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A Physician’s Perspective on Gender Roles and Work-Life Balance


Regardless of whether you work or stay home, it isn’t always easy.

I tend to write from the female/mom perspective, not because I think that only moms struggle with work-life balance, or only parents, for that matter, but rather because I am a mom and that is my perspective. A blog is a narrative rather than a report. However, I recognize that my colleagues out there - male or female, parents or not, wrestle with a myriad of issues around work-life balance.

A recent Pew Research Center survey looks at both moms and dads and their attempts at juggling work and home life demands. A little more than 50 percent of moms and a full 50 percent of dads report that it is a challenge to be excellent at a profession and as a parent. Interestingly, parents of both genders are often attracted by the idea of staying at home full time with their kids. 

My husband is a full-time, in-the-trenches, stay-at-home dad and works very hard from early until late. I envy his role at times, although there are many mornings where I gleefully leave for work, eager to leave the whining, screaming, and crying behind. More people than I can count tell me how they or their spouses would love to stay at home, often in the same nostalgic wistfulness as they may comment that they’d love to go on a vacation to Hawaii. As my husband can attest, it ain’t no vacation to care for kids at home.

There are, of course, gender differences. Men are more likely than women to want to work full-time. Women value flexibility while men tend to value high income. While up to one third of moms report a desire to work full time, our society, for the most part, doesn’t support the idea that a mother of young children should be working outside of the home full time.

All of these statistics tell a small part of the story, the narrative if you will, of parents and non-parents seeking work-life balance. I think it highlights some important parts though:

Even though there are gender differences in priorities, goals, and desires, most parents want to be great, even excellent, parents and want to spend more time with their kids.

Both genders struggle, perhaps in different ways, with the fear that they are not enough - not home enough, not making enough, not working enough.

Despite many areas of gender equality, many parents and many members of our society as a whole place tremendous value on the presence of a mother at home with young children.

And, really, the bottom line for me is that it isn’t easy for anyone. I remember being in residency and trying to do things like grocery shop and do laundry in between the many hours I logged at the hospital. Seeing colleagues who had a stay-at-home wife, I grumbled to myself how much easier it would be to have someone at home to do all of those things for me. However, when those same colleagues got home, they often had to “make up” for the time they were an absent parent or spouse. It wasn’t easy for any of us.


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