The Coffee Chat (#38)
My conversation with Leena Yousefi - Lawyer, Mediator & CEO @ YLaw, Top 50 Change Makers in Canada 2022 and a Mom!
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Hi there 👋🏽
A few weeks back I was at a training aimed at newly minted managers. We spent some time exploring the theme and the inherent tension between authority and care.
While the content and discussion was focused on my professional life I could not help but see the similarities between being a manager and being a parent.
On the flight back home I wrote the following line.
“Authority with care. That is the parenting style I aspire to create.”
☕ Now, on to today’s coffee chat…
Meet Leena Yousefi
Leena is a multi award winning family lawyer, accredited mediator and the founder of YLaw, the fastest growing female-led law firm in Western Canada.
She has been chosen as one of the Top 25 Most Influential Lawyers in Canada and was named by Lexpert as the only family lawyer in Canada in 2020 to become the Rising Star of the legal profession.
In 2022, she was chosen as one of the Top 50 Change Makers in Canada and had YLaw rank in the Top 10 Innovators’ List of Canada.
A week in her life was recently featured on BBC.
Leena is a legit law superstar. She is also extremely approachable and very candid. I enjoyed our conversation, was inspired by it and am excited to share it with you all!
Below is my conversation with Leena ….
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your family
My name is Leena I'm a mother of a lovely daughter who is close to 3. We are also waiting to add 2 more daughters to the family! I am currently pregnant with twins!
By profession I'm a family lawyer, and a businesswomen. I am the founder of YLaw, the fastest growing female-led law firm in Western Canada.
I've been really really lucky, that since the birth of my daughter, I was able to actually expand my career, much faster than I did before having her in 2020. I was named as the rising star of the legal profession in Canada, the only family lawyer in Canada to be named that. During this period my company Ylaw was also named as one of the top 500 companies in Canada by the Globe and Mail.
My husband is an architect and luckily he is able to work from home. So if there is any situation where I have to run to court or something urgent comes up, I'm very lucky to have him. It's scary because I feel like I'm so dependent on him. Truly grateful. We had very openly discussed how for our marriage to work with both our careers we would need him to stay at home and help take care of our daughter. I would like to say we split the load 50-50 but sometimes it is 70-30 too! Honestly for a couple to keep both their careers going after having a child requires them to work like a team.
Totally agree. Raising a child is a lot of work and the load should be shared. For you what was the hardest part of becoming a new parent?
Personally for me I really struggled with a loss of freedom. That was the biggest thing for me ....I felt claustrophobic. I felt like so many things that I was able to do that gave me a lot of joy and happiness, were no longer on the plate. I almost felt like I was on a curfew post 7pm. You know you can't be out past 7pm because you can't leave the home when your baby is sleeping. I was also not able to travel on a whim. I traveled and backpacked alone for a long time. Almost every year infact even after we got married. My husband was totally okay with me traveling around alone because that is what my soul needs. But you know after having a child you can't do that and I experienced a lot of anxiety and sometimes even depression as a result of it.
I still have those feelings come and go but I think just with the passing of time you just adapt and you get used to it.
But for me those early months were certainly not unicorns and butterflies. It was very, very challenging. It is beautiful and I wouldn't have it any other way, but I'm not gonna deny that so many things were very, very difficult for me.
I am so glad you are being real and honest. I bet almost all women feel this but very few feel okay saying it out loud. We need to normalize that. The reality is that you lose a little bit of yourself when you become a mother. What was your support system like in those early days? Did you have people you could lean on and openly talk about what you were experiencing?
You know how we talk to our mom, our sisters, our friends and everybody has a different opinion about what being a good mom entails. So I was getting a lot of guilt after talking to some people when I was trying to help myself.
That is when I decided that a layperson can't tell me whether I'm doing things right or wrong, I need to talk to a professional so I talked to a child psychologist, I talked to my psychologist, I talk to women with successful careers and in leadership roles and I asked them... given my situation what their advice would be. The simplest and the best advice that I received was that I can't be happy mother, if I can't be happy myself, so I have to make myself happy before I can be a happy mother, and if that means taking some time for myself then yeah it is okay to be "a little selfish" so when you return to your child you are happy and energetic. I think it is a very fair trade off.
I ask myself this question every day - Am I happy and if I'm not how can I be so I can be a happy mother.
That is amazing advice and I think it is true that different people find energy via different things. Like me personally, during my maternity leave I was just getting bored out of my mind. I was very very busy attending to my infant child but totally bored and drained.
That is infact why I started writing. I was so happy going back to work. It is obviously more exhausting working an intense job and being a mom, but it definitely gives me a lot more energy than just like being at home with my child all the time.
I couldn't agree with you more. I actually feel like it is more tiring to be a stay at home mother than to get out to work and be a mother. Being a full time mom to me felt like there was limited mental challenge as everything initially is so repetitive. I love being in my child's world and playing with her and but I'm not a child. So, I need a break to be an adult! Work helps me create space to be challenged., in a good way.
Infact I did not end up taking any maternity leave. My baby arrived about two months early. Initially I had plans to take leave and I had set everything up but it was all for 2 months down the road. I was running the business and I hadn't actually planned to like delegate till 2 months from when I went into labor but business wasn't going to stop because I was in labor. I gave birth on a Friday before a long weekend. And so I was at the hospital until like Monday and on Tuesday I remember I worked for half an hour.
For the first like two or three months I was working about an hour a day which was really, really valuable to me because I could still feel like you know I had a part of myself, and then slowly I started to ramp back.
I think this is a good segue into talking a bit more about you as a lawyer. From what I understand as an outsider law is a pretty demanding profession. And unfortunately there are a lot of women who start dropping out especially when they become moms. What are some of the things that you've done to make it work for you? What are some of the challenges you faced and tactically how have you worked through some of those challenges?
To begin with, I want to make it very clear that I haven't worked through all my challenges... you just can't. It is impossible to have like a simple fairy tale situation. People look at me from the outside and wonder how do you do it, how do you run a law business with a young family and make it all look so easy. They ask me for the silver bullet on how I am managing it everyday. There is no silver bullet, it is all trial and error.
The one thing I realized after becoming a mother, which I think is common with most mothers is the increase in focus and productivity. You learn to jam so many things in like 1/3 of the time. My brain and body have just become trained to be very efficient and get so much done.
I have also set very aggressive boundaries that I try and sticky to like I am not going to be working past 5pm in the office and I have to be at home by 5pm. So it doesn't matter what happens, I don't care about the consequences and I tell everybody these are my hours this is how much I can work and the rest of it is my daughter's and I never infringe those boundaries because then you're going to lose your balance.
The other thing for me is that I've been blessed to be in control of my days and schedule. I am not at the mercy of someone else.
My biggest advice is that if your environment is not allowing you to be a human and have a life that you want then you have to lose your fear and leave, because there's gonna be 1000s of other opportunities!
At YLaw we actually look for part time lawyers, new mothers and single moms because I think they are a big asset to any business. A mother has already proven so many qualities that I don't need to even interview them about. There are businesses out there that allow for you to be a full human and as business leaders it is our responsibility to create such environments. Similarly as an individual you owe it to yourself to ask for this. We should not have to choose between our child and our careers.
For sure. It should never be an either or but an and. The way I think about it is there are days when my clients and teams really need me and then there are days my daughter really needs me. I always make sure both sides understand this. How do you manage these conflicting demands? What are some of the tactical things you and your husband do that has helped you as a dual career couple?
A lot of communication! You might have experienced this too - like you have some days where you are full energy and your partner comes to you and says, Hey, I need to work till you know 10 or 11pm or I'm not going to be home tonight, I have to go see clients and I say no problem. But there are also times when I get exhausted, and I'm like I cannot do anything else. I am transparent and let him know.
We keep discussing our schedules so that there are no conflicts. It is a process. It is teamwork, it's not about my interest or his interest it is about how can we come together - who has more energy and who needs to recover. Like I remember this day when I woke up on Saturday morning feeling exhausted and by 11am I just literally handed him the the baby and booked myself a hotel room and I said, I'm not coming out till tomorrow. And he's like, oh okay I was gonna do X, Y and Z but none of it is time sensitive so you take this weekend off. And then I just crawled into the hotel bed and slept for about five hours during the day.
I'm really lucky that in those moments he understands, and that's really necessary in most relationships, a lot of the reasons why women may not be able to excel as much as they can is because they have a very inflexible partner, or lack of family support.
Canada is full of immigrants, and so a lot of us leave our family, our mothers or fathers or sisters back in our home country and we come here and we absolutely have no support base. My heart goes out to those people. I'm very lucky that my mother lives close to us.
My parents and brother are back in India and I miss that support for sure. For a while it was just me and my husband managing our infant during the thick of the pandemic and things were incredibly hard. My sister in law luckily decided to emigrate from Australia to Canada and it has been such a blessing. When she finally came here my husband and I were able to leave the house after the baby was sleeping and just go out for a walk as a couple and talk. It became a source of incredible joy and so important for our relationship.
Oh my god, yeah. I don't know how you did it, I really don't. I would literally lose my mind.
Once you have a kid you understand the saying it takes a village to raise one! Outside your mom and your husband do you have any child care support? I don't know if you experienced this but I remember feeling incredibly guilty when I started sending my daughter to daycare at 10 month
I spoke to my psychologist, and he said something really interesting - when children are born they don't have any expectation, aside from wanting a lot of love. It does not matter who gives it to them, they need love and care. And the other thing that really matters to them is that when they grow up they know you are always there for them. In fact enough research says having working moms is good for kids.
I don't feel as guilty because my expectation is that my child will get some quality time with me before I go to work, after I am back and on the weekends. It's an extremely healthy model, there's nothing wrong with it. It is not the amount of hours that you spend with your child, it's the amount of quality time that you spend with your child so if you're spending the whole day and you're bored out of your mind that you're checking your phone and you're like, What did I do with my deserve deserve this, and then become somebody that you're not proud of because you're not doing something that you love your child will sense that and in the long run may not end up respecting you!
It is totally fine that your child understands that mommy works during these hours and she's coming home during these hours and outside of those hours I play with my nanny or go to daycare.
Initially I too had some guilt. I felt I was missing out by not being 24*7 with her. But then she is growing, she is healthy, she is learning to not be dependent only on me and these are important things. I now feel less guilty as I know I'm being a good role model to her which is my goal and yes there is a trade off and I accept it. So no guilt!
And not just to your daughter. I see you playing the role model role to a lot of women. You celebrate being a mom and it is a core part of your identity. A lot of women traditionally do not do this because a lot of times we're told oh maybe you should not tell people you have a child because they may make assumptions about how serious you are about your profession. You know what is called the "mommy tax". Did such thoughts ever come in your head? and if yes then why did you still decide to go ahead and celebrate the fact that you're a mother on say a professional networking site such as LinkedIn?
I recognize that there is a massive lack of acknowledgment that you can do both simultaneously and I wanted to change that as I am now in a position to make it happen. I wanted to integrate my daughter into my world and work in harmony with her. I celebrate the fact that I am a mother because I want people to know it is okay to have a child and be ambitious about your work. It is okay to integrate the two worlds.
Also, in my profession as a family lawyer I feel having a child has made me a better professional. I deal with questions around children all the time and now feel I am in a better position to understand what children may need, and how they should be treated when parents are separated.
I now know what situation may be best for that child instead of just advocating on behalf of my client.
Becoming a parent has been wonderful for me and so I celebrate it all around. Also, the more I talk about it, the more I hope I give hope to people who want to have a life and become parents and not be looked in a bad light because of it.
What advice would you like to give new parents? and then more importantly what advice would you tell them to ignore?
The one thing that I personally struggled with was, to be totally honest, the advice given by my mom. Grandparents love their grandchildren and they want them to be as happy as they can and get everything that they sometimes do things that in the short term might be great for the child but could harm in the long term. There is also a generational gap which can lead to you feeling a lot of guilt and anxiety.
So, the long and short of it is ignore the advice of everyone except professionals, go to somebody who studied children, knows the research, knows what good parenting is. Ask them whether what you're doing in their mind is the right or wrong thing to do. And tune out everyone else - tune out your sister, your mother, your brother, your father, your relatives, your coworkers. You can never please everybody, and you can never be the parents that everybody else wants you to be. So that's my biggest advice - ignore the guilt that comes from the outside world, unless they are professionals.
My story is not a fairy tale. On paper it may look like I've achieved these things and you know somehow I'm doing something different than other mothers are doing. I struggle every day. So all I want to say is that it's okay to feel anxious, it's okay to feel depressed, it's okay to feel like you're sinking. Just embrace your whole self. You got this!
📖 My private thoughts from my very public diary…
🤓 Open tabs…
(I have modeled this section after those “open tabs” that we all have with a few (okay 30-40) interesting links that we promise we will eventually get to one day. These are the links that I had open for sometime that I finally got to …)
⭐The Surprising History of Politics and Design in Playgrounds In NYC
I spent a lot of my waking hours these days in these spaces. Was a pretty interesting read that takes a look at the many playgrounds of New York City and finds a long history of inequity and creativity.
⭐Parents Are Not All Good and All Bad
This episode of How to Start Over explores the dynamics in lifelong family relationships, explores ways to manage our emotional response when tensions boil over, and analyze what it means to change a parent-child relationship as an adult.
⭐If Serena Williams Can’t Have It All, Who Can?
Reshma Saujani , Founder of Girls Who Code and the Founder/CEO of Marshall Plan for Moms, penned her thoughts on Serena Williams’ retirement from tennis to focus on her family…. “While we ought to celebrate the incredible legacy that Williams has carved into our history, I believe she’s asking us to do much more: to re-conceptualize motherhood as a transformative experience, not a subtractive one. To recognize the true value of mothers and fathers, we must increase parental leave across all sectors, institute universal pre-K, and allow and encourage flexible work arrangements, so the next Serena Williams has the same actual choices as a Tom Brady. We must believe in moms, trust them, and truly support them.”
I would love to hear from you, feedback is always welcome!
And if you happen to know an inspiring working parent who should be featured in a future edition (or if you yourself are one) - please do get in touch
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