Saturday, August 25, 2007

Oklahoma City doctor finds her way home

[This article by Isabel Lyman appeared in the August 2005 issue of Perspective, published by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.]

The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night, she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question: "Is this all?"

—Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique

Since Betty Friedan’s polemic about the angst of understimulated suburban housewives was published in 1963, women, over the water cooler and at the play groups, have been pondering whether they can "have it all." Corporate America, government policy analysts, and family experts frequently chime in on this national conversation by offering opinions about biological clocks, daycare, flex-time, tax credits, postpartum depression, self-esteem, and every other angle devoted to figuring out how the fairer sex can juggle the demands of hearth and high-octane outside-the-home pursuits.

It’s almost an anachronistic debate to have in the 21st century, since the glass ceiling on limitations continues to be shattered by a never-ending pool of accomplished women. The current crop of A-list "it" girls includes Secretary of State Condi Rice, race-car driver Danica Patrick, columnist Ann Coulter, talk-hostess Oprah Winfrey, golfer Michelle Wie, and two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank. Unlike the grim, bra-burning feminists of Friedan’s day, these ladies are stylish and photogenic.

But these famous babes don’t have babies, which is one reason why the "female question" remains relevant in 2005. Mothers still have to decide whether to bid adieu to big dreams to stay home and rock the cradle.

Which makes Jana Karim’s story such an intriguing one. Once upon a time she was the high-achieving career woman who had it all, but decided she really, really wanted her nanny’s job.

The 43-year-old blonde is also "Dr. Karim," a specialist in obstetrics/gynecology with a degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine. After two decades in the medical profession, the good doctor had delivered thousands of babies and established a successful practice in metropolitan Oklahoma City. During that time she also wed her soul mate and bore three beautiful children.

Four and a half years ago, she chose to exchange the stethoscope and the bedside manner for the elementary school books and the chauffeuring detail. After retiring from her enviable job, Dr. Karim is now a stay-at-home mom who also homeschools her children, ages 11, 9, and 6.

Her saga begins with a couple of war stories about her dual, frequently complicated former life as a busy mother and physician. "I worked full time and then some," she recalls. "One time, I went three days without seeing the kids. That one tore me apart. (Another time) my oldest would be at the door crying, ‘Mommy, don’t go.’ That was really hard.

"But I enjoyed my work so much, and I loved my patients. I enjoyed it so much that I couldn’t see doing anything else. But God works on you."

A visitor quickly learns that a heart-to-heart conversation with Dr. Karim includes hearing how her Christian faith is the key that helped her answer the familiar, age-old question: "What is my purpose for being here?"

"I know that I wasn’t listening to God when He was telling me what I should do," she says. "In the last few years that I was working, I just knew that I was supposed to be doing something different, as we had things happen. (For instance) we bought a new house that was supposed to be the dream house, but it was infested with fleas."

She smiles at the memory, but the conversation returns to the serious.

"We realized we got caught up in the materialistic side of things—having the best cars, house, vacations—and we weren’t focusing on the spiritual side and ‘making yourself better for God’ side."

While Jana was working through her dark night of the soul (to use the memorable phrase associated with St. John of the Cross), another teachable moment occurred when her eldest child—then a second grader in a public school’s accelerated program—was confined to bed due to an illness. In helping her son with his schoolwork, Jana estimates it took less than an hour to get his work completed.

"I thought, ‘What is he doing with the rest of the time?’ I loved the school, but I realized there was so much more we could do."

She doesn’t recall how she initially heard about homeschooling. "I had met a few homeschoolers," she says. "The church that we were attending had a lot of homeschoolers. But I never really sat and talked with any of them. All I did was research it, and realized it was something I could do and all the benefits we could have from it."

Convinced that the teach-thine-own lifestyle was what she wanted to pursue wholeheartedly, Dr. Karim referenced Gregg Harris’s book The Christian Home School to help her make her case to her lawyer spouse, Andrew Karim. He initially thought her alternative education idea was "nuts," but has since become an enthusiastic supporter.

But embarking on such a lifestyle change—which meant the Karims also had to reinvent themselves as a one-income family—wasn’t easy. Then there was the emotional transition, and the accompanying reaction, to no longer working as a doctor. She says the adjustment took about a year.

"My ego was not being fed at all anymore and that was a very difficult time. I still have my moments when I’m thinking ‘nobody knows me anymore.’ Well, then I think, ‘God knows me.’ And that’s all that matters. My family knows me, and my relationships are so much better than they ever were."

"A few (of my patients) were angry at me for leaving," she says. "Many of them were sad to see me go, but they understood. I had people, who didn’t know me and only heard what I had done, say, ‘What a waste.’"

Even Dr. Karim’s own mother—who brags about her grandchildren as home scholars—was skeptical. She thought her daughter was throwing away a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be independent and make a difference.

"It’s been hard for her to watch," Dr. Karim says. "She, and all the people of her generation, feel like they worked so hard to get women’s rights."

Christine Field, of Wheaton, Illinois, the author of six books about child rearing, adoption, and home education, has traveled down this road. For eight years, she practiced law and had "the typical dual-career marriage." (Mark Field, her husband, is Wheaton’s chief of police.)

In 1991, Mrs. Field left the work force to homeschool her brood. She has four children—three are adopted and one is biological.

"Sure it can be more glamorous to go to an office and be called ‘Ma’am’ than just be a middle-aged woman in the suburbs," she candidly remarks.

But she decided that "sub-contracting the children rearing" wasn’t for her. The prolific writer has commented honestly and cheerfully about her new life. In Home School Digest magazine, she wrote, "My house unapologetically reflects the fact that children are in residence. From the toys on the lawn to the projects scattered around the house, a visitor can readily see that this is a place of creativity and learning."

Judging by the styrofoam castle in the computer room, the activity of lively dogs, and the sound of children playing in the backyard, it’s clear there is plenty of creativity and learning going on at the Karim homestead in a leafy Oklahoma City neighborhood.

What are the family’s days typically like? "School starts by 9:15 a.m. and sometimes goes until 8:00 at night," Dr. Karim says. "It just depends on what we’re doing. We do some things that take us out of the house, so that our book work doesn’t get done until later. Certain things have to be done early in the day, like piano lessons, or they don’t get done. Math has to be done early in the day. We have Bible every day. In the afternoon, we have more time for our history and science."

Science has involved such atypical projects as dissecting a rabbit and attending space camp. Physical activities include swimming, tennis, golf, and participating in a homeschool PE class. Friday night is family movie time. The three children also own tool belts and tool boxes for hands-on projects, like building a shed with Dad. Dr. Karim describes her curriculum as "classical Christian" and has used the popular book The Well-Trained Mind as a resource, but deviates from the script if need be.

"(Initially) we used the library computer. We didn’t even have a computer in our home for a long time," Dr. Karim explains of her homeschooling-on-a-shoestring days.

And what about socialization? She says that finding positive social outlets for her children is a breeze. "It’s not ‘how do you get socialized?’ she says, but rather ‘how do you stop being pulled in different directions?’"

The only complaint her crew has recently aired involves not getting to hop on a school bus, but there was a solution to that one. They ride the Braum’s Ice Cream and Dairy Stores bus, which is painted like a cow, when they require a transportation and field-trip fix.

And Dr. Karim couldn’t be more pleased about the Sooner State’s laid-back homeschooling laws. "You only have a few absolute requirements. You don’t have to go through testing; you don’t have to submit a curriculum to the public schools. I think Oklahoma is great for homeschoolers."

As for that nagging issue about whether women can have it all, Dr. Karim has an answer: "I believe you can have it all, but you don’t get it all at the same time. I had my major career, my fun, and my money-making and what I thought would please me, first. I had my children, in there, which I don’t know if that was the right way to do it, because I lost a lot of their early years. But now I’m home with my children, the second phase of my life."

She continues, "I’m a big proponent of being home with your children, not only when they’re really young, but when they’re in the middle school and high school ages, because I think that’s where a lot of trouble starts. I would rather have my influence and family influence rather than that of peers."

Though Dr. Karim plans on homeschooling her children through their teen years, she is also going to keep up her medical license. But she has no regrets about this phase.

"I can’t think of any negatives except that we don’t have as much money as we used to, but at this point, we don’t care. That extra money took us into wanting more."

For now, she has even figured out God’s purpose for her life. "My greatest role in life is to be at home with my children and bring them up in the way that they should be and make sure they are godly children. Why in the world would I entrust that to anybody else?"

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