Thursday, May 12, 2011

Guest Post: My biggest fan

My mother is almost inappropriately proud of me. At parties or social gatherings she will announce unsolicited that I am a physician (or was a medical student, or was planning to go to medical school, etc etc). She will go on, to whoever hadn't made an excuse to refill their drink, about whatever particular detail makes me fabulous, the word "doctor" coming up repeatedly. And although I find her rosy accounts to be both flattering and endearing, I have had to pull at her arm and mutter in her ear “Mom, come on” when I sensed our crowd is not interested.

I would of course like to think that my dazzling success, tireless benevolence, and deafening charisma has deemed me worthy of her immoderate praise. But I recognized that part of her pride stems from the fact that until she made a huge mid-life career change (into social work) never derived much pleasure or satisfaction from her own work. She raised my sister and I to “reach for the stars and let the rest shake out where it will”, and with the expectation we would have our own careers, earn our own money, and generally live as independently as possible.

My mom is very bright; however raised in Latin America as part of a family whose hopes and expectations for my mom did not extend beyond that of marrying "well". Her education and personal development were not valued to the same degree as those of her younger brother, who was sent to boarding school in Italy when no satisfactory local school could be identified.

Despite, or perhaps in reaction to, being presented with so few options, she spent her twenties partying in night clubs around the world, working in generally low paying jobs, and becoming engaged to six different men. I find the motley anthology of my mom’s travel and love trysts almost painfully exotic, especially in comparison to how I spent the same decade of my life. She strongly disagrees with my characterization, insisting that she would have spent her twenties very differently if she had known how to get herself on a different course.

Last month my mom lived with me while my husband was out of town and I was on our busiest inpatient ward service. With my pager going off starting at 7am six days a week, I needed help with everything, including but not limited to getting my daughter ready for school, making her lunch, dropping her off, picking her up, dinner, and all the other small tasks that can become monumental when I am on my own.

I am unfortunately now accustomed to the constant distraction of my pager, so it was interesting to see my mother’s frustration grow each time it went off. She watched curiously as I had to leave the dinner table to get on the computer. She worried that I was too tired to work. She wondered aloud how I was suppose to attend to so many people’s needs without being able to meet my own.

Slowly, she started to understand that which I realized soon after my daughter was born - I can still do anything, but I can’t do everything.

Her rudest wakening came during a conversation we had about the upcoming plans to “transition” my daughter from the toddler to the preschool room at her daycare. When my mom inquired as to my “strategy” for said transition, I stared at her blankly before replying that the great plan was to drop her off, as I would any other day, and go to work, again, as I do every other day.

My mom looked at me as if I had just said I was going to kick her out of a moving car on a cold and raining morning, with the hopes that fear and hypothermia would drive her into her new classroom. She immediately started planning a return trip so that she could oversee the "transition".

I would like to think my mother is still proud of me, but as she realizes how much I have missed, and will miss, of my daughter’s early years, she seems less enthusiastic about my choice in career. She has become almost bitter about my inability to be in two places at once, and would like to hold the "male-dominated world of medicine" responsible for this failing.

And now we both wonder to what degree we will encourage my daughter to pursue a similar career pathway. My mom might never have been satisfied with her career, but she was at every soccer game and running event. She was there when I got home from school and on weekend mornings. And she never left in the middle of the night.

I owe a great portion of my accomplishments to my mom, who was always by biggest fan and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. But, armed with only the best of intentions and an incomplete view of the consequences, my mom inadvertently overlooked the cost of this success.

With the full appreciation of its benefits and limitations, how I counsel my daughter in this regard remains an unanswered question. I love what I do, but I love my daughter more.

And I think that will be only contribution I can make over that which my mom gave me; do something you find meaningful, but know that nothing will mean as much as your children.


s is a Hematology/Oncology fellow in California. She lives with her husband and two-year old daughter. She blogs at


  1. Such a great post. Highlights something I think many of us struggle with. I feel like we have grown up in the "girl power" generation - you can do anything! However, once we get the success we've been striving for, there is a harsh realization of how difficult balance becomes.

    My mom is also my biggest fan in every way. On the day I graduated from medical school my mom cried and told me that from the moment we (me and my siblings) were born, we became her purpose in life. As much as this statement made me feel so much love for her, it also makes me wonder what my purpose should be. Is it this career that I feel a calling too? - the career my mom sacrificed and worked hard to make possible for me, or is my purpose this beautiful child I have? Is it possible for it to be both?

  2. Great post, and I loved your blog too. My mother was the opposite and always downplayed my achievements. I modeled after my grandmother who was a high power professional and raised me while still working full time. I did not feel disadvantaged because my grandmother only showed up for 7 pm dinner, then had extra work from home to do after dinner. We had connection, understanding, conversations. I still call her almost every day and value her advise on raising my own children. I must admit I do not have as much respect for my own mother who was a teacher, and thus had time on her hands. She somehow did not contribute to my upbringing, though spent all summer/other school breaks with my brother and I. I thus conclude it is quality not quantity of time you spend with your child. I drew more benefit from my grandmother,busy professional during weekdays I lived in her house (due to better school zone), versus from my mother who I lived with during summer breaks and on the weekends. I do not resent but regret that my mother never gave me a credit for what I have done in my career. Believe it or not she always finds something negatvie to say about me in public ("she writes with mistakes now" - about my native language skills after having moved to US). So, I would take a mother like yours any day.

  3. Great post. I also feel a tad wistful as I reflect on alternate realities- what if I hadn't gotten into that one med school? what if I had chosen something other than primary care (like, Derm)? But, on the other hand, I have it pretty good, as a primary care physician who works part-time, in an amazingly supportive female-only practice. And, most important, my mom is very proud not only of me and my choices, but also to take care of our Babyboy while we work. So, yes, though I have occasional wistful "what-if" daydreams, I realize that as a doctor-mom, I have it really good, and so does my family. Thanks mom!

  4. wow. just wow.

    this is very eye-opening and a bit scary.

    I am about to "transition" myself: from my old career and med school, (during both of which I made attending life's soccer games a priority) to graduation and medical practice.

    and I know that means the real crunch is about to arrive.

    oh dear.

    thanks for your story

  5. This was very touching, and it hits home. Now that my kids are grown and launched, I find myself puzzled why they are doing well, when I was so much more distracted than a many other mothers I know. Having a very involved father helped, enormously, of course, and probably explains why they are pursuing his career paths rather than mine. The biggest deprivation of a parent's busy professional life, I think, is not suffered by the children, but by the parent who must accept reduced credit (and more blame) for their lives. Still, the past is always past. I have many warm memories and currently many loving interactions with my daughters. I would not go back and be a full time mother, even if the results were different.

  6. Your post hit home, my mother had me when she was 20. She has told me that she is living the life she wanted through me. She stayed home until the kids were in school then worked and went to night school to finish her education. In that way she led by example.

    She is very proud of my accomplishments but is also a bit baffled by my choices. Without resources my parents scraped by, going without until later when the necessities were provided for.

    When pregnant with my first son I decided to not decorate a nursery. The pregnancy slowed me down and there was too much to do at work preparing for my leave. My mother was so disappointed, as she could not afford a nursery for me and expected my children would have "it all".

  7. Thanks for such a wonderful post, s.

    We lost many of the comments to this post when Blogger went down on Thursday which is unfortunate since it was great feedback. Your post clearly rang true for many other MiMs out there.

    Hope you'll write again.

  8. It was great to feel like a part of this community and I really appreciated the feedback. I will definitely write again.


  9. I once had the opportunity to say to my Mom (who was lamenting the lack of grandchildren), "You wanted a professional, you raised a professional, now you've GOT a professional - learn to live with it."
    Not my finest moment, I'll admit. But you really can only do so much.

  10. I am a third (almost 4th) year medical student with three children. This literally brought tears to my eyes as I have long ago (but not in time) realized these things as well.


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