, and they deserved better from me; bar prep is not a valid excuse.
Once It’s Over, Make Amends
After a few days of post-bar-exam recovery, I have begun the process of making things right with the family. I took my twelve-year-old to breakfast so we could talk about the person I was during bar prep. I asked her for forgiveness, which she gave. I have spent a lot of quality time with my one-year-old, just to reconnect in a more meaningful way. I have spent some quality time with each of our three dogs, because they are loyal and loving companions who feed off of our moods and deserved better during bar prep.
Finally, I asked my wife for forgiveness. A big part of being a good parent (during bar prep or law school or any other time) is being a good partner and spouse. Of course, she was patient and understanding, because my wife is basically a superhero. Even after two months of living with Mr. Hyde, my amazing wife left me notes, treats, pre-bar-exam playlists, special meals during the bar, etc., etc. She was owed the biggest apology of all, because while supporting me unflinchingly, she was also picking up all of my slack. Spend time making things right with your partner or spouse and the kids will pick up on that.
Bar prep is tough. The exam is tough. They are not just tough on you. If you have a family, take steps to make the process easier for them, and failing that, spend a lot of time making it up to them after. That has now become my post-bar-exam mission. You can do this!