I’ve been caught in a recurring cloud this week even though the sky has been essentially spotless. It’s been one of those weeks where I find myself spinning around to grab the cup of milk or the steering wheel, muttering, “What am I doing?”
I am back perseverating on how to do this right. Life, I mean.
The issue of balance between work and parenting while trying to contribute to the world and use my skills (read: loaded issue) bubbles up at times. I never quite know what will trip me up, triggering a re-evaluation. But it comes up. Quarterly, let’s say, like state taxes…
There are days I am astonished by my opportunities and the children I get to take care of. And days where I am so delighted by my kids, I cry when I leave for work. And days I question if I have the stamina to endure. Last night by the end of clinic, I was so tired and my eyes so bloodshot (no idea why), that my medical assistant took my temperature. It was normal. But, point is, it happens; I do get really tired.
The real trouble is this: I liked my day in clinic yesterday and the things I discovered: the broken bone I found in a 2 week old, the teenager I helped with depression, the 20+ check ups I completed. But tired and missing my boys, yes. See, this would be far easier if I was only pulled in one direction. It’s not how it works for me; I have tugs on each limb.
The endless tug-o-war between arguments for those that stay at home and those that work while raising kids, goes on and on in my head. Specifically though, the retreat back to this issue of balance between work and home–and my current decision to work (a lot)–was spawned by 4 things:
- A blog post I read, now 2 months ago, has lingered. The post really was about how we all come to our own decisions. Yet the message on Twitter that led me to it said, “Family comes first for some who have finished residency.” The post details how some docs choose to stay home with their children, even after completing rigorous training. The post wasn’t written by the OB/GYN who decided to stay home with her children, rather it was written by a working colleague. I read it just before I headed out for one of my long clinic days where I work well past 8pm. It ruined my day. And I’ve been thinking of it since. My rebuttal, now months and many moons later, would be entitled, “Family comes first for some who have finished residency,” except it would describe what I do, too. See, my family does come first even when I’m at work. (I can get a little feisty)
- Recently, I talked with a friend who is now a stay at home mom. After a whole conversation where my work didn’t come up as we chatted about our kids she asked, “Are you and Jonathan okay?” The tone of the question seemed to imply pity for my circumstance of working while raising our boys. I was taken back. See, we were, we are, we will be okay. We exceed okay. We’re ecstatic about our lives and opportunity. The question, gowned in judgment, made my heart hurt and made me question, yet again. Although pity is possibly not what she implied, it’s how I took it and how I remember it. And its lingered.
- For the last 2 weeks, while I am writing and working in my office (at home), I’ve been overhearing O downstairs playing. He’s 20 months and his language is launching, rocket style. In tough moments (you know, like wanting a toy) he’s been instantly calling out, “Mommy!” It takes a lot in me not to go running…
- While on vacation earlier in July, we saw an old family friend. She asked about work–my practice, writing and blogging, etc. I told her how much I was working, quantifying it in hours. Her response, “Does that leave you any time to parent?” Of course it does. It just doesn’t leave me time to sleep. Her comment pierced me. And it lingers.
So I’ve been stuck in this confusing cloud. But today, for the first time in weeks, I got a refreshing new perspective.
It was O’s well child check up this AM. I took the morning off (minus a 7am interview) and spent it with the boys. I did mom type things, a trip to F’s school, a stop at the park, got the car washed, and went to the grocery. Then O and I sailed into the pediatric clinic for his check up.
O’s pediatrician did his check-up. Then she asked how I was. I launched into the aforementioned topic. I was describing how many people over the last 6 months have warned me. They say things like, “Your boys will only be young once” or “Your boys want you around now but won’t want you around later.” I explained to her how it has me all caught up and spider-webbed. That the comments and quandary have been angst inducing and guilt-inspiring. And how I am always chewing on the fact that no one says this to the husband.
But then, just as I was tearing up and re-entering the cloud, a sunbeam shot through. O’s pediatrician (a mom of three) said, “Oh no, that’s not true. Your boys will always want you around, when they are teenagers and grown-ups, too.” She went on to explain her specifics and rationale. Her experience and her success. And her regrets.
All the sudden the cloud was gone. I was affirmed and understood again. And appreciative she made the decision to go to work.
So I’m off the tug-o-war for a bit. Hope you are, too. See you next quarter…
There are women who devote themselves to their career out of sacrifice, because they need to provide for their children, and there are those who do so for self-actualization.
Morally speaking, it all depends on how one feels about what a mother’s role really is. Is it to be nurturing? Is it to show children that one can be a strong woman, even strong enough to sacrifice one’s role as a mother to further a career? These are questions that can only be answered after the experiment is over, i.e. after seeing how the kids turn out.
I understand that the need for affirmation when one has a high-pressure career might lead one to constantly seek out endorsements from others, but it certainly doesn’t suggest certitude. I think you ought to simply accept the truth: you prefer your work to the rather demeaning (and demanding) task of caring for very young children.
Personally, I am well aware that this is a common sentiment. As a single father, I’ve spent a great deal of time alone with my children, caring for them, changing diapers, dealing with the tantrums, pickiness, etc, all the while making no money whatsoever. It was all voluntary on my part — I chose to make that sacrifice, so I can’t complain. However, I understand that not all parents are willing to do so. This is why I’m not married any longer; my ex-wife, who works in healthcare like you, didn’t like it all that much, and that was fatal to our marriage. Perhaps it’s a status thing. Your social status as a stay at home mother in Seattle would be far lower than your status as a health care worker. It would be nice if that were to change, but some people have the ability to place duty to family above status, and others do not, which is entirely understandable.
I hope that this candid assessment doesn’t bother you. I wouldn’t have offered it if you hadn’t been so absolutely focused on yourself in this blog. In fact, I read it not for medical advice, but because it is so captivating as the story of a solipsistic American professional woman’s life. Very few of your posts neglect to mention your feelings about things, your insecurities, your need for affirmation, the personal details of your family, etc. In fact, as far as I can tell, it is not a health blog so much as it is a constant exercise in navel-gazing. Additionally, I think your husband must be an exceptionally tolerant man; I would certainly feel humiliated to have such details as you’ve posted made public in such a casual manner. I applaud him for putting up with it, because it affords me and others the opportunity to have a front-row seat in the observation of what it’s like to be married to a professional woman in this day and age.
I spent a year working part time doing a job that really didn’t do it for me so I could be home with my son. I couldn’t take it. Nothing about my life made me happy. Now, back in training and working 80 hours a week, I suddenly feel solid again. But I miss my son terribly. It’s rough being a doctor mommy, but I’ve been inspired by the strong women I work with daily and I know, in my heart, I couldn’t do it any other way.
Keep on, Wendy Sue.
Hi there! First, I want to thank the first commenter for posting because what he said was one of the bullet points I had in my head as I was folding and putting laundry away in the past couple hours. I guess I’ll post that bullet first, otherwise my other bullets are offered in no particular order from a BTDT mom. (In fact, our kids are almost identical ages: 10/06 and 1/09, so it’s all very familiar here!)
1) You will be criticized, admirer, or dismissed regardless of what you do. Because: working when you don’t need to is a privilege and a gift. It means that you get to apply the gifts that God gave you with a particular passion and freedom. Working as a MOM who doesn’t “need” to work sharpens your focus. You manage your time, priorities, and goals with precision. There isn’t very much that measures favorably against missing dinner or bedtimes.
2) Your work-life balance is about *your* life, how fulfilling it feels to you. There are many ways to have a good life, but it’s only a life worth living if it’s the life YOU want. As banal as it sounds it took an end-of-life thought experiment to help me put things in perspective. A 1st degree relative was dx’d with a terminal illness, one that I am more predisposed to. I am taking all the screening precautions, but these same precautions failed my loved one. So I asked myself, if I had the same dx in ten years, what are the things I would wish I had changed. I felt myself wanting a break, more sleep, and more ordinary, boring *quantity* time. Not because I thought it would be better for the kids (it might, we’ll see!) but because it would be better for me. I’m drinking up the flung noodles, the potty accidents, tantrums, along with the fun playtime. When I’ve quenched my thirst, I’ll see what calls me in the larger world.
3) It’s really not about the kids. Really. As a physician, you know what some guilt-plagued parents may not: kids attachment to their parent isn’t hurt by school and child care. They know who their parents are and are still attached to them even if the parent isn’t who they spend the quantity time with. Kids learn that lots of people in their life love them, including teachers and nannies and grandparents, and that’s fine. We have a playdate every Thursday with our former nanny and the little girls we shared her with. Those relationships are so precious to my child, 1.5 years later!
4) The second child totally screws up the balance, especially if the kids are closer together. The first kid still competes (effectively) for your attention while the second kid gets his basic needs met before bedtime. Ironically, this is true if you stay home, too. First kid doesn’t nap. I have dishes, cooking, errands, and a zillion loads of laundry to do. It’s very rare for kids #2 to get 1-1 time with both parents at the same time like kid #1 did from zero-2. That’s life, but you feel the sting more when you are working.
5) I’m not saying I endorse this article, but professional moms are part of the new economy: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/the-end-of-men/8135/
I’m not a doctor. But I am a full-time working mother. I was utterly tormented when I had to put my daughter in daycare so I could go back to work.
Will she have the same advantages in life if I’m not the one to raise her during the work week? Am I a horrible mother? Am I letting my daughter down?
I think every working mom has similar thoughts.
My daughter is in preschool now and I’ve come to realize a few things.
1. I am a good mother. Even on days when I only see my daughter in the car on the way home and for an hour before bedtime — the time I spend with her is quality time and has helped to shape who she is in a positive way.
2. She has a great future and advantages ahead
3. It has, at times, been incredibly hard work and I have sacrificed many things – but what mother hasn’t
4. Whether I choose to work or not work has no bearing on how my child develops. It is the quality of my interactions with her that will have the greatest impact.
Wendy Sue, thank you for your honesty and courage. Please keep blogging.
Welmer- I comend you for being a single dad but I wonder if you might be venting more about your ex-wife than about this blogger. For your sake, I hope you are lucky enough to marry a professional woman again and that you will have your eyes open to see how truly amazing she is.
Wow, Welmer. I think it’s pretty amazing the extent to which you just opened up about your feelings about things, your insecurities, your need for affirmation and the personal details of your family right here on this blog. When Mama Doc does this so openly, she creates the honest space where others are able to do the same, which, as noted in the many comments posted, comes in the form of myriad emotional experiences. You find what you do; others may find affirmation, hope, connectedness to humanity, and often, the open hand of an expert professional who is guiding them through the most important decisions in their lives. This “health blog”, which extends far into the realm of “whole health”, including and beyond a “practice of medicine”, for me calls to mind this quote by Marianne Wilson, often attributed to Nelson Mandela as he read it in his inaugural speech in 1994:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Shine as the dad who you are, Welmer. Let others do the same.
Geez, Welmer. You obviously hate your ex and are transferring that hate onto working women. Not cool! I will teach my daughter that she can work at home, or work on her career. Both are challenging, but either way we moms worship our babies!
Thank you, Wendy, for this post and all of your posts. I really appreciate your honesty and openness. I don’t have much to add, but I just wanted to say that as a stay-at-home mom I feel torn sometimes, too. I stay home with my two-year-old, but I have a law degree and a license to practice here in WA. Even though I want to stay home with my son, like it is the best thing for both of us/my calling/etc., I still feel torn at times… should I be looking for a job? Should I really let my degree/license lapse- it will be harder to get a job later? I have to trust my gut and believe/know I am doing the right thing.
THANK YOU for that honest, sincere post! It was very timely for me as a full-time working mom of a feisty two year old. I second guess myself frequently lately thinking, “Would we be having _________ problem if I were home full time?” My answer is probably, but I would be much less personally fulfilled.
Thank you for another honest and thoughtful post! I think mothers have a tendency to constantly second-guess themselves and unsolicited comments from others (well-meaning or not) about their working statuses don’t contribute anything positive. And I think that our society often overlooks the fact that dads should be able to make the same decisions about working outside the home. I know several dads who have stayed at home with the kids when their wives had better career prospects and they did a wonderful job parenting.
As a mom who has played both the working-full-time and stay-at-home roles, I can honestly say that not one was better than the other for me. Each had its own challenges and rewards. While working full-time, I enjoyed my job and co-workers and was able to aquire the medical/dental benefits my family needed (my husband was decently paid but didn’t receive benefits at the time), but I always felt guilty that I wasn’t spending enough time with my children. While staying at home, I enjoyed being there to watch all my children’s milestones, but I missed using the \adult\ parts of my brain and realized that I was spending way too much time obsessing over every little aspect of my children’s lives and making them overly dependent on me.
I currently work part-time, which I appreciate so much, for it allows me a much easier time balancing all my \jobs\ in life. I am firmly convinced that there is no one correct way to parent and it’s never going to be completely easy. If a family feels comfortable with the arrangements they have made, then they probably made the right choice.
If it makes you feel any better, I question myself everyday and I’m in the reverse situation. I feel guilty putting my career on hold and letting my husband pay for my med school bills. Some days I feel so out of touch with my other pediatrician colleagues that I wonder when I do get back if I will be any good. I am proud of my choice but I guess what I’m trying to say…is the grass is always greener and we make the choice that will be most beneficial to us and our families. Finding that balance is hard, any way you slice it. I bet the time you do get to spend with your family is “quality” and that is super important. Thanks for such an honest post 🙂
Stacey Arnold says
Thank you for putting out there what many of us working moms feel! I have a “best of both worlds” scenario in which I get to work part time from home so I can stay home with my kids but keep my foot in the working world. But I still often feel guilty in that I’m not spending enough time with the kids when work gets too busy or the opposite in that I’m falling behind at work because I’m enjoying some extended playtime with my kids. No matter what scenario – working, not working, – there will always be issues, doubts, etc. That’s just part of being a parent – always second guessing if we’re doing the best thing for our kids while making sure we’re not losing ourselves in the process. In the end you just have to be who you are and do what makes you happiest and that will be reflected in your parenting and through your kids.
It is true that your boys will always want you around, as O’s pediatrician said. And of course it’s your and your husband’s decision, and no one else’s, how much time each of you is able to spend with them.
I don’t know what your husband does, but it may be that if his job allows him to be at home more, they will end up having a closer relationship with him than with you. This is what happened to me (my mother was a physician). I love both of them, but simply had much more time to spend with my father growing up.
It’s something to be aware of.
Having worked full time and now part time I feel incredibly fortunate. I know my skills and my passion and being able to balance both is a true gift. An interesting side note, my husband took 12 weeks paternity leave when our daughter was born and the comments were polar opposite, “can you do that?”, “won’t you ruin your career?”, “I could never do that?” Now 5 years later and no harm to his career, people envy his time spent with her and he will always have the memories to cherish. The key is to somehow block out the nay sayers and believe in yourself and the decisions you’ve made as a parents and partners in this crazy world.
I’m new to your blog, and this post resonates with me clearly. I finished my PhD when my son was 18 months old, now he is 3.5 and has a baby sister. I’ve wasted so many hours of my life worrying about what I should/want to be doing with all that training. I’ve been lucky to find part-time scientific work, but it is sure not as fulfilling as the positions I could get if willing to work full time. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone with these struggles.
I am relieved that so many comments followed Welmer’s to balance the discussion. Bravo to Jenn. Her summary is astute.
As a working mother myself, I commend Wendy Sue for her honest discussion, and I am sorry she to endure the recent comments that made her doubt herself, even for a moment. Piercing comments, full of judgment. Ouch. And ridiculous.
No need to reiterate all the working moms’ feelings stated above.
I just wanted to remark on another reality. When a mother has professional training, she does not truly have the choice, finances aside, to stop working for the sake of being around her growing children full time, as much as she might like to. She would not be able to pursue her field of expertise years later when the children are grown, because she would no longer be an expert.
Meanwhile, it is of potentially great value to her children to learn about the talents of women.
Speaking of talents, the author of this blog is so entirely and exceedingly talented, that her work becomes more demanding by the day. Many folks seek her medical expertise and her writing talents. Her work-life balance, then, is that much more challenging and amazing.
Bravo, Wendy Sue. Your children are incredibly lucky. You’re all rock stars.
I too struggle with the guilt of working while having children and whether I’m spending enough time with them. However, one of my strongest memories of my mother is that after staying home for 14 years with her children, she went into a profession that she hated and that was not well aligned with her skill set. She did this for about 15 years to help pay for college tuition and prepare for her and my father’s retirement. She had limited career options re-joining the workforce after 14 years of being at home. As I was choosing my career path, I had this memory foremost in my mind. I did not want to be miserable as my mother had been. Now, when I feel the guilt of going to work, I try to remind myself that my children see me going to work just like their father and just like they go to school. In fact, my 5 year old recently said, ” You go to work to learn many things just like Daddy. Then, you can answer the really hard questions.”
Thank you for your post. I just started following this blog two weeks ago. I am a working mom of two (3 1/2 years and 13 months) who stayed home for 3 1/2 years. When I decided to stay home, colleagues warned me that I wouldn’t find a job in my field or that I would be giving up my career if I took time off. I never believed them. I followed my intuition and I am so glad I did. I am not naturally maternal so believe I needed that time at home to find out who I am as a mom. I feel completely blessed that I was given that opportunity – many moms don’t have a choice.
Around the time that my second child turned six months old, though, I felt a strong desire to go back to work. I ignored this little tug out of guilt because I was determined to give my son the time that his sister had. Then I started changing. I was anxious and grumpy and not the best me I could be. I became obsessed about housework and rules and schedules. Even though I was doing what I said I would do – stay home with our kids. I wasn’t being the mom I said I would be. So, I started seeking answers and learning about myself and my situation. I learned that for me, it wasn’t black and white. I knew that I made the right choice to stay home for as long as I did but that I could also give myself permission to grow – as a mom and as a person.
I am now a working career woman and we make it work for us. In fact, when I got my job we sold our house and moved into a rental right down the street from my office so I didn’t have a commute and I would be close to them during the day. I can pick my kids up at lunch and take them to story time at the library or just drop by and give them a hug if either of us needs it.
A comment above says that a mom’s decision to work is about what is best for the mom. I disagree. In our case, my decision to go back to work was actually what was best for our family. Towards the end of my career as a stay at home mom, I wasn’t engaged because I wasn’t happy. I wanted to be a working mom. But I was plagued with the guilt and hypocrisy I felt because I was going against what I said was right. And it was right – at the right time. It must be remembered, too, that I made that choice to stay home before I knew who I was as a mom. We must be true to ourselves in all areas of our lives. Not just when it sounds good. So, I made a change. Now, I am the mom I want to be and the mom I think my kids truly deserve. I am no longer obsessed with housework and schedules and rules – all things that matter a little but not as much as the quality time I now have with my family. I feel more relaxed and happy and present when I am with them and they feel that, too.
Thank you for this post. My 2 kiddos are lucky to have you as their pediatrition. I agree that whether to work or stay home is something that many moms face. After my daughter was born, I was scheduled to return to work part-time and then full-time after a couple of months. After a month of being back at work, a job I very much enjoy, by the way, I realized that I just didn’t want to lose my time with my daughter. Fortunately, this was right around the time when our office was facing budget cuts, so I was able to keep my part-time schedule, while the office was able to save a little money. It was a win-win.
Working part-time has been wonderful for me. I thoroughly enjoy being in the working world – polishing my skills, the decision making, the respect, etc. However, I appreciate my time with my children much more and strive to make that time quality time. If need be, I could be a stay-at-home-mom, but I find I am much happier and much more fulfilled, complete, if you will, with my work-life balance. My daughter is in daycare/preschool on the days that I work and it has been wonderful for her. She’s learning things there that I would struggle to teach her. She’s a beautiful little girl, she knows she is loved, and she loves her mommy.
Now that I’m on maternity leave with my son, I have to admit that the thoughts about whether to return to work have surfaced. I know that the work-life balance will be good for ME, but it doesn’t stop the thoughts from rearing their ugly head. As it was with my daughter, the first week of leaving him at daycare will be incredibly hard, but I know that he’s going to be fine and so will I.
I have friends who want nothing more than to stay at home with their kids – they feel it’s their place. I have other friends who were practically counting down the days until they could return to work after maternity leave. I’m somewhere in the middle. The most important thing is to figure out what is best for you and your family and follow that direction. I want to be an example to my children and have them see me as a happy, fulfilled mom who works hard and loves them and their dad like crazy!
As mother’s we are constantly questioning whether what we are doing is right for our kids, our family, our husbands, ourselves. Ultimately, all this thinking (and usually over-thinking) makes us crazy and better parents (I hope!) We all do what we think is right for our situation. Your children are incredibly lucky to have a smart, beautiful, loving, incredibly talented mom and my kids are lucky to have you as their doc!!! Thanks for making the decision to share your gifts with all of us!
I totally relate. My income is half of our household and it does not make sense for me to quit working…we don’t have a crazy lifestyle, either, not that it matters. There I go, already justifying my choices before I even make my comment!
My grandmother was a teacher and a working mom. My mom ALWAYS resented this and stayed home with my brother and I because of it. If I dig deep, I can remember her being fun and enjoying us at times, but what I mostly remember: Mom on the couch with a headache. Go outside and play. Throwing dishes. Screaming. Being sequestered in our rooms. Yelling.
I don’t think my mom was cut out to stay at home. Her personality benefits greatly from being around normal people, and without that, she just slipped into the Crazy. But she did it anyway out of guilt and martyrdom.
I try to make my decisions based on something besides guilt. I think I am a better mom when I have spent time away from the demands of a two-year-old. I’m more patient. I remember that I’m the adult and it’s my job to be rational. I can stop and enjoy the little things, like an extra book before bedtime, instead of being eager to just get my daughter out of my hair. I have found the best mix for me is part-time work, because I can appreciate the best of each world daily–but I can’t find anything professional at part-time hours. So for me, I would rather be a great part-time mom than a terrible full-time one.
This is not everyone’s experience; there are other women who find the opposite to be true. I guess my point is, there are too many variables to judge any woman on her choices. I’m an editor, and we have a saying: “Know the rules before you break them.” I think that applies here, too: The decision to stay home or work should be made thoughtfully in regard to your family’s unique situation and not the expectations of those around you.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Thanks, Erin. I know you’re right….every parent’s balance for perfection (if it exists ;-)) is individual.
I’m impressed you’ve found such a good balance! I’ve been in better balance at some points in this than others. Right now, no. But I’m constantly working to improve it.
Just started following this blog today and I’m back-tracking through some really excellent blog posts. As a momma to a 6-month-old baby girl and a 4th year medical student applying in peds this next year, these types of thoughts are constantly weighing on my mind. Thanks for such a candid, honest post!
Karen Rutherford says
Dear Mama Doc.
Please remember that being a “Mama Doc” is a choice that you made, studied long nights for and dreamed of all through undergraduate school. A choice.
Remember that when you touch a child’s hand or speak gently and wisely to a frightened parent. You made the choice to be in this position. Use it wisely. People trust you.
You are a person of privilege.
My husband is an old primary care doc. I am so proud of him. He retired this year and it was difficult to leave his patients. They are part of our family. Part of our children’s family. Even on Christmas day.
I am confident that you will use your position wisely and raise your children well. They will respect their mother. And they will love you.
PS. We spent six years at Children’s in Seattle. A wonderful place. They put my youngest son back together. I have great respect for the organization.
Wow – very interesting article and comments here, I enjoyed reading them. The internet is so cool that we can have a parental ‘group’ conversation like this. Well, one thing is for sure we do live in a complicated world! Choices are good but the over complication of parenting these days can be emotionally debilitating! Now, I’m speaking from experience here, being a father myself and the constant pull between feeling the need to be a provider, but also wishing I had more time to connect with, help foster growth, and really be involved in our childs daily life. Recently our family has gone through some big changes, but more on that in a minute…overall the whole situation has had me thinking about this topic for a while now.
I found for myself, there is a strong biological need to provide for the family, and there is a bit of tension when I am no longer needed to fulfill that biological need (when wife got a job and chose to be a provider instead of a more traditional family role). It seems there is a basic battle going on here – that battle is for who gets to fulfill the role of “provider”. I have come to the conclusion this is because society values the provider role more than the caretaker role. But deep in my heart, I know that those two roles are not equal. They are both needed, but the caretaker role is the more important role imho. Why? Because money comes and goes, but love and sense of self / acceptance in a family is forever. For this reason, I think that the person who takes on the “caretaker” role must be a stronger and even more self motivated person than the provider because society improperly values the role (just as a teacher is apparently “less” valued than a business leader) so the person must be ok with that and still chose to take on the job knowing that their investment in the family now with pay off over time, the compensation coming in the form of a closely knit family that is the real deal. For me, there is no qualms about what the highest purpose in life is, and that is no doubt raising children and parenting.
The caretaker must know and understand intrinsically that their vision for their children / family is in the long run (50+ years) hundreds of times more valued in terms of creating a solid existence (the roots of an entire family tree) even when society does not reward this. To take on the job and be successful, it’s almost as if you have to be able to say F-you to society in the beginning, and just be ok with the choice, with the understanding that no matter how other people look at you or value the work you do at home, they do not give your life meaning – you do.
And now, I come back to my personal feeling of being born to take on the provider role (and I do feel like that – tho I was the life of the party/ very social in school & college I’ve had no issues making the transition to parenthood, now after work is met, family gets all my time, and if there is time for social / partying after that then I do that maybe once a month or every two months). I say born to take on that provider role, but with my wife also now taking on that role, I can’t help but feel a shooting sense of urgency that if our family has 2 providers and 0 caregivers, well, our root structure and solidarity will not be there as we age. This gives me cause for concern. Yes, our son is doing fine in childcare, but we want to have more children and I can’t knowingly choose to bring another child into this world only to have that child raised in the house of a stranger.
My mother chose to stay at home to raise me, my siblings, and even some other neighborhood kids, and I am soooooo thankful for that. We are close, I, or any of my siblings would do anything for her (our father passed, and yes she had to work eventually). Because I was raised like this, I can honestly say that I know it made a tremendous difference to us to have that caretaker. Notice, I’m not saying that it has to be the mother or father, but that it just seems many families these days (ours now included) seem to be falling into the trap of 2 provider 0 caregiver families. I can’t help but make a judgement that THAT is not how we were intended to grow from children into adults. Look at how long adulthood is extending…people not having kids till late 30’s, partying and putting themselves first through their 20s, and then taking on less responsibility than they could merely in the name of trying to continue having “fun” as long as possible.
Of course, waiting till the right time to be a parent is a good thing….but I’m just saying that I can’t help but notice the results I’ve seen – that many of the kids who did have a caretaker/ provider as parents and not two providers are now successful parents themselves, and many of the kids who had two providers (raised in daycare) or even worse, a single dad or single mom, wound up taking a long long time to “discover themselves”, often abusing drugs and alcohol because their family root structure was not strong enough so they looked to their friends to form a family unit, oftentimes being negatively influenced by those friends who were only looking to the short term/ have a good time right now, and not for the best long term interest as a family unit would.
I suppose I’m coming off to some as a bigoted male who is overeligious and just trying to keep the upper hand in the marriage / not wanting to relinquish power (or to hold onto the higher society status) but thats honestly not me….in fact as I already said, society status and social life for me is practically nonexistent (own a business and after work/ family time sleep is about all I have time to do). I am religious, but only so far as in that as I grow, I realize the importance of helping others more and more and am guided by the lighthouse of “doing the right thing”. In other words, we don’t go to church, so you can’t write me off as a religious fanatic. I just happen to think that those of us who are blessed enough to have children, we ought to be smart enough/ selfless enough to place that role at the very top of our life purpose hierarchy. Is there is any grander purpose that each of us takes on in a lifetime? Surely there is absolutely nothing as paramount, essential, honest, practical, or more important than the role of parent.
And so what is my point? Well, in a nutshell, that I think perhaps we’ve taken a wrong turn in thinking that its ok to have 2 providers and 0 caregivers. I’m sorry, I just don’t buy it – only seeing the kids for breakfast and two hours before bedtime is hard enough for one parent, but both parents? If we choose to think we can have our cake and eat it too, the very thing that will take it on the nose is the strength of our families. Everyone says they value families highest, but when you CHOOSE to have a family with two providers, then you are not valuing family highest – you are placing ego (or the need for social status) and money ahead of family.
And, I’m being completely honest here – I know for our family that we can live with less money. We are not starving and have a house. We do not need more toys, televisions, another car, or for that matter an addition to the garage to make room for a third car. She didn’t really want the job that much, and I encouraged it partly because of the economy and lack of job openings – we justified her taking on the job as a safety net for our family and way to start saving. In hindsight, that was a total cloud and insincere hope – have we saved any money? No we just go out to eat more and spend that little bit of extra on paying someone else childcare. We still both have equal housework and division of labor ( take turns cook certain nights, she cleans certain rooms, I take out trash mow lawn, she does laundry, etc) but somehow there is far less energy to do the fun things because now on top of two full time jobs its a lot trickier to balance everything and fun family outings / the little stuff like going on hikes or walks around the neighborhood/ family story time have suffered the most. I don’t see how it could be a good solution or tradeoff longterm, and at least for us – both parents working full time is not putting the family first, I was eager to have the extra income, but it was a facade.
After reading this article, these comments, and writing my own thoughts, it has really made me wonder if it’s a good thing for the human race as a whole for humanity to act counter to what our biological roles have traditionally been. But thats another issue totally, for sure I am convinced 2 providers = bad situation. In that case, if my wife really does feel the need to be our provider – maybe I need put my own ego further back and be the stronger person here to take on the caregiver role. I earn more, but maybe she needs the social status.
Also, I have to say, from the opposite front there is a total human need for me that is being under-fulfilled when I get two hours before bedtime. I want to be a hands on dad and if I were just a warrior / hunter gatherer that wouldn’t be an option! Traditional life (the past 10,000 years of humanity) does have its merits though, over abundance of choice and introspection can be crippling. I think we are living in a time that is exciting to be able to redefine what we want out of life. Sorry to be so long, and anthropological, I can’t help it but just wanted to contribute our families .02 and I think this problem is one that many many more people will start to question. In the end, it’s a question everyone has to answer for themself, but for us I don’t think it helped to cloak choosing the 2 provider justification as a decision that was in the best interest of the family, for us that was a simple facade.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Thanks, Thomas. Looks like you should start a blog! Your response is longer than the post 🙂
I’ll say a couple of things. My job isn’t just a “job” to me. It’s a career and a profession. I’m a provider and a caregiver at home. I’m a provider and a caregiver at work. What I get to do when I go to work feeds me. When I am at home, I feel the same way. In an ideal world I would work about 4 hours a day serving the needs of other people’s children, and then return to my own. Let me know if you find a pediatric panel of patients that would allow this!
I’m ecstatic that I get to raise my boys in an environment where we provide good examples of service, too. But like I said in this post (many months ago), it isn’t an easy choice and there are days (like the day I wrote this) and yesterday, actually, where I question my choices. If I didn’t, i wouldn’t be doing my job as a physician and mother—trying to do it right, prioritizing my family and my commitment to helping my community as well.
And another point for clarification, my children are not with strangers during the day, they are with their teachers, their family, and/or their caregivers. They get a lot out of this time with others and the wisdom that is shared!
(Your Tweet brought me back to this post… I can’t believe I didn’t comment before!)
I have two things to say..
1. (this is a big of a soap box for me lately) You are the ONLY mother to your boys, and therefore you are the ONLY person who knows the best way to parent them. No one should ever make you feel inferior or like you are not making the right decisions for them – how can they possibly know?! YOU are their only mother, you know your family, yourself, your marriage, your boys, your circumstances better than anyone else, so you are the only one qualified to make these decisions. My motto lately? There is no room for peer pressure in good parenting.
2. I think a lot if “parenting time” comes down to quality over quantity. And sure, I probably sound like a working mom justifying her lifestyle, but I truly believe this. I work (I am an attorney, working at a hospital – a job I took when my law firm life was too much to juggle while mothering very young children). I come home and immediately start cooking dinner, then do homework with my oldest, bathe the kids, read to them, snuggle them into bed, and then finally stop for the first time since getting up in the morning. So yes, I only see my kids for about one hour in the morning and two hours at night and Saturdays and Sundays. BUT because my time with them is limited, I cherish it. We turn off all phones during dinner time, a sacred time that is reserved for sitting together and giving each other our undivided attention as we talk about our day. On weekends, we PLAY – I sit on the floor and play baby dolls, we spend 6 hours in one day at the playground, we do crafts, we go to the farmer’s market together early every Saturday morning. During the holidays we make gingerbread houses with friends and drive around with hot chocolate looking at lights in our pajamas. These times are precious to me, and I make the most of them. And I KNOW (because I had a working mother as a mom) that my children will have many, many rich and meaningful memories of spending time with me.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
I’m with you, Vera. I agree. No one knows what is best for me and for my boys more than I do and my husband does. I’m sure of it. Thanks for that insightful and wise comment/reminder.
From my perspective as a working doc & mom, you pretty much nailed it on the head–neither the satisfaction nor the guilt will ever end…and there is no such thing as balance, simply a wavering teeter totter back & forth. Thanks for this!!
Your post and the subsequent comments inspired me to post about this on my own blog today and really think about what I want to do going forward. Thanks for the eloquent words on all your work-life balance posts.
I’ve been pondering on that last part, no one asks the husband.
My brother has no angst! He just does his best at work and at home and that’s it!
Oh, the freedom! His wife and I? Angst.
My boys (2 & 5) are best with a happy mom, no matter the digs my own mother tosses at me. Working full-time doing what I do very well is important to me and to society. I consider myself a role model of what a woman (citizen, professional, etc) can be for her sons. I feel lucky.
Wendy Sue –Thank you for sharing your experience. I am a new mother and identify deeply with this topic. My daughter starts daycare next week and I have been feeling a myriad of emotions including guilt, sadness and some excitement. When I share with people that I will be returning to work, they often looked shocked and say something like “how awful” (tactful right?). I obviously feel judged as a selfish mother and worry I have made a terrible mistake and am being neglectful. I am quite sure my husband has not been judged for returning to work several months ago. However, when I look honestly at my decision I know I am not making it for selfish reasons. I also genuinely think it is the best thing for us and our daughter. Is our situation perfect? No. Will I cry hysterically when I drop her off at daycare? Absolutely. But, I know we will all grow from this experience because of BOTH the benefits and difficulties. Thank you for articulating a very difficult and emotional topic.