‘work-life balance’

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When Parenthood Exceeds Expectations

We surfaced the other day, my husband and me. Bobbed up after having been submerged in the challenges and complexities of stress, tantrums, hectic schedules, holiday crunch time, and career responsibilities. When we surfaced we found ourselves in one of the most luxurious moments of life. It was one of those spells I want to compound. More than just burning it on my brain, I want to relive that memory again and again. I want to hit play and repeat…I suppose that’s part of why I’m sharing it here.

Here’s what I mean: Have you had one of those meals or nights or walks or adventures with your children recently where you realize there is simply nothing better? Where you wake up in a moment and consider that it is for this moment, this one space in the continuum of time, that you were made to be? When you come to feel like it’s why you’re alive?

In my opinion it happens to all of us in profoundly new ways when we are lucky enough to raise children. And it’s usually unexpected. These pristine, magical moments with our children and family don’t come with proper planning. They don’t usually happen on vacation, at the fancy meal, or at the picnic we’ve planned for 2 weeks. We often don’t have our fancy shoes on. The moments tumble into our lives when we least expect it with absolutely zero material value. But like falling in love for the first time, these moments sweep us up off our feet and arrive without a hint of warning.

This is, I believe, the gift of the season of our lives. When parenthood exceeds expectations.

Recently I was talking with a good friend about these rare moments. The ones that happen where your children are enticed by conversation, fully engaged in a game or meal, where they get along with each other, and you realize there is nothing more precious or intimate. Often it seems these moments follow illness or fear. But sometimes it doesn’t take a trigger or challenge. Recently a moment appeared for my friend when she and her husband had cancelled a date night. They were too exhausted, decided to stay home and have dinner with their children and just crash. And it happened–the moment–they connected, their children were angels at dinner, delighted and laughing, present and mindful. She and her husband looked up at each other and realized they were woven into one of those meals they wouldn’t trade the world for. Really.

For us it happened late Thursday night on the floor of our living room. Our six year-old had received Mastermind (a board game) for his birthday and the four of us teamed up to play. It was the first time I’d played in 25 years and each of us presented to the game with excitement. We were enticed to win, eager, and we each giggled as we navigated and explored ways to outsmart the others.

And there we were, lying on a hard wooden floor, surrounded by the darkness of winter entirely together with only little plastic playing pieces between us. Momentous connection and family intimacy. I can barely articulate why and how I knew it was one of those moments except that I realized this is really as good as it gets.

Ways To Decrease Risk Of Breast Cancer

When we have children, many of us slip in the self-care department. We may not eat as well, not exercise like we did “pre-baby,” and don’t have time to go and see our own doctors. Simply put, our own care doesn’t come first. Parenthood immediately demotes our status…

All fine in some ways. It’s astonishingly wonderful to care so deeply about our children. That devotion still catches me off guard.

But we have to keep on top of our preventative screening. No reason not to when it may allow us a longer time to parent our children! So that’s where I come to breast cancer screening. As women, breast cancer will affect about 1 in 8 of us during our lifetime, the most common cancer in women after non-melanoma skin cancer. It can be highly curable if detected and treated early. Most women diagnosed with breast cancer are over age 50, but many are younger and some are new moms. There are some risks we need to know and scientific evidence that can help us do a better job caring for ourselves.

Share this widely, please.

Yesterday I teamed up with Dr Julie Gralow, the head of breast cancer oncology at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) and the UW on Twitter for a 1 hour conversation about moms and breast cancer— lifestyle choices, genetic risks, screening, & coping with breast cancer. I learned a ton preparing for the chat and have already tried to think about changes I’ll make in my own life. When I finished the fast-paced hour conversation I sent a note to a friend on Twitter  that I now had to head out for a run, pour out the wine in the house, call my friends to schedule mammography, and ask about a breast MRI. You’ll see why:

Lifestyle Choices May Decrease Breast Cancer Risk

Marissa Mayer Back To Work

Yesterday I started to see a number of tweets from parents and fellow pediatricians on Twitter criticizing Marissa Mayer for announcing that she’d return to work within 1-2 weeks of the delivery of her first child.

First off, I’ll start with my assumptions:

I’m authoring this post in the belief that Ms Mayer has access to quality health care–that is, she has the ear of a board-certified obstetrician, a board-certified pediatrician, and access to a lactation consultant as needed. My hunch is that if she needs info on evidence-based ramifications, from a health perspective, of going back to work 1-2 weeks postpartum, she can get the data she needs. Since she used to work at Google, I suspect she understands how to find what she needs online as well.

Assumptions acknowledged, I’d like to give Ms Mayer the respect she deserves. Faulting her for not making a traditional choice is devoid of context. She is lauded for her enormously successful career at a young age. She is the youngest CEO of any Fortune 500 company. To me it appears she has savvy and skill, invention and grit. Thanks in part to Ms Mayer as the first-female engineer at Google, we enjoy an entirely different electronic world with Gmail, Google search, maps, and images.

As we expect and work to have women hold an increased share of leadership jobs, academic or not, we must acknowledge we can’t have it both ways. “Women are still missing from medicine’s top ranks,” for example. We can’t want and wait for more and more women to have their hands at the wheels of powerful companies and organizations, only to question their commitment to their personal and their children’s health and well-being when they return to work. One week or 6 months postpartum… Read full post »

Miserable School Drop-Offs

Sometimes it feels like we’ve got it all in control, a new school, a new schedule, a return back to work obligations. We can set the alarm early, burn the midnight oil, pack the school lunch ahead of time, rise up and meet the challenge. Sometimes it all works and everyone thrives.

Sometimes, no.

Sometimes it is simply miserable to leave our children behind and trudge off to work.


It doesn’t mean we don’t care about our jobs or that we lack compassion, or a passion, intent, or drive to serve. It really can mean that we just love our children.

A recent drop-off at school reminded me. Read full post »

Striving For “Polygamy” In The Digital Age

Dr Stephen Ludwig, one of my most treasured mentors from medical school gave a speech last year that he entitled, “Striving For Polygamy.”  I didn’t get to hear it live but I’ve read the speech many times since then. He wasn’t talking about polygamy like you’d expect. Rather, he spoke to the goal of balancing a set of  marriages described by the poet David Whyte in his book, The Three Marriages. The goal for all of us might be balancing 3 essential marriages in our lives: a marriage to our family, a marriage to our work, and a marriage to ourselves. Where social and digital media fit into this “polygamy” remains unknown. That’s where we’re all working hard to find harmony with our devices, as seemingly technology lives in all 3 of these spheres.

Think about it. How often do we take the time to put all three of these marriages on the table? I certainly don’t balance these well all the time. Although I believe in compartmentalization, the act of prioritizing ourselves amidst our deadlines while in the presence of our beautiful children is a challenge. Often when we’re raising young children we fall out of balance–the necessary daily tasks in raising children to adulthood take over while pushing other commitments asunder. When coupled with work, our personal care suffers. This imbalance creates a work-family frenzy for so many of us where we’re left with a dearth of time for personal reflection and much less silence.

In a quest for silence, I’m taking a 1 month sabbatical from the blog. Last August I took a sabbatical away from social tools to create more space and time with my children and more time in search of reflection and quiet. Stillness.

Technology and ever-available networks, communities, work inboxes, and devices have incredible and essential utility in improving our lives and our health. But so does the real, quiet world. I’ll be back in September. In the meantime, I’ll be with my family and friends, my patients, and the ever-elusive silence that surrounds us.

Sick Day

I had an unexpected gift this week: a not-so-sick sick day with my 5 year-old. And it really couldn’t have come at a better time.

We’ve never had a sick day like this before and he’s off to Kindergarten in September so the days were running out for preschool stolen-away sick leave.

In the past when he’s been ill he’s been well enough for me to head off to clinic or work and he’s been home with my mom or his nanny. I’ve ached in the absence but pushed through knowing it really wasn’t me he needed but rest and time away from school. Previously I knew that my patients needed me more.

This time he spooked me. Late Sunday night he developed a booming fever and complained about significant abdominal pain. He skipped dinner, plodded off to bed, and made a series of sweat circles on the sheets. My husband and I were both sitting on the edge of his bed hovering near midnight negotiating the logistics of heading to the ER. I went through the lists of the different diagnoses I imagined could cause his symptoms. I worried. We made plans for his brother, figured out who would go to the ER, and started solidifying next steps. Just then, he stopped complaining of pain and went back to sleep.

I didn’t lose my worry. I tossed and turned. I got up and organized my closet late into the night and tidied little piles repeatedly. I didn’t really sleep.

By morning, the fever was gone. The pain had improved and he joined us at the breakfast table. He downed his breakfast so we took his brother to school. And me? I got the day with my boy all to myself, I got to be home with him–worry changes everything. Read full post »

‘Having It All’: Stumbling

I read The Atlantic piece written by Anne-Marie Slaughter entitled Why Women Still Can’t Have It All this past week. Make sure you block off a 1/2 day from work if you want to read it. It takes a good number of minutes to get through and I found myself kind of staring at the wall after I’d finished. Slaughter does a beautiful job spelling out the glaring issues of our time for working women using her intense personal experience and her extensive education. She lays out her thesis for our inability to “have it all” as working mothers circa 2012 and she illuminates the traps so many of us stumble into as we work and raise our children. Yet knowing all this didn’t really help in the immediate.

Differing gender roles, division of responsibility issues at home, and the juggle (tug-o-war) many women feel with balancing the needs of their family and the needs of their careers aren’t new. But Ms Slaughter does draw us in. I haven’t had a chance to chat about it at any water cooler, but I have watched and listened and lingered online. The article was a huge success for the magazine; even my husband notices a dust cloud at work. A ripple in the lake of life for many of us, for sure.

Let me break down my response in a few chunks. This isn’t exactly steady and linear for me. This isn’t a thesis or rebuttal either, just a reaction. Read full post »

The Right Choice

Every once and a while I make the right choice. I mean when it comes to work and life and striving for balance. Sometimes I say “No” just when I should. Those “No’s” gain access to the best “Yes’s” in life.

Last week at the end of a series of 3 weekends of work, I was finishing up a conference and decided at the last minute to decline the dinner with peers. I felt pressure to go but just couldn’t stand missing out on the night with my boys. I had that longing in my heart–you know the kind–where you can feel the ache of absence, where you sincerely feel the separation from your kids like a missing body part? It was strong; all at once I said “No,” just in time.

We went to a baseball game here in Seattle. We sat only 8 rows back behind the dugout. The foul balls flying near our heads (me ducking for cover), the crowd screeching, and the sky blue. The husband and the boys had their gloves. We counted airplanes flying above. We cheered and jumped up with home runs. It was a perfect night out. Delighted to be there I had these passing waves of mindfulness, or gratitude, for being with my family and not missing out once again. We were all a little giddy to be at a real baseball game and then 2 things happened that affirmed my “No” was really a magical “Yes” afterall:

  1. A teenager caught a foul ball. Then he caught another ball. Then he did what many kids do—he acted generously. He saw F sitting right in front of him with his glove up and he tossed him the ball. I mean, can you believe that? A teenager gave my little 5 year-old boy a Major League baseball…bliss.
  2. During the middle of the sixth inning, after a bag of popcorn, a small tantrum from O, a bag of peanuts, and 4 hot dogs, Pennington went up to bat. Jon leaned over to F and said, “This guy’s hitting a ball to us.” They got their gloves up and ready. The foul ball did come. And the husband really did catch it. And my boys (all 3 of them) really did leap up for joy. We even made it onto TV (see photo above)!

Two foul balls, one perfect “No,” and a Saturday night with my boys illuminated a momentous “Yes.” It doessn’t always work this way yet every once and a while we make really good and really lucky choices. And then we’re fortunate enough to witness and celebrate them while they happen. For all the suffering that remains in so many of our lives, these little spots of light must be spoken…

24 Hours Offline

I took 24 hours offline from Friday at sundown through Saturday at sunset. I didn’t use my phone, I didn’t text, I didn’t log onto a computer, and all the while I didn’t enter a single network. I didn’t blog, tweet, Facebook, or LinkIn. I was genuinely unplugged without entering the wilderness. I was at home in Seattle devoid of my devices on my second annual digital sabbath.

I went shopping for a friend’s birthday gift by myself, the quiet liberating. I went to a baby shower, I played  baseball with the boys outside, I cleaned up the back yard. And while the sun shone in Seattle on Saturday afternoon, F and I cuddled on the driveway. We laid down on the pavement and looked up at the sky. We didn’t talk much and even with the paucity of words, the moment takes up a big part of my long-term memory. Little F returned twice to join me on that hard surface, grabbing for my hand amidst the concrete. Presence is very soft no matter how hard the earth below you.

No beeps, dings, or directories distracted. It was a day much slower than the rest.

The lesson is simple of course. Twenty four hours without distraction are exceptionally bright. The loss from being disconnected online is overwhelmingly  surpassed by the gains acquired with being present offline. And although it’s easy for many of you, this unplugged time is an utter luxury for me in the time of exceptional connectivity and work online.

There’s nothing I would do to reverse my time offline. It was rich and it’s solidified the need to establish a new goal to make time for a more frequent digital sabbatical. I want to seek solace routinely from the deluge of content, information, exceptional wisdom, and friendship I gain while online and return to the spaces without distraction that house the same things.

Join me? Will you take earnest 24-hour periods of time without technology, too? Do you think your kids will notice?

Mommy Daddy Days

For the last month or so O has woken up every single morning with the same question:

“Is today a Mommy Daddy Day?”

What he means is, “Is this a weekend where I get the day with both of you?”

The answer, less than 2/7 of the time, is unfortunately “No.” And on some level it kills me. I don’t usually only say, “No” when he asks, I usually end up marketing the day. It goes something like, “No, but the great thing is today you get to go to school and you have swimming lessons. Or, “Today you get to go to the zoo with the nanny and make thank you cards. Or, “Today is a Daddy Day!”

It weighs on me. O is extremely attached and has been since day (before) one. I often think about how he’s as attached as I am. F on the other hand adores his independence.

I traveled all week and fortunately mid-week from Florida I face-timed with the boys. It was delicious really, and settled my aching heart in spite of the fact that the first thing O said when he saw my face was, “Come home, Mommy!”

Being a working parent tugs on us in bizarre ways. But it also elevates us. And as I spent the week crossing the country giving lectures, I was reminded of my strong sense of purpose. My need to speak up and improve the world for my children. The need to scream from the roof tops about revolutionizing health communication. I mean what I say and I believe in what I do. And while the boys thrive, this equation of clinical responsibility and working to change health care, works. The only problem is that this week O might have missed me as much as I did him. I would suggest this new reality is not entirely ideal.

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