A Working Mother’s Way of Just Clowning Around

By Mary Anne C. Murphy, OD May 10, 2017

Mornings in the Murphy household are hectic to say the least. Making lunches, checking email, feeding the dogs, ensuring homework is complete, and the ever-impossible task of getting the kids to put their shoes on so we can be out the door on time. You know the drill; it's all of that and more before 7:30 a.m.

For years, I struggled with the balance of being a mother and an optometric practice owner. For years, I worried about dedicating equal parts of time to both tasks to create the area's finest practice and the community's most well-rounded children. For years, I burned the candle at both ends, staying up late and getting up early to ensure it could all be done. For years, I attended lectures given by successful women about how to balance it all. Why did I keep going to these lectures? Maybe because I just wasn't getting that “pearl of wisdom” we all desire to make it all come together magically.

That is, until one day I was listening to a speaker at a local women's charity event who said something akin to, “Balance Schmalance! There is no such thing. We are circus performers. We are jugglers with many balls in the air simply trying to keep them in the air.” She went on to say that, essentially, one thing will always get more attention that than another—AND THAT'S OKAY! Some days you will lean on your partner or your family to help out with shuttling the kids to and from hockey practice. Believe it or not, it doesn't take away my “Mom of the Year” title if I delegate that task. Some days I lean on my associates to lead a staff meeting or meet with a vendor—AND THAT'S OKAY, TOO! 

Another lesson learned over the years that has helped me to be a better circus performer is the concept of trust. I should be able to create an environment where I can be absent from any part of my life for a week without creating a complete catastrophe—implying that I should have systems and a leadership structure in place that can function in my absence. If work requires me to be gone for a trade show, my children should know that they will be clothed, fed and housed, and I should have people in place that can provide that for them. Someone should know where we keep the markers. Someone should know where to find the tennis schedule. If I have a sick child and I need to be home snuggling and cuddling for a week, then my staff should know how to order more toilet paper, give a patient refund, and exchange some contact lenses.

Any type A control freak (not that I claim to know what that's like) would know that giving up control of these seemingly menial tasks can be difficult. Without being the sole source of provisions and information, will I lose value? The simple answer is no. On the contrary, extreme value is created by encouraging self-sufficiency, building leaders and designing an environment where you can exist without being in the center. Now, don't get me wrong. Every mother feels like a household will not run at peak performance in her absence. Additionally, every practice owner feels that a practice will not run at peak performance in his or her absence. The dashboard won't be evaluated, appointment slots may go unfilled, work will be shirked, and heaven forbid, someone might actually buy the wrong brand of toilet paper! But, my dears, life will go on. The juggler will continue to keep the balls in the air, and no one's health or safety will be compromised. 

I am not going to try to fool you and say it's easy or that these systems always work, but you already know that. It’s not unlike any environment where there are full-time responsibilities. If I were a full-time stay-at-home mother, I would have times when I can't always be at the top of my game. I may have one kid that needs to be at a robotics tournament at the same time as another needs to be at scouts. And they would, of course, be on opposite ends of the city. If I were a full-time optometrist and practice owner, I may have times when we weren't running full-steam ahead, where I am less focused on practice management and more on clinical care. But that perfect balance is the topic for another discussion.

When someone asks how I do it all—balance being a mom with having a full-time job—I  simply say that I am a circus clown. I wear a smile and keep juggling the balls in the air. And every once in a blue moon, like that treasured circus clown Emmett Kelly, you will see a tear. Sometimes I stress out. Sometimes I feel defeated and just want to quit. But, that's okay. As I see it, I am still a very, very happy clown. 

And as a side note, I know many people are a little freaked out by clowns. That's okay too. We're used to that.

How do the mothers in your life balance it all?

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