Reflections on the Juggle of Being a Working-GP-Mum
By General Practitioner and Mum, Dr Radeeka Liyanage, MBBS, FRACGP, DCH
Motherhood and work are at odds, and women who pursue both have to make endless trade-offs and compromises.
As a full-time working GP-mum myself, I have realised how challenging this can be. But I know there are many of you out there who will agree when I say, “I wouldn’t have it any other way”.
Lots of women go for it, with great results for themselves, their families, and their careers. In fact, research suggests that parenting can enrich our careers, and vice versa. Research conducted by Harvard University found that the daughters of mothers who work outside the home grew up to be just as high-achieving, and that their sons were just as likely to help out in household chores. They concluded that those children end up just as happy as they would have been, had their mothers been at home with them.
For some, working motherhood isn’t a choice, it’s a reality and a financial necessity with no other options. Life is tough for many families. But for others, working motherhood is about the love for a working career, or having that special gift or talent in her chosen vocation.
One of the biggest challenges for working mothers is the idea that we must be available around the clock both at home and in the office. And while most of us are up for the challenge, we will only be successful if employers and managers who shape office policy and work culture support us in all aspects of our life: at home and at work.
I believe it’s important to be flexible in finding a balance that works for your family. Every family is different and special and has its own unique needs.
After I had my son, I left a busy bustling emergency department job which I loved, so I could have more time with family. But I know that many of my female colleagues and friends, who are working in high-demand, busy jobs, and making it work, are still being amazing mums to their children and household.
I don’t deny that I do have many a heart-sink moment when my son gets sick, childcare falls through and all my carefully crafted plans go out the window!
The vocation of medicine can be an unpredictable job at times, and being a GP seeing unwell children, and treating the occasional emergency, sometimes eats into precious home time. I’ve run late for school pick-ups one too many times; I’ve missed out on many soccer matches and sometimes, it’s true, I ask myself if it’s all worth it.
But I remind myself to be kind to myself and understand that both work and parenting are valuable, noble things. What we do in the workplace and in the four walls of our homes, are both important and just as valuable. There’s always this guilt, “Am I spending enough time with my family? Am I being a good enough mum?”. But I think we know that we are all doing the best that we can. When your child gets older, they will have something to be proud of, knowing you -working mum- made a difference to other people’s lives, let alone your family’s life.
On a personal note, when I reflect on my journey as a GP and motherhood, I realise how much they have each complemented each other. My medical training in General Practice with extended studies in Children’s Health was greatly advantageous when my son was born. When I came back to work as a full-time GP after maternity leave, I realised how I could apply my personal experiences as a mother into my GP life. It has been a wonderful gift to be able to relate to other mothers on an unspoken level and understand what they go through with their sick child.
And at the end of it all, I’m still learning on-the-go, trying to find the right balance between my responsibilities and motherhood.
Over the years I have come up with a few tips that I hope might help you too:
1. Don’t Feel Guilty
Rather than constantly feeling upset because you aren’t with your child, think about how your role at work benefit both your family and society. You will have good days and bad days, but you are never alone. Discuss how you feel with your spouse, friends, work colleagues and other safe communities.
2. Find Good Quality Childcare
You will feel less anxious if you know your child is looked after, being loved and cared for while you are working. It may be family, friends, family daycare, or formal childcare services… but do your research, ask in your local suburb Facebook community, ask around in mother’s groups…
3. Stay Connected During the Day
If it’s possible, try to FaceTime in your breaks. Ask the carers to send you photos and videos of the kids during the day. With older children, plan out one-on-one times for the weekend, giving both of you something to look forward to.
4. Keep Organised
This is the tip that saved the day for me. Adding a hint of organisation and planning to my family and work life makes me feel less overwhelmed. This can start the night before – packing your children’s lunches (mums out there, please don’t feel guilty about your child not having a “fresh-packed” lunch!), laying out their clothes (and maybe your own), preparing the school bags… The little things can help minimise the morning chaos! Another huge responsibility many mums seem to bear is planning meals – don’t feel guilty to order fresh food meal boxes, batch cook and freeze, and get the whole family involved – kids and other caregivers.
5. Make Time For Your Spouse and Yourself
Last but not least, don’t forget about yourself and your partner. Plan those date nights and movies with your partner. Setting aside time for yourself to exercise, reading a book, going for a massage, coffee with a friend or something else you love, will recharge your batteries. Remember the importance of carving out alone-time for yourself outside of work and kids, because when you are burnt out, both your jobs will suffer. Remind yourself to cast away the pressure of always having to feel like a “Supermum”!
A final note, in these reflections, I’ve pondered mostly on my journey of figuring out what it’s been like balancing working full-time with full-time motherhood. However, my last point to make, would be to take my hat off to all those amazing mums who are full-time stay-at-home mums. In many ways, your job is tremendously more challenging and just because the “home-life” of 24/7 full-time work of being a stay-at-home mum is often “less seen”, doesn’t make it in any way any less valuable! Our children, our society, and our nation, wouldn’t be able to move forward without all you stay-at-home mums (and dads)!
So finally, to all dear mothers, always try to remember to stop and smell the roses, both at work and with your precious family. Enjoy the little precious moments, because, at the end of the day, that’s really what it’s all about.
Dr Radeeka Liyanage, MBBS, FRACGP, DCH
Dr Radeeka is a full-time GP and full-time mum. Her special interests include family medicine, women’s and children’s health, mental health, chronic disease management, skin cancer medicine and minor surgical procedures. She is passionate about lifestyle medicine and improving her patient’s quality of life. In her spare time, you’ll find Dr Radeeka spending time with her family, traveling, exercising and doing yoga.