"Tell all the truth but tell it slant" (Emily Dickenson)
Much is written about how women, and mothers in particular, hurt each other by only showing their competent and successful side. I agree. This isolates us. I’ve had people ask me: “How do you do it? How do you manage being a doctor and a mother at the same time?” Most of the time I say “I don’t know," and that is true in part. I am just doing the best I can and it never feels good enough.
But here is the whole truth. I have a LOT of help. An insane amount of help that I feel embarrassed that I need and for which I feel undeserving. Particularly here in Utah where many women have a lot of children and do a darn good job taking care of them all while looking fabulous in the process, I admit that I feel guilty that I don’t measure up. I feel silly that I have a hard enough time taking care of two.
So here, in a nutshell, is a list of all of the help that I have: a housekeeper a morning per week. And in addition, gulp, a lady who comes two times a week to help with laundry. I shop online and save most errands this way. As if that weren’t enough, I am fortunate enough to have my parents here in Utah. In addition to watching Adelyn during the day, if we are late for school pickup, or if I have a late meeting, my mom is there for backup. Oh, and since we are in full confession mode, also a therapist to help me deal with all the damage done to my psyche by medical training. Have I suffered any real trauma in my life that would actually merit a therapist? Nope. Yep, I am a spoiled white WASP (I’m not actually sure what that is but I think that that is the category people would put me in.) So what am I doing with all this help? Am I volunteering for humanitarian causes? Am I the PTA president? Nope and nope. Here is what I am doing with that time: spending it with my kids mainly. All this help allows me to spend a lot of quality time with my girls. I hope it is doing them some good but I am never quite sure. I desperately want to volunteer to help disadvantaged kids but right now, I have all I can do to take care of my own children. And so I am an armchair do gooder, making donations and all that other useless stuff. I cook several times a week. I sometimes have people over for dinner if the house is presentable enough (though I should do so no matter the condition of the house…foolish pride). I read I bit. I run. When I am feeling brave I take the girls to church on Sunday. I garden and putz around our property. I sit on the front porch and drink iced tea. I occasionally get together with friends or talk on the phone with them or write a letter. Oh, yeah, and I'm a doctor. A decent one most days, and some days a downright good one. If I didn’t have all this help, none of this would be possible.
What are my kids doing while I write this? Watching a dumb cartoon with negative educational value. It’s 90 degrees and in the heat of the day and we already read, and done 2 crafts and some homework pages and eaten and cleaned up and attempted naps and I have no more tricks up my sleeve. And darn it my husband has just arrived home early and caught me ignoring the children while they watch TV.
There you have it. Judge away. Or maybe, just maybe, cut me some slack. Cut other women some slack too. And if you do more than me with less and get by without any help at all, I am truly happy for you. But it's okay that I'm not that way.
I realize that sometimes women take offense when you say things like “I don’t know how you do it.” But when I say that, I am being genuine. The woman with 5 kids--you are my version of a rock star. If I have a lot of questions for you and ask you how you do it, it is because I admire you, like some people might do when they meet a world class athlete or a famous author. To me, you are doing the impossible. The woman staying home with 1, that’s a huge job too. The woman with no children-- wow you must be able to accomplish so much, and gosh it must be so nice to be able to read the paper in bed or join friends for cocktails at night or have a glass of wine on the plane without a small person dumping it out and making the whole aircraft smell like a vineyard and good for you for knowing yourself well enough to make that choice (and if it is not a choice but one that has been forced upon you by infertility, I am sorry and this is why I try not to ask women if they have children lest I hit a sore spot). The woman who has made it to the top of her field? Thanks for paving the way. The woman doing important work to end social injustice? You are ALL my heroes. And I’m grateful to have so many of you in my life.
-a geriatrician and mother of 2