Monday, December 13, 2010

Walking the Line

I’m not just a mother in medicine, I’m a divorced mother in medicine. KC pointed me to Michelle Au’s blog, the underwear drawer, which I follow. She’s married to a physician (I was) , and was kvetching recently over her spouse going to a meeting for a week, leaving her alone with the kids. She lamented over the missed support, and wondered how single moms do it.

Would you believe it is easier for me, as a single mom? That doesn't speak very well for my marriage, but if it worked, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

I have grown so much over the past year, since my separation in February and divorce in September. I have come into the financial light, which hasn’t been easy, but ultimately oh so empowering. For the first time in my adult life, I am not house poor, and not dependent on another to tell me how and if I can spend money. More importantly, I have slowly progressed from a state of mental fragility to one of mental health. I’m not entirely there yet, but my perspective of myself and my surroundings is less tenuous. The highs are not as high, but the lows are not so low. I feel even and grounded. This has to be good for me and my kids.

I hired a sitter to pick up my kids this fall and carpool them around to various activities – something I can see that I needed to do for a long time. Over the past couple of years I was picking 6:00 activities that I could try to do myself with the kids and it was stretching our evenings out way too long. The last thing I need to be doing at the end of a busy day is carpooling them around to swim practice until 7:00 at night. Evenings and meal times were horribly stressful, and bedtime was rushed and, well, not fun. My kids are still only five and seven. There will be time for all this later. This fall the latest activity ends at 6 – and that is our rough day –Wednesday. I’ve managed to squeeze in more cooking and reading at bedtime.

I have less ancillary hired help than I have had since the birth of my daughter, and my house is more clean and organized than it has ever been. It feels warm and homey, instead of cold, stark and empty. I get to create what I want, when I want to. Drag out bedtime reading extra chapters until 8:30? No problem. Let my son crawl in bed with me at 4 a.m. after a nightmare? No big deal. Reading in my bed late into the evening? A luxury I have missed for 13 long years. When I am home with the kids, I get to focus on them entirely. When they go to bed – I focus on myself and my needs. This feels incredibly self-indulgent and wonderful, after years of a marriage that wasn’t working.

My seven-year-old Cecelia sometimes asks me, “Mommy, why can’t you stay home like so-and so? “ She sees the difference. But I love my work, and now that I am divorced, staying home is not an option for me. Even if I was still married, I don’t think I would do well without it. When I first got married back in May of 1997, I had three months without work/school before I started med school in the fall. I degenerated into a couch potato Lifetime addict. Remember? A Baby Story. A Wedding Story. I knew them all. It was sad and ridiculous. My now ex made me promise that I would always work or be in school, he was so fed up with my inertia. Having kids is different – much busier – but when I was off with them for nine days over Thanksgiving, despite the fact that I managed to squeeze in 24 miles of running and 10 or so of biking, as well as numerous wonderful kid memories, my mind still turned to mush and I was itching to get back to work. I do better on a schedule. I have difficulty self-imposing one. And I love what I do – I wouldn’t be the same person without the daily intellectual challenges that pathology provides.

God I worried so much last year (was it only one year ago?) about the drama I would create – my ex and I work at the same hospital. But drama can be controlled, to a large extent, by how you react to it. No reaction often kills it. And it is quite amazing to learn that when you are the subject of gossip, you are somewhat immune to it – as if in a bubble. Like the eye of a hurricane – no one really questions you directly so if you choose, you can be a non-participant. I chose. It worked. It’s finally over, and it was relatively painless, compared to the struggles in my marriage. The year of counseling time we put in at the end has helped tremendously – not in friendship, but certainly in team parenting. He has gone his separate way – I don’t communicate with him at all except in regards to the kids. Our level of civility now, only three months after divorce, is pleasant. I hope it continues.

For the first time in many years, I feel somewhat normal. I am grounded in reality, not mired in fantasy. I am a part of the equation – no longer lost. My work-life balance is exactly where it needs to be. Now that I am a partner, I can choose to relinquish work and money for time with the kids, to create more balance. I finally feel like I am in control. I love being a mother in medicine. That is enough, right now. I’m certainly not an advocate of divorce. But I am an advocate of happiness. I feel like I’m finally getting there.


  1. My friend, I am so glad to know things are improving for you. Best to you and the kids.

  2. I love your words, "I am not an advocate of divorce. But I am an advocate of happiness." I love that so much. And I'm so happy you're getting there.

  3. Thank you for your open and constructive comments. And I'm glad you have figured out how to have a schedule that works for you, and that hiring help is actually good for your kids. With regards to Cecilia and not staying home. Has she been to work with you? Have you talked about work and how exciting you find it? When my daughter was a baby (she's now 12), there was a study about what kids think about their parents' work, and the answer was largely negative things. Not because it meant less time with their parents, but because all they heard about work was negatives: "I hate my boss." "I had such a horrible day." I resolved to start talking to my daughter about the positive things at work, and I started bringing her into work with me pretty often, which can work well with some planning. She liked the idea that I was headed to work to help people. And it reminded me of the time I spent with my parents at their lab as a child-- a major influence on my decision to enter the sciences.

  4. Balance. Not the easiest thing for a mom to find in her own life, whether a working, SAHM, or single mom.

    Someday maybe I'll figure it out.

  5. Thanks Ramona and Katie!

    HH - I do bring the kids to work - but not enough. C and I had a fabulous experience at the microscope a few months back. Both kids love talking about mommy's office, and ask to go visit (since the visits are few and far between). I do need to work on that more - thanks for reminding me!

    The Mother - you are right about that. It's not easy, no matter what your situation is. I'm very lucky to have a lot of friends and family around for support. Nope, we'll never get it all figured out. But hopefully our kids will recognize someday that we damn near killed ourselves trying to, and forgive us for our shortcomings.

  6. I'm glad you have been able to find this balanced place in your life.

  7. Thanks so much for this!

    As frustrating as some days get, and today was definitely one of those days, it is never as bad as it was staying in a ruined marriage.

    Here's to happiness.

  8. As they say, "Nothing worth having comes easily." You have certainly earned happiness with everything you have been through in the last year or so. Kudos to you, and hugs, too!

  9. I'm so glad you are finding the balancing act easier now. I'm glad you are HAPPY.


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