Moms Make it Work: Julia | Part-Time Working, Canadian Mom

Today on the Moms Make it Work series we have another Julia (yay!) who is a blog reader that emailed offering her story. Julia is in Canada, works part-time as a Pediatrician, is married to a full-time OB-GYN, and has one adorable daughter named Sophie. When Julia emailed me she mentioned that she'd like to shed a bit of light on working part-time, and how it's seen as the 'holy grail' for a lot of moms when it comes to balance. Favorite quote of Julia's: 'Working part-time does sometimes feel like I get the ‘best of both worlds’, but there is also a significant risk of feeling like I am not living up to expectations on both fronts because I am spreading myself too thin.' This sounds a lot like how I feel---doing a lot of things, but none of them WELL. Jack of all trades, master of none...or something like that. Anyway, I 100% agree, and hate to complain about my own part-time job, since it really is a fantastic balance for me and my family. But it's not PERFECT as no situation claims to be, and that is the entire point of this series. The grass isn't always greener, but we all 'make it work' and there are still so many positives in all of our situations. I'm sure you will enjoy Julia's post as much as I did!


Hi! I’m Julia - I’m a mum, part-time pediatrician, and live with my husband Graeme and 2-year-old daughter Sophie in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I have been following Julia’s blog after stumbling onto it just before my daughter was born, right around the time when Cecelia made her appearance. Like many of you, I have really enjoyed following her posts (and am constantly envious of her family’s renovation skills) but have especially loved this series. When she asked for more volunteers to share their stories I was keen for the opportunity if I could fill a need. There is a little part of me that has always wished I could keep up a blog, especially as much of my family lives quite far away, but through writing this post I definitely have reaffirmed that I could not do this on a regular basis – it took me waaay longer than I thought (and I am much too wordy when I write)!! I truly admire you blogging moms who figure out how to document things in such a coherent way. On that note, I hope you are all able to get a little enjoyment out of my “I’m trying to be a blogger” guest post… at the very least you can just skim the pictures of my cute kid.

My background story: career/schooling and how we got here…


I'll spare you the lengthy story of my long schooling 'career' (I'll save the rambling for a little later in the post...) but suffice to say that while living it, it did not always seem like I was on the step-by-step path to being a doctor, but looking back that's sort of how it went. I moved up to Edmonton (a city 3 hours north of where I grew up) for my undergrad, which I came out of 4 years later with a Bachelor degree in Physiology. Then I ended up staying here for 4 years of medical school, during which I met my husband Graeme (we got married during my 4th year) and as he was already in a residency program here, this is where I completed my 4-year residency in Pediatrics. Lucky for me the Peds program at our university is very very good, and we have a fantastic children's hospital where I spent most of my time, so it was not at all a compromise to stay here. Graeme was 2 years ahead of me in med school, but his residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology was 5 years long, so we ended up finishing just one year apart (this luckily also meant we were studying for our big exams in different years - I can't imagine doing that at the same time!) 

Graeme and I got married in 2008, and soon after I finished med school. We lived the hard-working life of a resident couple for 3 years, through his exam year during which I was also Chief resident, and then through my exam year, which was his first year in practice. Throughout this we knew we wanted to start a family, and after a rough and disappointing early loss of a first pregnancy in 2010, it took us another year to get pregnant with our Sophie. In the end, everyone thought we timed things perfectly (ha! Right…): I studied for my licensing exams during my pregnancy, flew to Ottawa (exams for all specialists across Canada have a component that has to be done in Ottawa, for us a 4-5 hour flight away) at 33 weeks pregnant, and then was able to start my maternity leave 2 weeks before the end of residency. I had 4 weeks off to prep before Sophie made her appearance in July 2012. Seriously, I have lost track how many times I thank my lucky stars looking back that I was able to finish residency before she was born. 2014-06-15_0001

Now, I'm sure you have all heard about our amazing maternity leave in Canada: 12 months of maternity/parental leave (meaning job security and employment insurance (EI) paid out to you during this time), and many jobs (including my residency training position) include a 12-14 week top-up pay to between 80-90% of your salary. Yes, we are a lucky bunch, and I am blown away by how you are all expected back to work so early. But regardless of the policies in Canada, the reality is that doctors who have babies rarely take longer than 3-4 months of maternity leave before returning to work, and often less. One benefit of taking maternity leave while still in residency was that I was eligible for my year of EI pay - once you become a practicing physician we are technically 'self-employed' and no longer pay into EI, which means that for any future maternity leaves I will not be eligible for the year of (at least some) pay. Plus, once one becomes a practicing physician you have usually built up a practice of patients for whom you need to find a locum doctor while you are on leave, a reason many colleagues give as to why they return to work when they do. But the other side that I heard so often when asked "how much time are you taking off?" (I was always adamant I was taking a year) was the response "don't you worry you'll forget it all/get rusty/lose all the things you just studied so hard for?" Ummm, yes, thank you for pointing out the obvious to an emotional, stressed-out preggo/new mom... But luckily I also had some trusted colleagues who told me that yes, I would feel rusty coming back, but many people do (and the knowledge will always be there to brush up on) - it's the skills that will stick with me. So I welcomed my year 'off' with open arms, and dove right in to new motherhood.
Despite being adamant that I wanted to take a full year off of work (and being very thankful that financially that was a possibility for our family), I knew that I would have to return to work at least somewhat. I had times when I wanted to stay-at-home full time, but I knew deep down that I could not let my skills and knowledge that I had spent so much time, money, and energy learning over the last 12 years slip away. I also felt that I owe it to the public to use those skills – my spot in medical school or residency could easily have been used for someone else who would work to serve the public good, I needed to be able to feel like I was doing my part too. This is balanced by the realization that these young childhood years (or should I say “mamahood years”) are short (even though some days seem unending) and being a mother was truly what I always wanted to be. This role defines me more than any other, and working full-time (which for a physician is easily 50-60+ hours/week) right now is something I know I would regret later. Luckily with my husband working full-time, I have the freedom to find a work situation that ticks both those boxes: I work two days per week, and the rest of the time I spend my days with Sophie. We have a part-time nanny who we (and Sophie) adore, and for the last (almost) year we have had a nice little groove going on. My husband does work a lot – generally full days during the week with at least one or two nights a week working late or on call – meaning at the hospital overnight (and truly, completely useless the next couple days at home as a ‘good night’ on call means maybe 1-2 hours sleep, and he often works the next day), and about one weekend a month on call. But we are learning more and more what we need to do in our ‘time off’ to feel balanced, and he is learning to say no to certain things in his job. We are very thankful that what he does enables us to have the life we live.

In no way do I feel like I am “doing it all”, and there are often times I feel like I am dropping balls ALL over the place (work/life/friends/relationship/home…), but here are some snippets of how we’ve been making it work…

The best parts and the most challenging parts:

The best parts are definitely the weeks where things balance out and I feel like I truly get the best of both worlds – my time at home with Sophie, going to swimming lessons and music class with her, going for the occasional playdate with other mums, and feeling so on top of things when our meal plan works out and most meals get prepped during naptime. Another definite ‘best part’ is having our nanny, who truly makes me a better mother. She comes 2 ½ days per week – the two full days I work and she is here for 10 hours, but the extra day (usually Mondays, which makes Mondays SO much better!) she comes for a few hours, vacuums the house (while I take Sophie to music class) and then watches Sophie while I go run errands. She also cleans kitchens/bathrooms while Sophie naps, so I always come home to a clean kitchen and a pretty tidy house on those days, which is absolutely golden. I often want to hug her when I come home. 2014-06-15_0004

Yes, working part-time is often revered as the ‘holy grail’ of motherhood – just enough time to be away from home, feel like an adult, and just enough time to do the daily routines and fun outings with the kidlet(s). And I am so.very.thankful that I get the opportunity to have my hands a little in both. But there are definitely downsides that aren’t always so apparent to others. I want to explain a little here – please don’t take this as me whining about a wonderful situation, the reason I want to write these down is that in many of these guest posts there are mothers in both the full-time work/full-time at home situations that use the ‘part-time’ as their ideal, and I hope that by speaking a little about the down sides, some of you may be able to find more joy or contentment in your current ‘full-time’ situations. 

While I am incredibly lucky to have found very understanding and supportive colleagues, when I started working I realized it was the first time in my life that I have not been able to give my all to something. Throughout my schooling, and especially in my 12 years of post-secondary training (crazy how long it was looking back) I was very good at pushing myself to ‘do my best’ in what I was trying to accomplish. Sure you do some things on the side (everyone needs distractions/hobbies) but when it came down to it I could apply myself fully to one aspect of myself, which was usually my training/career. Right after my exams were written, I was on maternity leave for a year – and I took full advantage of feeling 100% like a mum. I lived and breathed Sophie, and while some friends and family reminded me that I needed to ‘keep doing things for me’, for the most part I felt like this was for me – I had wanted to be raising a babe for so long, and other than a couple dinners out with friends, I was very happy applying myself fully to Sophie (and of course decorating the nursery, shopping for baby clothes… etc ) Did I succeed in ‘doing’ all the things I wanted to during that year? Of course not (I still have not finished, or started, her “First year photo book”…). 

When I started work it was truly the first time I had to juggle two different worlds – or two different versions of ‘me’. I enjoy what I do when I’m in clinic, the care I can provide to children and their families, and even as the ‘rusty’ feeling I had when I started does fade, I know I COULD be much more knowledgeable in many areas that would help my work. There are so many things I should read or brush up on, but only spending 2 days at work (Tuesday/Fridays, so not consecutive), I feel like my time needs to be very booked up with seeing patients (and the paperwork that comes with that). Even though I have 3 full weekdays “at home” – when I’m home I want to spend my time with Sophie, and during the times that I would have to read (naptime and after bed), those get filled up with things that are needed for my “stay-at-home” hat… making dinner, tidying the house, laundry, and home things that I try to make time for like organizing and “home-making” (I always have a list of projects going, not always so successful at finishing them all… but there’s always something on the go). 2014-06-15_0005

And that brings me to my other biggest challenge – while I have a wonderful husband who is an amazing father to our little girl, when it comes to the work/SAH stuff… he just doesn’t get it. Yes, we are a team and he contributes SO much to day-to-day raising our toddler (he is great with her, often does bathtime and now a combo of bedtime whenever he is home, and picked up a lot more cooking duties when she was an infant), he does not fully understand or value having me stay at home with Sophie rather than work. He supports my decisions, both morally and financially, but he does not understand the aspects of why I stay home rather than earning a very good income if I worked those extra days. That being said, we have a strong relationship and very much value each of us finding our ideal work/life balance, but I think because of the above I feel the need to ‘produce’ certain tangible things from my days at home (such as meals and “keeping the home”) which sometimes I succeed at, and other times I fail miserably. And I say it here for all of you out there who feel a bit of the “he just doesn’t get it” pressure – making a home, and keeping a home, is time-consuming. Even if our husbands (or wives) don’t understand the ins and outs… we’re still doing a good job. And we still love them, despite that. 

Working part-time does sometimes feel like I get the ‘best of both worlds’, but there is also a significant risk of feeling like I am not living up to expectations on both fronts because I am spreading myself too thin. Part of that balance exists in everyone’s life (especially parents), regardless of the full- or part-time roles we have, and I learn so much from hearing others stories here about similar juggling situations on how you make it work. 2014-06-15_0006

How we do meals/groceries:

I do feel like we have a pretty good groove going on in the last 6 months with this. Because we have our nanny come for a few extra hours on Mondays to help with some housework and then watch Sophie, I use this time to go sit in a coffee shop (and enjoy a latte and finish it all in one sitting!!) and meal plan for the week. I plan meals for each weekday – I try to keep meals for work days (and only get home right at 6pm) very easy or something that our nanny can prep and I can whip up in a few minutes – meal salads, eggs+toast/omelettes (we have a “Breakfast for dinner” night usually once every 1-2 weeks), or something I can make the night before and just reheat. For days that I will be home with Sophie, I try to find recipes that I can mostly prep or make while she is napping (usually from 1-3pm) and pop in the oven or on the BBQ before my husband gets home around 6. Then I make my master shopping list, and I get to grocery shop in peace. My husband does occasionally cook, and he is pretty good at it, but because his days often run late, it is usually on the weekends. One task that I despise? Doing dishes… I am very thankful that Graeme generally does them after dinner every night he is home. And for the days that he is on call or away in the evenings – we plan something very easy (and I load as much as possible into the dishwasher). 

A note for moms reading this with infants: IT GETS EASIER! I distinctly remember thinking when Sophie was 4-6 months old “am I EVER going to be able to cook a meal again?” – even when I would try to plan to have the groceries we needed to make a certain recipe in the house, as I was trying to put a meal together Sophie wanted to nurse or was really fussy/clingy. I was lucky that my husband did do quite a bit more cooking until our daughter was about 8-10 months old, then I was slowly able to find a better schedule as to when to prep/make dinners (ideally NAP TIME). 2014-06-15_0007

How we do cleaning:
As I alluded to before, I am so so so thankful that our nanny does some cleaning for us. Prior to having her, we did have a cleaning lady come once every 3-4 weeks to do a deep clean of the house, but then when our nanny started and she was able to get a lot of the (quiet) cleaning done while Sophie napped, we ended up asking her if she wouldn’t mind coming a couple extra hours a week to do the big stuff (vacuuming, etc) and we no longer needed the once monthly clean. I definitely think that if there is any extra cash in your budget for someone to clean every so often it is money very well spent, as I count it as time I am buying myself to spend doing something fun with Sophie (or for myself) that otherwise would be spent cleaning. Plus I am a slow cleaner… I’ve just accepted that. That being said, tidying the house is something I do struggle at keeping up with – I have always been someone who puts things into piles to tidy them up, much to my husband’s unhappiness. It is also much more difficult to keep things tidy in piles with a toddler around the house – nothing stays where you put it. Over the past year I have tried very hard to find a ‘place’ for everything that comes into our house – especially in the most used areas. All the toys in our living room/Sophie’s room have specific places to be put away, which we generally do after the little one is in bed (as most of you mention, to avoid having her coming behind us and undoing it all). I am still working on finding ‘places’ for everything in our den and downstairs area – which often becomes a repository for things that I need to put away: clothes/toys that Sophie has outgrown, paperwork or things I need to read for work that I don’t want to put away or I’ll forget about them, projects I’ve half-finished (again, don’t want to put them away or I’ll forget about them!) My husband does not love this side of things, but hey, we all have to live with some things we don’t love, right? I’m working on it…  2014-06-15_0008

Is this our ideal situation?

At this point in our lives, I would say we are pretty darn close. If I were to be able to choose my ideal I would want to live closer to my parents (who are 3 hours away) and my sisters (who both live in Europe), and to have my husband feel like his work/life balance is a little more manageable. But overall, I don’t think I could dream up a better day-to-day flow than we have now. Just maybe to request more hours in a day or needing less sleep??

Do I see a career change in the next 5-10 years?

This is a tough question for me, mostly because to be honest my career as a pediatrician would have likely looked a lot different if we did not have kids at this time (I enjoyed doing a lot more inpatient and NICU). But it is completely my choice to put my motherhood role first, and I do not feel like I am losing out. I knew when I married my husband that because of his work as an OB, and because I wanted to be a mother and stay home part-time, that my pediatric career would take a back seat. I am happy to be able to be a good clinic pediatrician, and when my own children are older I may get back into the inpatient/intensive care settings, but I know I would likely need some more training to brush up my skills in those areas before I would feel comfortable going back. So for the next 5 years – hopefully status quo, but after that, I guess we’ll see. 2014-06-15_0009

Thoughts on “mommy guilt”

I’ve thought quite often about what “mommy guilt” actually is, and I think I can pretty reliably say that I’m not very affected by it – with one caveat. When it comes to what we do with Sophie and the life she lives (with us or spending time with our nanny) I don’t feel guilty because I know that kids with multiple strong, safe caregivers in their lives do very well and I know our nanny also provides Sophie with opportunities that I could not give her (one among many: she speaks to her in Spanish, and Sophie understands completely and has many Spanish words). I feed her a healthy diet, we make rational, safe, well-thought-out decisions for our child, and she is surrounded by love. The caveat is that I do think I was somewhat affected by the feeling that there was so much I wanted to do with my baby as she was growing up and I missed the ball on a lot of them – taking hand/foot prints while she was tiny, documenting her baby book or a blog, keeping up on all the pictures we take, (and now that she runs from the camera or wants to look at the back of it) not taking enough pictures. The more I thought about those things, I realized that they were all things that I had put on myself. Sophie does not care that those things were or were not done, and I know that I have enough pictures that she’ll be able to look back on her childhood us growing as a family. Once I realized I was not letting anyone else down, I have been able to give up the feeling of guilt and be happy with ‘good enough’ in that area. And when I get some extra time to put a few more hours into organizing photos and making photo books, I’ll do it. But I don’t let myself feel guilty if it does not get done until tomorrow, because no one was expecting it but me. 2014-06-15_0010

Tips on how we make this work:

The best tip I was given by a mother about being a mother, was to give yourself grace. Things don’t always go as planned, we don’t always react/act how we would like or how we thought we would, there are wonderful moment/days and there are days where you can’t believe it’s only 8/9/10am because you still have to make it through another 12+ hours of this craziness. But after all… this too shall pass… whether it’s a cranky babe who refuses to sleep, or the dinner that did not get made, or the house that looks like a bomb went off – years, heck, even weeks from now we won’t remember those things, we will remember the good parts. It’s important to keep sight of the bigger picture, thank your lucky stars your kids are healthy enough to be little rascals (or little terrors…), and don’t forget to hold on to those precious moments when they let you kiss them, cuddle them, or when they are just too sweet for words.

{Thanks, Julia! Find the rest of the MMIW series here}


  1. Loved this post Julia! This really hit me because it has a lot of the aspects of my own life. I especially liked what you said about the mommy guilt because I DO suffer from mommy guilt, but like you said, it is all my own thinking. The things I feel "guilty" about are things my kids do not care about in the least... so I should just let them go. Good point! Also loved this because of the schooling, I can so relate that I can not imagine having done my schooling while pregnant/raising kids, etc. So much better to "just" be working and raising kids!

    1. Thanks Jodi! I don't know if this comment will show up multiple times... it is taking me eons to figure out this comment signing in thing. Anyway... thank you for your kind words and I'm so happy you could take something so positive from this - I know I have taken many great things from the MMIW posts too!! Thanks!

  2. I really enjoyed this post! You seem to have a great balance and your daughter is so lucky she gets to spend lots of time with you while also watching you develop in your hard-earned career. Also, I once heard that cleaning with young children in the house is like "brushing your teeth with Oreos" and I couldn't agree more.

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment, Sammy! I hope this balance continues but it is always in constant motion with the changes that come as kids grow up... crazy to think even 6 or 12 months ago things were so different - but exciting too. And I'm filing away that little cleaning quote, love it :) Thanks!

  3. My favorite line was , "But I don’t let myself feel guilty if it does not get done until tomorrow, because no one was expecting it but me." Such wonderful words of wisdom! I feel like I always have such a long list of things that I want to books, baby books, shadow boxes, basically anything off of pinterest...but the only one that expects that is me. So, the guilt from not doing them needs to go. Well said and helpful for me to release some of the pressure to complete everything!

    1. Thank you, so glad to hear you were able to see a new perspective from my post :) I know I would LOVE Pinterest, but honestly I've been not letting myself join because I know it would just add a whole bunch of 'things/projects' to my to-do list that I just can't feel bad about not getting done. Not now anyway :) Good luck!!

  4. As another Part-time working mama, I feel like I cal relate totally. I tell people it is both the best of both worlds and the worst of both worlds. :) Loved reading this profile!

    1. Yes, completely true. I hope you have many more weeks of 'best of both', rather than 'worst of both'... but they are both there. Thanks for your kind words :)


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