My stay-at-home mom resume looks pretty appealing. I’d hire me. I’m creative, silly, and crafty. I studied child development and I practice pediatrics. I love, love, love my son. So why wouldn’t I work part-time and stay home with him? Simply, I like my job. Much of my identity is tied into my career. Maybe because I spent the past 11 years of higher education preparing for it and I’m not ready to let it go. Regardless of why I work, I just don’t excel as a stay-at-home mom despite my resume potential. I have many friends who thrive in this setting and I am sometimes jealous when I see them with their kids. You know her, the mom with the perfectly packed diaper bag– ready for any disaster– or the homemade baby food, hand knit hats, and a daily itinerary that includes trips to the library and a craft project with macaroni noodles. That woman just isn’t me. At least not yet. Instead we cram fun into our weekends and evenings by being creative, silly, and crafty while doing our errands. Hopefully N will learn discipline, dedication, and passion from his working mom and not resent my absence. In the meantime, I’m working on not resenting myself.
“What’s a ‘Tiger Mom’?” asked a friend who recently moved back to the US from London. While my friends caught her up on the recent tiger mom (Amy Chua) versus dragon mom (Emily Rapp) debate in the press, I wondered what type of mom I would be and felt pressured to place myself in one of these boxes. Will I be authoritarian or indulgent? I’ve seen the literature about how the parenting style I practice could have effects on his risk taking behaviors in adolescence and his likelihood of obesity, among other things, and I counsel families about their parenting behaviors on a regular basis. So why is it so hard to label myself?
As we celebrate the Lunar New Year and this being the year of the dragon, I think about what other zodiac animal might represent my parenting style. I was born in the year of the rooster, an animal representing loyalty, confidence, and honesty. The rooster can be boastful though and I am anything but arrogant about my parenting prowess. Looking elsewhere, N’s sign is the rabbit, an animal associated with serenity, sensitivity and style. At 10 months old, you can already see some of these traits. I have never felt a sense of calm like the one he brings when he snuggles into my neck for a Sunday afternoon nap. He can sense when I need a good laugh and knows just which crooked grin, love bite, or giggle will work. His sense of style comes across as soon as you bring out a camera and he strikes a pose! Despite not being one to follow horoscopes regularly, I think I like the idea of a Rabbit mom– one who is creative, wise, compassionate, and above all else, puts friends and family first.
At a family-friendly New Year’s Eve party (that’s one that ends by 8PM), it slipped out that I’m a pediatrician. As it came out of my mouth I knew I probably shouldn’t have let such a tantalizing tidbit free in a room full of mommies. “The best part is probably that you don’t have to call that help hotline because you know all the answers,” one mom salivated. Hmmm… know all the answers…. I wish. It’s amazing how much they don’t teach you about parenting when you are becoming a doctor, heck, a pediatrician! If only these moms knew that on a semi-regular basis I call one of my pediatrician mommy friends and ask her, “is this normal?” A mere hour before this party, that same pediatrician mommy was asking me if I thought that her 2-year-old’s increased cuddliness this week meant she had cancer or if she was just tired from all the holiday parties. What these other moms envy is actually more of a curse sometimes. As pediatrician moms, we know too much.
My own mom was wondering why I was so worried about N getting a fever when he was one month old. She thought I had become a germophobic, paranoid new mom. Then one day I explained that a fever meant bringing him into the hospital, where they would draw blood, catheterize him for urine, and then do a spinal tap. Furthermore, we would be admitted and kept hostage for 2 days. I can see the tagline on the ED tracking board now: “febrile neonate.” It still makes me shudder. Once I explained this protocol, my mom had an aha moment where she realized that my medical knowledge base was paralyzing me as a parent. “You have to forget about all of this stuff, Katie,” she cautioned me. It’s funny because I spent the past 7 years of medical training desperately trying NOT to forget this stuff.
“This isn’t your baby, this isn’t your baby, this isn’t your baby.” That’s what the attending neonatologist told me after we did CPR on an ex-31 weeker as I was 31 weeks pregnant. Three weeks later, I was in labor and the neonatologist they sent to do my antepartum counseling was telling me that I had to forget everything I know from my NICU experience and expect the best. A difficult task when you spend 80 hours a week preparing for, diagnosing, treating, and managing the worst case scenarios.
Tonight though I watched N giggle hysterically as I blew a New Year’s Eve horn and I could barely summon enough breath between my own bouts of laughter to do it again for him. This little baby has me obsessed with him and at times, that may mean overreacting to otherwise normal childhood behaviors and ailments. We may not call the help line, but we may make some unnecessary trips into the Emergency Department because I think he had a seizure (did that in October). My 2012 resolution is not to stop doctoring my own baby, because I can’t help that, but to use the wisdom I’ve garnered as a mommy when doctoring your babies.
As a college student, my friends and I spent countless hours sitting cross-legged on the dorm room floor eating take out sushi and discussing third-wave feminist theories that career women who embraced motherhood were the new feminists. We believed that we could mesh the two; the “you can have it all” mantra of young Barnard women. We knew that there would be challenges, but they all seemed to be external: maternity leave, daycare, financial burdens. The internal struggle was overlooked by my younger, idealistic self.
Now, as a Pediatric Chief Resident and mother of a 7 month old baby boy, I am living the work-life balance that I used to theorize about and it is nothing like I imagined. I never considered the emotional toll of deciding after 23 years of school and training that just as I am on the brink of starting my actual career, I might want to cut back. The media often hypes the working mom vs stay-at-home mom conflict, however, ignores the competition among the working moms (part-time, full-time) or within themselves. Are you a worse mom if you pick a specialty with in-house call versus an outpatient practice? What if you want to do research but can’t get funded because you work less than full-time? Will the residents take you seriously when you return their pages with a fussing baby in your arms? Are pediatricians who are parents better pediatricians? How do you explain to your child that you can’t take care of them because you are taking care of other children?
I wish I had answers, but I’m still figuring it out for myself. There are days when I can’t imagine not doing my job and other days when I think I must be crazy to leave my baby at home with a stranger, now known as our nanny, instead of soaking up every minute of his development myself. Everyone uses the word “balance” but it often feels more like a pendulum, swinging between career and family. So maybe, to borrow from Neonatology, the answer is to find the right frequency.