Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two part series.
When it comes to living in a home where daddy is the “mommy” I am admittedly often very conflicted about my girls’ “comfort zone” being daddy. On one hand, I want them to be happy and thriving. I don’t want them to be sad and pining after me when I am gone. I don’t want them to feel like things aren’t quite right when I am not there. But of course I have guilt that I am not their “normal”. They ask about me when I am gone. But they find it really strange when daddy isn’t home. He is ALWAYS home.
Despite our struggles, we have come to the conclusion that the girls get the best of each of us in our situation. I often joke that I am a better mom because I work. But I actually believe it. I LOVE my job and my career. It is life-giving to me. And if I am not the best cook and don’t make my pies from scratch—oh well. I am a doctor. I have realized that I just simply have a baseline amount of stress in my life and if I am not working on a million projects and trying to juggle a lot, then I just become stressed about less important things (like the fact I forgot to return a borrowed shirt, fix our toilets, pay a bill, return an acquaintance’s phone call, unpack our cookbooks when we moved five years ago, lost our olivewood manger scene…). When I am juggling so much, I simply don’t have the time or energy to stress about less important things.
My husband had an insightful comment for me when I was really struggling in medical school with the fact that I had “sold my soul” and just committed the next seven years of my life to training (it actually turned into ten!). My in-laws watched the whole process and marveled that it was TEN years before I had a “real” job and had children. I was struggling with the reality that I knew I wanted to be a mom and maybe I shouldn’t commit all of this effort to a career. Maybe I just couldn’t cut it. Maybe I should just be a cashier—that was my dream job. It seemed much simpler. Less school, less responsibility, less time away from home. My husband gently informed me that a different career wouldn’t solve my problem because the problem was not anything external—the problem was me. He clarified that if I were a cashier (a job he had done), my feet would still hurt at the end of the day, I would be stressed about pleasing my customers, moving the line, I would be worried about what my boss thought of my work, I would be even more stressed about money…he is right. I am fortunate to be in a place where I am juggling too many important things to bother with concern for the little things in life. It’s too bad that our garage door needs painting and our retired neighbors have a perfect lawn…but I am too busy doing more important things.
One of the most critical manifestations of my husband’s support is what we have come to call, “mommy-ganda”. It is our intentional shaping of our daughters’ perception of my time away. We both emphasize to our girls that I adore them and would always prefer to be with them. But that I have an important job. People need my help and I have worked very hard to have the skills to help people in need. I have to take care of sick people and I also have the responsibility to teach doctors as well. When I am gone, my husband reiterates this frequently. And he emphasizes that when I come home I will go kiss them and express appreciation for them and how much I love them and missed them.
Thus far, the “mommy-ganda” has helped my children have respect for what I do and understand that it is important for me to work. We emphasize a sort of “team” mentality; that I am working because I love my job and because we need money to pay for our house, toys, clothes, etc. Daddy helps me by not working and being home with them. And they can help our family “team” by cleaning up their toys, helping with laundry and setting the table for dinner. They really seem to respond to this and rally to do their part (sometimes, they’re normal kids). When I travel, I lament my time away which I exert great effort to minimize. I once flew to China, lectured for twelve hours and returned home while being gone from my house for only 4 ½ days. I always try to name an upcoming activity they have that they can look forward to before I leave — even something simple like baking cookies with them the next day really excites them. I try to make up for lost time by spending individual time with each child and leaving my cell phone out of reach when I am home with them. Even just five minutes of chatting one on one with my kids where they have my entire attention does much for our relationship.
My girls demand details of my day at work and listen intently to the problems I had to handle. They role play doctors and then recount stories of their “day” to one another. We often talk with our girls about the fact that our lives are more than about us. We spend a lot of time talking about having empathy and how we will never be perfect but we must exert significant effort each day to make good decisions, care for others and be kind. Our 3-year-old is currently going through a phase where she earnestly prays each night that she “will always love God, and make good decisions like not saying pee pee, poo poo or butt anymore”…to which her sisters frequently point out that she’s been praying for every night and yet still says those things every day. We are all a work in progress. We have much to be grateful for and it is our responsibility to be good stewards and make a difference in this world. Hopefully they are inspired to lead lives of significance, and work hard to get there.
I truly believe my career only enhances my family life. It is my duty to utilize my gifts and the amazing opportunities I’ve been given. I must contribute and “light my corner in this world” (that was the cheesy title at my high school graduation speech but that concept still inspires me each day). I haven’t totally lost my idealism despite being an emergency physician for over a decade. I had an inmate the other day promise me that he would be an agent of peace from now on (after I tended to his fight-inflicted injuries). I am not so naïve to think he was instantly changed but at least we had an interesting conversation about not having his past define his future. I am so grateful that I have a job where I can have those conversations and interactions each day. It is my duty to be good at what I do as a physician, mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, colleague, neighbor, citizen…. I may not be perfect (or even good) at all/any of it, but I am working hard and am in constant pursuit of that goal.
I am slowly learning that the secret to my happiness in life is to have a purpose, and to work hard toward that purpose. Idleness breeds dissatisfaction in me. Life is too short. I sleep better after a hard day’s work, and I am most fulfilled. Plus I am too tired to stay up worrying about things that are not ultimately all that important anyway.