My Mothers and Being a Better Doctor

As we near the end of May and keeping with celebrating our mothers, we realize how influential our mothers and mother figures have been and are in our lives. We thank these wonderful women for their guidance and love. We soul-search and find that good or bad, they have made their mark on us. We are who we are because of the remarkable women in our lives.

I have had three mothers in my life—my mother, my maternal grandmother, and my mother-in-law. Each woman has had a tremendous impact on me and in very different ways.

My mother was and is a very powerful person personally and professionally.  She had very firm beliefs about life and how “to be” as she raised her two children. As a professional woman and physician during a time when males dominated the medical work force, I believe my mother had to be that much more self-confident, dedicated, and assertive than her male counterparts. However, she was also a firm believer in always maintaining a feminine and sophisticated demeanor. Her Asian upbringing made her very aware about her female position in society. She would “appear” submissive, when in fact, she was not. She always knew that she had to put forth much more drive and energy to achieve equal footing as her male counterparts, but she always did so with great respect and elegance.

I have made reference to her being a “tiger mom” in my past musings. She was not a mother in the traditional definition. She was a workaholic and a career woman and did not truly enjoy the domestic side of family life. She never baked for the bake sale at school or volunteered in the classroom. Her own mother took care of the household, so she was free to focus on her career. I truly believe that this drive that shaped her as a professional woman and pushed me as her daughter allowed me to be as successful as I could be. Of course, I made sacrifices, adjustments, and compromises, picking and choosing what worked and what didn’t, because not everything in my upbringing was a positive or enriching experience.

Where my mother was guiding my academic and professional life, my maternal grandmother gave me the domestic skills of being an accomplished “traditional” woman. She lived with us since I was three years of age, and she took care of everything in my mother’s home. As a small child, I spent all my hours after school with her in the kitchen. Side by side, she taught me to cook, clean, do laundry, iron, garden, sew, and truly enjoy and revel in being an expert in the domestic arena. Martha Stewart had nothing on my grandmother, even in the organization skills. I loved my time with my “halmonyi.”  Thanks to her, my passions are still cooking and crafting to this day. My grandmother imparted to me these wonderful qualities of giving attention to detail and of using my hands and mind to create, cultivate, and nurture, which I still hold so close to me.

Now, my mother-in-law is one I met 27 years ago. And although many women are often at odds and conflict with their mothers-in-law, mine is my friend and mentor in many ways, which is a testimony to her being a great mother herself. She is kind and deferential, and has taught me life lessons in her own quiet way that I will carry with me as my own. She has some adages that always bring a smile to my face. For instance, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” Or “A bored person is boring.” All of her grandchildren have heard different versions of this one over the years. She is a firm believer in turning the other cheek, but not being a doormat. Yes, it is a fine line. Holding grudges is such a waste of emotional energy. We also share the same hobbies and interests such as cooking, baking, and gardening.  I have to admit that beyond the life lessons, my baking skills have stretched and improved thanks to my mother-in-law.

And so here I am, coming full circle as a mother, wife, daughter, friend, sister, doctor, and new businesswoman. I realize that the mothers in my life have shaped me in innumerable ways and have shaped me to be a better version of myself. What has been most surprising to me as I reflect is that these women have influenced not just me on a personal level, but me as a physician and professional woman.  Their example, wisdom, and advice have made me a better doctor. Here’s a list of what I know thanks to them.

  • Always present your best self, because first impressions are everything.
  • If you’re going to do a job, any job, no matter how mundane or trivial, do your best.
  • No matter how hard you work, you know you can always work harder to achieve success.
  • Stay organized.
  • Keep busy and involved.
  • Create.
  • Be kind.
  • Be generous.
  • Forgive.
  • Nurture those around you, whoever they may be.

And on that nurturing note, Happy Spring to all of the mothers who have touched my life in so many immeasurable ways.

My Mothers and Being a Better Doctor