KC Moms That Inspire: Sarah Soden, Director, Center for Pediatric Genomic Medicine

sarah sodenThis year for Mother’s Day, we’re celebrating motherhood by featuring several local moms who play important roles both in their families and the Kansas City community. These moms have encouragement for all of us as we care for ourselves, our families and our work.

Sarah Soden is the Director of the Center for Pediatric Genomic Medicine at Children’s Mercy. Dr. Soden leads the fastest clinical whole genome analysis in the world, being named one of TIME magazine’s Top 10 Medical Breakthroughs in 2012. Dr. Soden leads a team that uses genomic tests to uncover elusive diagnoses, saving time and money, and changing treatment for infants and children. She has two sons, ages 13 and 15.

You obviously chose a career path that requires a lot of time and energy. How do you balance your responsibilities as mom and doctor?

Early on, I was incredibly lucky to have a very supportive boss who was a woman and mother. She enabled me to actually make a lot of changes in my schedule from year to year. During their early years, my FTE was 50%, but it varied between 20 and 80 depending on various demands on me at the time.  2004-2011 were the years my position fluctuated and I know not everyone is so lucky. I felt so grateful. I’m full time now and have been since 2011.

What have your boys learned from having a working mom?

When my boys were little, so many of my physician friends and coworkers were women that one of my sons thought that all doctors were women.  He was terribly confused the first time he came into contact with a male doctor! I thought that was really funny. I loved that. Obviously my boys think women can do anything men can do. In recent years, my career has been based in science and research, and now they have taken an interest in genetics and genomics, too. They’ve even talked about future careers in science and research.

They also don’t take it granted that I will do every little thing for them. If I ask them to unload the dishwasher, they realize mom really needs you to pitch in.

How do you handle the inevitable guilt we all experience as we work to take care of ourselves as mothers, our marriages and kids?

Mom guilt. I’ve handled it every way from beautifully to meltdown. When they kids were littler, I was harder on myself. Over time, I have become much more gentle with myself about realizing that nobody is perfect. Moms make mistakes, no matter what the circumstances. Mothers in all kinds of situations, whether they work a lot or work at home, are hard on themselves when kids are little. By having a lot of other working women in my life, we all support each other in trying to learn how to not being so hard on ourselves.

How has working at Children’s Mercy affected your own perspective on parenting?

The patients that I see are kids with disabilities, a variety of different types. I do bring it home some but in a way that doesn’t take away from my family. My boys are very compassionate and aware there are lots of different types of kids. Even kids that are in their schools, might be struggling with a disability. I try to bring that home in a way that adds to our family rather than takes away.

What ends up being tougher to manage is if I have deadline for writing something, whether it’s a grant or article or even my patient care notes. Sometimes I think that adds stress to my home life whether I’m aware of it or not. I have to constantly work on being aware and trying to let go of stress when I can. 

What is your advice for mothers in the trenches with young children?

Try to be gentle with yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Even myself and moms that I have known are sometimes reluctant to accept the help that’s offered to them. In the past it was more common to hav emultiple generations living close together or even under the same roof. Moms had a lot more emotional support, support for what it feels like go through a day as a mother with young kids. I think we have lost some of that support with the way our society has naturally evolved.

As much as you can, connect with other stay at home moms or moms dealing with similar issues. Allowing others to help you in tangible ways or with emotional support is really beneficial.

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