To pass the time on long-distance drives, I listen to audiobooks. I also tune into Dr. Laura Schlessinger on XM Satellite Radio, not because I like her, but because her harsh advice and pissy demeanor spark enough anger to keep me awake. That’s not to say I don’t agree with some of her counsel, but she’s far too black and white for my taste. As far as I’m concerned, life is full of in-between gray.
My most recent road trip produced an interesting dichotomy. I first listened to Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. She discussed how women often step back professionally once they have children, when instead they should be “leaning in” and advancing their careers.
Then I switched to Dr. Laura.
Dr. Laura To The Rescue…Or Not
An internal medicine doctor called in. Given the woman was a physician, my interest immediately piqued, and I braced myself for the tongue-lashing she was about to receive.
The woman’s nanny was quitting, and she was seeking advice from Dr. Laura on what to do with her children.
As it is, the woman’s work schedule would be envious to anyone: she works one week a month and is off for three (I assume she’s a hospitalist).
Well, anyone but Dr. Laura.
According to the hawk doc (whose PhD is in physiology, by the way, not psychology), twelve weeks of work per year is twelve weeks too many. She advised the woman to have grandma (who is a professional woman herself) or dad (who also holds a full-time job) take over childcare duties for that week. If they can’t, then the mother should quit her job, keep up her medical license, and go back to the workforce later. No one else should care for the children.
When the internist told Dr. Laura that reentering medical practice after an extended time away was not easy to do, Dr. Laura said something along the lines of, “See? This is why women who plan to have children shouldn’t become medical doctors.”
I believe at this point, I nearly veered off the road in shock. Was she implying women shouldn’t be doctors? Try telling that to the millions of people who are thrilled to have a female physician. Or to our daughters:
“Hey sweetie, you can be anything you want. Well, anything but a doctor.” (Unless you’re the PhD kind with a radio talk show…)
As you can imagine, the answer wasn’t what the caller wanted to hear. She’s correct—it’s no longer so easy to step out of medical practice. And really, is one week of work a month so bad for the kids? Might they gain some independence being away from Mom? Might they develop the benefits of attaching to another caregiver? Might they grow from seeing their mother in a professional capacity?
Should They or Shouldn’t They?
This post is not about whether a woman should work outside the home or not. I am a HUGE proponent of mothers doing whatever works best for themselves and their families.
As a pediatrician, I’ve cared for kids whose mothers worked full-time. I’ve also cared for children whose mothers worked part-time or stayed at home. I’ve seen kids thrive in all three settings. I’ve seen kids fail to thrive in all three settings.
In my experience, a child’s well-being has less to do with Mom’s work schedule and more to do with good parenting.* Children whose at-home mothers have a host of personal problems might do better in a daycare environment. Children of working mothers who don’t make extra effort to be in their child’s lives might do better with more focused attention.
Of course, the same goes for fathers. Last I checked, it takes two to make three.
So to Dr. Laura I say, “Your answer sucked.” To Sheryl Sandberg I say, “Good points, but remember, most families don’t have the resources you have.”
The decision of whether a mother should work outside the home or not comes down to what makes most sense for the family and what makes the mother most comfortable. As such, over the years I’ve been both a stay-at-home mother and a working mother, depending on our situation.
Unfortunately, many women have no choice at all. It’s work or don’t pay the bills. Perhaps Dr. Laura knows of a tree that sprouts money, but I sure don’t.
Nirvana will never be reached. We will always be balancing something. But if we love, respect, and invest in our children, they will thrive no matter where we spend our workday.
*Obviously there are other factors involved as to how much time is optimal with a parent at home, such as with infants or with children with special needs.
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Carrie Rubin is a medical thriller author with a background in medicine and public health. For full bio and a list of her books, click here.