Success Redefined: Challenges of a Breadwinner Mom

Go to college, go to medical school, start and finish residency and fellowship, get married, settle down and have children…there is a certain expectation of what a successful life would look like for a physician mom. Some may even choose to stop work and become a full time stay at home mom.

Even when my spouse, who works part time for most of our marriage, took a year off work to be the stay at home parent – all the information from school came to me. Phone calls confirming class times and schedules, changes, issues relating to the kids: nevermind that dear husband put his contact number as the primary number to call – it automatically defaults to mom (who is normally juggling calls in between caring for sick patients at the hospital).

Women has traditionally filled this role: juggling work, family and the children’s schedules. In the past, the expectation is for the woman in the family to take the less time demanding job, for dad to be the primary breadwinner: never mind mom’s ambitions and dreams.

The one major issue is despite all the stereotypes among college graduates in United States, in 2014 was the first year more women graduated from college than men. By 2016, 33.7% of women obtained higher education compared to 33% of men. While this is still not a big difference, the number of women who earned a doctoral degree in 2016 outnumbered men by 135 to 100. Number of women enrolled in medical school in 2016 is almost evenly distributed among women (49.8%) and men (50.2%). Many traditionally male-dominated fields such as urology and neurosurgery have more female residents, and eventually, attendings.

The tricky part of navigating all of the above career advances and success is that motherhood still runs on somewhat of a stop-clock. Despite advances in medicine and IVF technology, there is still not an ideal time to have children. This is made even more challenging by the lack of formal maternity leave in the United States, as the primary income earner in the family. Many studies have shown the importance of linking good quality of family life and career satisfaction and productivity.

I had three children as a medical attending.

Due to not wanting to take a big financial hit, I creatively carved out 3 weeks of maternity leave with my first child and to sit for my board examinations – which also meant that I lost out on my first year’s production bonus despite working harder than anyone else the rest of the year. With my second child, whose birth occurred around the time when the economy slump hit my area and my husband’s job was down to hiring him one day a week at times, we just moved and bought a new house: that meant 10 days of maternity leave. With my youngest, I did get my full 3 weeks by working non-stop prior and after my self-paid maternity leave. That was also when my husband decided to be a SAHD to our kids for the time being.

My story is not unique to me: many physicians who have their own private practice, without paid maternity leave have done the same or had taken even less time off.

This is not a story about saving money but it is one about physician mom primary income earners, doing what it takes to keep the family financially afloat and secure. Do what you love, plan ahead, get the support you need – to do what you need to do. It does get better, and with some checks and balances, you can have it all. Check out other inspiring stories at Chief Mom Officer.

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4 thoughts on “Success Redefined: Challenges of a Breadwinner Mom

  1. Great to see another breadwinning mom on the scene! I’ve talked with people who feel bad for me that I only had six weeks of maternity leave with each of my three boys, but 10 days/3 weeks is really rough. But you do what you have to do, right? I’m looking forward to hearing more about your story!

    1. It takes another breadwinning mom to ‘get it’. It takes grit and determination to be where we are – breadwinning/6 figures/millionaire. Over the past few years, I have learned to slow down at times, and to smell the roses so to speak. This blog is an attempt to recreate what I enjoyed as a teenager. Writing also helped me pay my bills through college and medical school. More stories to come!

  2. 10 days! That’s so hard! Three weeks is also really hard too. I can’t imagine being functional so close post partum.

    Here in Canada medical residents time it so that they can have their babies during residency as the benefits package exists so they can take mat leave- it might be one year but I’m not certain.

    1. yup! one year of partially paid maternity leave in Canada. I could have taken more (unpaid) time off. Not an option especially after my 2nd child was born, we had bought a house and husband’s job was down to 1 day per week or less. Nonetheless, mom does what mom has got to do – and we all survived! I must say I was close to zombie-state at times though: I have since learned to take care of myself (i.e. go for my exercise classes, coffee/lunch with friends on my days off, we started to learn how to ski last year, etc). Now working on passive income ideas 🙂

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