Sometimes, it can seem like all of Instagram is moms that have it all together. Erin Stach, an attorney and mama of two, is fighting that stigma with her own truth: it’s definitely not perfect all the time and that’s what makes it great. She spends her days as a lawyer (her story about winning asylum for a Honduran woman and her family will pull your heartstrings) and her nights and weekends cuddling with her kids and cooking meals with her husband, Peter. Read on for how she squeezes in self-care, how she and Peter are dividing parenting roles, and how her kids keep her grounded.
Name: Erin Ashleen Stach
Current Title/Company: Senior Managing Associate at Dentons US LLP
Location: Chicago, IL
Education: Undergrad at Indiana University, Law School at Northwestern University
Children: Violet, 3, and Victor, 1
You’re a practicing commercial real estate attorney at Dentons US LLP, a worldwide law firm. How did you come across this job opportunity?
I was in the right place at the right time! I initially started out at another law firm, but after a few years, I wanted to try something different. A recruiter called me out of the blue and, after speaking with her, I felt that she understood where I was coming from and what I was looking for. I knew about Dentons because one of my former coworkers from my first firm had at the time recently moved over there. I reached out to her to hear her about her experience and it seemed like a great fit for me. I lucked out because they were looking for someone with my credentials and skill level, and after several interview rounds, I was fortunate enough to land the job offer, and the rest is history.
What skills help you to be a successful attorney?
I am extremely organized, it’s almost an obsession that I have. With so many moving pieces and with so many different parties involved, you’ve got to stay on top of things. I also genuinely like learning new things. I am constantly challenged because there’s such a huge mass of legal knowledge and information out there, so you’re learning something new every day.
You’re also a mom to your 3-year-old daughter, Violet, and your 1-year-old son, Victor. How has motherhood impacted you as a person and a professional?
Motherhood has grounded me and given me so much perspective, that I honestly never knew I could possess. I definitely don’t get as stressed or anxious as I used to pre-kids because, at the end of the day, nothing gives me more happiness than coming home and seeing my children happy and smiling.
It might sound counterintuitive, but being a mother has made me appreciate my job so much more and has made me more motivated to excel and advance in my professional life. Not only do I want to work hard to provide for my family and set a positive example for my kids, but I also so appreciate having a space for myself and an environment where I can utilize certain skills in a corporate setting.
Let’s be honest, oftentimes when I tell people at home what to do, they don’t always listen, but at work when I tell people what to do, it’s fun getting my way!
Walk us through a normal Tuesday morning. How do you get out of the house with two kids? What does your day at work look like?
Mornings can be kind of hectic once the kids are awake, so I try to get up and get ready before they do. I’ll typically wake up around 6 a.m. to shower and get ready before my kids both wake up at 7 a.m. Getting ready in the morning is my daily “me” time. I’ll also check my work emails to see if anything urgent has popped up that needs addressing before I get into the office.
Once the kids are up around 7 a.m, my husband and I divide and conquer: either he will get Violet and I will get Victor, or vice versa. We say good morning to them, give them milk, and do family snuggles in the master bedroom until around 7:30 a.m. Then, my husband will start making breakfast (eggs, sautéed breakfast potatoes, turkey sausage, vegetables, fresh fruit, etc.) while I change the kids’ clothes, start some laundry or do other quick household chores, and hang out with the kids until 8 a.m. Our nanny (who is like family to us) arrives at 8 a.m. I’ll typically head out around then if I am heading into the office or if I am working from home that day I will head to my home office.
How did you handle your most recent maternity leave with Victor and in what way (if any) was your decision influenced by your maternity leave with Violet?
I took the same amount of time off with both kids. My firm generously provides around four months paid and two months unpaid. I lucked out having spring babies, so my maternity leave was April through October, which meant I enjoyed the spring and summer in Chicago. The main difference between my two leaves was my stress level. I was more anxious and stressed in the first few months of having Violet (my first) since I was a new mom. I cannot put in words how overwhelming and life-changing it is to become a mother. Your world turns upside down, you aren’t getting much sleep, and your body is going through massive changes like breastfeeding and recovering from delivery.
I don’t feel like I had heard much about the hard stuff prior to having my first because all you really see are the picture perfect pictures on social media. With my second maternity leave with Victor, I had the benefit of perspective and knowing how fast the time would fly by. Although the sleepless nights were exhausting in the beginning, I really didn’t mind because I knew the hard times would be over in the blink of an eye. I also took Victor out a lot more than I took Violet out. I was more nervous as a first-time mother, but as a second-time mom, I felt much more confident out and about and nursing Victor in public without feeling embarrassed or awkward.
Tell us about transitioning to being a working mom and what surprised you the most about it.
I’m not going to sugar coat it, the first few months of transitioning to being a working mom were hard. There was a lot to get used to between pumping three times a day at the office, trying to adjust to a new normal, and not being around my child 24/7 when I was used to spending all day with her on my leave. On top of that, my husband’s hours are incredibly demanding, so we have an extra challenge since we both have atypical work schedules. But each week got better, and each week it got easier. You get used to your new normal, and frankly, you get used to getting less sleep.
The thing that surprised me most about being a working mom was my newfound energy for my career. Once I got past the initial difficulty of the transition, I really started enjoying going into the office more and having a separate “non-mom” life. I now look forward to going into the office on Mondays and being able to sit in peace and quiet drinking hot coffee!
On the weekends, I am in leggings with no makeup, probably covered in food or someone’s drool or snot, but at work, I love feeling put together and professional and being involved with intellectually stimulating matters.
You have a hectic work schedule and client demands. How do you separate your work and home life while also making time for self-care?
Basically, I never sleep! Ha, just kidding… but really, I do not have a lot of down time in my life. Everything needs to be scheduled (including self-care). The nature of my job is flexible in that it does not matter when I do my work, as long as I get it done and meet client demands. For example, if I have a document I need to submit on a Friday, I can work on that document at any time, whether it’s 8 a.m., 4 p.m., 1 a.m., etc. This flexibility allows me to go offline from around 5-8 p.m. so that I can prepare dinner and spend time with my family. Then, I log back online after the kids go down and continue working at night.
I often have late nights, but I am perfectly okay with it since it means I can spend some quality time with my family in the evenings most weekdays. In terms of self-care, I see a personal trainer once a week on Thursday mornings. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it’s one of the only times I work out these days, but it is absolutely vital to my mental (and physical) well being. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. I am also very conscious of not over-scheduling my family on the weekends, i.e. I know that once in a while we need to say “no” to an event or turn down an invitation if it means protecting the mental and emotional well being of our family, so to speak.
Although you and your husband are both attorneys with busy schedules, you love to make home-cooked meals for your children. How do you make this work?
It’s all about priorities. This sounds super corny, but I believe that you can do it if you put your mind to it. For us, it’s just not an option to not provide them with healthy, home-cooked meals. Health and fitness are extremely important to me. I view food as something that not only tastes delicious, but it also fuels your body, and you need to respect your body by treating it the best you can. We literally plan weekend schedules around when my husband can go to the grocery store – no joke! My husband’s family is from Poland; his parents grew up on a farm in Poland, and he was raised eating tons of fresh produce and had a very farm-to-table kind of upbringing. He loves to cook, so if you combine his love of cooking and my passion for health, it’s a no-brainer that we would cook as much as possible for the kids. Of course, we sacrifice other things in order to make this work. It’s just all about finding your non-negotiables and making them a priority in your life.
Do you have any advice for parents who are trying to cook more meals at home for their kids?
First, meal prepping and planning is essential. We couldn’t do it without planning ahead. Second, if you are in a two-parent household, it makes it that much easier if both parents can pitch in. For example, my husband handles breakfast and I handle dinner most nights. I do the meal planning but my husband does the actual grocery shopping. Third, take as many shortcuts as possible! We buy pre-cut veggies and fruits to save some prep work. Or we repurpose leftovers; for example, leftover grilled chicken from dinner can easily be shredded and turned into a chicken and veggie quesadilla for lunch, or you could make a chicken, cheese, and veggie omelet for breakfast the next day.
Finally, I am a huge fan of meal service kits like Hello Fresh. We don’t get Hello Fresh every single week, but on weeks where I know we are going to be slammed with work or busy with other things, I’ll schedule a Hello Fresh box to be delivered so it’s just one less thing I need to think about.
What are some easy home-cooked family meals that are also quick and healthy?
Anything in a slow cooker is so easy! You just set it and forget it. Meal prep comes into play here because you could prep a ton of veggies on Sunday nights (or just buy pre-cut veggies), and then utilize your slow cooker for recipes during the week. There are so many recipes out there on Pinterest that call for a protein (i.e. chicken or beef) and vegetables, and with different seasonings, you can build delicious flavor in a slow cooker. We also enjoy cooking fish — super healthy and cooks really fast, fewer than 15 minutes. Sauté some vegetables along with the fish, or you could bake veggies in the oven and you have a healthy dinner under 30 minutes. We are all about the protein and veggie combo.
The way I see it, it’s my job as the parent to provide healthy options for my kids, and it’s each child’s job to pick and choose what they want to eat. I never really encourage them to eat a particular food item, if they want to eat it, then they eat it, if they don’t want to then they don’t want to.
I want them to have a healthy relationship with food and feel that they have the choice to eat what they want (which is why it’s important to provide a variety of healthy options).
What are the greatest challenges and rewards of being a working mom?
It is extremely challenging, if not impossible, to “have it all.” Sometimes I feel like if I am doing a great job at work, then I’m not doing a great job at being a mom, and vice versa. It is challenging to not feel guilty sometimes. It is challenging to find quality time with my husband. Some weeks we really don’t get much of an opportunity to have a real conversation outside of hello, goodbye, what time are you going to be home for dinner? But the rewards largely outweigh the challenges.
It is a personal decision, but for me, I fear I would lose a part of myself if I was not a working mom. It is vital for my individual happiness to have an identity and a purpose outside of being a mother. Some might think that is selfish of me, but if I am happy and fulfilled, then I have no doubt in my mind that my children will be happy and fulfilled, which is the most important thing to me.
Were there any differences between your first and second pregnancy?
My pregnancies were almost identical! I had no morning sickness (I know I’m incredibly lucky!) and I gained almost the exact same amount of weight with both pregnancies. I was able to continue working out up until the week that I had both kids. The biggest difference was my lack of free time! When I was pregnant with my first, I knew exactly how many weeks and days pregnant I was and I took these perfectly posed monthly bump pictures.
With my second, I was much busier since I was already a mom to Violet, so I didn’t have as much mental bandwidth or leisure time to think about things as much as I used to. I did take a few bump pictures with Victor, but not nearly as much as with Violet! In fact, probably more often than not I kind of forgot about exactly how many weeks pregnant I was with Victor!
What should all moms know about the adjustment from one child to two?
You will never sleep again. But really, the lack of free time drops dramatically with two children. But also, never in your wildest dreams could you imagine that your heart would be so full of love. It is such an indescribable feeling to watch your children laugh and smile at each other. Violet and Victor are starting to have the most precious relationship. Sometimes they just look at each other and smile and burst out laughing and my heart literally feels like it might explode from love and happiness.
While deciding on a childcare situation, what were the most important factors? Why did you decide to choose your current one?
I could write a book about how much I love our childcare situation! Our superstar nanny kind of fell into our lap. One of my co-workers was moving out of state right as I was returning from my first maternity leave, and so we interviewed his nanny. We loved her right away. Coincidentally, she was also a former nanny for yet another one of my co-workers from my prior law firm. My husband and I loved the fact that she was a nanny for lawyers because that meant she was familiar with the crazy and demanding schedules that lawyers often have (and let’s be honest, with the crazy and demanding personalities that some lawyers have!).
Our nanny, Eunice, is the most amazing woman you will ever meet. She has a heart of gold, and my children love her so much. I trust her 100%. When I am at work, I have complete confidence that they are in the best care by someone who loves them. I truly feel that Eunice is a part of our family! We work well together as a team, and she completely respects my wishes as the parent. She is also very friendly and makes friends for my kids wherever she goes. We seriously go to a birthday party almost every weekend, and when we go to the local park Violet and Victor have more friends than I do! I just love our nanny and I could not make all of this work without her.
How has having kids affected your marriage and how do you and your husband divide parenting roles?
Having kids has affected my marriage in that we simply don’t have the free time together that we used to. We sometimes laugh about the leisurely life we used to live when we could go to dinner on a random weeknight when we wanted, just for the heck of it! Or we could be gone shopping and having brunch all day on a weekend, after sleeping in till 9 a.m. or later.
Kids take up a lot of time, so inevitably I do not spend as much time with my husband as I did before we had kids. However, since we know we have less time together, the quality time that we do spend together is much more intentional and thoughtful. When we have our date nights, the phones are away and we are truly focused on each other.
It is also incredible seeing my husband as a father. Of course, I am biased, but Peter is one of the best dads you will ever meet in your life. He works insane hours at work, yet he never complains and is always cheerful, fun loving, and attentive to the children. In terms of dividing parenting roles, I always say that my husband and I are not 50/50, but we are each going full force at 100%.
When we had Violet, Peter pureed all of her baby food before she started on real solids. He also used to wash and sanitize my breast pump parts because I was obviously the one spending all the time doing the pumping and breastfeeding, he wanted to participate in the efforts, too. Aside from breastfeeding, there is nothing that I do that Peter can’t do or doesn’t do. Neither one of us is the “default” parent because we believe that parenting is pretty much the most important partnership in life.
When it comes to being a mom: what are you most insecure about and what are you most confident about?
Sometimes I am insecure about my duality of being a “working mom.” I worry that stay at home parents might think that I’m not involved in my children’s lives; I worry that work colleagues might not think that I’m dedicated to my career. It’s hard trying to please everyone in different facets in your life, but at the end of the day, if I know I’m doing the best I can and my children are happy then that is all that matters.
When it comes to being a mom, I am most confident in my intentional parenting decisions. Whether it’s sleep, food, breastfeeding, clothes, safety-related, etc., I spend tons of time researching and talking to my various networking parent groups as well as following my own instincts, so I am super confident in essentially all parenting decisions that I make regarding my kids.
If you could only pick one, what has been your favorite memory from motherhood so far?
Oh no, there are way too many beautiful and magical moments to pick only one favorite memory! But I can tell you that one of my many favorite memories is hearing my kids laugh. There’s something about the laugh of a baby or a toddler that’s the most beautiful sound in the world to me. Not only is it absolutely adorable, but just knowing that they are happy gives me so much peace and happiness, as it is one of my sole purposes in life to do what I can to ensure their happiness. Bonus points: both of my kids think I’m absolutely hysterical (and honestly I don’t think that “funny” would be a word that my friends would use to describe me!)
Erin Stach is The Everymom…
Indulging in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream when I have a major sweet tooth that only the real thing can satisfy!
A full month off with my husband and my kids. I don’t care where we go as long as there is beautiful weather and tons of fun family things to do where we can spend quality time together.
Proudest career achievement?
Last year, I took on a pro bono case where I represented a Honduran woman seeking asylum. The client had fled Honduras in 2014 to escape a domestic violence situation, which included the kidnapping of her young son. Despite not having any immigration law experience, my colleague and I successfully defended our client’s asylum claim at the Chicago Immigration Court. By winning asylum for my client, she was able to apply for permanent residency in the U.S. and petition to bring her young daughter here. It was one of the most profound moments of my life, knowing that I had positively impacted this woman’s life. It was my honor to help her navigate our legal system.
Best mom advice you’ve been given?
Before I returned to work after my first maternity leave with Violet, I was really anxious and worried about leaving her. But then someone told me, the more people who take care of your children, the more love they have in their lives. That advice really resonated with me, and I’ve found it to be so true.
Most embarrassing mom moment?
The time I was pumping breast milk in my office and someone came in! I was so mortified that it was almost funny. I laugh now when I think about it!