Balancing being a successful businesswoman, mother and wife – while still retaining a healthy sense of sanity – is something that has become the norm rather than the exception. Mbombela’s Caro de Witt, well-known psychiatrist, wife, and mom to Liam (7) and Lienke (3), is no stranger to this phenomenon, and with Mother’s Day approaching, we catch up with her for her take on being a mum who hustles.
Caro is the youngest of three siblings, all of whom went into healthcare. Her mother balanced two jobs while still helping with homework, soothing broken hearts and managing various extracurricular activities. “Come to think of it,” Caro flashes us a dimpled smile, “I’m not sure how she managed all this! Now there is a supermom!”
Growing up, Caro wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps and go into teaching, but fate intervened. She was exposed to psychiatry training and soon discovered her passion lay with mental healthcare. “Psychiatry suits my personality,” she explains. “It involves building rapport with patients, working closely with them and their families and helping them to find balance. It also requires teamwork and having a holistic perspective towards a patient and their needs, a collaboration which I value greatly.”
This interest in and care for her patients is a direct result of Caro’s innate love for people. Spending time with family and close friends while listening to good music, making good food and being outdoors in nature, is what makes her tick. “The detail in God’s creation never ceases to amaze me, from the beautiful wildflowers you find on a hike to the coloured pebbles in a rock pool. This is when the universe makes sense to me!” In fact, time spent together as a family is what makes the De Witt world go around, and Caro’s eyes sparkle as she talks about her kids, clearly smitten.
“Liam, my firstborn, is a kind and gentle soul who has taught me so much about myself. He loves adventure and catching spiders, fish, geckos or frogs is all in a day’s work! Much to my horror, he loves keeping these creatures as pets at home for an afternoon before setting them free. His latest endeavour involved looking after four lizard eggs he found in the garden until they hatched. Rather a morning lark, Liam has taught my husband and I the best hours of the day for an adventure are between 4 am and 6 am. It took us four whole years to recover from his sleep-depriving adventures, at which point Lienke was born!”
Caro smiles fondly, as she talks about her strong-willed little princess. “I am filled with euphoria at the sight of her running around or laughing,” she says. “She can frequently be heard singing out loud to herself in the house and lights up any room when she enters. She loves playing the princess in all the adventures Liam plots out for them. But she very much has a mind of her own and does not hesitate to speak it. She knows exactly what she does and does not like!”
Working in an industry where you absorb other people’s problems for a living means this support system is an important part of maintaining good boundaries and managing to compartmentalise work and home life is crucial to well-being. Fortunately for Caro, her family know the value of laughing out loud, having fun and spending time together. Dwain, her husband, introduced her to deep-sea diving when they were dating, and it’s been a lifelong love affair ever since.
“The silent and deep, tranquil blue water, combined with the thrill and excitement of the magical things you see down there, remains a firm favourite with us,” smiles Caro, but she’s quick to add that company trumps scenery any day! Hiking, cycling and visiting the Kruger Park are also favourite pastimes, and Dwain has an impressive knowledge of birds and nature, making any outing with him interesting and insightful. These are cherished times spent making memories and being together as a family, from collecting wildflowers and creepy crawlies to marvelling at a magnificent Lowveld sunset.
Having said that, no matter how incredible your support base is, finding a balance in your own life isn’t always easy – it remains a dynamic, changeable and unpredictable process. “It’s like a juggler managing to keep all the balls in the air at any given time, constantly needing to be aware of his surroundings and the position of each ball, and that is what we are doing most of the time,” Caro says. “Whether we are mothers, wives or CEOs, life is about keeping things in the air, and being human, we are sometimes going to drop something. Our situations may be unique, but we all need to acknowledge that no matter the circumstance, sometimes we lose the rhythm and forget how to tango! It’s part of the human experience, and completely normal.” And as Covid has shown us, sometimes the unexpected happens, and we are reminded that we are not in control, no matter how hard we try to be.
Caro is philosophical about this chapter in our history; she understands that seeing the silver lining around a dark cloud is a viewpoint that helps many stay positive. “There are so many people who have seen their share of dark clouds in this time, all over the world, and the trauma and loss have impacted them in so many ways. We are likely to see Covid’s ripple effect on mental health for a long time to come,” she says, “and because the incidence of depression, suicide and anxiety has dramatically increased, the demand for mental health support and intervention has increased, too. I am determined to help people identify their silver lining, now more than ever.”
Fortunately, Caro has the support base to do this. While her workload has increased significantly in response to the crisis, Dwain has been bearing the brunt of all the responsibilities at home, looking after the children while working full-time in a remote capacity. “He deserves a medal!” Caro says. “It has really brought home how privileged I am to have a family who I love, and who supports me.”
Her two older siblings are her biggest cheerleaders and friends, and Dwain’s family is a wonderful and close-knit group of people, fiercely loyal and supportive. Caro’s father sadly passed away when she was 26, but she is deeply thankful to still have her mother. “Anybody who knows my mom will testify she is just incredible,” says Caro. “She is a tremendous emotional support to me, and she has been a very valuable mentor for me in both my personal and professional life. Frankly, if I could only be half the mother to my children she’s been to me, I would be very proud!”
Text: Mellissa Bushby
Photographer: Belinda Erasmus