Balancing Motherhood and Family Practice
Two Members at Different Stages of Parenthood Share Their Experiences
There’s no sugarcoating it: family practice is demanding. Between patients, paperwork and the unending waves of administrative tasks, not to mention involvement in professional and community endeavors, physicians’ plates are not just full, they are piled high with every item at the buffet.
Throw a family into the mix, and finding balance can seem impossible.
With Mother’s Day not far in the rear view mirror, we wanted to highlight the challenges our members who are mothers face, and the ways they are creating balance in their personal and professional lives.
To do this, we spoke with two Division members at different stages of practice and parenthood.
Dr. Anderson, a mom of two children - 2 and 5 - has been practicing for three years, one of which she spent on maternity leave. Dr. Niazi has been practicing for 14 years, and has three children, aged 10, 21 and 22. Each strives for balance in her own way.
How Does Being a Mom Influence Your Practice?
“It gives you a parent’s perspective; you go through all these things emotionally when your child is sick. So you know where they’re coming from when they’re asking questions, even if the questions might be common sense. Because first time parents don’t know.
I have a lot of immigrants in my practice who do not have a lot of extended family to guide them. I see a lot of anxiety and a lot of trepidation.”
“I can confidently say that I’m a better physician because I’m a parent. I have more empathy for parents. I practice obstetrics as well, and I can better relate to new parents. I understand them from a very personal position, having had my own children. It has improved the quality of care I’m able to give my patients.”
What is a Key Challenge in Balancing Family Practice and Motherhood?
“It’s time management. Priority management. To see what is important at what point in time. Children need parents. I single parented my children so I definitely felt that the need was really strong for my presence in their life.”
“It’s making sure you’re dedicating enough time to everyone who needs a piece of you, including your family and your patients. I think especially being a mom, you realize you can’t delegate everything to someone else, because ultimately your kids really only want you. There’s a lot of guilt when you feel you’re not able to give enough of yourself to them.”
What are Some Ways You’ve Sought to Create Balance?
“In my residency, I had great preceptors who always made time for their families. I had children during my residency, and my preceptors would tell me, you know what? You have to go. So I kind of said, yeah that totally makes sense. Because the work is always going to be there.
I’ve always made a rule not to work on weekends. You have to have some protected time with the family. Once you have that, you don’t feel guilty going in and working hard, knowing that emotionally, your family’s taken care of.
Being a family physician gives me the flexibility to alter my hours and time so that I’m there for school plays or special things that my children need. Even if it’s just leaving the office for a little bit and going there and waving hello, showing my face - they need that.
I also understand there are times when I’m just not going to be able to. With the division, with the board, there’s lots of after work meetings, so I do not get home at 5.”
“I was discussing this with another physician parent, and we both agree maybe there is no balance - maybe that’s just an illusion that we’re trying to chase and that’s the reason why we haven’t found it yet.
I think it really helps to have a supportive village around you. I’m so fortunate to have a supportive partner. My husband has his own software company so his hours are flexible. It doesn’t mean he has less work, but he can work different hours. So he does the pickups and drop-offs and watches the kids when they’re sick so I can still work at the clinic and hospital. He’s been the greatest gift to me. We also have our extended family near us, and they’ve been a tremendous support.
I think something that would makes things easier would be a public understanding that GPs wear so many hats. I’m currently working 3-4 days a week, and my patients ask what I’m doing the other days of the week. I think if there was a societal recognition that GPs are also parents and teachers and community leaders, that might help alleviate some of the guilt that we feel when we aren’t working 5 to 6 days a week in clinic. I can’t be that GP, at least not yet, while my kids are so young.”
What Would You Like to Say to Other Family Physicians Who Are Parents?
“I value unstructured time a lot, because I find that we’re always running on the clock, running between things. And having time where you’re doing nothing, or where you don’t have anything planned is so important for our mental health, for the long term.
I find that the burnout, physical and emotional, can happen. So we need to make room for that. Make room to see other adults - not adult patients! I find that that is very important for our emotional health.”
“For working physician parents who don’t have access to family supports, I highly recommend hiring help. It really takes a village to raise kids.
If there are other GP parents who are struggling out there, it’s good to know there’s a lot of support through our Physician Health Program (PHP). There’s counseling and life coaching. I’ve tapped into it because I readily admit I need the help, and recommend other physicians take advantage of it as well. Who knows? Maybe with their ongoing help, I may find that elusive work-life balance after all.”