Family life

Tips for conquering parenting as a husband-and-wife DO team

We both felt the pathway to becoming an osteopathic physician was one of the hardest things we could do. But becoming parents while we both also worked as physicians was an even greater challenge that required even more coordination and sacrifice.


Together for 16 years and married for 13, my husband Tom Leeson, DO, and I—we are both osteopathic physicians—have had a lot of practice at developing and growing our family life. We’ve made many mistakes, experienced challenges and setbacks, and have also enjoyed joyous and celebratory moments together. The common adage is true: parenting will give you some of the lowest lows in life but will also grant you many moments of elation and pure love.

We both felt the pathway to becoming an osteopathic physician was one of the hardest things we could do. But becoming parents while we both also worked as physicians was an even greater challenge that required even more coordination and sacrifice.

Switching focus from getting stuff done to being present

When I walk into an exam room, I have a practice of touching my hand to the doorknob and asking myself the question, “Can I devote my full attention—mind, body and spirit—to this patient?” As osteopathic physicians, we are trained to center our attention and presence toward the patient, which allows us to gather essential information in a history and develop a deep understanding of our patients’ lives. This same attention and presence are what our children crave from us.

A few years into practice—and when I first became a mother—I had an epiphany. Instead of making the goal of every day to get a lot of stuff done, I would instead make the goal of my waking hours to stay present in each moment. If I could not be fully present, it meant I was doing too many things, and some stuff had to go. This was a lightbulb moment; it defined a line in the sand which felt true and honest to my values as a physician and as a parent.

This mental shift also allowed me to prioritize more easily. There are certain things that just have to be done each day as a physician, which can include patient visits, procedures, surgeries, notes, sign-outs—the list goes on. And in training, there are tasks that must be completed in order to move to the next step.

Developing the skill of devoting mindfulness and full presence to each task we must do—no matter how seemingly big or small, or our stage of training or practice—ultimately makes us better at devoting our attention to patients as well as our children.

Chores and housework: What to do as a family and what to outsource

Once we defined these priorities, it made it much easier to figure out what to outsource. It takes a lot of work to keep a household running, especially with children: school, drop-offs, pickups, laundry, packing lunches, planning dinners, snacks and mealtimes, arranging playdates, dishes, cleaning, lawnmowing, landscaping—the list goes on. For our family, we try to take a look at the chores that need to be done and decide what chores we enjoy doing and what brings us together as a family.

For example, our kids are ages 5 and 9, and they love to help Swiffer the floors. It’s the perfect chore for them! We get into it and put music on and do it all together—it becomes a combo of getting a chore done and enjoying family time.

For my husband, gardening and landscaping is a mindfulness activity, so he does that. For me, folding the laundry is my time to put on music and have some Zen time. We try to center what we do on what gives us downtime or relaxation.

The rest, we make decisions about what to outsource. For us, lawnmowing and full house cleaning are two things we’ve needed to outsource—this may change as our kids get older and develop skills and interest in doing them. But for now, it’s what we need to do to have enough time in our schedules for the most important things: quality time with our children and our patients, and self-care for ourselves.

Scheduling and communication

There is no perfect schedule for any family, and for us, with two physicians—one in family medicine and one in urgent care/emergency medicine—it is a constant puzzle we are putting together and moving around to make better.

Routines help children thrive, so we try to arrange our schedules to ensure that our children are attuned to a routine. In family medicine, this can be easier than with shift work in urgent care or the ED. If we cannot make the routine be exactly the same each day, we strive to at least make it fit within a week.

Monday is Daddy’s late night, Tuesday and Wednesday are family nights, Thursday is Mommy’s late night and Friday we might have a dinner or event taking us into the weekend. We each have weekend clinics or shifts about once per month, and we try to schedule them so that we don’t have multiple weekends in a row where we are not together as a family.

Another critical factor which makes this all work is communication. We have a family calendar that serves as our reference point for what we are doing and when, and we get very detailed with it, including information for each of us, including playdates and activities. It is absolutely essential to schedule in self-care for us as parents as well, and those events go into the schedule as protected time. Whether that’s exercise, doctor’s appointments, therapy, a massage, reading or writing—these are all activities that are important to keep us functioning well as both parents and as DOs.

Some of our go-to, kid-friendly activities that are easy on adults after a long shift include heading to the playground, trampoline park, museums or taking a dip in the water. We also love to go to our local library for storytime, bingo or reading time with the kids. We try to be compassionate with ourselves about device use—we let our kids use devices sometimes when we need a break too or need to get things done, but try to limit it as much as is possible and realistic.

Our favorite part of the day

From a young age, taking the example my own mother set for me, I knew I wanted to be a working mom. I expected that it would be difficult. Little did I know how crazy it actually would be, but also how absolutely fulfilling it would become. My head is spinning sometimes, but my heart is so very full.

My favorite part of each day is when I put my children to bed, watching their eyes flutter with sleepiness and having them settle into their beds or my arms. There are some nights I miss it because I am working. Other nights, it isn’t as peaceful—someone is resisting sleep, needing to do just “one more thing,” or wanting to talk about their day. The evenings are often when it is most important as a parent to remember to be present.

Just as I would do with a patient, I center my energy to listen to them, to hear and hold their ideas, fears and reflections, and to help give them a moment of peace. Then, I remember what I need to do to take care of myself, so that I can continue to have the strength and resilience to be there in full presence for all of the meaningful moments.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Related reading:

Childcare during residency: Balancing two full-time jobs

3 things I wish I knew about being a mother in medical training

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