Working-mommy crisis ensued again last night at the typical quarterly interval, yet in the most unusual form. It was my regular Thursday, a 14-hour work day away from my boys. I left the house before 7 and didn’t return home until nearly 9pm. I didn’t see the boys all day. But that wasn’t it. I was doing just fine with my day; I’d seen over 25 patients in clinic, made some inroads on work in social media and sincerely enjoyed the opportunities I had to help. The shift occurred after I decided to watch the first disc in The Planet Earth series. Have you seen it? I’d planned on finishing a post on Amy Chua (writing it feels like putting hot pokers in my eyes at this point) but realized my brain was fried. Decided to give in and stop working around 10. We got a new television for our basement this week; I popped in the DVD.
The show has nothing to do with women in the workforce. I don’t think the BBC producers thought once about inspiring a post on work-life-balance. Yet the series has everything to do with parenting, our connection to community, our space in nature, and our commitment to our children. The future of the health of our planet is dependent on our care now (of course). Our task in helping preserve the earth is really about more than the quantity of plastic that ends up in landfill. It’s really about how we learn to love and enjoy the woods and the wilderness, how we learn to live and travel without leaving large marks, and how our children understand what matters outside the walls of their home. And how they come to understand decision-making.
The BBC series highlights the earth from every contour and perspective while chronicling animals of all forms in their process of incubation (penguins=amazing), rearing, surviving, and dying.
I just kept watching the mothers. My stomach flipped at points as I watched a mother elephant help her young bull who’d walked right into a tree because he’d been blinded in a dust storm. Or the polar bear teaching her young cub to walk. These animals flanked their mothers. The babies would get tired during migration and sit down. Their mother urged them on… Even after the room was dark and I plopped into bed, I was eyes-wide-open thinking about those mothers.
No mention of fathers the entire 3 hours outside of mating rituals (I’m serious). Only the mothers, with their babes in tow, marching through the dessert, feeding after hibernation, teaching their young to walk, feed, and survive. And it struck me. Is this why this tension feels so much stronger for me? Often I’m not the one in the front of the line with my kids. I’m at clinic with other people’s children. I’m writing or tweeting. I’m at a meeting. Is this struggle with balance hard-wired?
It’s not guilt I feel. It’s far more complicated than that.
As a friend wrote today in an e-mail, “I totally go through phases of extreme despondency from missing the kids and elation at being in an exciting, fulfilling job. Don’t think that a happy medium exists in real life.”
Dr Stephen Ludwig, a cherished mentor for me during medical school, wrote a lecture that will be published in the February Pediatrics (it’s unfortunately behind the Pediatrics pay wall). The topic was work-life-balance. He talked about the struggle of raising children during his internship 38 years ago and how work-life-balance is an issue for us all but that women of childbearing age may, “bear a disproportionate share” or the burden. He wants pediatricians to “Strive for Polygamy,” and recommends that pediatricians maintain a balance and respect for three marriages. He discusses them in order of priority: marriage to our partners and families, our marriage to our work, and our marriage to ourselves. But then adds a visual of an equally over-lapping Venn diagram of these three unions. As pediatricians, he asserts that we need to be at the forefront of creating workplace day care (we aren’t), flexible work schedules (we aren’t), and vacations that span 2 weeks time (we don’t do this). We need to find ways to find silence in our lives to reflect on our biggest challenges. We need a to learn to say, “no.”
He ends the lecture with a Chinese philosophy:
Happiness is somebody to love,
Something to do,
And something to hope for.
And with that I’ve found a bit more peace. But I still need to figure how to find more time to be around my little boys, in case of a dust storm.