Let me just say, if I did not have children, I would not have stopped working as a physician. I loved working as a medical doctor. The challenge of acquiring mass loads of information. Applying the information to patients. Recognizing patients as individuals and trying to get through to them in a way they could understand. And accept. Looking at a chart with loads of data and sorting it into a problem list. Figuring out how to address each problem to correct it. Realizing fixing one problem may not be the answer–but make things worse.
On top of this, throw in phones and pagers that make you aware of codes (crashing patients). Lets the emergency department call you for admissions. Lets nurses call you about lab values or new changes in your patients. Lets pharmacists call you about drug interactions or non-formulary drug choices. Lets other doctors call you to discuss admitting or consulting on their patients. Throw in new-computer charting that must be learned and navigated. Occasional meetings. New governmental regulations. And it’s just one of the most challenging and fulfilling jobs around.
But I chose to have kids. Three in fact. Four if you count a miscarriage. First kid–kept working full-time. Second kid–cut back to three days per week. Third kid–two days per week or less. I had the perfect job and coworkers. Loved the work. Loved the flexible schedule. Was still able to squeeze homeschooling in, although barely. My loving in-laws traveled from Charleston, SC to Sumter, SC to watch the girls for us when I worked. But it got tougher and tougher to manage the household, marriage, kids, homeschooling, and life in general. Life was getting hectic. Not so much fun.
I knew I had to make a choice. For me, there really is no choice but my family. I chose them. I created them. Without me, they would not exist. My parents gave up everything for me. Made me know I was numero uno. That’s what I want for my girls. A healthy life. Healthy emotions. Healthy spirits. Healthy psychology. I intend to do everything in my power to build them into strong, healthy women who are discerning towards themselves and others. With strong ethics and principles. That doesn’t come from an absent mother and father. A mother and father driven to perfect their careers, their giving to others–but not giving to their own dearest families. I may fail in my endeavors, but I could never, ever live with myself if I didn’t give of my best to them. If I didn’t go down trying to give them what I think they need to achieve inner peace, love, and happiness.
Luckily for us, my husband is an orthopedic surgeon. Our bills get paid. Would I make the same decision to stay home and homeschool my kids if finances were an issue? My emergency medicine doctor friend asks me this repeatedly. Her husband is a chemist and work isn’t so easy to find for him. The salary not so great. She has moved from part-time to full-time. Moved from homeschooling her children to moving them to private schools. Listening to her life makes me cower in a corner, sweating. The juggling act of her life, well, I’m sorry, but it sucks. I want nothing to do with it.
But giving up years of study, work, and diligence, though, is daunting. No longer belonging to the ranks of white coats and stethoscopes. No longer discussing critical lab values and issues with your medical peers. No longer talking with families, breaking hard news to them. My orders no longer followed and respected. Not healing patients. Not being the “fixer.” Not being known for doing a good, thorough job. Not touching the lives of numerous people daily.
Being relegated from Dr. Fites to Dr. Fites’s wife, well, a lot too humbling. Yeah. Doctor’s wife. Fingers on a chalkboard. A lot too humbling.
Being at a total loss to decide what to do, I pined for a sign to know whether to quit or not. I wrote up a letter of resignation and as I turned it in, the manager told me something like: “I don’t want to see it. We’re raising your salary. You may work fewer hours if you need to.” I wanted to stop working, and they were willing to make it easier for me to keep working. I had wanted a sign. Surely this was it. It must not be time to stop. Right? I went with it. I continued my slow work pace until we moved to South Dakota for my husband’s job. Then, I just never made the initiative to look for a job here: 1) I wasn’t going to find a job like I had. 2) No decision is a decision. Unable to decide if I wanted to work, I chose not to work by choosing to not job search.
I have not worked for about 20 months now. It took about a year to be okay with it. And what I had to get over was my pride. My desire for society’s approval of me as a worthy individual because of what I did professionally. “Do you stay at home?” “Well, yes…” It seems groping to add on, “…but I’m really a medical doctor.” As far as being with my children daily and teaching them, I absolutely love it. It is just as challenging as medicine, just in a different way. It is what I want for them, and to provide that, I need to be around daily. Our house usually runs smoothly, or as smoothly as it can with kids underfoot all day. I miss taking care of patients, but I am finding lots, lots more time to read up on areas of medicine I’ve never approached before. And that is exciting. Perhaps my medical path will bud in a different way in the future.
But how did I know it was time to move on and move out [of medicine]?
1. Persistent edginess and irritation at my family. After a 12-13 hour shift, I would walk in the door to excited screams, yells, and hugs. A loving, adoring family. I was supposed to be happy about this, right? Right. But I wasn’t. I’d try to quietly sneak in the back door and tiptoe straight upstairs to shower and change my clothes, hoping nobody would hear me and come up with greetings. De-germed–now I was ready to hang out with the family, right? Nope. My fast lunch had been metabolized, and I was starving and wanted to eat in peace and quiet. Now? No. I wanted to open the mail without interruptions. I wanted the kitchen and family room cleaned up before bedtime. I just wanted to be left alone. All day the pager/phone attached to my hip had gone off interrupting nearly everything I did–patient admissions, patient rounds, checking labs, writing notes. I was tired and tired of my own thoughts being interrupted. Can’t they just leave me alone tonight? Can’t you just get them into bed without me? Well, not really. You are the mom. Hmph. If I was off the next day, things were no better. I was playing catch-up and needed to get things done: answer business-related calls that inevitably came in while I worked, pay bills and respond to paperwork that somehow only arrived when I worked, run errands, and clean the house up from by absence. There was no warm-fuzzy time with the kids. There was too much TV time. Why couldn’t everybody just leave me alone so I could get my “work” done?
2. Feelings of guilt. My heart would always sink when I saw Katie’s (my coworker) number on my ringing phone. Work was so good about not pestering me to work much more than my part-time schedule. But, occasionally, they needed coverage and they were down to me. Katie was also a physician–a mother of three. Full-time. PTA president. Staunch, active worker/member of the Junior League. And she was asking me to work. I almost always said “no”, feeling exceptional guilt. Katie did it. Katie would pick up a shift. Or two shifts. Or an overnight call. Will would pick up a shift. Bee would pick up a shift. Surely I could pick up a shift to help my partners out. They all work so hard. Here I am cherry-picking my shifts. What gives me the right. I need to “man up” and be a real doctor. I felt guilty to say “no” to more work.
But I also felt extreme guilt to say “yes.” The angel on my other shoulder was shouting, “You’ll be grouchy. You won’t be patient with your kids. Heck, you won’t even see your kids. You’ll be irritated with your husband. You won’t get the homeschool lessons covered. Say no. Say no. Don’t do it. You’ve got a stack of paperwork piling up on the kitchen counter. You said you’d have a playdate with Adam and Jo this week. Your kids need you. Your husband needs you. You need some peace and quiet. Just because Katie does it, doesn’t make it right for your family.”
3. Inability to let entropy reign in housework. Entropy is a scientific law. All things will fall to a state of disorder. I always justify my constant housework by saying it keeps me at my ideal body weight. I call it “defying entropy”, and I laughingly say it’s healthy. But I won’t sit down until the house is in order. And if you’ve been gone for a few days for 12-13 hour shifts, the house has succumbed to entropy. I don’t like it, and it takes a day to get it back into my definition of working order. I do wonder if I would find working easier if I was one of those people who could live with clutter and chaos around them. Maybe I could work short morning shifts and homeschool in the afternoon. And if the house fell apart, the cleaners in the top of the closet were falling out on my head when I opened the door, and the laundry 8 loads behind–well, no big deal. It’ll keep. And I know it will keep. But I am not wired to let it go. And I was neglecting my kids after working to try to get the house back into shape, meanwhile internally berating my in-laws inability to keep things up the way I did.
4. There’s no Mary Poppins. Many a working mom can sing the sob-story of not finding good, reliable child-care. When family lives close enough–in our situation they’d drive 2 hours and spend a night or two–at least you know the kids are being watched by people who love them dearly. However, that puts grandparents in the situation of babysitter rather than grandparent. Many aren’t very good at that. “No” doesn’t roll as often as it should. And they’re getting older. Once you start having two, three kids, you see the grandparents’ stamina plummet. It’s hard for them to get down on the floor and get up off the floor. Multi-tasking less easy. Afternoon naps more vital–okay if all the kids take a nap, not so much when the older ones drop their nap. Somehow computer keys get completely removed from a laptop keyboard, great-grandma’s china gets rearranged in the dining room cabinets (unbeknownst to grandma or grandpa), boxed up wedding veils get removed from their boxes after 10 years of dormancy. And, oh, the mess–in the kitchen, the bedrooms, the living room.
But ignore the mess. Ignore the too much TV. Focus on reliability and responsibility. For real…What happens when you’re supposed to be at work at 6:30 in the morning and the sitter calls at 6:10 to say she’s puking and can’t make it? What then? You’re husband is already in the OR. Or another one calls from the hospital because she’s having chest pain and ends up with coronary stents. What then? What do you think when you host an end-of-the-year preschool pool party and a working friend has sent her child with a younger nanny/sitter of good repute–and the sitter is sitting under the umbrella with her back turned talking on her cell phone WHILE THE CHILD IS IN THE POOL? What do you think? I’ve watched smaller-sized daycare owners bring kids to the park. As I’m pushing my daughters on the swing, the woman has plunked down on a bench to read a book and the kids scatter to play. One of her wards comes up to her, “Will you push me on the swing?” I can’t hear the answer, but she keeps reading her book, and the child runs off to play elsewhere.
5. Homeschooling began taking up lots more time. I chose to homeschool before the kids were even born. Didn’t really think about the implications of that on my career. Wouldn’t change it anyway. Getting the kids home to Indiana to the farm and knowing grandparents took precedent over anything else. Didn’t believe in pulling my kids out of class for a “vacation”, either. I’m just not too thrilled with the example that sets for them. So when the time came for kindergarten, we homeschooled. That was a fun, easy year. Then first grade and second grade came along and my student could actually do some math and write. I needed to read a bit to figure out how to present reading and writing to her. Needed to plan ahead. Needed to sit with her and read the worksheets to her. Needed to be doing read-alouds with her. Work began cutting into our homeschool schedule. We weren’t getting it done. I tried giving worksheets to the grandparents, but they didn’t get done. In their behalf, we also had another nanny for a bit, and she didn’t even give the worksheets to my daughter. Didn’t even give them to her! I had asked her to just hand them to Mary for Mary to work on her own. Didn’t happen. So if homeschooling was going to happen, I had to be there.
6. Concern about my kids’ second guessing my priorities. What are my priorities? Taking care of other people or taking care of my kids? Time with my kids and family or stuff for my kids and family? As a doctor, and I’m sure in other fields, as well, it’s easy to take care of other people–pick up another shift, pick up another call, answer pages off-work hours, run in to see a patient you’ve grown attached to, discuss health problems outside the office at a birthday party, go to a meeting about the new charting system, leave the Valentine’s Day party early to help your partners finish rounds on an exceptionally busy day. And the question of my ER friend rings in my ears, “What if your husband only brought in X amount of dollars…would you give up medicine then?” Would I? I don’t know. We try to keep it pretty simple here. No boats. No video games. No Coach purses (are those still around?). My mini-van from fellowship is 7-years strong with a few more years to go! Our 2 flat screen TVs are smaller than the average-joe’s. But we have them. And we love to travel. And grass-fed beef and free-range chickens aren’t cheap. So I don’t know. But, in our given situation, my kids would have clearly seen that I was working to nurture other people and not them. And unfortunately for them, my parents never had enough for a trip to Disney World, Pasta sweaters, and video games. But we had enough. And I love my childhood and wouldn’t trade it for anybody else’s! So you won’t see me going to work for a boat or a back-patio remodel.
7. Work days were never convenient. No matter when they came around, work days always interfered with something. Homeschool co-op day. Preschool parties. Doctor appointments. Birthdays. And they always seemed to get sick on my work days. Croup. Fevers. Gastroenteritises. Work just seemed to interfere!
8. Things flow more smoothly when one of us stays home. When a kid gets sick, I am home. When a tax paper has to be run in, I can do it. A dentist appointment–check. Kids in need of a bit more discipline–I’ve got the energy. Bills are paid on time. Paperwork pile gone through once weekly. House picked up. Usually have food in the house and on the table. Underwear aplenty in the drawers. Kids to practices on time. Get some quiet time with my husband every now and then. Have time to read about health-related matters helping our family. For us, it made more sense for me to stay home with the kids. I have more patience. I made less money. I had less technical skills to lose. We have the utmost respect for both roles in our house. I know I could not stay home if my husband didn’t treat me as an equal. I could not do it if he ever expressed that my role was inferior to his. My complaints about cooking, laundry, and school, he treats as openly and importantly as if it was his work.
Well, I’m rambling on too long. Kids are awake and all over the place like monkeys. So I’d better tend to them. I love what I do, and staying home was the right decision for us. Probably not for everyone. If you have any questions about giving up your job for your kids or homeschooling, ask away! Although the decision to stay home wasn’t tough, the mental process of giving up work to stay home for me was. When I was trying to decide whether to stop working or not, I Googled and Googled looking for insight. Here, on the other side, is my insight! Best wishes to you!