Working Moms, I See You
Recently, as tends to occur in the fall and winter, with the notable exclusion of last year in a world of lockdowns and masking, my children were ill. It is hard to describe the particular misery of seeing those elevated numbers on the thermometer. Not only does it mean my child is suffering and potentially headed toward more serious symptoms, it also tosses my carefully scheduled life into the air like a poorly sealed travel cup in the hands of an excited toddler.
Guilt and self-doubt find so many resting places in these moments. How could I be concerned about my own life, meetings, expectations in the face of a sick child? Did I carelessly allow this exposure to broach our family’s defenses? How could we possibly be out of Tylenol?
In the new face of the (still) ongoing pandemic, there exists an additional compartment of self-doubt and confusion. Which test do we get? Is the rapid test accurate, or are we at increased risk for a false positive, resulting in the needless quarantine of bored, restless kids? If the test is positive, who in our social circles must now receive our unwanted phone call, like a bomb dropped on their own daily rituals. Will we be the cause of those repetitive emails from our school district, patient zero with the resulting collateral damage?
Much has been written recently about the division of labor within heterosexual marriages, particularly as women have had to leave the workforce in large numbers to care for children suddenly without daycare or school. In my home, this certainly rings true. My psychiatric practice could not stretch to accommodate the growing need for treatment when each break between patients involved a sprint up the stairs, confirming that my kids were online with their teachers and class, rather than captivated by the black hole of Youtube’s algorithm.
Admittedly, I wouldn’t trade places with my husband, who leaves early each morning and returns at dinner time, hearing about the day from a distance, rather than through vibrant tales shared immediately off of the school bus. I love when my boys seek out my counsel, my hugs, my terrible puns, and am grateful for the opportunity and ability to work from home, knowing I will be there for them in the tough moments as well as the silly ones.
However, this does not mean that I don’t have moments of ugly resentment, wondering why my schedule needs to accommodate early dismissals, random days off, or weeks of fevers and congestion. If we are both physicians, why must I sacrifice professionally for the good of the family? This is not my best self, and though I try to allow myself the feelings of loneliness, fear, and anger that come with primary responsibility, guilt and resentment drain my energy without benefit.
So I write about it, trying to figure out how to move ahead. I don’t want major change, or even a specific adjustment, as much as I want clarity and acknowledgment. As working mothers, we must live with the deep conflict between the biological drive to nurture and protect our children, and the personal desire for identity as a productive, creative member of the working world.
During these difficult times, I am comforted by sharing tales of frustration and small losses with my sisters, who are all things: working professionals, busy moms, amazingly complex and engaging women, encountering the same ups and downs from the center of their family’s universe.
When I can recognize our strength, our perseverance, and our astounding versatility, I am motivated to try again, learning each day that while perfection may be impossible, we are all pretty damn impressive. Take good care, friends. You deserve it.