Career Paths Chosen With Motherhood in Mind
Dr. Jennifer Matthews and her daughter, Saylor.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Jennifer Matthews
Part two of our series on working mothers focuses on two Triangle moms who planned successful careers that didn’t conflict with their other job title: Mom.
Working mothers know the challenges of caring for children and succeeding at work. We often make life decisions to help us fulfill these dueling roles. But what happens when our plans fall apart?
Two Triangle-area women — one divorced and one separated — have faced unforeseen obstacles with courage. Here are their stories.
A Healing Choice
Ever since she was a child, Dr. Jennifer Matthews knew she wanted to be a pediatrician. She wanted to help others heal. But as she got older, she realized she also wanted to be a mother. In college, she opted to study dentistry, a career that would allow her to help patients while maintaining a flexible lifestyle, since dentists generally work fixed hours four days a week, unlike pediatricians, and dental emergencies tend to be few compared with the medical emergencies pediatricians often face.
Matthews reasoned that she could earn a good salary and be relatively independent, since dentists can own their own businesses. What she didn’t foresee was that she would face parenthood as a single mother.
“You never imagine when you get married and have a child that you’re not going to one day have a co-pilot to balance everything with,” she says.
But in 2010 — five years after graduating from the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry — Matthews found herself divorced, single-parenting and running the Reflections Dental practice in Raleigh for a friend who had bought it.
“I was building a brand-new business for someone else, while my home life was falling apart, she recalls. “I did experience a tremendous amount of unbalance in myself — emotionally, spiritually and physically — for probably about the first three years (after my divorce). And it took me some time to understand the extent of my domestic responsibilities and (to achieve) a comfortable balance.”
In 2014, Matthews bought Reflections Dental from her friend, adding “business owner” to her many roles. Her daughter, Saylor, is now 7. Although life can be stressful, she says she has managed to prevail with the help of friends, family, a strong spiritual community and some effective strategies.
“One thing that’s really important that I’ve done is having a support circle — a loving social network of people, friends,” she says, adding that even when “you don’t want to step forward and ask for help because you don’t want to seem weak … it’s very important that you accept help for the love of your child and for the love of yourself.”
Having a “back up” plan is also essential in case of emergencies, such as a sick child or a broken water heater. Getting enough sleep and exercise is equally important. She says she sticks to her routine of heading to the grocery on Sundays, list in hand, so she can make meals for the week. She reads self-help and motivational books and believes in seeking therapy if it’s needed.
At work, she says she surrounds herself with staff members who have a positive attitude and tries to lead them the same way “because you always get back what you put out to the universe.”
Still, Matthews believes in giving herself a break when she needs it and will, for example, head to a restaurant if she’s just too tired to cook.
“I think that is really hard for women because we really try, we really think we can do it all,” she says. “You have to make the time for yourself. In order for me to be a good mother, I have to take care of myself, so that is very, very important.”
Photo of Erin Studdard and her daughter, Hailey, courtesy of Erin Studdard
A Career Cure
Erin Studdard is the owner of Burn Bootcamp in Durham, which provides personal training for women and onsite childcare while they work out. Recently separated, she juggles co-parenting her 9-year-old and running a business, and admits to working seven days a week. But she finds time to volunteer at her daughter’s school and make home-cooked meals. She may appear to be at the top of her game, but getting there was a rough climb.
In 2007, Studdard was a stay-at-home mom. Shortly after having surgery, which forced her to abruptly stop breast-feeding, she sank into a deep postpartum depression, although she did not know what was happening to her. At the time, she thought she was being lazy and she was embarrassed about it.
“It was the worst time of my life,” she recalls. “I knew something was wrong. I knew it was ridiculous that I couldn’t get up and live life, but I physically wasn’t able to.”
Then her brother died unexpectedly, and she decided to seek help from a psychologist and her physician, who helped her move out of the depression with medicine, therapy and exercise. She trained for her first half marathon, began eating healthy foods and started the climb back up to good health, which took a year and a half.
“Once I realized what I was going through I was like, ‘I know it isn’t laziness, and now I know how to fix it.”
Studdard worked out during the day. “Honestly, fitness was probably the biggest lifesaver for me — even at the time I was on medication,” she says. “But the fitness component of it was what was really building up my confidence.”
Her life took another unexpected turn in February 2009 while having lunch with a friend who told her that her daughter was going through postpartum depression. “I remember leaving that lunch telling her that fitness was really helping me,” Studdard says. “She was going to tell her daughter about the program I was doing. I left there thinking I needed to become a personal trainer — and not just a personal trainer — I needed to be a personal trainer for moms. … Within three months, I had enrolled in the personal trainer school in Raleigh and six months later, I graduated.”
In 2010, she began personal training mothers part-time before opening her Burn Bootcamp business in June 2013. She says she leaped at the opportunity to open Burn Bootcamp because the franchise offers onsite childcare to mothers, a service she could never offer customers in her backyard. Her business, she says, creates a community of mothers who support each other.
“When our moms walk in here in the gym, it doesn’t matter where they come from, what they do for a living, who they are, how old they are — they come into this community and they are friends,” she says. “They lift together, they work out together. They go to breakfast together. They encourage each other. They run races together. But they bring it outside of fitness and start bringing it to the real world.”
Odile Fredericks is the web editor at Carolina Parent.