Handling Our Working Parent Guilt

Handling Our Working Parent Guilt
What do you say to your kids when they come to you with another variation of their future plans? I remember when my oldest daughter was in second grade, she went to her teacher with a problem. “Mr. M, I’m not sure what I’m going to do. When I grow up I want to be a dolphin trainer, ballet dancer, and writer. How will I ever decide?” Her teacher simply asked back: “You don’t have to choose. You can be all these things if you want to. You don’t have to decide on just one thing, you know.” Wise words, and true. Where does it say that we pick one career then that’s it?

Changes in our career we all expect but what we can’t ever predict is the impact on our careers once we have kids. Last year I had an interesting conversation with a group of parents about this very topic. One dad quipped: “nothing has changed for me! I still watch football…just while doing laundry and cooking.” A couple with 4 kids joked that they always wanted to know what it was like to run a short-order kitchen. And, another dad added that as a small child he once dreamt of being a bus driver, and now he gets to every Saturday morning with his child and a van load of other kids heading to and from soccer. Then, while still laughing, one mom added: “who would have thought I’d swap my impressive CV for diapers!” While her voice was laughing, her eyes were a bit teary. Clearly she didn’t find any of this funny.

We all know people with successful careers and very happy family lives. Whether full or part time, some sort of modification of their career was needed to achieve a comfortable balance between family and work. At the same time, it seems that for every person who finds that happy mix, there are just as many unsatisfied. The reason for their unhappiness is simple. Their definition of success is not realistic with the life they are actually living. It’s the old adage of having your cake and eating it to. We all know that the best solution is eating only a piece of the cake!

At the same time, we have to keep an eye on our own needs as we work on our family vs. work mix. Whether a mom or a dad, we all have individual needs and hobbies that are important. Perhaps we can’t focus on those as intently as we did prekids and relationships but they are still important. All of us need “me time”. It isn’t selfish to steal some time just for you. Regrouping is what will make you a better parent, a better partner and more efficient at work. Whatever it is that floats your boat, make sure you have time for it each and every week. In fact, this should be a priority for every member of your family.

It’s time to stop agonizing over the life you thought you’d have and start embracing the one you do have complete with the myriad of amazing ways our lives have been enhanced by choosing a life partner and having children. Even the best of careers sound very lonely with out those people around to share our successes with us.

A few years ago when I was at a crossroads in my own career, I found this quote on a plaque buried in the back of a break room in the ER I was working in:

A hundred years from now…it will not matter what my bank account was,
the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove…but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child. (Kathy Davis, 1993)

I recall reading that in the middle of a very busy shift, wishing I was home with my husband and kids. That quote really woke me up. It helped me get me through that shift, and many more, and begin to make changes and decisions based on my needs and my family’s needs. For the first time since I entered medicine, I feel balanced and content. Perhaps we shouldn’t be focusing on the entire cake. Cupcakes work just fine and create a whole lot more variety!

The right mix is out there for you, too. My advice: just look forward. The past may have gotten you to this point but it’s the present, and future, that matter most.

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Content copyright © 2023 by Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, M.D., F.A.A.P.. All rights reserved.
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