As a mom of 5 and a pediatrician and lactation consultant, I am one busy woman. If you are reading this, your life is probably just as crazy as mine. As physicians, we are charged with the task of taking care of others. But many times that leaves us too empty to take care of our own families, especially our children. You may have a schedule that is so time-consuming that you only see your children a few times a week. And those times that you do see them, you are likely too exhausted to do anything truly productive with them. These are just a few of the struggles of being a doctor mom. Please know these are common struggles of physician parents in medicine, and I will share how to overcome them here.
Over the years, I was “smart” enough to give birth at every stage of my medical training. My oldest daughter was born while I was in college, interviewing for medical school. During my third year in medical school, I was studying for my Internal Medicine shelf exam while stressing out about my son’s open-heart surgery to repair his Transposition of the Great Arteries. I struggled through rounds and 30-hour calls during residency while pregnant with my biggest baby yet. And I ran downstairs between rounds to breastfeed my daughter because she would not take a bottle.
My first job after residency came with crazy hours, even though I thought it was great since it was a step-up from 30-hour calls. The last 2 of my babies were born while I was working in private practice, with gradually improving schedules.
Through all of this I’ve faced many obstacles but have learned quite a bit. My kids were all born during the busiest time of my life, but they are alive and thriving at ages 4, 8, 11, 13, and 16. Here, I’ll share with you more on the struggles of being a doctor mom, along with my tips for facing and overcoming those struggles.
What are the Struggles of a Doctor Mom?
Time is Limited
There never seems to be enough time in the day for everything that needs to get done. If you are working a typical busy schedule, it is tough to find time for your kids. As a doctor mom, you may not have the time to keep up with their schoolwork and to help with homework at the end of the day. Your kids’ extra-curricular activities may conflict with your work schedule. You may also not be able to make it to field trips or other school activities.
Practicing What You Preach Is Hard
As a Pediatrician, I always tell the parents of my patients that kids learn best with simple human interaction. They should get down on the ground with their kids and play with them, talk to them, and interact with them regularly. But in my early years of parenting, I barely did that. I was too busy working and too exhausted to really spend much quality time with my children. I also preach about healthy eating and exercise, yet have had to resort to quick, unhealthy meals and skipped workouts because I was too busy to do any better. There have been times when my annual check-ups were skipped or I worked through illnesses because I was too busy taking care of everyone else.
Personal and Career Goals Are Pushed to the Side
When you are busy working each day and taking care of everyone else, you may find it hard to focus on your own goals. This includes both your personal and career goals. There may be very little time left in your day to work on improving yourself and making real progress.
The Issue of Working Mom Guilt
Believe me, I know that working mom guilt is real. I felt bad when I could not stay home from work with my sick child. There is always a measure of guilt when I cannot help with homework, a school activity, or when I miss a performance or a game. Emotionally, this is probably one of the biggest struggles of being a doctor mom.
Facing and Overcoming The Struggles of Being a Doctor Mom
Time Management is Key
It is very important to plan your days, weeks, and months. Prioritize those things that are important, and plan out your tasks so that the things that must get done each day actually get done. Make a plan and stick to it, being as productive as possible during the time that you have. I usually wake up a little earlier or go to bed a little later than everyone else in our house, and I find this to be my most productive time of the day. Planning things ahead of time, such as your grocery shopping, meals, laundry, and cleaning is also helpful. Adjust your work schedule if you need to if there is still not enough time in the day despite your best efforts.
Set Aside Time for Your Kids
Add your children to your priority list and set aside time each day to give your kids your undivided attention. This means time without distractions (especially electronics!). Actually plan this time in your daily schedule as though it’s an “appointment” with your kids that you cannot miss. Even if it’s thirty minutes or an hour every day, make it an hour of quality time well-spent.
Set Aside Time for Yourself
Just like making a daily appointment with your kids, it is important to make a daily appointment with yourself for routine self-care. For me, that means hopping on my Peloton for exercise and encouragement. On days that I do not work out, I set aside time to simply relax, with nothing else on my schedule. Throughout the day, I recommend setting goals to drink enough water, eat well, and get enough sleep. Don’t forget to schedule your annual check-ups. Don’t ignore signs of illness. Take care of your physical and mental health the way you take care of your patients.
Get Help From Others
Remember, the burden of raising your children does not have to fall entirely on you. If you are feeling overwhelmed, communicate that with your spouse. Reach out to other relatives and friends who can pitch in to help. Our kids are lucky enough to have amazing grandparents who absolutely love spending time with them. Not only does it give me a break, it also gives them time with other people who genuinely care about them as much as I do.
Along the same lines, I recommend outsourcing tasks you do not need to do yourself. Hire a cleaning or laundry service if you can. Grocery and food delivery services can help save you a lot of time. Think of all the tasks you do on a regular basis and start delegating them out so that you can get more quality time with those who mean the most.
Remind Yourself Being a Doctor Mom Is Still Worth It
Although life is pretty busy, I remind myself every day that I am lucky to be in the position I am in. I have a career that I am passionate about, and am a mother to 5 children who add so much to my life. It is a blessing to be able to pour into others both inside and outside of my home, even if it’s tough to balance. As a fellow woman in white coat, I am sure you can relate. Remember this when life gets crazy, and apply the tips above to help overcome some of the struggles of being a doctor mom.
Are you struggling with mommy guilt? Check out this article Bye Bye Mommy Guilt, Hello Self-Care for tips on taking better care of yourself in spite of being a busy mom, and this one How to Find Joy in Being a Doctor Mom.
Petra McEwan, MD, FAAP, IBCLC, is a practicing pediatrician and Lactation Consultant in South Florida, where she lives with her husband and five kids. She is also a Women in White Coats Fellow. On her website, https://www.wifeymommydoc.com, she helps working wives and moms balance their many roles. She can be followed on Instagram and Facebook @wifeymommydoc.
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