Diapers, Date Nights and Deadlines: Julie-Anne Lutfi

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Now, for most women, it may seem like being a home maker and climbing the corporate ladder are two mutually exclusive goals. According to Julie-Anne Lutfi, author of Diapers, Date Nights and Deadlines as well as wife, mother, and corporate attorney, you don’t have to choose. You can achieve a successful career and a happy personal life.

That’s what this episode is all about. If you’re a woman who believes it’s possible to excel at work and at home, this episode will show you how it’s done.

Just a quick note, there is some adult themed content in this episode so if you’re listening in the car with your kids, you might want to hold off until you get some headphones in.

Get Julie-Anne’s new book Diapers, Date Nights and Deadlines on Amazon.

Julie-Anne Lutfi: I really just wanted to share my experience about being a working mom who is from a very traditional background. I’m expected to stay at home. My husband is a very traditional Lebanese guy, and when he married me, he knew I had a career but he didn’t know to which extent I would want to develop my career. He may have thought I would eventually lower my hours and have a couple of kids and cook in the evenings and clean on the weekends and maybe during the week.

It just hasn’t turned out that way.

We laugh all the time about people who look at us and ask us, how does this work? You guys are both super traditional but Julie’s out at work every day, she’s gone early in the morning and comes home in the evening and works all night, every night on the weekends, on vacation if I even take vacations, which frankly I don’t.

People are always asking me, how the hell does it work? How are you still married after five years and how do you look like you still like each other?

Just how does it work?

That’s why I wanted to write the book. I wanted to share my experience, and it may not suit everyone. My ideas and the way I function may not please everyone either, but that’s okay. If somebody can just get a few ideas from the way we do it, then that’s great.

Having It All

Charlie Hoehn: How the hell does this work?

Julie-Anne Lutfi: Well, it works with a lot of gratitude, and that’s the one thing that I can’t stress enough. The only way that we really are able to preserve our marriage and to make everything work is to be in a constant mode of, “I’m grateful for you.” And to always feel like you have the better end of the stick.

Even though I want to do the dishes and I want to do the laundry and I want to cook, I just can’t.

Right now, I’m the one who makes more money and my husband is the one who has more time, so while he would be expected usually to, as tradition would want it, be the breadwinner and to bring home the money, right now, I’m the one doing that.

We’re both always grateful for the other one picking up the other’s slack, and that’s really how it works.

Charlie Hoehn: What do your families think of your dynamic?

Julie-Anne Lutfi: It was definitely an adjustment. My mom for example, she’ll come to our house to visit the kids on vacation or doing a holiday. She lives in France, so she’ll stay with us, and I’ll undoubtedly be on my computer late at night and she’ll take care of the kids and my husband will be playing with them.

She’ll see my husband carrying a load of laundry downstairs, and my mom will legit apologize for the way in which she raised me.

She’ll say, “I’m so sorry. I’m so embarrassed, you should not be doing this.” And she actually feels embarrassed that my husband is carrying a load of laundry downstairs.

For her, it was an adjustment.

She’s very proud of course that I became a successful lawyer, but I think there’s always a part of her that was hoping I would just give that up and turn to being a mom full time the way she did and the way my sisters do it as well.

Then for my in-laws also, a huge adjustment.

For example, when we told my father in law we were going to get married—and there’s a whole lot more that goes into this story of course, they’re super traditional Lebanese people—when we told him we wanted to get married, my father in law gave us three conditions.

The first one was that I needed to speak Arabic fluently so that I could communicate with my mother in law properly.

Charlie Hoehn: That’s a big one, yeah.

Julie-Anne Lutfi: That’s a big one, right? We’re there, we communicate just fine.

The second one was that he needed to meet my parents. At the time my parents, still do, my parents were living in France, and he hadn’t met them yet. So that was fine and that happened.

But the third one was that my husband needed to get a higher degree or a degree on the same level. I had a JD, right? I had a Juris Doctorate, but he only has a bachelor’s degree. He didn’t want me to have a higher degree than my husband because the man could not be on a lower level than his wife. What’s happening right now wouldn’t happen.

However, it’s happening, and my father in law and my mother in law take care of my kids almost every day. They’re wonderful and they’re completely used to it. As long as I hold my end of the bargain and not just focus on work completely, they’re happy.

No Compromises

Charlie Hoehn: I take it this is for moms who don’t want to compromise being a mom or being a woman with their career, right?

Julie-Anne Lutfi: That’s right. It’s primarily for them, and any woman who also is not a mom yet but who wants to be in the future and is perhaps doubting that it’s possible. A lot of women these days are waiting until they’re 35 or older to have babies because they want to build out their careers.

It’s funny how they always talk about geriatric pregnancies after the age of 35. I didn’t want to wait that long, and I didn’t think I needed to. This experience at least, what I’m going through now is proving me that the way in which these times are moving, you don’t have to wait anymore.

It’s primarily for them and for the women who are in my situation to have young children, trying to make it work. The number one thing is to just be honest with everyone about your limits.

People at work will understand if you have to attend to a sick child, and people at home will understand—including your children—if you have to do work on the weekends.

It’s all about being completely open, communicating your feelings and your availability and your limits, and that’s it.

It’s also for dads who wonder what they can do to help the situation. I think my husband, I can’t say enough nice things about him. I would never say all of these good things to his face, he’d get too full of himself, so I need to keep him on his toes.

But there’s really a lot that husbands and men can do to help women be good moms and feel like they’re good moms and be successful at work too.

There’s the saying that there’s a great woman behind every great man—well, I think there’s a great man behind every great woman too.

Priorities

Charlie Hoehn: What does a week in your life even look like?

Julie-Anne Lutfi: You know, that’s actually really funny you ask because the first chapter in the book is exactly a week in my life, and it walks you through every single day of a week and what that looks like and how I deal with it.

It’s not easy, and it takes a lot of sacrifices. A lot of people say that some women have it all or how can you have it all. I don’t think you can have it all.

I think you can have certain things that you really want, and everything else has to be sacrificed.

What I really want right now is to be a good mom and to be a successful attorney and a good wife, obviously. That’s it. I have room for literally nothing else in my life. My friends understand and my family members understand.

Sometimes I can’t go to parties and I can’t travel. I can’t shave my legs all the time and I can’t do anything to my hair and I haven’t done my nails in three years.

It’s all about priorities and just planning your life in such a way that those things that are the most important are the only things on your calendar.

Charlie Hoehn: How did you decide what was most important to you?

Julie-Anne Lutfi: I didn’t decide. I think I’m just wired that way. I’ve had a really strict sense of obligation and responsibility ever since I was 15 or 16 years old. I moved from home to college when I had just barely turned 17. I was on my own. My parents could have but didn’t help me financially. I was working full time and I didn’t have much time for fun.

I think I just grew up into this person that I am, and I always have this memory of my dad saying, “You know Jules, you’ll have time for fun when you’re older. Now is the time you have to focus.”

He’s right. While it’s hard to work to take care of young kids, my kids never have to worry about anything.

With the way things are going right now, and God willing, everything continues on this track, my kids will never want for anything. To me, that’s fun, that’s worth all the traveling in the world.

Charlie Hoehn: What do you mean by that, Julie? They’ll never want for anything—are you giving them everything they need or everything they want or what?

Julie-Anne Lutfi: I’m definitely not giving them everything they want, I mean, all they want right now is toys and breastmilk, right? For sure I give them everything they want.

I’ll hopefully be paying for their college, I’ll be paying for private school, I’ll be paying for their clothes, I’ll be paying for their food. They just never have to worry about anything.

Get in the Zone

Charlie Hoehn: Your book, you’re really helping women who are like yourself, who are wanting to have both sides. How do they get themselves in the zone that you’re talking about?

Julie-Anne Lutfi: It’s all about the mindset, finding really what’s the most important to you right now. Friends will be there, if they’re your friends, I don’t see my friends a lot, but I promise you that any time I need a friend, they’re one text away, one phone call away or one car ride away. But for now, they understand. They’re in the same zone that I’m in right now. It’s family and work, and once we make partner and once the kids are older, we’ll have time for all of this.

It’s really just about getting in that mindset of everything will be there for you in a few years.

It’s how we get through this pass that we really need to figure out and make work. I think a lot of women give up, unfortunately, in this period—because it is fucking brutal.

I mean, honestly, on Sunday after Thanksgiving at home. I couldn’t physically work during the day because I’m either carrying a baby or fixing up some mess that the two-year-old created. The work emails are piling up because big law doesn’t stop over Thanksgiving, and I was too freaking exhausted by the end of the day to be working all night, which I normally would be doing, because I had to take care of my kids during the day.

After five days of that, I want to shoot myself. I hate saying this, because of course, there are women who want children and who can’t and my heart really bleeds for them and I can’t imagine not having my kids and I love them to death.

But my God, is it hard.

Charlie Hoehn: Oprah has said being a mom is the hardest job in the world, and I would always think like, really? What about miners and stuff like that? But then seeing a single mom especially, I was like, “How was that even possible?” I don’t even understand how it can be done.

Julie-Anne Lutfi: Well, 100%. It must take a lot of wine, some antidepressants, some uppers and downers, whatever it takes—drugs. I really don’t know, and actually, in the introduction of my book, I’m asking those women to give me advice, because really, it’s beyond me how a working single mom with young children can do it.

I cannot do it, and I stress so much of my book about how the reason for which I am able to do everything that I do is thanks to the support of everybody around me.

I think it takes a village, and I make full use of that village whether it would be the nanny or my in laws or my husband. I am always asking somebody for help, and I just give out the control that I love and need, but I just have to give up.

Knowing that my kids are well taken care of is good enough for me, but my God, it is so hard. I can see why women would want to give up something either reducing their hours at work or maybe not have that extra child. It’s just very, very difficult.

Thriving as a Woman in the Workplace

Charlie Hoehn: Yeah, it definitely is, no debates there. You do have a chapter in your book called #feminist. What’s this about?

Julie-Anne Lutfi: So this is really about how I am able to let go of the little things at work because of my mentality or the way in which I was raised. As you know by now I was raised by a very French traditional mom, and there are certain things that aren’t as prominent in France as they are here. I think the mindset that I have makes me enjoy work a little bit more.

For example, sexual harassment. And I am not trying to diminish the meaning of Me Too or the entire movement. I am 100% against any form of sexual harassment or any man making any woman feel uncomfortable.

With that said, I have a very sarcastic attitude, or a very French sense of humor, I think you would say, and what a lot of women in the US might perceive as sexual harassment, I often just brush off or just give it right back to the person.

Charlie Hoehn: Which is actually a more powerful stance in many situations.

Julie-Anne Lutfi: Well exactly, and so one of the things that I try to pass onto the more junior attorneys here is instead of thinking a man said something inappropriate to you or complaining about it—then again, I am not endorsing it whatsoever, I am just saying that if somebody makes you feel uncomfortable—tell them right then and there. Have the courage to either laugh if it’s a joke or if you think it’s funny and then move on, or if it made you feel uncomfortable or if you were offended by, it tell them right then and there so that he knows that what he said was offensive and that he will never do it again.

I don’t take myself seriously, and I don’t take a lot of what others say seriously especially if they are being stupid.

But I think a lot of people where I work feel comfortable around me because I am just one of the bros. Does that make sense?

Charlie Hoehn: Yeah, totally and again like you said, it is not to diminish anything that is going on with the Me Too movement. All that aside, there is something really to be said about having some thicker skin when people are just using words, and being able to just confront them.

Julie-Anne Lutfi: Exactly. And so you know it goes with sexual harassment but it also goes with being a younger woman at a big law firm, right? People pay insane amounts of money for my legal fees, yet a grey haired man’s opinion will be valued more than mine. That drives me bonkers. Every time I have the chance or the opportunity to change that, I do.

So a few weeks ago, I was on the phone with a client and he asks us a question and I give him the answer.

And the partner sitting right next me, the 50 year old male partner sitting right next to me, gives the thumbs up. He likes the answer. And then the client on the phone says, “Okay and what do you think, older male partner?”

I said, “Are you kidding me?”

I just yelled. A lot of women I think would just stand back and not say anything. But I am going to call out any man who thinks that my opinion is not just as valuable as the older grey haired partner right next to me, even though his answer invariably, every time, is exactly what Julie just said.

So I am trying to change that one by one, and I’ve found my work environment to be much more enjoyable that way.

Happy Marriage Secrets

Charlie Hoehn: So let’s talk about your relationship with your husband. I know you said that you guys practice gratitude and look through that lens as often as possible, but again, this is a challenging lifestyle it is not for everybody. So how do you sustain love?

Julie-Anne Lutfi: It is not easy. One of the things that we do and that we have to do and that you can see right in the title, is that we have a date night once a week. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. No I’m tired, I’m not feeling well. Every week, we have to have three hours to ourselves to reconnect.

So that is super important. We try not to talk about the kids. We try not to talk about work, and we try to be silly and be ourselves and not parents. Not even married.

Just be the best friends that we are and just connect that way.

We usually go out to dinner not too far from the house. We’ll rarely meet up with our friends and try to be social, but that’s not as important to us right now as it is for us to reconnect.

So yeah that’s it, we’ll just have a few glasses of wine. He’ll have a few cocktails and we’ll just have a nice meal. We love food and we love to drink, so that’s what we do. That’s our thing.

Your Own Ending

Charlie Hoehn: So appropriately the final chapter that segues nicely is called, ‘Grab your Happy Ending by the Balls.’ What’s this about?

Julie-Anne Lutfi: So the entire book sounds like a lot of fun, and there’s one theme that keeps coming up throughout the book is that when I first started writing the book, and even before that, my son was sick a whole lot. My husband and I thought we had a very sick child with us, and it was incredibly hard.

He was having fevers at first every few weeks or so, and then after six to eight months his health was just completely degrading.

He was losing weight, he wasn’t eating much anymore, he wasn’t sleeping, so we weren’t sleeping. We had a brand new baby at home, so you can imagine how hard that is. We just didn’t know what he had, and near the end, he had a very high fevers almost every day. He looked like he was in pain.

My husband had stopped working entirely so he could help take care of the children, because by that time I had gone back to work after my maternity leave.

So you could imagine how hard it is to take care of healthy children, imagine the heartbreak of having to take care for a sick child.

At this point we were testing for cancer and cystic fibrosis—really bad things like that. At that point I thought, “Okay this is just not possible. I cannot be working a 100%.”

I mean at some point I was in the hospital with my son and I think I was sleeping two or three hours a night. I was working from 9 PM when he would go to sleep to 3 AM in the morning when he would wake up in pain, and then he would go back to sleep and I would try to sleep.

You can imagine how hard that is, and at that point I almost gave up. Somebody actually had offered me a job and it was a job that will allow me to be an attorney still but it would allow me to work from home, and I would be able to be with my kids more.

I thought that would be very appropriate, and while we were having these discussions, I really didn’t want to quit my job. I loved it so much, but I just knew I wouldn’t be able to dedicate myself to this job as much as I need it to be to succeed.

Right when I was about to give up, we had another stay in the hospital. They decided to look into my kid’s lungs after putting him to sleep, and they found and almond.

Charlie Hoehn: An almond?

Julie-Anne Lutfi: I forced the doctors to go look in there. They didn’t believe me. They found a full almond that had been lodged into his lung for all these months, and it was just getting infected and infected and infected and it was hurting him and causing the fevers.

I had told them I knew something was stuck. Nobody believed me, and they took it out and then the next day he was like a new kid.

He’s barely had a cold since.

He had aspirated a full almond. So I am giving away the shocking story of the book, but that’s what happened.

I grabbed my ending by the balls when I told the doctors finally just, “Listen to me, this kid does not have a disease. There is something that’s wrong, go look.”

And I was about to make a big career change and I had convinced this person to hire me for what could have been a perfect job, but luckily, they found the almond. My kid was fine, I didn’t need to quit, and so here we are.

Connect with Julie-Anne Lutfi

Charlie Hoehn: Now I’ve got a couple final questions for you and the first one is, what is the best way for our listeners to connect with you or follow you?

Julie-Anne Lutfi: So they can either Google my name, Julie-Anne Lutfi online, and my law firm is Foley & Lardner. I am very easy to find that way. Otherwise, I am quite connected on LinkedIn as well. So if somebody wants to reach out to me through a message on LinkedIn, I will respond that way.

Charlie Hoehn: Perfect and the final question I have for you Julie is to give our listeners a challenge, what is one thing they can do from your book this week that will have a positive impact?

Julie-Anne Lutfi: I think we didn’t discuss this so much, but the one thing I do and that everybody wonders how I do is I work out all the time. It’s never in the gym and I don’t go out for runs. I just don’t have time for that anymore. So I find funny ways of working out throughout the day to keep my energy going and to keep things moving.

I do a lot of random workouts just throughout the day in the office or at home playing with the kids.

I think that is the one thing that I’ll leave people with as we go into this holiday season. Just keep things moving, keep things fun, and don’t take life too seriously.

Get Julie-Anne’s new book Diapers, Date Nights and Deadlines on Amazon.

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