Lindsay See Watson, PT, MPT, is a physical therapist, mother of three, wife, and writer. Her first essay for MotherBoard explores one of our favorite working motherhood concepts: the idea that being both a mom and a worker might actually make you better – at both. Help us welcome Lindsay to the MotherBoard blog and please share your questions and comments below!
I will admit that when I chose the field of Physical Therapy, I had more than career aspirations in mind. I wanted the best of both worlds- motherhood AND career. Like most other women, time somehow taught me these two worlds had to be separate and each would somehow suffer because of the other.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
With relentless effort, I pursued my Master of Physical Therapy, and equally committed to the growth of my family by having three beloved children. Each day, I tried to learn more and hone my clinical skills while preserving enough energy to be a present mother that can wipe the majority of their tears, attend the occasional class party and wait at the end of the driveway when the bus arrives. After years of painstakingly pursuing each dream, I finally realized they weren’t so far removed from each other.
Like you, I’m sure, I’ve had more than one employer groan once they learned that I’m a mother of three. “Oh really? THREE kids? That’s a lot of kids!” I knew what they were thinking. As they looked at me and weighed the pros and cons of my employment, they couldn’t hide their wonder if a childless counterpart would be better. My considerable work experience and clinical skill was being mulled against whether I would be late over a forgotten book report, need time off for the kindergarten play, or would leave at a moment’s notice after one of my kids threw up on the playground.
They couldn’t be more right. I’ve done all of that.
But I’ll never forget the lesson I learned from a more experienced PT, one day, when both my worlds collided. She was a mother of four, and nearing the end of her career, and she taught me more than just how to excel at work. I called her while driving to work one cold December day, and the moment I heard her voice, I started to cry. I managed to choke out the words that the baby was teething and I had only slept about 6 hours in 3 days. I had a treacherous work day ahead of me filled with patients and evaluations, as well as an urgent problem my boss told me I must solve right away. I didn’t think I could do it.
She calmly said to me, “Lindsay, you WILL get through this. You’re just tired. And as you go through your day, I want you to remember that you are a better Physical Therapist because you’re a mom, and you’re a better mom, because you’re a Physical Therapist.” Her words hit me hard. Those two different worlds weren’t actually separate at all, they IMPROVE upon each other.
That day as I tackled each problem, I was reminded of all the skills that moms possess which can’t be listed on a resume. We can make dinner, correct math homework, and soothe an aching heart over a lost playground friendship, all while playing dress-up with our one free hand. And because we are masters of the multi-task, and so much more, there is no such thing as an insurmountable task at work. We laugh in the face of work drama and deadlines because working moms can make a conference call while driving multiple kids in 10 different directions for their weekly activities. And working or not, moms are often the last one standing when the household is ravaged by a case of the stomach flu. There’s a reason. We are formidable opponents.
So if I could, I’d put the word MOTHER on the top of my resume. It’s because of that role in life that I care for my patients infinitely more than any textbook could instruct me. No anatomy or biomechanics class can prepare you for what it’s like to deal with people in real pain. But being a mother allowed me to learn that true healing comes when administered with an armful of compassion.
Living in these two worlds has made me more patient with the persistent ebb and flow of family life. The highs and the lows of each moment is savored perhaps a little more because of that fleeting thought that I am not present for each and every obstacle faced before my children. I’m grateful I witnessed the first step, put a Band-Aid over the skinned knee, and rehearsed each line for the school play, in part, because I know I may miss a piece of that the following day. And on that next imperfect day, while working to rehabilitate someone else, I quietly thank my children for the invaluable lessons they taught me.
Having two great loves isn’t a detriment, but an asset. When I tuck my children into bed at night, I whisper to them that though I am someone’s Physical Therapist, I will always be their steadfast Mama. I am both. I am a work in progress and I’m better because these two beautiful worlds support and empower the other.