How Do I Balance Work and Family?

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Dr. Meg Meeker shares tips with an overwhelmed wife and mother on how to balance family life and career.

Hi Dr. Meeker!

I just saw you on Life on the Rock. My name is Amy, and I am a 29 year old Roman Catholic, a wife, a mother of 4 and expecting #5, and a 3rd year resident physician in family medicine in Louisiana. I am overwhelmed. We practice NFP (Natural Family Planning) and find it very difficult. I feel as though we have good reason to avoid pregnancy, but God has abundantly blessed us with 5 children, nevertheless. I feel as though I do not have enough time for my family and our home life is suffering. I will graduate residency in June or July and plan to practice full-time afterwards, otherwise I will be unable to pay off my loans. My husband does odd jobs here and there - it is too difficult for him to work regular hours when my hours are so terrible. How did/do you balance family and work? I look forward to your reply.

Thank you,
Amy, M.D.

Dear Amy,

You are indeed living an exhausting life. When I was a pediatric resident, I was pregnant as well and I fully understand the hardships that you are facing.

First, look at your career over a 30-40 year period and your child-rearing years over a 20 year period. Yes, you have loans weighing on you but take your time paying them off. Losing your health while doing this doesn't help anyone. If you can take more than 6 weeks off when your baby is born, do it. I took three months in the middle of my second year residency. My program wasn't happy, but they accepted it. I'm sure that if you are firm with your program they will do the same. You need to slow down just a bit because you have years and years of work ahead of you. At your age, you have 30 plus years of medicine ahead of you to practice so pace yourself. After you are done with your training, you may need to work part time or take time off. It's up to you, but if you don't pace yourself, you will burn out and be no good to anyone.

Second, you need to have a heart to heart with your husband. I'd love to tell you that you both can work full tilt (50-70 hrs per week) and raise a great family, but I can't. Your children need a parent with them. Women who tell you that you can "have it all" have never had it all— they are stressed, exhausted, have difficult home lives but haven't made it. So, if you are able to financially support your family when you are done, then your husband needs to be home with the kids. If he doesn't want to, then he must be able to help you repay your loans and you be home with the kids. My husband stayed home for 4 years while I did residency, then when I was done, I stayed home and he finished his residency in Med/Peds. We didn't see each other much but now, our kids are grown and gone and we spend all sorts of wonderful time together. Perhaps you could work out a plan for each of you to work part-time? Be creative, but make sure that for the bulk of the time during the week, one of you can be with your kids and keep things steady at home. You will never, ever regret it.

Third, I understand about your desire to practice NFP and this is wonderful. I do believe, however, that God is gracious and doesn't want us to kill ourselves when it comes to childbearing. He gives us many gifts other than motherhood that we can use for His glory and your practicing medicine is one of them. You can't do that and run a home with ten kids. He knows that. So if you need to limit the number of children you have, do it. Let's be honest, we limit the number of kids we birth by practicing NFP, so if you choose to limit the number to five, I believe that it is morally, religiously and ethically fine.

That's my religious opinion, not everyone's.

Finally, you're almost there. In June or July, the worst of your work will be behind you. If you get into the right private practice where you're not on call every third night, you will find that life will be much calmer. So hold on! As I said, I strongly encourage you to take a break and pay off your loans more slowly. You need rest and most physicians aren't good at giving it to themselves. But do it. You are more exhausted than you realize. Then, once you catch your breath, work out a work plan with your husband. Once you figure out who will work what hours, then you both need to make a list of responsibilities for the parent at home. This needs to include non-parenting duties as well—cooking, cleaning, etc. Laying the ground rules will help both of you understand one another's expectations. Many mothers feel that dads staying home with children "babysit" while mothers at home care for children and do all of the other household duties. If you are working 60-70 hrs per week outside the home there is no way you can take on household chores.

I have watched friends and patients parent many different ways. Some fathers have stayed home full time while mom has worked to support the family financially. Many fathers are wonderful with their kids (sometimes better than their wives) at being nurturing, patient and caring. I have also seen many couples tag-team and work alternate schedules so that one can be with the children at all times. This is hard when the children are small, but gets better as children grow.

One final word of encouragement — most parents believe that they need a lot more money to have a good life than they really do. Don't fall into this trap. You don't need a big house, nice clothes and you don't need to make sure that you pay for every sport your child wants to play. Keep it simple and I promise, your kids will handle having less material things better than you think.

Dr. Meg

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