When Career and Motherhood Collide

For us working moms, achieving a healthy work/life balance can be a real b*tch.

Right? I mean, even on the best of days it’s close to impossible. Work keeps you so late or makes you so tired that you don’t have much energy to be Enthusiastic Mom, or work is mad at you because you’re calling in sick too often because you have to stay home with a sick child who can’t go to daycare, or you’re mad at yourself because you feel like work is taking up too much space in your head and you’re being a preoccupied mother. You’re only one person, so there is always someone who is getting shafted. But I’m here to say stop yelling at us, everybody. We are all doing the best we can. Now run along and make us a cocktail.

It’s even worse when you are facing a giant life decision like I am at the moment. I have this career path that I’ve thought about choosing for a long time, and the circumstances in my life are finally right, or close to it, so all I have to do is just… go for it. Right?

Wrong. It’s not so easy.

I reject the idea that being a single parent means that I can’t do anything. That I know for sure. But does that make me determined and forward-thinking, or selfish and irresponsible? Do the huge, life-changing decisions I’ve made in my not-so-very long life make me confident and ballsy, or fickle and crazy? Am I setting a strong and inspirational example for my daughter, or am I stubbornly dragging her along with me on a path of insanity and instability?

It may be the right career decision for me, but is it the right decision for her? And if it isn’t the best decision for her, does that make it the wrong decision for me?

My head hurts from thinking about it.

I talked more to the Army about my concerns regarding deployment for long periods of time away from my daughter. They assured me that the 90-day deployment policy is something I can depend on with the kind of work I would be doing. Everyone else I know assured me that recruiters will tell me anything, including out-and-out lies, to get me to sign on the dotted line.

I just don’t know. If I do this, I will be a soldier first and a dentist second. I would be proud to be that… Except, well…

I am a mother, first.

I want to do both, and find a balance between them, but the Army will not care that I have a child, or that I’m a single mother. They will send me where they need me, because that’s what I’d be signing up for.

This is something I really, really want to do, for all kinds of reasons. What it comes down to is this: is it all worth it, if I could potentially miss out on months on end of my daughter’s life? That time flies by fast enough as it is, as any mother knows. And I’ve criticized Tyler constantly for putting his career before our child. Would this make me just like him, in the end?

She will not understand the honor and the sacrifice and the incredible career opportunities and experience. She will only know that her mother is gone.

And when I inevitably get deployed, and I come back… will she still know who I am?

I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know…

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  1. by me

    On January 17, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    Ok so I thought for a few days about posting because all the other posts were kidn of “you go girl” and “you rock” type of posts and I was thinking basically all of the stuff you just said in this post, and wasn’t sure whether I’d be doing you a favour by saying it or just be the bitch raining on your parade. So if you want a super supportive “follow your dreams” post, skip this one. Otherwise, read on. The thing is this – just one person’s opinion of course. I am also a single mother and I do think that that involves some sacrifices. It has to. Because one person can’t do everything. The sacrifices are either going to be career or motherhood, or little bits of both. For me, they are career. I have a career and it’s fine but I’m definitely passing up some great opportunities so I can be a mother – and even with that I feel guilty because I work full time and see my kid a couple of hours a day and on weekends. But the Army… wow. To me, that really would be making a choice of dream career over motherhood. You would be away from her for months at a time. You will miss large portions of her childhood. You will miss milestones, birthdays, first day of school. YOu will not know her friends. You will not know her likes and dislikes. She will not care that you are ambitious and smart and strong and dedicated to your country. She will only know that she doesn’t have a mom – or at least not one who is ever around. Is that what you want? And there’s one more thing to think about. You could lose custody of Caroline. If she ends up living most of the time with Tyler, and he decides he likes it and applies for full custody, and you are off in Afghanistan or something, he will probably get it, because why would an absent parent have custody of a child? Is all of that worth it? Would being a dentist in the U.S. really be so bad? Only you can answer that.

  2. by Julia

    On January 18, 2012 at 6:04 am

    Oh I always appreciate comments like that… Really! If they are sincere and not just trying to be mean, I would never take offense. Thanks for posting.

    And I know exactly what you mean. The question here is, exactly how long would be away? 90 days every 3-4 years is doable and I wouldn’t be running the risk of not knowing my daughter or losing custody or any of the other things you mentioned. That amount of time is what I based my original decision on. But if that isn’t going to be the case, if I’ll be gone for much much longer than that, well, I just don’t think I can do it…

  3. by Katie H

    On January 18, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Julia – you do have a lot of thinking to do. My friends husband is in the AF, something medical that is escaping my mind right now, he was told he wouldn’t be deployed for long periods but has been gone 20 out of the last 30 months. Recruiters will do whatever they have to in order to get you to signup it stinks but it’s true. As far as knowing Caro and her knowing you there is always Skype, phone calls, etc so I wouldn’t worry about that. We all know you will make the best decision for you and Caro.

  4. by Jessie

    On January 18, 2012 at 10:58 am

    I know this has probably been mentioned, but have you thought about National Guard or the Army Reserves? Can you do anything with your dentistry if you went in that direction? I don’t envy you, it’s a tough decisions. Best of luck.

  5. by Haydee

    On January 18, 2012 at 11:39 am

    Julia, as an ex-army wife, now a single mom, I can assure you that the decision to join the army is not an easy one. It is a decision that you have to be confident about and comfortable with, especially being a single mom. However, and I’m in no way bashing, I have to disagree with ‘me’. Yes you will be gone for long periods of time, yes you will miss milestones, and significant events in Caro’s life; but you will NEVER lose custody of her, you have rights! I know this for fact, as I am currently living it. Your daughter will know that you are away but if she isvbeing looked after by someone who supports what you do, they will need to remind her what you’re doing and WHO you’re doing for. I have a four-year old who lights up overtime she talks about her father, and when she sees a soldier she walks up to them and says thank you. Your daughter will miss you, she will grow up without you there, and she will also be proud when she talks about you. She will respect you, because regardless of where you are or how much you are around you are still her mother, and nobody will she be able to take that away from. you. Not the army. Not Tyler, for being an “absent parent”. Nobody.

    I do agree though that recruiters will yell you anything to have you sign.

    Think about it! Good luck!

  6. by Angie

    On January 18, 2012 at 11:55 am

    For me, it comes down to which decision I’d regret more. Would I regret decision (and therefore by consequence) to be away from my daughter for indeterminate amounts of time OR would I regret the decision to not follow a dream. Nothing is guaranteed with the military, and for me there would be too many variables not within my control. Too many “clauses”. Good luck

  7. by KG

    On January 18, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    In the end you need to choose what is best for you and your daughter. I am a single mama myself and I am the only parent in my son’s life. When becoming a parent you do have to make choices, some not so fun ones and some very hard ones. Myself, I would never be able to leave my son for that long, I wouldn’t want to miss out on anything that is happening in his life. Yes, there are things that I wanted differently in my life but the day that I found out I was pregnant (he wasn’t a planned baby) he became my number one focus..he will be 3 in April and he is my life! Nobody can tell you what you should or shouldn’t do because it’s not their life…in the end you know what is best for you and your family!! Good Luck with whatever you decide!!

  8. by AFB

    On January 18, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    Julia: I have been thinking of this for a couple of days and I think though your idea is commendable, my gut is saying no.

    Being in the military is such a commitment. 90 days may seem do-able in conversation but when you are in the reality of it, and with such a young child, it is like 1000 days. My friend’s husband just got deployed on his 90 days and the kids are really struggling.

    From your posts, I know that Tyler is not really a rooted person. And if you choose the military– neither will you – Caro will be always on the move.

    As someone who moved almost every year of their life, it is really important for me for my daughter to have roots. That I am able to be involved in the little, every day things.

    You have had a bunch of really rough situations – married, baby, divorced young. Single mom, Residency, a horrible break up and a broke down car.

    I think you are looking for change, a fresh start. Just remember — wherever you go, there you are!

    Thinking of you and wishing you strength and wisdom in your decision.

  9. by WEN

    On January 18, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    Don’t join the Army. Your time will come. Be with your daughter. She’s only young once. I agree with ‘me’ and I agree with ‘AFB’. You’re feeling low – you want to escape….. Your daughter will be ever-so proud of you for simply being a fantastic, available, nurturing Mom! You are now where you are meant to be!!! Sounds like you’d be signing up for some stress and drama not knowing when or how long you might be deployed.

  10. by Amy

    On January 18, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    I’m a Army wife who has four children. I’d be happy to talk with you about things but would rather pass things along off of the main page.
    One thing I will tell you is that the military will be first in your life almost 100% of the time. Its a lifestyle that is fully hard to comprehend until you are living it.
    I would also question the 90 day promise. We have friends who are lawyers, vets, and MDs and they all deploy for six months. They may say 90 now but the world can change overnight and therefore so can the Army.
    The military will always be around but not your daughter’s childhood.
    Amy

  11. by Natalie

    On January 18, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    I agree and completely disagree with some of the comments posted here. I should start off by saying that I’m an Army wife with two kids (3 and 11 months). My husband is an Army reservist. Side note: National Guard and Army Reservists get deployed as often, if not more, than active Army. Please, please, please speak with people who are actually in the military or have recent military experience. There is so much misinformation out there about what military life is truly like. That aside, military life is not always easy, just like civilian life. Sacrifices must be made, but that isn’t something you are unfamiliar with as a single mama. Dont let the opinions and stories of others scare you out of something you truly want. As Haydee said, no one can take away your right to parent Caro just because you are deployed. And to anyone who believes that your child will forget you because of deployment: frankly, your’e wrong. Sorry, dont mean to be rude, but that’s a horrible thought to burden a parent with when he/she is in the middle of a pretty big life decision. The Army is very family-centered. In fact, you will frequently hear that it is the soldier’s family and not the actual soldier who is most important to the military. Bases are laid out so as to be the most convenient and welcoming for the families that live there- I suggest you visit one! Become familiar with the FRG (family readiness group) and see what they can do to help you, your family and Caro while you are away. 90 day deployments are not going to crush the bond you and your daughter share, and if you have fears that you will not know anything about her or that she will be emotionally scarred from it, read up on the awesome alternative methods to communication that other military families have come up with. My husband and I talked frequently over webcam and phone with our daughter (who was not even two at the time) while he was gone for his 9 month training. My friend and her husband read books to their daughters (5 and 2) every night while he was deployed to Afghanistan. Our children all remembered their fathers and have been absolutely fine since those days without them. My husband missed the birth and the first 6 months of our son’s life, and now they are inseparable. I realize this is all anecdotal evidence, but please dont brush it aside. Doing what is best for you is always going to be what is best for Caroline. The way you approach the experience with her will make all the difference on how she handles it. Be prepared and be confident in your decision. Best of luck to you both. I will be cheering you on regardless of what path you choose. :)

  12. by Julia

    On January 18, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    Thank you, everyone, so much for your input. I am really floored by how many people have contacted me, publicly and privately, to offer advice and wish me well and offer me support. It is funny how many awesome people you can “meet” writing a blog like this…

    A couple of things– not to get defensive, but this isn’t really about me feeling low about recent events. Sure, they freed me up to consider taking this career path, but I’ve considered this since I was in college eight years ago, so it’s not a spur of the moment idea. Also, the point about Tyler being rootless is well-taken, but… if I forgo yet another opportunity because of HIS career, I will forever resent how yet another career decision of mine was forced by his inconsistency as a parent. Besides, I’ll be an officer working in a clinic, not an infantry soldier…. Sure, we might have to relocate during my four years on active duty, but we won’t be moving all the time. Caroline won’t be rootless. Also, if I deploy, whoever is taking care of her is allowed to come stay with her in my housing, so she can stay in her same school while I am gone, to minimize disruption in her life.

    One of the biggest issues is really what Amy and some others have said: that it’s impossible for me to know what military life is like, in many ways, until I am actually living it. That makes me nervous. What if I hate it? Then there will be no going back. But there’s no other way to know than to try. If I decide I WANT to try. I don’t know yet if I do.

    I talked to a recently-separated Army dentist (and father of three) today and he had a lot of positive things to say about his experience, which was encouraging. If anyone else with experience wants to chat with me, about positives OR negatives, I’d much appreciate it… The “email us” button on the right side of my blog will contact me directly.

    Thank you all, so much, again!

  13. by Lori

    On January 18, 2012 at 10:47 pm

    I think it’s a great idea to speak with other dentists or health care professionals who currently are or have been in the military. This way you can get a better idea about the reality of deployment lengths. All the officers I know, from the health care profession, were deployed for approx 1 year at a time. Also, it might be helpful to consider that there may be big upcoming changes in elected government officials which could affect things for you in the future. As an aside, from what you posted previously, it sounds like remaining in CT and joining a practice doesn’t provide you with any inspiration and completely deflates you. If that’s the case, whatever you ultimately decide, maybe you can make the commitment to yourself now, that you don’t stay where you currently are. Or, if you do, it’s only for a limited time. Or, if you stay, it’s because you actively decide to. There’s something you’re looking for…it might be interesting to ask yourself, what it is…

  14. by Hannah

    On January 18, 2012 at 11:21 pm

    Hi Julia,

    I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time (every since you were unexpectedly expecting) and first and foremost I think you are a wonderful mom and one tough cookie! Plus I have a bit of a soft spot for other dentists like me too.

    But I also noticed that you are very much a “jump the gun” type of person!

    You were really young to get married, had a blessing (Caroline) as a product of that marriage and then the marriage ended.

    Now you want to join the military. My boyfriend joined the United States Navy and served on the mighty USS Nimitz for four years. Out of the four years he was out to sea for 2+ of them! One 9-month deployment and two 6-month deployments and a few 1-month 2-month training exercises here and there.

    During the recruiting period, no one told him “Hey you’re going to be away from your family for 2+ years okay?”

    Because you have Caroline you should think long and hard about this decision. Have you ever looked at becoming a RESERVIST first? Not signing your life (yes life, because you are no longer a civilian but in the military) away for X amount of years?

    During those deployments there were many mothers on the boat with my boyfriend. Yes, they were away from their kids and it stunk!

    PLEASE CONSIDER JOINING THE RESERVES! AND OTHER BRANCHES LIKE THE AIR FORCE TOO.

    Best of luck!

  15. by Adena

    On January 19, 2012 at 8:01 am

    As an army wife I can say that the army definitely does not stick to 90 day deployments.

  16. by Julia

    On January 19, 2012 at 11:37 am

    Adena and Hannah, what do your significant others do for the military? Time spent away is very dependent on profession, from what I understand. BUT I will say that I am very much leaning towards air force over army at this point and then my risk of deployment will be low, and if I am deployed, it will be for a much shorter time. I don’t want to do the reserves because I want this to be my job, not something I do for a weekend every month… And you can be deployed as a reservist also.

    Lori, I see what you are saying. I guess what I am looking for here is mostly career-related… The relocation appeals to me, because I do want to move and it would be better to move into an already-established community rather than pick up and go somewhere completely alone with my daughter. But the main reason is because of the type of dentistry I want to do. Maybe I haven’t explained that well enough here, and it might be hard for a non-dentist to fully understand what I mean, but I wil do my best to describe it…

    I have never wanted to go into private practice because I am simply not interested in the business aspects of dentistry, and find it distasteful to reject patients because they cannot pay for treatment they need. I always wanted to go into community health. Now I’m a resident in a community health clinic, and I don’t think it’s for me. The patient population is difficult, I’m not in control of my own schedule, and I have to provide treatment that I don’t believe is in my patients’ best interest because I have to go by what is covered by the state. In the military you just do what the patient truly needs, with whatever time you need to do it in. There are zero concerns with malpractice insurance or business aspects or practice management whatsoever– you can completely focus on patient care. That is what I want… to focus on my patients and the dentistry. I also truly enjoyed doing field dentistry when I went to Belize, and would like to do a lot more of it, and there are plenty of opportunities for that in the military. It seems like the best option for what I want to do.

    Of course there are also the benefits and loan repayment, which are significant, and the travel and relocation and all the other things I’ve mentioned. But mostly it is the type of dentistry. I hope that makes sense.

  17. by Julia

    On January 19, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Oh and also, Hannah, I totally AM a jump-the-gun type of person. That made me smile. It’s a good description of me so you obviously have been reading a long time! :) But on the other hand, just because I made a poor decision in marrying Tyler doesn’t mean that all the rest of my big decisions will necessarily be flawed… Know what I mean? For example, getting divorced was one of the best big decisions I’ve made, and I’m sure that appeared to come out of nowhere in a similar way. Anyway, I haven’t officially committed to anything and I won’t be for awhile. The process takes time, and I’m in residency until the end of June.

  18. by Hannah

    On January 23, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Have you thought of becoming a reservist first and then if you like it converting to full active duty?

    There’s no way to do active duty then decide you don’t like it then ask if you can become a reservist.

    My boyfriend was an Electrician’s Engineer. I think there was one dentist on the boat.

    A few people that I love a lot are “jump the gun” type of people. I’m a snail’s paced person when it comes to making big decisions so I’m always telling them to slowwwww downnnnnnn, lol.

  19. by Hannah

    On January 23, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    Have you ever thought of doing reservists first then converting to full active duty if you like it?

    You can’t do active duty then convert to reservist if you end up hating it.

    My boyfriend was an Electrician’s Engineer. There were two dentists on the ship providing service to all the guys and gals on board.

    There’s a few people in my life who I love/care about that are “jump the gunners”! I’m a snail-paced decision maker that I’m always telling them to slowwww dooowwwwn, options, options, lol.

  20. by Jaclyn

    On January 25, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Julia,

    I completely understand your concerns about dealing with insurance and managing a private practice. Would it be possible to see if an existing practice is looking for another dentist? You might be able to find a successful practice that already has an office manager to deal with the stress of insurance and noncompliant patients. If you explained to them before you were hired that you are a single mom and can only be responsible for patients, they might be amenable to hiring you if they already have office managers to deal with paperwork and patient problems.

    As far as the military is concerned, you would need to speak to other dentists to learn about their deployment lengths and be certain that you are comfortable with leaving Caroline with your mother or her father for the longest possible maximum deployment before you sign up.

    You have a lot on your plate right now, so just try to get through each day and save your strength. Best of luck to you.

  21. by kiki

    On February 2, 2012 at 2:45 am

    as an army wife of two and studied healthcare but not working i see your dilemma. my ob (female) is a mom of two. happen right after med school. she doing it. my hubby gone every other year. so it is different for your profession than my spouse. my first thought was to say NO but i will say the ladies who know the military are right. ARMY comes first. even when caro is sick, u have to go to the field, u have training and ur family care plan isnt working out. if you do not have a VERY SOLID support system (like a mom, a best friend, etc) that you know will assist you whenever or if you and your ex have a very good relationship then i would say consider it. however, it not that simple. the military is changing alot and downsizing. not sure how it affects your job. just understand that caro will resent you as she age when you do miss things that are importtant to her. yes she will get the concept of you doing your duty but as a former army brat now spouse with 2 girls, it will happen. you have to develop thick skin, communication always, cry, and communicate. you can do it. even if it just 4 or 8 yrs i believe. 8 …yea. it does go by fast and debt free! i know how stud loans can be a burden. adjusting will be hard but strong support system is crucial and meet right people to be around your family. if you got the support system without a doubt then suck it up for few years and do it but communicate with her throughout. you have to remember you still have to deal with pushy upper rank offices that can overwork you and soliders dont get downtime like it may be advertised. the beginning years of being an officer will/may suck but will improve as you move up rank. oh have u look into public health service corps? under the surgeon general and it very much military esq but without the deployments. only officers. i wish you the best and it is a huge step but be realistic with the decision. i dont want to see you suffer like i seen many single parents in miltary due to no support from home/friends and/or work cuz boss puts evrything onto you and so many regulations to follow and field training, etc. i see it as this if my hubby was gone tomorrow and i could sign up i would cuz of my kids. i came out fine for an army kid who dad was gone alot. SUPPORT CHICA! if u got it then like nike JUST DO IT! (i sense you may do it anyways) I know that feeling.

  22. by Suzanne

    On February 8, 2012 at 11:29 am

    I think you are a wonderful and thoughful mom and no matter what you decide to do you daughter will be more than fine. What you need to consider is that as your daughter gets older and older she will have more and more to say about you leaving for 90 days at a time.

    And… you may not like what she has to say about it. Ask yourself if you are prepared to live with her anger, sadness etc… even though it may be temporary. Also you know her personality best – she may be the kind of kid who just rolls with these changes in her life – some are not as flexible.

    Just another little bit of food for thought.

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