Married to Medicine

Married to Medicine

Monday, March 14, 2016

Medical Residency with Kids: Top 10 Pieces of Advice

Match Day is here again, that fateful day when graduating medical students open an envelope and find out what hospital they'll be moving into for the next several years (no really... that's why it's called "residency").  These days, spouses and even kids join them up on stage for that magical moment, showing not only their support for the spouse but also their participation in the sacrifice and resulting achievement of the day.  "We're in this together!" the display seems to say, and "We're ready to take on the world!"  But the reality of medical residency is that it very often creates two very separate lives.  While your spouse's brain is filled to the max with things that simply don't involve you, so too will you be on your own in the "new normal" you'll be forging largely for yourself (and your kids if you have them), somewhere new and random.  Our Match Day happened 7 years ago, in 2009.  As I am now, thank God, approaching the other side of medical training, I offer these tidbits of advice to any readers who are just starting out.

(1) Get a Small Living Space.  Not only is it all you'll be able to afford, but it actually makes solo parenting a lot more manageable.  In our 2-bedroom apartment, my room, the kids' room, the bathroom, and the kitchen are all literally right next to each other.  It is so much easier to have everything at your fingertips - food, bath, diapers, bed.  If your spouse is going to work late almost every night for 3-7 years, at least cut out the stairs.

(2) Get Comfortable Saying No.  This is a nightmare for people pleasers like me!  I lost whole nights of sleep at first.  But here's the reality:  Nobody is going to take care of you, and NOBODY is going to "get it" when it comes to what's on your plate and how unrelenting it is.  So you *have to* take care of yourself.  Say no to:

  • Hosting people who don't fit in your living space;
  • Family trips you can't afford;
  • Helping with childcare at church, if you're a church-goer (you'll already be way OD'd on your own kids);
  • Watching friends' kids (unless it's paid);
  • Anyone who questions your choice to work or to stay home during this survival-mode time - believe me, no one choice here will solve your problems, so do what works best for you;
  • Anything else that you're going to dread or stress over in ANY way.

The good news is, it gets easier and easier to say no once you do it a few times.  I'm told this happens to you anyway, once you turn 40.  And it's good for you, so you might as well start early.  How many men do you know who are people pleasers?

You'll be like "Nuh to the Uh to the No No NO."

(3) Try To Accept Help Offered.  Personally I only rarely ever did this because I worried it would interfere with my ability to say no.  However, now that we are approaching the "other side," I can already see that a normal life will make it so much easier to help others and that I'm excited to be able to do so.  I remember feeling so guilty that I'd accepted 10 meals when I had my first baby and had only "repaid to the universe" seven of them.  I should hit 20 this spring.

(4) Know That Your Spouse Won't Be The Same Person During Training.  Maaaaaybe yours will, if you're really lucky.  But based on what I've seen on the threads I've followed in a Dr. Wife Facebook Group I'm in, it's more likely that the time your spouse is home will be even more problematic than the time he's gone.  You'll be left mourning the loss of your sweet, amazing partner and freaked out about whether you made a big mistake when you got married.  And unfortunately you will have no way of knowing which one of those it is until the training is over and there's been a period of readjustment for your spouse to come back to his (or her ... though I wonder if women generally handle it better, since IMO a lot of it comes down to not recognizing and properly addressing one's emotions/stress level/sleep deprivation) old self.  A lot of marriages end during medical training, and if you're in this situation for many years then sticking it out is an incredibly high price to pay and requires a lot of faith.  But if you do have kids, you really can't leave until and unless you know that he's gone for good.  And the good news is that most of the time, he does come back.

(5) Take "The Marriage Course" Once Training is Over.  On that note, once training is over, if residency took a toll on your marriage (and even if it didn't), do something big to refresh and reset.  We took "The Marriage Course" at the end of clinical training and it was revolutionary; I don't think we would have made it without it.  It turned out that the end of clinical training was far from the end of the insane hours and sleep deprivation (my husband took on another very rigorous degree on top of fellowship) so I can't say we've been smooth sailing since having taken the course.  However, I can say that I don't think we would have made it through at all without the course.  Even if we hadn't technically divorced, we were well within the zone of permanent and really irreparable damage.  But after the course, even rough patches weren't nearly as rough and now we're hopefully finally approaching our real Happily Ever After.  If it's anything like the 8 months between the course and the new degree - or like our five pre-MS years - it's going to be amazing!

(6) Join "Lives Of Doctors' Wives."  This isn't just a Facebook group.  With 6,000 members and now incorporated as a non-profit charity, it is an incredible support network.  You can find other doctor-wives in your new residency town, and I cannot understate the importance of having friends in town who are in the same situation and really understand what you're facing every day.  And that is just one of a myriad of benefits.  You can post parenting questions in the parenting spinoff (LDW Kids) and get much better answers than you'd ever find in, say, your Baby Center Birth Month Group.  You can gain an incredible amount of insight into your own marriage just reading the threads - or you can message an admin and have a question posted anonymously.  You'll have access to free entertainment all those evenings your husband is gone because you can participate in political debates in one of their debate spinoffs (I co-created and admin Physician Spouse Network... ALL genders are welcome if you're married to a physician!).  If you can manage to secure childcare, you can meet everybody IRL at the annual "get-together" in Texas ... financial aid is available for training wives.  Really, don't miss the fantastic opportunity to be part of these groups.  It's one of the perks of training, and there aren't very many others.

(7) Consider Trading Your iPhone for Cleaners.  Your spouse probably won't have time to help clean or ever watch the kids while you clean; in my book, a working spouse doesn't have to clean if they're severely underslept.  For us, this meant a messy and dirty house for the first few years, until we could afford once monthly cleaners.  It's worth every penny, honestly, and you can pay for it by switching from an iPhone to Republic Wireless, where we pay I believe $20/month for unlimited everything including data.  We didn't have iPhones to switch out so we started with cleaners shortly after my husband could moonlight.  For one hour a month of his moonlighting time, the entire apartment was cleaned.  It saved my sanity and it went a long way toward alleviating resentment.  If you can make it through 7 years without any help at home from your spouse and not be resentful, that's awesome.  But I grew up with parents who were partners whenever they were both at home (and my dad was an MD), which was evenings and weekends.  If your spouse is ever at home during training, he probably won't want to spend that time cleaning, and you probably won't want to spend it cleaning while he watches the kids - spend it together as a family making a memory instead.

(8) Prioritize Cleaning Materials.  I cannot stress this enough.  The following three items will make a dramatic difference in your daily life.

  1. An excellent hand vac.  I recommend the Black + Decker 20v Pivot.  Voltage *really* matters here, and the 20v Pivot is worlds stronger than other 18v's I've tried; it is one strong suck!  List price is $79.99 but you can sometimes find it as low as $60ish on Amazon.  You will use this constantly for tabletop messes and even floor messes.  Pop open the door to empty it.  Simply a must-have.
  2. A floor Steamer.  Having one of these will literally cut the time you'd spend cleaning any hard surface to 1/3 or less.  Plus if you have crawlers it's nice to know they're on a floor that was steamed rather than one that had soap all over it.  Amazon has lots of options; I would go by price and by star-rating.
  3. A Dyson cordless bagless vacuum.  If you can at all afford one of these, you have GOT to get one.  I only just got one last November when they finally dropped a bit in price (they were $400-600 previously) and I am in LOVE LOVE LOVE.  They're *ultra* lightweight and cord-free, so it's a one-handed vacuum experience (with the on button right on the handle) that gets your hard floors so much cleaner than sweeping does (you should see what this thing picks up!!).  Your other hand is free to move stuff out of the way, so you can go super fast ... it's seriously like having a magic wand.  THEN it pops open to easily empty.  ALSO, they convert to a handvac so you can kill two birds with one stone if you can manage to spring for one of these.  We got the V8 and then we got my mom and my MIL the Motor Head... it counts for every holiday for the year since it's so expensive, but that's how amazing I think it is to have one of these.  

(9) Get a DSLR.  You won't be able to afford professional pics during residency, but you'll definitely want to have high-quality, frameable pics of your kids from these precious early years.  Ask family to go in on one of these... add birthdays to Christmases if you have to.  Your pics obviously won't be as amazing as they would if you could afford truly professional ones.  But that time will come and while you're waiting, you can get great pics even just using your DSLR on auto as a point-and-click.

My fave DSLR pic, snapped it on the auto setting with no skill whatsoever.

(10)  Don't be too hard on yourself - or your spouse.  
Couples in which at least one spouse is in medicine tend to be perfectionistic.  But residency prohibits perfection.  You're not going to have the perfect marriage, you're not going to have the perfect house, and you're not going to be the perfect mom (or friend... or relative) during these years.  Corners during residency were made to be cut (I once posted the question "Do you shower at home when your spouse isn't there?" in a local parenting group and also in a group of doctor wives ... the local group was divided as to whether that was okay... the doctor wives unanimously did it because nobody is going to get up at 4:00 am to shower every day before their spouse leaves!).

I like the idea from last week's Mom To Mom (DEFINITELY join your local chapter if you're Christian or even if you're just not bugged by being in a religious setting, it is a lifesaver - childcare provided, great friends made, and truly insightful lessons on parenting every week!!!) of making a list of things you don't do.

Personally I don't:
  • garden, with or without my kids;
  • craft, with or without my kids;
  • avoid screen time;
  • avoid bribery;
  • always arrive on time;
  • send veggies with every lunch;
  • make it to church on Sundays my husband is working;
  • I could go on.
I do:
  • Snuggle lots;
  • Bake;
  • Go to the park;
  • Read books;
  • Play the occasional board game;
  • Do a Kiwi Crate one a month with them (we could only recently afford, but worth every penny; it's a monthly activity box that is educational, creative and fun);
  • I could go on.

Honestly, I hope you won't have kids during residency.  That was our Plan A.  But if you do end up juggling a residency with kids, know that it's doable.  It won't be perfect.  You won't be perfect.  He (or she) won't be perfect.  But this too shall pass :)

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  1. So great!!! We are just finishing up our intern year and are moving for three years miles and miles away from family. We have two littles four and 17 months and are praying over having a third. Some really great tips here and words of advice. Thanks again!