Monday, July 28, 2014

Guest post: The whole truth

"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


  1. "Much is written about how women, and mothers in particular, hurt each other by only showing their competent and successful side. "

    This is bullshit. Why do women always have to excuse success? Why do they always have to temper it with "oh, but really I also suck in these ways"? Maybe if those people who attack successful women for being successful would look at the positive parts in their own lives rather than tearing women down that they perceive as bragging, they'd feel better about themselves.

    There's a lot of research showing that when you give identical vignettes or resumes etc. but give one a male name and one a female name, when it's a highly successful vignette or resume, the male name gets high points for likability and the female names gets hit on likability. Do you also think it's horrible when men only show their life successes? If you're like most people studied, you don't.

    This is just another example of the patriarchy forcing women down. Because we're not allowed to be successful and happy. If we are, then we're not liked. And that is bullshit.

  2. I find myself agreeing with both you and the commenter above. I LOVE this post. I fell like you are being real and that if we were all more real and supported one another for our various and fabulous life choices instead of only showing our "perfect me" side that we would elevate each other to greater heights. I totally bonded with my dental hygienist today - new one to me but 30 years into practice just transplanted from Florida - by opening up about my divorce. Sharing and admitting our tough times helped us empathize and learn from each other.

    Learning to hire help has made me a much better mom. Taking time to write at night instead of responding endlessly to bedtime requests sets my balance for the day and gets my emotions out so I can smile and cook breakfast and try not to yell at my kids before they start their school day (success rate: 40-50% on a bad week and 80% on a good week).

    Having said that - don't label yourself spoiled. I feel guilty sometimes too for hiring help but so many working mom's (and stay at home mom's I know) do and I work hard for my money - I deserve to decide where and how to spend it. If I decide to forego the thousand dollar jewelry or fancy car in order to make my house clean and nice for me and my kids and take us on wonderful trips then good for me (and you). That's not spoiled, that's smart and efficient. I have two housekeepers as well - one comes more often for laundry. And I also donate online at night. And my dream is to start a nonprofit to support women someday - who knows if that will ever materialize. When your kids get older you will have more time for the real thing, if you wish to pursue it. You sound like you are doing a great job. Nice to hear from a geriatrician - I almost did that I loved that rotation so much.

    Successful women walk a fine line when they take pride in their success, for reasons N&M mentioned above. But using that pride to hurt and judge each other, I agree, is kind of crazy. But it happens.

  3. Great post. I very much believe in the value of our speaking a larger part of the truth of our lives. It's so easy for each of us to watch what everyone else shows of their lives and think "why do I struggle with things others appear to find easy?" And this is particularly true for parents.

    I tried to make it on just the amount of help I thought I "should" need (as an intern with a toddler and a stressed partner....) and it was a real mistake. I suffered, my partner suffered, my marriage suffered, my kids suffered, and all my relationships suffered. Now we have significant household help and things don't actually feel easy and I carry a new kind of guilt but there is no question we weren't going to make it as a loving functioning family the way we were going.

  4. Love it. Thank you. I gave up the illusion of being a super doc/super mom a few years ago and your life is what I'm aspiring for. It's the dream that is getting me through residency. To drink iced tea on my porch, hang out with my kids, and take it easy.

  5. also- please, please do not dismiss the impact you have on your children (and the world) by investing in them. I think this is so important. we don't get time back to mother our children when they are small, but you have the rest of your life to volunteer. I'm only an intern and currently my help is in the form of my work at home husband (who is amazing!!!) but that's exactly what I do with my free time too. and I'm proud of it!


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