Somehow tonight I got to thinking about all my patients who are moms. I am filled with love and admiration, and compassion for all of them. Maybe it was because today that is what I did most—momming. Chauffer, meal planner, shopper, meal preparer, science project thingy seeker, organizer of the week to come (meal planner, babysitter/transport arranger, meal planner, shopping planner, piano lesson re-scheduler)…
I feel so grateful that I can work part-time. I accomplish most of these life tasks on days when I’m ‘not working,’ as I used to say. Now I call them days on which I ‘don’t see patients.’ All moms work; it’s a full time job with intangible and transcendent benefits, as well as hellish hours, often disproportionately low appreciation, and obviously no financial compensation. Some of you may have seen a popular article this year on the mental workload of moms. I highly recommend the short read. Here’s a slightly older article that also includes references to research on the ‘work-home gender gap.’ And I absolutely love this eloquent, hilarious, and heartfelt to tribute to moms from last year, which is basically encapsulated in the first sentence: “I am the person who notices we are running out of toilet paper, and I rock…”
What tugs at my heart the most sometimes are the moms who have chosen to stay at home, giving up, at least temporarily, a fulfilling and meaningful professional career. So many of them feel conflicted over making this choice, and then shame over feeling conflicted. Countless times I have heard some version of, “Please don’t think I don’t love my kids, because I LOVE my kids! …But (sheepishly) being with them 24/7 is so tiring, and I really miss using those other parts of my brain, having conversations with adults, and solving problems that employ my education and training. But I love my kids, really I do, and I love being with them and I chose this and I know I should feel so grateful that we can afford for me to stay home, I just feel so guilty for ever wanting to be away from them, what good mom wants that?? But I’m so tired, and sometimes (pause) I wonder if I should have kept my job, worked it out somehow? I never thought I would feel so torn.” In these encounters I do my best to validate my patients’ choices, to reassure them that in no way do I question their love for their children just because they long for the company of peers and colleagues, and to address the consequences of their inner conflicts on their health and relationships—with self and with others. I feel sad and angry that anyone would shame a mom for wanting to have a meaningful life outside of momming.
There’s the guilt of the working mom, also—which springs from the same pathological thinking that no good mom would want to be away from her kids. But somehow these women seem easier to console, in my experience. They often derive significant meaning from their work, and even if that is not the case, they take pride in providing for their families. They also often report seeing themselves as role models for their daughters. Regardless, I hate that these women have to deal with the same social gremlins as their stay-at-home counterparts—that somehow being a mom and having a career are necessarily divergent ideals. This is an example of a false dichotomy that serves no useful purpose, and causes many of us to suffer unnecessarily. Thankfully, others have written extensively on solutions; I really like this article on 8 ways to overcome mom guilt, regardless of your W2 status.
In looking up the articles for this post, I also came across this one, addressing the invisible mental workload of men. I’m so glad I read it, because it reminds me of another fallaciously dichotomous rabbit hole: when we start exploring and addressing women’s challenges, the discussion too easily devolves into man-hating. I claim my own susceptibility to this mindset, and thankfully this article helps me rein it in. The same antiquated social pressures that tell women they ‘should’ always want to stay at home also tell men that they ‘should’ always want to be at work, and GAAAGH, it just kills all of our souls, a little at a time. The author, Josh Levs, writes:
“All women who notice and keep track of their families’ many needs deserve big props and respect for it. So do the men who do this work. It’s crucial, detail-oriented, and never-ending. It makes a home a home.
“For 2017, let’s resolve to put aside misguided gender assumptions and work together to achieve a better balance and healthy work-life integration—for the sake of women and men.”
I wholeheartedly agree. Let us stop with the guilt trips and shaming, and give all moms, and dads too, all our love for the ‘momming’ we all do!