September 12, 2022
by Tracey Hendler, DDS, MSD, Cert. Ortho, FRCD(C)
People often ask me how I “do it all” and if I have any balance in my life. Being a working mom with a busy practice isn’t easy. But I’ve discovered that the key to finding work/life balance is to not do it all.
I’m a partner at Forest Hill Orthodontics – the same practice I went to as a child – and I’m also a partner in Corus Orthodontists, which has evolved as a leading North American values-based OSO in just a few years. I’ve been married to my husband Jonathan Madras, an endodontist, for 10 years, and we have two daughters – Lyla, 6, and Joelle, 4 – who keep us on our toes. I’m also an avid skier and love to travel, pandemic notwithstanding, so the schedule is hectic!
I love my life, and I know that every path has trade-offs. Everyone’s journey is different, and it’s important for those entering the profession to be well informed about their choices. Despite the pressure for orthodontists to follow a prescribed path to success, no two are the same.
So I felt it was important to share my story to help others find their own path to success. But first, a bit of background…
I finished my orthodontic residency and Masters of Science in Dentistry at the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine in New Jersey in 2012, before moving back to Toronto and getting married that summer. I started working at Forest Hill Orthodontics and Davis Orthodontics in the Greater Toronto Area the day after I got home from my honeymoon, in addition to teaching part-time at the University of Toronto in the undergraduate orthodontics program.
In 2014, I left Davis Orthodontics to move to Forest Hill Orthodontics full time while still teaching at U of T. My first child was born in October 2015 and my second in November 2017. Forest Hill Orthodontics was the right fit for me, and by March 2018, I became a partner. Shortly afterward, I joined Corus Orthodontists when it formed in October 2019.
To say my life as a working mom is busy is an understatement. So why, as a parent who’s also juggling a busy career, did I make the professional decisions I did? Here are seven of my personal confessions as a working mom, including the potential trade-offs – and opportunities – they entail.
Even though this doesn’t come naturally to me, I ask for help when I need it. I struggled to do this earlier in my career, but I embrace it now. I’ve built up a village around me, at work and home, which I’ve come to rely on.
At work, I have an amazing team I can depend on, including my partner Dr. Bruno Vendittelli and our Management Team and Associate. Having strong support to help manage the day-to-day and to help manage our team has been instrumental. When we joined Corus in 2019 as founding partners, we also gained operational support and expertise for ongoing management such as HR, marketing and accounting. This has been more impactful than I ever could have imagined to help relieve many of the stresses of running a business.
At home, I also have an amazing partner: my husband of 10 years. I don’t try to “do it all” at home, either. We have a nanny and family support when needed, which I’m grateful for – since not everyone has family ready to help out. I don’t drop the kids off at school; they take the bus. At home, we value our time, so we make trade-offs – for example, we choose to order groceries online so we can spend that time with our children instead.
Sometimes to a fault, I like to do everything myself. But I realized with work and family responsibilities, it’s impossible to do it all yourself. In my experience, trying to pack everything in is a quick path to burnout.
So when do I know I need to ask for help?
First off, I ask myself whether a particular activity or commitment will contribute to my overall goals – and if it’s something I need to do myself or if someone else could do it instead. I trade money for time, because I see my time as valuable, such as having groceries delivered rather than spending a couple of hours going to the grocery store.
I remind myself that there’s no prize for martyrdom – except burnout. This involves letting go of the guilt, but that’s a work in progress, which is why…
I’m as Type A as they come. But after years of striving for perfection in every corner of my life, I’m now trying to bring some balance and perspective into my life. Dr. Sally Safa, a periodontist in Toronto, teaches dentists how to let go of their perfectionist obsessions – and one thing I’ve learned from her is that “done is better than perfect.”
We all have about a million things to do in a day, so I try to focus on the one or two most important and prioritize what can wait until tomorrow. We can’t do everything perfectly all the time – and there’s also a point of diminishing returns where you spend all that extra effort for “perfection.” It is important to realize that there is an opportunity cost to your time for a minuscule benefit.
It’s also important to place boundaries on commitments outside of work. Recognize that you can’t sit on every charity and committee. Recognize that you have limitations. You might still feel guilty – learning to say no is an ongoing process for me – but it’s important to focus on what you can do instead. I choose to do fewer things and do them well, versus trying to do it all.
I also recognize that saying “no” to one opportunity leaves the door open to say “yes” to something else in the future, and we have to be mindful of how far we stretch ourselves at any one time.
There’s often an expectation that we “should” own our practice, that we “should” work full time or, if we have a family, that we “should” work part-time. But only you can figure out what’s right for you.
For me, I knew that I wanted to own a practice. I made deliberate choices about jobs and looked for opportunities with partnership potential. If you’re unsure, spend time exploring options.
I also knew I wanted a partner so I wouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of the entire practice on my own. Plus, I’d have a built-in mentor and could be part of an already successful practice. The choices I made for my career were aligned with my personal goals, and I was deliberate when seeking and accepting opportunities.
I chose not to be a solo practitioner and not to start my own practice. That choice eventually led me to…
Dr. Bruno Vendittelli and I made the decision to join Corus Orthodontists in 2019 as part of the founding group – one year after I became a partner at Forest Hill Orthodontics. At age 35, I felt that joining the network would provide significant benefits to my career over the long term.
Corus is different from other DSO models because we didn’t sell our practice and become lifelong associates. Rather, we became partners in a network where we are invested and share in each other’s growth and success. We gain access to incredible supports while collaborating and learning from a strong network of peers who run successful practices.
Dr. Vendittelli and I had discussed the possibility of one day joining a network, but the prospect of being a long-term associate didn’t appeal to me, especially at a young age. But Corus emerged as a hybrid model between an independent practice and selling to a traditional DSO, allowing us to maintain our clinical autonomy and to participate in financial growth through the network.
We weren’t selling to a corporation where private-equity investors are making decisions and forcing change. It was quite the opposite. Corus is owned and run by doctor-partners who essentially buy in rather than sell out. We are the investors, we are making decisions to shape the direction of the company and we will always make decisions for how we want to practise.
Being part of Corus has helped with balance. I’ve found that with the benefits of administrative and operational support, I can do more of what I love and less of what I don’t – making work more rewarding. It’s truly been a win-win!
I do suffer from “mom guilt” from time to time. I always thought I’d be the type of mom who’d be on the PTA, doing bake sales. Turns out, that is not my jam. The PTA is not for me, and I’ve learned that’s okay. The hardest part (for me) was letting go of the perception in my mind of what I thought I “should” be doing as a parent.
Joining the PTA would draw my attention away from other things that are important to me. I know that I can contribute and support my children and their school in meaningful ways. These may not be the same as the images I had in my mind before the realities of life set in, but they’re just as important.
My guiding principle is to remind myself that I’m setting a good example for my daughters by being authentic to my strengths. I’m not a Pinterest mom; I’m an Amazon Prime mom. I’m not particularly crafty or creative, and I’m not willing to spend time doing things that other people can do better. I’m not the mom who’s bringing freshly baked cookies to the school bake sale. But I am a mom who runs a business, will help sponsor school events and thinks it’s okay to send store-bought cookies for class parties.
I remind myself of this when the mom guilt sinks in, which it inevitably does!
I work at the clinic four days a week. Since I stopped teaching when I had my second child, this gives me a day for administrative work, going to appointments and doing activities with my kids.
But I also schedule time for myself, including regular exercise (even if that means waking up before 6 a.m.), “date nights” with my husband and time with girlfriends. With Corus, I also have a “healthcare spending account” benefit to help cover self-care services like massages. This has been a great value-add…and my team loves it, too!
Moms tend to feel guilty about taking “me” time, but self-care is just as important as taking your kids to the dentist. You can’t give back to others if you don’t take care of yourself first.
I used to do very few things for pure enjoyment – without any kind of purpose or goal. Last winter, I participated in a ski race just for the pure fun and enjoyment of doing something I love that has nothing to do with work.
That’s something I want to do more of. Trying not to do it all takes practice. For me, that means being more disconnected from work during non-work hours, having more hobbies I do just for “fun” and letting go of more guilt. This is a work in progress, but I’ve learned not to expect perfection right away!
When you make choices, there are always trade-offs. As I said, I love my life and I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing – but I’ve had to make bold choices, which means there are certain things I’m just not able to do or haven’t been able to do yet. On the other hand, I’ve also been presented with opportunities I couldn’t have imagined as a result of those choices.
What I’ve learned over the years is that there’s no right or wrong approach. There’s no “one size fits all” practice. As dentists and perfectionists, we think that we have to make the correct choices all the time. I’ve realized that we can try on a role, discover it’s not for us and change course – and that is okay, too.
Success means figuring out what success looks like for you by identifying your goals and trying to match your life as closely as possible to achieve those goals. Maybe your goal is to have enough time to walk your kids to school and join the PTA, so you can choose hours that allow you to do just that. Maybe your goal is to own six practices, so you’ll put in long hours, hire someone to help on the homefront, skip the PTA and bus the kids to school.
Moms (and all dental professionals) should be able to work hard, follow their passions, forge their own unique paths and, most importantly, never feel like any of these things require confessions in the first place. We work in a great field that allows us tremendous flexibility to explore options to find our right balance. Let’s give ourselves and each other permission to figure out what that means for each of us, and lift each other up as we make our way.
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