The Toddler Trap – Anxieties of the veterinary mother.
Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS
My recent post about confidence issues in female vets has triggered several conversations with my veterinary girlfriends, most of whom, like me, are in their mid-thirties with small children and it turns out many of us suffering with some degree of a crisis of confidence over our professional abilities and worth.
I have never had confidence problems and I have always been proud of the level of my professional skills. So to find anxieties creeping in and realising situations where I would previously have been comfortable had become stressful, was a real surprise to me. ( A change of circumstance which lead to me leaving a job where the staff had known me pre-children to one where they hadn’t, also hasn’t helped.)
Even so, it was very reassuring to know that I am not alone in my worries.
The problem for myself and my mummy colleagues is that we have become our own worst enemies.
We judge ourselves by our own high standards. We know we have taken time out for maternity leave and feel we are behind and out of practice. We are used to being good at what we do, and we still are, but we are concerned our reduced hours and lack of surgical time are eroding our skills.
We only work part-time, we only can work part-time and, to be fair, we want to work part-time, but still we feel like we are shirking our responsibilities, particularly when we have to leave colleagues to finish up so we can make nursery pick-up times. I am constantly over-analysing my work mates and their comments, sometimes absolutely convinced they think I am a hopeless, part-time freeloader.
Rather than accepting we can’t be perfect, we feel, especially several years out of uni, we should know everything. We don’t cut ourselves any slack, we don’t allow for the fact that we aren’t as free now to go on CPD as we used to be, that we are exhausted chasing around after small children, running households and holding down our jobs.
I wonder if much of this is related to the Type A personalities vets tend to have. We expect to be good, if not perfect, at what we do. Over-achieving and ‘having it all’ is something we aspire to, and expect of ourselves. Falling short of these expectations, whether real or imagined, is an unusual experience for us and something we find difficult to manage, which allows our anxieties to get the better of us.
Interestingly, one friend whose children are slightly older had a different view. She sympathised with us but she is now at the stage, with two in school and far less demanding, that she can now turn back to her career and pick up where she left off. She has recently discovered a new passion for veterinary and can see ahead to a long, successful, professional life, in addition to a fulfilling family one.
I am working hard on seeing my worth and silencing the little voices of doubt. I know my experience counts enormously and my instincts are usually right. I am good with clients, get on with other staff and my surgical skills will get me through even the most challenging operations, although I still don’t like them much! Basically, I am not a high-flyer, at the moment, but I am a good, solid and reliable member of the team.
So girls, soon, our babies will be bigger and they will need us less. We will have more energy, time and will be able to refocus on our careers. Our professional lives are long ones and there is nothing wrong with relaxing a little and accepting the ebbs and flows that come with the passage of time. We are good at what we do, we are valuable members of the practice team and we deserve to be where we are. We just need to believe it!