The Myth of Seamless Work-Life Integration

beachRushing off to work with a frozen Lean Cuisine lunch in my bag and a small hole in my stockings threatening to run down my legs, I brushed my hair while driving and thought about how my work-life integration was falling apart. If only there was more time in the day, I thought. Or substitute time with any number of things… energy, love, money, ease, gratitude, efficiency, peace. Every week I have working mothers in my office with their children telling me about their struggles: making time to play, cooking nutritious meals, and finding a high-quality childcare provider. Their struggles are ones that I have had and continue to have regularly. Others had more dire issues, such as obtaining FMLA leave to take care of her ill child, a high-risk pregnancy, food insecurity, and inability to pay her gas bill. We all have our personal issues– some big, some small– that make us feel like we are failing at motherhood at one time or another. Some of us just do a better job of camouflaging it.

One of my coworkers said that when choosing her outfits she thinks about whether or not she would want her doctor to wear it. Certainly our appearance conveys a degree of professionalism and is important. At the same time though, there is a bit of chaos in my life that sometimes I like my patients to see. If the doctor, who on the surface seems to have things put together and seamlessly integrated work-life, has similar challenges to her patients it can be relieving. One patient told me that she read my blog specifically to see if my family had similar struggles to hers. So here’s the secret: yes.

I ran my fingers over the tiny hole in my stockings while listening to a mother lament her messy, poorly childproofed living room and how she is too tired after work to fix it. I imagined the floor in front of my own couch blanketed in Legos and how I would step over them nightly before eventually having the energy to sort them into their proper containers. My nail then snagged on my stockings and I snapped out of my daydream. I hear you, I said. My stocking hole may have been too small and just high enough to be hidden by my hemline, but I was conscious of it all day, much like the imperfections I know are always behind my professional veneer. Every now and then, a patient family needs to hear that I too sometimes fall apart at the seams.

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