Guilt and the Physician Mom: When Being Gone Is Being an Example

Recently I was enjoying a “mom day,” running errands with the kids, taking care of the usual essentials: groceries, school supplies, and espresso coffee drive-through. At this last stop, the barista made small talk and, seeing the kids in the back seat, joked about school starting soon and how I must be looking forward to that. “You’ll get your mom time back!” she said. To which I laughed and relished the rare moment of just being a mom, until one of my kids yelled up, “But, Mom, you work all the time!”

The previous week, sitting around the dinner table, this same child decided he wanted to give his take on what everyone did that day. We were enjoying his version of how everyone spent the day; my husband “mowed the lawn and did Dad stuff”; his siblings “played with the dog, played with the iPad.” But, then it was my turn. He pointed an accusatory finger at me and yelled, “Work, work, work!” Not destined to be one of my cherished family memories.

These episodes, and others, make me wonder how my kids are going to view me, and their childhood, when they are grown.

In the best moments, I envision them grateful for two progressive parents who defied conventions and stereotypes by Mom working full-time as the bread-winner, and Dad staying at home full-time to make sure they were cared for, supported in school, and kept from actually building that zipline they drew that would take them from the top floor window to the bus stop across the street.

In my worst moments, I envision them remembering me as that caffeine-addicted woman always at work, always in a rush, and too busy to notice that zipline under construction.

I know from discussions with colleagues I am not alone. Whether we have a spouse that stays at home, a nanny, an au-pair, grandparents that watch the kids, utilize daycare, or some combination of the above, we constantly question our parenting decisions and life choices. Are we doing the right thing?

As Erma Bombeck wrote, “Guilt: the gift that keeps on giving.”

I don’t necessarily have any answers, but I do have another moment to share that helped make up for the others. It gave me hope that maybe, just maybe, my kids will one day view me more along the lines of option #1 above.

The same child who made the comments above has decided he, too, will grow up to be a doctor. “But, Mom,” he said, “I might feel kind of lonely.” I braced myself for what he was going to say next…and to get hit with the next load of guilt.

He went on to say, “Because I might be the only boy; you know, since doctors are mostly all girls.”

So, to my fellow physician-moms-in-guilt, I write: maybe we aren’t perfect, but maybe, just maybe, we are doing enough right after all.

Originally published at The Hopeful Cancer Doc.

Dr. Jennifer Lycette, MD is a medical oncologist in community practice for 11 years. She works and resides on the North Oregon Coast, where she lives with her husband and 3 children. Her personal blog, The Hopeful Cancer Doc, includes her writings on practicing oncology, maintaining hope in medicine, work-life balance, and various other musings.

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