Making It Work

Practicing gratitude: Lessons from my mother

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Angela C. Zambrano

Angela Zambrano

By the time I was a teenager, my mother was single and raising three children. In the summer, without the finances to afford child care, my siblings and I stayed home alone during the day while she went to work. I can still remember her driving home each day to make us tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches during her one-hour lunch break.

This memory of my mother rushing home to take care of us, throw a load of laundry in the washer, and scramble back to work all in just 60 minutes still brings me to tears. Now, as a working mother myself, I realize how hard it was for her to balance and how much she sacrificed for her family—all while doing so with hardly any family support, money or job flexibility.

When people ask me how I make it work, I point to my mother—who did so much with so little—as my role model. As lawyers, we have it so much easier than my mom or many other women in the workplace today.

As a child in a financially disadvantaged household, our mother encouraged us to succeed in school and modeled that for us by taking college courses at night and eventually obtaining a college degree herself. I attended the University of Kansas by scraping together a collection of scholarships and working a collection of part-time jobs.

After graduating, I was lucky enough to be admitted to Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law. SMU gave me an opportunity to work in a world-class law firm with clients and opportunities that neither I nor my mother could have imagined. My career has opened doors for me that I did not know were possible.

However, it has proved difficult to navigate decisions about motherhood along the way, although I am acutely aware of how much easier I have it as a working parent than my own mother did. Yes, I work long hours in a demanding profession. But I have the flexibility to attend my children’s school activities in the middle of the day, coach my children’s sports, and be a Girl Scouts troop leader. If my kids get sick, I have the ability to take care of them while working from home. If my car breaks down, I can call an Uber and get my kids to school and myself to work. If we forget to buy the materials for a school project, we can pay full price at the last minute.

There is no doubt that being a working mother in the legal profession presents unique challenges. But I consider myself lucky because I have the finances to take care of my family, the flexibility needed in my personal life to be the mother my kids need me to be, and the career satisfaction that comes from practicing law at Sidley Austin.

My mother taught me to work hard and be grateful. As female lawyers and mothers, we face many obstacles in our profession. However, when the balancing of work and family is especially difficult, I try to remember that as lawyer moms most of us have many resources available to us, from flexible hours to emergency transportation and child care.

We’re able to go home and have dinner with our children but still “log on” to take care of our clients’ problems when our little ones are asleep, something many other working women still can’t do—and certainly something my mother couldn’t take advantage of in the 1980s. The benefits I enjoy make me a happier mother and, as a result, a happier lawyer.

My mother has passed now, and I cannot tell her thank you every day like I want to. But I can be an advocate for women (and men) to obtain workplace benefits that make parenting easier and more enjoyable. I try to do that, and be grateful, every day of my law practice.


Angela Zambrano is a partner in Sidley Austin’s Dallas office and co-leader of the firm’s commercial litigation and disputes practice, where she represents companies and boards of directors in commercial litigation and internal investigations, including class actions and multijurisdictional disputes. She was the 2016 president of the Dallas Women Lawyers Association. Last year, the SMU Dedman School of Law recognized her as an emerging leader; she also received the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award from SMU Women in Law.

Making It Work is a column in partnership with the Working Mother Best Law Firms for Women initiative in which lawyers share how they manage both life’s challenges and work’s demands. Visit for more.

This article was published in the February 2018 issue of the ABA Journal with the title “Practicing Gratitude.”


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