Why Can’t I Do Both?

Lazy and lame. Someone scathingly wrote to me that I was lazy and lame because I quit working as a medical doctor and instead chose to stay home with my four kids and homeschool. The words stung a little, but it’s nothing my own mind hasn’t wrestled with over the last seven years since staying home. I mean, there ARE moms who actually do BOTH homeschooling and doctoring! I know it IS possible. I’m a pretty capable woman, so I have often wondered why I “couldn’t” do both! In my life, I have confidence that I can handle most challenges thrown at me. In fact, a sure-fire way to guarantee I do something is to tell me I can’t!

Why, then, could I not “handle” work and homeschooling simultaneously? I mean, deep inside, I romanticize about being the mom who runs kids, always has extra kids around, has fresh meals on the table, volunteers in the community, is always there for her friends, desires her husband each night, pays the bills, exercises, keeps a neat house, attends social functions, reads good books, and is loved at the workplace. Other women say they do it successfully and happily!

No Satisfaction in Both

I know I’m not “other women,” but I curiously, deeply wondered what it is about me that prevented satisfaction when I did both. (Because I can sure tell you there was NO satisfaction or good humor when I did both, despite the fact that I LOVED doing EACH!) I just can’t be that, and I have to keep forging a life that keeps me true to my inner core. (I think that’s a unique thing in life. To step INTO yourself and say, “Yes, I feel really good. THIS fits me.” And to find a way to make that work for you, your family, and society.)

Back to my meanie accuser. I realized that this person and I may never see eye to eye because we simply do not have the same wiring, the same mother board, the same values. I am not here to tell moms to quit their jobs. I have a best friend who I told to get back in the work force—get back in there! Go for partnership. This woman needs to work or she’ll drive herself (and me) crazy. Work keeps her grounded and focused, even though she has four kids at home.

But not me. I pondered this now that time has passed and softened the emotions surrounding the transition from practicing medical doctor to being a stay-at-home mom. What is it about my wiring and my mother board that won’t allow me to peacefully work and homeschool?

Run Back to the Convent

My mom must have sensed something strange about me, because she used to tell me I should be a nun. “You’re running the wrong way, Maria,” I would have screamed as The Sound of Music‘s heroine danced and sang herself back to the Von Trapp home. “You’re running towards chaos! Go back to PEACE and ORDER! Go back to the convent, I say! When they tried to solve a problem like Maria, the nuns must have subtracted wrong. They got the wrong answer! You’re doomed! Return to the inner sanctity of order and quiet!”

No. Kidding. I didn’t really need to be a nun, but there definitely is something appealing about those quiet stone halls and methodical rituals! I love being a mom and teaching my four daughters. They’re bright. Loving. Talented. Kind. And I get to teach them every day! We can run into a lot of chaos homeschooling, but introspection has taught me that at the end of the day, I must have–or be moving towards– peace and order in each area of my life:

  • my kitchen
  • my stack of bills
  • my laundry room
  • my purse
  • my relationship with my husband
  • my relationships with my kids
  • my relationships with my friends
  • my relationship with God
  • my teaching
  • my health
  • my schedule
  • my text message and e-mail in-boxes

I’ve been called a perfectionist before, which I see now is somewhat of an error! I see how I and others could confuse them. For me, it’s not perfectionism, but it’s the pursuit of peace and order which makes me feel good inside. The house doesn’t need dusted as long as it’s picked up! I’ve been called controlling before, too. Again, maybe. But not really. “Honey, you didn’t put the garlic press back where it goes. It’s out of order…”

When I Was Working and Homeschooling

Anyhow, when I was working at the hospital as a medical doctor, I came home exhausted. I hadn’t lunched, supped, peed, or pooped. I carried two pagers (the code pager and the on-call pager) and the “house” phone. I was busy. I ran to codes, sick patients in the ICU, and had 5-7 patients waiting to be admitted to the hospital from the ER. It was fun. It was hard. But when I came home, my core value need could not be overridden. I needed order and peace.

Instead, I was greeted by sticky hands full of love. Couch cushions on the floor and blankets draping the chairs to create imaginative tents. And mail partly opened and tossed haphazardly on the counter for me to organize. Once, I even came home to find that tiny, nimble fingers had moved my great-grandmother’s fine china dinnerware all around from its protective nook.

School was expected to run on my days off, yet I hadn’t had time to organize my lessons. Get art supplies. Run through a craft or activity to see if it would work the way Pinterest said it would. My child didn’t do school the way I wanted. We (are supposed to) start at the left and we work to the right. We (are supposed to) fold our papers in the middle. And we don’t scribble-scrabble all over them!

PEACE. ORDER. Those are intrinsic needs for me and drive how I interact with life, my environment, and my people. No matter how many different things I tried, I couldn’t align my deep needs for peace and order with working and homeschooling simultaneously. Since family and education are other values that I cannot compromise, fully embracing motherhood and homeschooling and forfeiting professional goals (which don’t seem to drive me as much as peace and order, family, and education) felt much more comfortable and fulfilling. I do not regret my decision.


I hope you know that what you do is important. How you do it is important. How you feel when you do it is important. Strive to find out what makes you tick, and create a wonderful life which fulfills you and makes a difference where you want to make a difference at! If you’re struggling and you can change your mindset and that takes care of it, go for it! But if you try different routes, different techniques, and your mindset just won’t budge, maybe you should have been a nun. No. Kidding. Maybe you need to find out exactly what it is that’s not able to compromise deep within you and honor it.

How about you? Do you have greater needs for peace and order than other people? Does this need affect your work-home relationship? Do you fervently seek peace and order in all areas, including your own head? What happens when you have to be exposed to too much disorder and chaos? How does it make your body feel? How about your head?

May good blessings fall upon you today!

Terri F.

Image attribution: St. Lucas altarpiece, Andrea Mantegna, downloaded from Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Andrea_Mantegna_019.jpg



24 thoughts on “Why Can’t I Do Both?

  1. Katie Butler

    Terri, I empathize with you!! And I’m appalled that someone would so scathingly criticize you. These kind of accusations ignore the fact that we are all built and equipped differently. For how much our culture (rightly) celebrates diversity, it seems to ignore that this diversity means the same solutions will not work for everyone.

    I too have wished I could do both. But when I struggled through that season, it was a disaster. I knew I had to choose one or the other, and my kids won.

    Don’t let anyone’s ignorant comments rattle you. You, and only you, know what’s best for the unique family entrusted to you.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Thank you, Katie. The comment degraded further even past that point, taking it truly to the point of hate! Whew-ee! Luckily, the first really hateful response I’ve seen here. I like what you said so well: “For how much our culture (rightly) celebrates diversity, it seems to ignore that this diversity means the same solutions will not work for everyone.” American society doesn’t really embrace parents leaving the work force. On one hand, I understand. It’s American grit, work ethic, and labor which has helped our country so much (and gotten women the rights they deserve). Yet, I can’t help but feel that something is off in the psyche of our families.

      Blessed Thanksgiving wishes to you!

  2. MEH

    Terri – We often make a mistake when we believe we MUST be ALL of the Proverbs 31 woman each and every day of our lives. When reading the passage carefully, it makes sense to see the narrative as the SEASONS of her life. We pass through each more at peace with ourselves and those around us, and especially God, when we embrace those seasons and realize we are only called to be who we are meant to be. There were so many times when I was younger and trying to do it all (work,homeschool, phone counselor, homeschool leader, dance teacher, etc., perfectionism/works mentality – just because I knew I was able), that I would tell others “I needed to crash, or I would crash and burn!” When I learned to let go, I became a better person. Now that I am older and wiser (?), I believe I am reaping the benefits of that decision as well as the damage from not letting go earlier in life. Think I mentioned before that when I got married, I did not give up my career as a nurse, but I changed careers and became a wife and mother, a choice I do not regret!!

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Dear MEH,

      I’m glad you brought up that passage and your personal insight on it! Because I feel like I and other readers forget to investigate and turn this passage over in our hands to find all its insights. I think you’re so right. No person can be all of this every day. It reminds me of those juicy romance novels I read as a teenager when the author did not do a very good job typing her character so she was both humble and proud, virtuous and sultry, whimsical yet sophisticated. Nothing matched! 🙂 How could a heroine be all that? But at times and seasons we pass through these stages and are all that, while hopefully always anchored to God in virtue.

      You said, “…When we embrace those seasons and realize we are only called to be who we are meant to be.” Yes, I agree! And be that 100% and fully in tune with our living, loving God. When this passage is read in church, as it so often seems to be, I have started thinking of the wife as the church, since the church in the New Testament is the bride. As the bride, the whole church, all of us, should be the wife of Proverbs 31. Giving all of ourselves , day and night (or in youth and in agedness). And as you so, to me, accurately point out, there are seasons to this! Seasons that I have enough to give to the destitute. Seasons that I have to make more creations from my hands. Seasons that I have to learned wisdom to share. Well, thanks for bringing me back to the spiritual side of it.

      I still like that: “I did not give up my career as a nurse, but I changed careers and became a wife and mother. . .”!!

      Thank you for piping in at times as someone who has gone before in this mothering and homeschooling journey.
      Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  3. Phil

    Ahhh, Terri,
    First let me say that laziness of the kind you have is a virtue. If this is laziness, then the world needs more laziness. Mothering is by far the more difficult of the two, and the more important besides.
    Reading this post I am also reminded of something else I have wanted to write to you about. Maybe you have already explored the idea, but your comments in regards to “being wired differently” reminded me again. I hope you don’t take this wrong, and this is possibly an inappropriate assumption, but I hope you will spend some time researching Asperger’s syndrome as soon as you get a chance.
    Approximately 10 out of every 100 people have varying degrees of autism. We are everywhere. We are smart, sometimes hyperactive, often OCD, constipated, inventive, socially awkward… We come in many flavors. Guys are more obvious, girls are only half as often to be diagnosed for various reasons. I have not met you, so I am going way out on a limb here, but being inappropriate is one of my attributes.

    Something to look into?

    By the way, still a big fan of Butyrate.


    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Hi, Phil! How have you been? Thanks for commenting!

      Laziness!? I know, right!? I don’t think anyone who knows me would ever call me lazy, so it’s kind of funny. Helping my children learn and grow has been amazing, along with the other things I pick up to do here and there to keep me busy while I eat bon-bons.

      Having read extensively on nutrition, I can’t help but have read on Asperger’s syndrome! Many parents of Asperger’s children try diet changes for their children, and also affected individuals try diet changes for themselves, too. I have a diagnosed, affected family member (not first degree), and several other people I know who either are diagnosed or could be diagnosed. We get along quite well! Asperger’s affected people and I get along great because I can tell when to back off, when to pry a little, when to push my luck for a hug, when to go away. I love listening to all the unique conversation and takes they offer, and I don’t get hurt or shocked by truly honest words. So although I’m not Asperger’s (although I can trend to be many of the things you listed), maybe I’m Asperger’s “other half.” 🙂 In fact, my husband might say that literally…

      Butyrate is so fascinating! The whole human body and mind is too!

      Happy Thanksgiving to you! I hope you have a great holiday!

      Terri F

  4. Jane B

    I totally agree with you Terri. Order is so important in the home and it grounds the children. It is much more important as a mother to give your life to your children, than giving your life to the public. After all, you are the one that brought children into this world, why wouldn’t you give them your all. They didn’t ask to be born.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Yes! This rings along the lines of my thoughts! The public doesn’t need me, per se. It’ll get along just fine without me, it seems. These kids, they do need me. They don’t do so well without me right now. One day, if done right, they’ll thrive successfully without me. (Yay!) Thanks, Jane, for sharing your points. Happy Thanksgiving to you.

  5. Rebecca

    What a great read! It rings so true for me. It is where I am right now. This week i have just walked away from my business as a paediatric OT and studying a PhD so I can focus on my family and health. I too was trying to manage those things plus homeschool our two daughters. Life was always a tightrope walk and it only took one tiny little nudge to knock me off into the net. But no sooner had I fallen and I had to get back up to keep balancing despite if I had recovered from the fall.

    For months I have looked around and asked myself why I cant do both like so many others? I should be able to. But as I sat with my PhD supervisor discussing to withdraw I just knew that I needed peace in my life. As much as I loved study and work, family and health were so much more important. And in this season in my life that is what I needed to focus on.

    My passion for OT and study is still there. I don’t think it will ever go away (and I hope it doesn’t). And I know one day, when my daughters are older and are no longer homeschooled, and the demands of family life change I will return to work. But my search for calm and peace is necessary right know.

    So thank you for writing this post. It just validates my last few weeks of very tough decisions to walk away from things I love in order to pursue things that I love and matter far greater.

    It is only you that can make the decision about what is right for you and your family. It is only you that knows what that is.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      That would be such a hard decision! On, man! Courageously honest soul-searching. I hope you start feeling the calmer waters and the restoration they can provide.

      On that note of your passion for OT and study still being there… As I’ve stepped out of the arena, my passion for health and people hasn’t changed—but new ideas for how to use my medical degree and passion has! My imagination whispers little suggestions of how I could help people with my degree if/when I’m ready to make the move to work again.

      I wish you so much luck and joy and strength and fortitude! And health! GOOD LUCK!

      I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes: “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.”

  6. momssoulcafe

    You are a wonderful home-schooling doctor (no need to go anywhere to be perfectly you!) and your blog is an inspiration. I’m shocked anyone would be so unkind, but then again….

  7. Minimalist MD

    I don’t understand why people think that just because you have a degree that *you* paid and worked for, that somehow you owe them/“society” something. You don’t owe anybody anything other than yourself and your kids the best life you can create.
    I like my job and I’m good at it, but if I win the lotto tomorrow I’m retiring as soon as I can and spending the rest of the time with my kids. And I bet 99% of people, including your criticizer, agree.
    You can do both, but you’re allowed to want just one!

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Now, thank you for THAT!!! Clarity, brevity, and common sense! Your words hit me because I have carried some guilt about something exactly like this.

      I know that they try to accept a certain number of men, women, minorities into a medical school. I know that thousands of VERY qualified people apply and interview for med school. I know that I got one of those spots. And I know there have been questions over how many women to accept knowing that they leave the work-force and/or work less. So I felt (feel, since I’m still wrestling this one) guilty that I took a spot, and then after working a bit, I stopped. Right now, someone COULD be practicing, but instead we have a woman who chose to stay home.

      I Googled VERY fast this topic and here is the first article that popped up, so anyone interested can see that this is indeed conversation in medicine:

      Are there too many female medical graduates? Yes


      Your way of looking at it is much more practical and accurate! I did spend tens of thousands (upon tens of thousands) of dollars for this education. And, looking back, I wasn’t even satisfied with it! I think my clinical years were a lot of following guidelines like a monkey and being told what to do like a dog. So perhaps, if the field of medicine would think outside the box and guidelines (and maybe even studies), instead of following the pre-set leaders, then perhaps they’d do a better job retaining compassionate, academic, and forward-thinking people who are still interested in taking care of people, while they also take care of their own kids, wives, and selves. This will require a new paradigm, but the one we have is failing doctors (who have one of the highest, maybe the highest, suicide rates), failing patients (who are sicker with more chronic issues than ever), and failing even the country. (It doesn’t matter who pays for it if how it’s being done is so broken that failure is guaranteed.)

      So, in summary, if I can try to be circumferential rather than tangential, I like your take on this topic because I need to release the self-reproach I have over withdrawing from the field of medicine because I think that someone else MIGHT still be delivering patient. I’d like to remember that I do feel medicine is broken and that it could be overhauled such that there would be way better retention of ALL physicians! (Maybe even after they won Lotto! Maybe????? 🙂 )

      Good luck with your homeschooling. I checked out your site. How is the Chinese coming? My oldest is now near 15, and she has started tutoring others in Spanish. It was a push and pull since she was age 3 or so to get her to speak, but now her love of the language and proficiency with it is admirable. Homeschooling is so fun and rewarding. (Sometimes it’s painful too. Ha!)

  8. kemkem

    You could do both, and do it well, but at what cost? Your sanity is way more important. It is also YOUR life. Some people are so miserable with the decisions they make in life that they become bitter and lash out which is what this person did. You are blessed to be able to nurture your kids and do what you want and can afford to do. I also think your blog enlightens others and shows we all have different paths. Keep on doing you and ignore the know-it-all people.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Thank you (and HELLO!), Kemkem. You’re really right. Sanity IS important to me, too, because I’ve seen insane. And I promised myself I’d never go there!

      Yeah, the person was pretty mean, so mean it was easy to dismiss what he was saying. Yet, his accusations were something I had wondered (without the harsh, malignancy, ha!) about when I quit, actually! And I figured, if I wondered, maybe other women like me (or men, too, in fact, right!?) were thinking about it too. And society does think it–at least the major magazines, media, corporate, and medical professions.

      I hope all is well with you and Frederico, traveling the beautiful world, and meeting all kinds of wonderful (and, yes, not-so-wonderfu) people! Thank you for popping in supporting me, and other women who think that the time has come for them to withdraw a little and invest more time with their children and families. I remember your parents’ story, and I know they invested in their family so much! It IS a wonderful world, and I DO sure enjoy it!

      Thank you, Terri

  9. Rach

    Oh my gosh, what a mean awful thing to say to someone! I honestly would never use either of those words to describe you! You are learned and thorough and intellectual and thoughtful and funny and caring. Most def not lame or lazy. I’m sorry someone said those things to you! But hey, great introspection on the whole thing. I can’t handle the chaos of too many things either. I’m on anti depressants because last semester I was just far too overwhelmed with it all – work, study, kids, house, life. I seemed to be doing none of it well and crying a lot. Lovely reading you x

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Thanks, Rach! I’ll eat those words up! BUT, I am really sorry that this last semester required so much from you! I can never know what it’s like to walk another’s path, but I do know that with med school, residency, and kids, I definitely felt just what you describe. But I believe in you, and I know you are capable of all this until the time arrives when you know you have the choice to ratchet it down a few notches. I’m just cheering for you that you look for those opportunities when and where you can ratchet it down, that you’re sure to take them when they come! Sometimes we just have to push forward the way it is because what needs done to get somewhere needs done. As long as we’re looking for the times we DON’T have to do that and be that anymore and don’t let our pride, desire to be noticed, desire to prove ourselves to ourselves, our kind natures, and so on and so forth, take hold of us and keep us in the throes of that grasping, consuming state, then we can extricate ourselves and enjoy life, our children, our best friends, the sunset, the smell of coffee when we choose to. I hope you get through this challenging time, learn what you need to in all places, and move forward to a more comfortable pace for you! You’ve lived through a lot, you’ll do this too!



  10. sal

    If the fight for women’s equality doesn’t include the right to live your life the way you see fit, then it really isn’t progress is it?

  11. Simple Days Making for Exciting Adventures

    Oh, Terri. Man oh man. I so feel you. In fact, last week I had a woman approach me about starting to work again in a little bit of a different manner than in the hospital. Fortunately (unfortunately?), I am finally comfortable enough now to know that I cannot do both also. Well, I can do both, but I cannot do both to my standards and stay sane! I also know that my work will always be there but my kids won’t.
    And…like you, had I kept on working, I do not not think that I would have opened as many amazing doors as I have! I love learning about nutrition, foods and how they effect our bodies, psychology, and so many more things. Had I’ve stayed in my crazy life of doing both jobs (work and home), I would have never had the time to learn about all of these things! I would still be using a decongestant as soon as my nose was congested. LOL. I have learned so much more about myself and people from taking time off. I will be so much better at my job when I go back…..someday…when the time is right! 🙂
    I hope you guys are doing well! Any snow your way yet?

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Yeeeessss! To all that, including snow. We have snow, and it’s festive as we prep for Thanksgiving! That’s a great compliment about being asked to consider a job! Congratulations! I’m tickled for you, even if you feel it’s not the time! At least you know you’re highly marketable! 😉 Cool!

      It is hard to imagine that I only have three more years with my oldest to “prep” her for the world! Thinking about it really makes me appreciate this very special time and feeling happy our family took advantage of it. And, like you, I’m really happy to have learned about complementary, alternative, and nutritional health. When I go back…when the time is right…on my terms… I’m excited to make plans about what I’d like to do!

  12. jenolson914

    Thank you so much for this post! This totally clarified for me what I have been unable to put into words! I wrote to you a couple of years ago with frustration about my life as a PA only 2 days per week and homeschool mom the other days. You were so understanding about the craziness that my life had become, relying on others (mainly grandparents), to do a job that I really wanted to be doing. Well, I finally made the decision to quit, some other circumstances playing in there with workplace dynamics, but I did it! I have not been working now for 3 months. I have to say, I am struggling with all sorts of other emotions now (especially after others’ comments 😉 but am so dramatically relieved with the reduction in pressure and the ability to have more peace at home, that I am willing to take those emotions on and wrestle with them as they come up. I am so grateful that you continue to write about this. God bless you for being bold and for thinking in depth about your feelings and writing them down! Your testimony in this area has been very important to me in making this decision and I just wanted to write to let you know of my gratitude!

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Thank you, Jen! I do remember writing! I do! Thank you for a follow-up!

      I wish you much success in this now full-time homeschooling mom path and in dealing with all the emotions it will walk you through as you watch others continue to go to and from their medical practices while you stay home. The sense of not being able to help in the capacity you are so accustomed to helping in. The strange, poignant feeling you’ll have when you are asked what you do (not what you used to do—seems like nobody asks that! :-)) And so on and so forth…

      Thanks for your encouraging words for me, too. I love to write and share, but putting it on the internet makes me feel very vulnerable! But it is what it is. My mom always told me, “If you’re feeling that way, someone else probably is too.” I internalized that.

      Have a great December! (It’s never a good homeschooling month for us! Too much Christmas excitement!) BEST WISHES TO YOU! No fear!


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