Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Role Reversal

I was once at a pancake breakfast for my kid's school.  Cesilly was 5, Jack was 3.  Jack was in a dance class, pre-Taekwondo and Boy Scouts.  I was feeling pretty savvy, my son in a dance class!  How liberal and against the grain.  He had to wear a uniform for the performance - a black suit with a spangly sparkly bow tie.  He looked like a flim-flam man.  I was a little confused by the attire.  I wandered over to another mom to ask her about the logistics.  She was a gyn-onc at the University - a transplant who was trained in California.  Her son was my son's age, her daughter the same age as mine's.  I didn't know her well, but was itching for companionship, especially from another doc/mom.  I walked up to her and took a deep breath.  Wanting to be her friend.

"So what are they supposed to wear for the recital?  Do you know?"

She looked at me, puzzled.  "I have no idea.  My husband takes care of all of that."

I think he was a stay at home dad, or at least had a very flexible laid back job.  I had gathered that much, from observing them over the past few months at the school.  I also saw them at the grocery store on Sundays, all of them, the entire family shopping together, while I was on my own doing the weekly shopping.  I admired that about them.

My reaction to her statement was complex.  I was awed that she gave up those duties to her husband, and also jealous that he was available enough to take charge in that arena.  I also felt angry at her, probably projected anger redirected away from myself.  Angry at her for not knowing about the mundane details of the children's lives, since that was my primary role in our family at the time.  I was a resident, busy with work and two small children, and I would have never imagined relinquishing that knowledge or responsibility to my husband.  It would not have worked, in our relationship.

I am divorced, two plus years now.  My ex and I get along better now that we are co-parents, and not married.  He is remarried to a wonderful woman who has taken the role as stepmother to my children, not stepmonster.  She calls my kids her "bonus children," and read such a beautiful passage to them at her wedding last March, about there being room in her and their hearts for everyone, that I got teary.  As my daughter Cesilly said at breakfast one day, "Mom, Dad sure does some things really well.  He picks good women.  He picked you, and he picked Miss Rachel."  I laughed.  I agree.  I love Miss Rachel, and so do my kids.  I maintain a respectful distance, but will be eternally grateful for the structure and emotional support she provides to their household.  My marriage issues are water under the bridge.  But there was definitely a large gap in childcare division back then, me taking on most of it.  I don't think this is uncommon, especially when the children are young.

My primary reason for writing this blog is about roles and delegations in marriage, traditional and otherwise.  Did I have any right for feeling judgmental about the gyn/onc's lack of knowledge about her son's dance outfit for the recital?  Or was it all a reflection of my own situation?  Would I have reacted the same way if she were a man, and he didn't know?  I could not have imagined approaching any father at the pancake breakfast to ask about dance recital outfits.  Part of my frustration in my own marriage was the one-sidedness of it all - I saw other friends whose husbands were much more involved in the day to day of the kid's lives.  I take some responsibility for this, in retrospect.  If I had a stay-at-home dad back then, and not a physician husband, would it have been so weird to me that she had no clue?

My kids have moved on to two different schools since that pancake breakfast.  The gyn/onc and I earnestly tried to make some play dates, but I am sure the readers in medicine can guess how that worked out - busy lives move forward without much room for pause.  I last saw the gyn/onc a couple of years ago at the grocery store.  She was expressing frustration with her academic career, the challenges of it, and I listened sympathetically.  Told her about Mothers In Medicine, it being such a great outlet and community for me.  I haven't seen her since.  I sometimes wonder if she is still at the University, or if she has found another job.  I hope she is happy in her career and life.  I don't feel as judgmental of her now as I did back then.  Maybe that speaks well of where I am now in life.  I guess it ultimately takes a working balance in a relationship to make it all work, no matter how the roles play out in the end.  As long as everyone is happy and on the same page, that is what matters more than individual responsibility.

I am curious to hear about how other women, all women - working and stay-at-home, negotiate these treacherous waters in their relationships.


  1. Obviously I wasn't there so I don't know... just trying to imagine the interaction. If I had to guess why you felt the way you felt, it was because you felt rebuffed by the gyn-onc at your attempt to make friends. She might also have been a little flippant in how she said that her husband took care of everything, making you feel defensive about doing it all yourself.

    Glad you're in a better place in life now than you were 2 years ago! Watching my husband get remarried after a divorce would be really hard for me to do, and you seem to be handling it with such grace. You really are an inspiration.

  2. Thanks for sharing this excellent post! It is such a challenging thing you are talking about and I am so glad you wrote about it and were willing to share your personal experience.

    When I was about to become a mother, a friend of mine recommended the book called Equally Shared Parenting http://www.equallysharedparenting.com/HowItWorks.htm
    which was co-written by the couple, and the male perspective gave some interesting advice. Two that have stuck with my husband and I are their advice to "Treat your partner like a capable colleague at work, avoid the desire to micromanage or teach or show them what to do. Agree on a division of tasks for the week, take turns doing the tasks (so both people learn the ins and outs and can appreciate the challenges, then let the other person be responsible and let them figure out the solutions." Be prepared if things aren't exactly the way you wanted them, or they have to problem solve, but ultimately, long term the author argued that men (or women) stay more engaged if they are responsible.

    The other advice they had was to make a list of everything that needed to get done for the home - yard work, bills, housework, childcare, work goals - and jointly have a plan that ensured everyone had a chance to try each thing at some point. It would make the other person more empathetic and understanding of the work involved. Gretchen Rubin author of The Happiness Project says that we tend to discount work others are doing if we are not doing it ourselves and tend to magnify work we are doing in terms of how important or how much effort it took. e.g. if someone never puts away the laundry, they don't think it's much work at all. See her discussion on 6 Hard Facts About Shared Work with Fact 1 Work Done by Other People sounds easy Fact 3 It's hard to avoid unconscious overclaiming and Fact 4 It's easier to take turns than to share to ensure fairness.

    When I was pregnant with my first child, I remembered asking other female doctor moms what they would advise. One said, "Every family dynamic is different, so each family may have different solutions." And that has often stuck with me whenever I hear about other people's ways of handling division of labour. Families and division of labour are in some ways like patients with the same disease, no two patients are exactly alike, and even though there are general principles to the management of the patient, each plan needs to be individualized to succeed. A fellow resident friend of mine has a stay-at-home partner and she doesn't do much if any of cooking, cleaning, household chores or bills, and just plays with her children when she has time or reads them bedtime stories. In essence, her life is one where she has become the 1950s father and breadwinner, and her spouse has become the 1950s wife. Sometimes when we talk, I find myself thinking that she's missing out a little - a role reversal is not necessarily good. I think it is healthier for a family and for future gender equality and breakdown of sex discrimination if children see role models in their household of both parents being involved in various tasks of living. Mommy can mow the lawn or fix the car if need be, and Daddy can buy groceries and bake cupcakes for the birthday party. But then that's her family, and it works for her and presumably her husband. Once when she was home on leave, she said being with her kids so much was too much for her. They were too whiny and constantly needing attention and she felt she was losing patience. It made her appreciate how much her husband did.


  3. On the other hand, I also feel that mothers are often under an extreme amount of expectation. There aren't as much pressure of fathers - aptly captured in this Globe and Mail Facts and Arguments article about fathers being damned by excessive praise http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/as-a-father-im-damned-by-excessive-praise/article4817963/ while mothers often not getting credit they deserve. There are a lot of mothers out there of many generations that gave up everything of themselves, became smother mothers or only had motherhood to define them or give them a sense of identity and feel others should as well. I remember my mother-in-law saying to me that she didn't think I would be a good mom because how would I be able to fit in medicine, residency and working and still be there for the child, certainly not there as much as if I was just a mom like her other daughter-in-law who was a stay-at-home mom. What if the child got sick? How could I as a mother go to work when my child was sick? Interesting that there was no horror about my husband going to work when his child was sick or any thought that he would even be the one to manage the sick child. It was one of the few times I bit my tongue for sake of family peace, but I was very upset my husband had not taken a stand. In a private discussion, my husband then said to me he had no idea what taking care of a child would entail so had not wanted to raise arguments with his mom about an issue he had no knowledge about. At which point I said (perhaps rather louder than it needed to be said) that he should then better prepare for this job of parenthood he was about to take on in a few months (5 months pregnant at the time), and he agreed to read Equally Shared Parenting, and the Baby Whisperer and a few other parenting books. Once he did that, he became more engaged and even suggested switching to working more hours for four days so he could be with his child a day a week solely on his own when I was at work to get some father-child time. Today, he's very engaged and very capable.

    And a while back when there was a recession and his company threatened to fire some employees, we were much more comfortable knowing that we could pay the mortgage and take care of our family on my income alone.

    This isn't to say our approach would work for other families. Another physician girlfriend of mine says she would be driven nuts if her husband was like mine - she prefers to just make the decisions and have her husband help her execute the plan, whereas my husband will debate the merits of which bottle is better - the stainless steel one with the silicone nipple, or the vent-air system for colic etc. But hey each family works different I guess.

    Ultimately, one other physician mom mentor I know gave me the best advice. She said "Motherhood will in some ways make you more selfish, and it should. You should start to care less about what others think about you, and come to your own in terms of how you want to approach and handle things. You don't have time to make everyone else happy, just make the people who matter in your life happy and ignore the rest. Especially if you want to be a mother in medicine." It's hard though, because I often do care that others do feel I'm doing a good job both in medicine and in motherhood, but I try to tell myself more and more that that matters less and less. It's more important to care about what the important people think.

    What do you think?

  4. Thanks Rock Star MD Girl. I meant role divisions, not trying to make friends. She actually asked me over a few times but we could never make our schedules work. But I desperately needed female mom role models at the time, and you are right I might have felt frustrated about lack of closer female friends, coloring that interaction. How are you faring in role divisions? I miss following you.

  5. Wow, RLMD. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, that deserves a post in itself I believe and tackles a lot of the issues I am mulling over well. I did read the Happiness Project, in the last year, and liked that example from Rubin, I think it works. I remember trying to get my ex to do some of the things I did just to see how hard I was working. We married young, and I had a fairly traditional role model for parental division of labor in my nuclear family as well as extended and peers, so I wasn't sure how to create something that better fit into my career/lifestyle choices. Your giving all these examples is very helpful, and I am impressed you have done all the research prior to embarking on your own career in parenting. Sounds like you and your husband are doing a great job, I am proud of you! I often felt so busy with residency and young motherhood that I didn't have time to change course in a status quo that was developed and maintained based on societal expectations and what we started.

    Your comments are full of wonderful advice to me and readers. I agree, motherhood makes you more empathic and efficient, but also more selfish, in a good way. I was less concerned, mainly for lack of time, with the day to day dramas of work and more plugged into satisfying the basic needs of my progeny. At 7 and 9, they are thriving today in a two household family that is plugging along better than the one household one. We are still learning as we go, but I think we better appreciate what everyone has to offer, and the children feel our cooperation and love, which is the most important thing. I agree it helps kids to see division of labor so one task doesn't become gender-oriented. Individuals naturally have their strengths and weaknesses, so going outside the family for examples (i.e. Uncle Mike or Aunt Mary the chef) can help accomplish this.

    Since I don't have another adult in my house, I tend to seek out advice from mom friends, as well as my parents, and I think the kids feel the expectations to tow the line a little more around the house as far as helping to cook, setting table, etc. They are at the age where this is ok.

    Thanks again for sharing, I'll be thinking over all you have said for a while - looking forward to checking out your links!

  6. My husband and I share childcare. I work part time as a physician, and he works part time as a lawyer. We agree that the time with the kids is what we value the most. Since I work more hours outside the home, we try to maximize my time with the kiddos, which has resulted in my husband's doing majority of the chores. My husband and I are feminists where we do not believe in gender stereotypes. We work hard to provide a gender neutral home for our children as much as possible. And so far, our arrangement is working out well.

    Truth be told, if my husband made enough, I would love to stay home and work just enough to maintain my license. But my husband also would like to work part time so he can be with the kids. And he just doesn't make enough where I can take more time off without very significantly changing our standard of living.

    I do hear your longing for female friendships especially with other moms. I am a rock climber, and I met another rock climing physician mother of a baby and a toddler. I was so excited. We never climbed together again. I have since given up on finding professional moms for friends.

  7. Don't give up on the professional mom friends, buttonchops. Rock climber, wow! I am a hiker, a runner, and a swimmer, but am scared to death of rock climbing. I have slowly amassed professional mom friends over the years, as well as stay-at-home mom friends, and they are equally valuable and important in their own way. I learn much from both. Still want more.

    Kudos to you for sharing equally in childcare. I think it is more of an exception than the norm, hoping to prove myself wrong with this post. I like to think that I don't believe in gender stereotypes, but then my reaction to the mom not knowing about the dance recital outfit, and my similar curiosity about whether I would react the same to a dad not knowing (probably not) flies in the face of what I like to think I believe and practice. Life is practice, right?

  8. What insightful posts! It's marvelous how so many folks have it figured out. We certainly don't. In our household we have things pretty divided up. My husband pays bills, takes out the trash, deals with any house related issues. I keep track of the kids' homework, activities, meals, and primarily do the cooking. We typically split the dishes, laundry and bedtime routine. Division of chores has been a definite source of conflict for us. I tend to complain my husband does too little and he complains he's underappreciated. I get annoyed that he is able to manage a complicated work schedule with all kinds of conference calls and yet will ask me 3 times what our family calendar is. And this is after I send him an appointment request and put it on our electronic calendars. He's even gone so far as to say that I shouldn't enroll the kids in any activities unless I can bring them.

    This is all so ironic because my husband's mother was the main breadwinner when he was growing up. His dad did the car rides and the cooking. When we got married, he was happy to have a wife who was a doctor. And now, what he really wants is for me to fulfill a more traditional role in the marriage, despite myself being the main breadwinner in the household. So we're still having a lot of issues to work out (after 8 years of marriage!).

    I like a lot of the ideas suggested by RLMD, but part of the problem with implementing them is inertia. Changing the status quo takes time and energy, and it does as well take both parties agreeing to it! A work in progress, like much else in life...

  9. What insightful posts! It's marvelous how so many folks have it figured out. We certainly don't. In our household we have things pretty divided up. My husband pays bills, takes out the trash, deals with any house related issues. I keep track of the kids' homework, activities, meals, and primarily do the cooking. We typically split the dishes, laundry and bedtime routine. Division of chores has been a definite source of conflict for us. I tend to complain my husband does too little and he complains he's underappreciated. I get annoyed that he is able to manage a complicated work schedule with all kinds of conference calls and yet will ask me 3 times what our family calendar is. And this is after I send him an appointment request and put it on our electronic calendars. He's even gone so far as to say that I shouldn't enroll the kids in any activities unless I can bring them.

    This is all so ironic because my husband's mother was the main breadwinner when he was growing up. His dad did the car rides and the cooking. When we got married, he was happy to have a wife who was a doctor. And now, what he really wants is for me to fulfill a more traditional role in the marriage, despite myself being the main breadwinner in the household. So we're still having a lot of issues to work out (after 8 years of marriage!).

    I like a lot of the ideas suggested by RLMD, but part of the problem with implementing them is inertia. Changing the status quo takes time and energy, and it does as well take both parties agreeing to it! A work in progress, like much else in life...

  10. I didn't mean to make my situation sound perfect. I do find that already my husband has trouble with the kid's schedule. For example, despite that my toddler has been going to a music class every Wednesday for almost a year, my husband scheduled a CLE on a Wednesday I had to work. He forgot. And at times we are both stressed, sleep deprived, and feeling underappreciated.

    And sexism is so prevalent in our society, I think it is easy to find ourselves thinking and feeling stereotypes we oppose. I have to admit that when I heard the ER doc with son in an accident riddle for the first time, I didn't get that the ER doc was the mom. That was told to me in medical school. You are absolutely right. Life is practice.

  11. Great post as always, Gizabeth. These are huge questions that I struggle with on a daily basis: I don't want to be "that parent" who has no idea what my kid ate at her school thanksgiving celebration -- but at the same time, honestly, who cares what she ate? Ultimately, I feel like *have* to give up some control if I am to mentally survive.

    I do agree with @Kelly that one of the big challenges is making sure that 2 overextended parents don't start to resent each other. I like Gretchen Rubin's suggestions and will try to implement them!

    1. Oh I just figured out how to reply to a comment! I think this is new since my hiatus. Thanks much emergencymom. I agree about giving up some control - especially in the interest of the independence of our children. They've got to have some space and room to mature. Since I am a control freak, my kids are lucky I am a busy professional or I would probably smother them. It does take a balance. Parts of Rubin were a little much for me but she had some stuff figured out really well. I took what applied to me, that being a great suggestion.

  12. Kelly - thanks for chiming in, I feel better knowing I"m not the only one. I think a lot of marriages get stuck this way. I think recognizing and trying to change it in little bits can go a long way. I do agree that when you are already overworked and exhausted making big changes is too overwhelming. Maybe start by switching one duty a week, or a month, or something - just so you can each recognize what the other is doing and maybe there will be more awareness of fair division of labor as a result. It is easy to forego communication with your spouse when there is so much else to do - I agree as well that built up resentment can be toxic, I've been there, so it is important to keep checking in on each other, not just work and kids. Easier said than done:) Good luck to you.

    Buttonchops - I'm glad I'm not the only one who missed that riddle! Haven't admitted it, until just now. I of course know that no one is perfect, and if they say they are then they are hiding something. I still admire both you and RLMD's emotional maturity in addressing it on the front end with spouses.

  13. This post and the comments have been some of the most insightful I've seen posted recently.

    The best book I ever read on marriage was For Better: Science of a good marriage. The point (s) I remember the most clearly was also made in the Happiness Project, which is to value the work yourpartern does as well.

    I think we have a relatively even marriage, but who knows. He does more yard work, I do more house work. We both cook, but usually different nights, and catch and catch can depending on who is busiest. He does more grocery shopping than I do and more drop off/pick ups, but he works from home and I commute to work. I do more house work and all the laundry.

    I multitask better than my husband. Hands down. I can return phone calls, check email, make dental appointments and clean the kitchen at the same time. He cannot. And this frustrates me. But trying to pick a fight about this is not likely fix any particular situation and will only erode our marriage, which is actually a very strong one. So I pick my battles.

    1. Oops I forgot to use the fancy new comment reply. Next time.

  14. Thanks, Red Humor - I am learning so much from the comments as well - glad to have kick started. It was inspired by a conversation I had with a mom/artist friend on the phone, and some of her observations when I recited the story I told (to her, before writing on MiM) are embedded within. I have not heard of or read that book, thanks for the recommendation. If you think you have an even marriage, then it is probably pretty close. I agree, it is frustrating when you recognize your clear strengths over your spouse. We are all different. Hopefully he has things he does better than you to balance it out!

  15. BEST POST EVER! I needed this. I am searching for the answers to these questions right now. I married someone who seemed happy and willing to be marrying a future doctor. We had been together for a long time, we knew each other, I was in a challenging time consuming field before medicine so I feel like we were eyes wide open. My husband was the main person who encouraged me to follow my dream of being a surgeon despite the obvious lifestyle challenges. He bought the book Complications by Atul Gawande for me, he encouraged me that together we could do this. He was equally encouraging about becoming parents. He said together we'd make it work. He cooked me pregnancy appropriate meals and snacks and packed a bag for me to take to work so that I wouldn't faint in the OR. He came to every doctors appointment. I could just see out shared parenting plan blossoming. Then we became parents and suddenly I found myself married to a man who expects a 1950s version of motherhood from me. I feel so lost. I work surgery resident hours and come home and then I'm expected to make up for lost time, I do all the dishes, the laundry, the baths, the cooking (I cook large meals on days off so my daughter eats well when I can't get home on time or when I'm on call). I have washed every bottle, changed the lion's share of diapers and i try to appreciate each of our roles, but no matter how I slice it, I am bearing the brunt. We are struggling. My parents are concerned about my sanity. Gizabeth, you wrote a post prob two years ago about the process of your divorce and why it was the best choice for your life, your marriage and your family and although I'm a little to scared to physically read this article again, I think of it often.

    I so appreciate this post and the thoughtful replies. I have opened all the suggested links and books in separate tabs and plan to research like crazy. I am constantly desperately seeking mentors and mom friends. I recognize how difficult it must be to be married to a surgery resident and trying to be a parent. I recognize that after days of me not coming home/coming home in the middle of the night it must be frustrating for my husband, but I am reaching my limits, physically and emotionally and we have to find a better solution.

    1. I am so glad you wrote this Cutter, because it gave me a chance to point out that while this was a problem in my marriage, and I think it is in a lot of them, the reasons for my divorce were ultimately very personal and multifactorial. I would advocate 6 months to a year in counseling before anyone makes that rash decision - I have recommended it to freinds and have seen it help a lot of troubled relationships. I believe in happy endings, and that means emotional health and sanity no matter how relationships play out.

      I remember someone telling me that they talked to me once, in my front yard in 2006 when I was in fellowship and tending to a baby and a toddler. I was size 0, which as an 8-10 is probably as unhealthy as going in the other direction. I'd been coughing for 6 months straight. "You seemed really off when we talked that day, Giz. I was worried about you." I was off, pretending that everything was OK when it wasn't. I was at my breaking point physically and emotionally. If you are there, or close, take definite action. I too am going to research all this helpful advice. Good luck, Cutter!

    2. Hi Cutter,

      Am thinking about you and wishing you well. You are doing a lot! And if you are in a surgical residency, that is not a lot of time off for you to be able to fit all those other things in. I hope in the midst of this you can take a little breather to give yourself some guilt free time where you recognize you are doing an amazing job. Surgeons before you with these grueling hours had full time wives who managed everything such that you would only do your job and at times go home and say hello to your children.

      Below FYI are some links that helped my husband and I when we were trying to figure out something that would work for our current lives beyond Equally Shared Parenting (which is honestly a really really good book that husbands of doctors should read if your husband is like mine and find it easier to hear arguments from a book (especially by another male) rather than by his wife. (I'm in a surgical residency, and my husband is working 60-70 hours a week non-medical but high pressure so I totally understand the time factor (although I have no idea how you fit in as much as you do already) .)

      In the end, we sat down together and made a list of all the minimum standards we wanted for things e.g. laundry, groceries, dinners, child drop-offs, bills etc. We blocked off time for studying for me, and he blocked off time he really wanted for his own pursuits, and then I offered that we could either get someone to do a,b,c or we needed to figure out a way that it got split if he didn't want to have someone else hired.

      The other thing we tried is the Marriage Builders website questionaires where we filled out the his and hers sections separately like they asked and then had a talk about it in ~20 min sessions per week. (It took some time over a few weeks because honestly how do you fit in marriage discussions all in a week when there is a residency and a child and a husband's career to manage but we found it worthwhile because it gave us a very concrete way to work on our marriage without it feeling like a personal argument between us. We were just discussing the questionnaire rather than something ticking us off to spark a discussion/argument). I know this must make us sound like the lamest couple, but honestly, we felt 20 mins per week, and then we got to celebrate by doing something fun with each other was better than how we used to do it which was getting upset at each other when something ticked us off.

      Anyways, this may or may not be helpful, but regardless, you are one amazing mom and physician and wife, and are doing TONS! Don't let yourself get burnt out because perfect is the enemy of good.

    3. One more thing: in our surgical program, parent-residents have done some things like take leave of absences for one or two months just to be a parent (to balance out the parenting load for their spouses who were usually working parents as well and preserve some sanity in the marriage), and then tack it on to the end of their residency. Some parent-residents in other programs have gone to working part time but that is not an option in our program - you're either off or on hence why people take LOAs. If you get to a point that some time would help, this may be something to explore with your program director because they want to help their residents stay healthy too. Residency can take 110% and they know that (and many of our male program directors at our university went through divorces during their residency which may be why they are more understanding) Some parent residents have chosen to split some holidays such that they take every Friday off etc, so they have a bit of a shorter work week but that only works on some rotations.

    4. RLMD - you are heaven sent. I am printing off the questionares and I feel renewed and re-energized to make my marriage work. Thank you so much for taking the time to post this stuff. I KNOW you are insanely busy and I know what a sacrifice it is just to spend time online. I truly appreciate you taking the time to respond to this post and to respond to me directly.

    5. Hi, Cutter,

      I wanted to agree with above that you are doing an amazing job! I can't imagine how you moms in training do it!

      But you may consider that from where your husband stands, he may also feel he is bearing the brunt. It cannot be easy being married to a surgical resident. He may be surprised to find how you feel. I feel like there is so much to do after a baby that both parents are bound to feel over worked and unappreciated. And if he suggests he is equally sharing the burden, don't get upset. It may seem absurd to you, but that may be very real to him. You just have to keep a cool head and work it out until you are both satisfied.

      And the divorce road is very tough and expensive. My friend is newly divorced, and the shared custody is killing her. Just imagine that after working resident hours and coming home to find your child absent half of the time. And that is the best case senario. With your hours, I wonder if you may potentially lose custody altogether. Courts have been known to be sexist towards working moms.

      Your husband sounds like a supportive and a reasonable guy. I am sure you will make it work. Good luck to you.

  16. Great post and have really appreciated reading everyone's comments and thanks so much for sharing!
    Although men are doing more nowadays than they were in the 1950s, studies say women still do 35%-50% more in the household even if they are working mothers, but very much agree with Kelly and Gizabeth that it is not an overnight process to get it evened out, and that it really requires a first discussion (or several discussions) to get spouse onboard

    Here are some things my husband and I found helpful and thought I should share it just in case it may be of useful for you.

    1. Marriage Builders Website by author of "Fall in Love, Stay in Love" http://www.marriagebuilders.com/graphic/mbi4501_enq.html
    Check out these questionaires. Each partner has to do the questionaire separately (i.e. there's a his and hers version) and rank things separately before you discuss things. There are questionaires on Emotional Needs, Love Busters, Personal History, Marriage Problem Analysis, etc. Anyways, we found it useful because we realized that we had conflicts on things that we valued or rank differently. For instance, I ranked social connection e.g. being there for a friend, more important than time alone e.g. exercise time etc, so there may be a conflict when time is scarce and a decision is to be made on how to spend it. Or some things may trigger huge fights, like I hate being told women aren't as good at something and my husband hates being told how to do something (he prefers I say the bathroom needs cleaning rather than instructions on bathroom cleaning) so that's a good way to get us into a fight. etc.

    These Q and A columns are really good too especially if you want ideas on solutions http://www.marriagebuilders.com/graphic/mbi5520_qa.html

    Just one perspective. What do you think?

    2. Date night, lame? but true
    Another friend of mine is a clinical psychologist and she says that we often prioritize #1 our children #2 our spouse #3 ourselves when what their latest literature shows is that we should prioritize #1 ourselves #2 our spouse #3 our children for the best long lasting outcomes for everyone. This is because, she explains that what is most important for our children (more than laundry, food, activities, educational initiatives etc) is that their parents have a happy good relationship first and foremost. So not to let the other stuff cloud out that priority. (I have to say personally I find this easier said than done...)

    She says to achieve this, we must first prioritize ourselves, i.e. spend that 20 min daily for yourself in a way that recharges you personally without guilt that you are not being a good wife, mother, sister, etc, do something for YOU because when we are personally happy, then we are better able to handle any stressors that come our way with more equanimity and grace. We can handle our spouse's upsets better and support them better etc.

    Second, she says invest the time for your spouse above your kids (again strange to me, but she says it honestly is better). It is worth it, she says to spend the money on a babysitter or to get a house cleaner, so that you can go on a time that is just for the two of you to do something you both enjoy and create positive times that strengthen your relationship. We apparently often make time for the arguments, so without the positive stuff to balance it out or better yet to outweigh the negative, it is much easier for a marriage to become weakened, and for a third party to look more attractive. (She says one hardly argues with a lover about who should clean the child's diaper.) While we can't live in romantic idyll, having romantic and positive times again makes a marriage stronger to handle the challenges of life. To those who are loathe to spend money like my husband and I she said spend the money because if a marriage has to be dissoved, it costs a lot more for lawyers etc, and alternatively one can try babysitting swaps with friends etc or get family to help out...whatever can work

  17. 3. Another friend of mine is the chief resident of Psychiatry and is fresh off his child pscyh rotation with all the latest papers. His recommendation to me was this book: Good Enough Is The New Perfect http://thenewperfect.com/good-enough-is-the-new-perfect/
    He argues that "The Best parents are NOT the best parents, they are the good enough parents". In order for children to become resilient, they need to have some adversity in their lives, not so much that they are overwhelmed but just enough that they learn how to cope with struggle as they inevitably will have adversity in life. Children whose parents always wanted the best only for them, tend to have a harder time developing resilience, he says, than children who had to cope with not getting the best at times. So the next time you don't have time to clean the house, or cook that lunch, or be there 100% everytime for your kid, he says to tell ourselves that 1. we are human 2. it is good for our kids to learn that we are human and sometimes they have to fend for themselves and not get their best. Then they will develop into health adults who recognize other people have limits, who are patient and considerate, and who feel it's okay if they want to take a break or if they want to have time for themselves, or if they cannot physically do everything.

    More for everyone who is fascinated by the pscyh theories: Apparently one of the predictors of borderline personality is if their parents were obsessive compulsive types who wanted to be the best for their children or who always wanted the best for their children. These children apparently have a hard time resolving the good mother (or good breast) with the bad mother (or bad breast) and then they never develop the ability to see people in the complex good + bad and tend to split people they meet into good and bad. Hence borderlines tend to split.

    Anyways Good Enough is the New Perfect. and Perfect is the enemy of good but I think Cutter or GCS15 may have shared that saying before.

    4. Another mom doctor friend of mine told me this, "Don't tell your mom or his mom or anyone non-supportive how you get everyone's needs taken care of. Firstly, it's none of their business. Secondly, they often have an opinion and will make a judgement of you. Thirdly, as a resident, you do not have time to deal with that kind of drama or time to manage their judgements. Less said, less discussed, more time for you to live your life." At first I thought this was strange but now I can see that the strangest things can make people judge you as a horrible parent. Gasp! You didn't pack your kid's lunch? Gasp! You didn't cook your kid's lunch? Gasp! Your kid is wearing hand me down clothes? Gasp! You didn't read your academic day journal papers several times over etc. The less shared, the less judgement there is. Save your disclosures for your true friends she said. And even your own mom will have gasps! You didn't do x or y but I always did that for you, or your house is a mess or etc.

    1. I love this one (number 4) - it is sooo true! I'm definitely gonna put it into practice... (currently 4 months pregnant).

  18. 5. Another mom doctor friend told me "If someone is not being helpful to you and it is stressing you out by their judgements, just mention it to them." I don't often do this because I don't like confrontations, but a few times now I have followed her advice and found it liberating. For instance, my mom told me I needed to lose my pregnancy weight after the baby was here and as a doctor should know that I should build in 1 hour of exercise daily - I ended up telling her thanks I know you're concerned, but right now, I'm juggling with a 70-90 hour a week residency, am struggling to get enough sleep, cook for my family (because my husband really values home-cooked meals), and support my husband through his stressful career, while teach my child Mandarin and help with his education, so some things have to give and your comment is not helpful. If you could help with x or y instead, that would be greatly appreciated. I admit I could have worded things nicer and hope to work on that... but I still am glad I said something because ironically my mom felt she was being helpful to tell me to lose weight, but now she's helping me a lot with childcare to free up some time.

    Sorry for the long post - I didn't have time to edit it down.

  19. 6. Last tip is to be funny. Now if you are not naturally funny (like I am not naturally funny), I decided that I needed to get some material so that I could impart more humour to brighten my family's day (because let's face it, the Cosby parents were so much better than I am at imparting my parental wisdom...) Here is a must read for a LAUGH that you can all relate to
    Excerpt from I don't know How She Does it by Allison Pearson (is this your life?)

    "Women used to have time to make mince pies and had to fake orgasms. Now we can manage the orgasms, but we have to fake the mince pies [from store bought to look home-made]. And they call this progress."

    And if all else fails, check out Russell Peter's
    Parents on beating their kids

    1. RLMD I agree with Cutter you are heaven sent! And obviously very intelligent about gathering resources - I am in awe that you are a surgical resident and still have time and energy to amass this information to improve your family. Loved the bit about the orgasms and mince pies:D. Think I'd rather fake mince pies than the orgasms, that's definitely progress. No apologies needed for imparting wisdom. Thanks for all the additional food for thought. If I ever need surgery I'm going to hunt you down, if you are this good at family you must be an incredible M.D.

    2. Not at all! The only reason I had time to read was thanks to the longer mat leave.(Our union gave us the link to Mothers In Medicine as their prime resource for physician mothers and I've been following you and Cutter and many of the other Mothers in Medicine for a while). So glad you started this discussion. I've been reading a lot of your posts for a while and have always found them very thought-provoking, and brave - you're willing to tackle the tough issues in a real way. Much of the tips came from other physicians and/or mom friends from all fields who share their perspectives so I'm glad it can be shared.

      I should clarify that I'm an anesthesiology resident (at our university it's under surgery) but I just found out it's considered a separate specialty in other places. The advice isn't specialty specific though. :-)

    3. Well then if I ever need anesthesia I will seek you out. I can see that advice is global. I love that this blog is given as a resource, it has been a haven to me even though I took a long hiatus. Your compliments are sweet, and a buoy that is well received. I've got another couple of blogs marinating. Going to tackle the humor aspect next week. I'm not Cosby, but I've got a few tricks up my sleeve:). I think you at least need your own blog, you have a lot to offer, RLMD! I would be a loyal follower.

  20. I have a book club - we have been together for 6 or 7 years now. We mostly do fiction. Our last book was non-fiction - We did Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo, which I was happy to see win the National Book Award in the non-fiction category a couple of weeks ago. Anyway, we like to do good, research based parenting books about once a year - think I am going to save a couple of these titles for that purpose.

    1. Very cool! This is the latest one my clinical psychologist friend recommended Siblings Without Rivalry:


      by authors who also wrote How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so kids will talk.

      The cartoons are the best if you want to just skim.

      For those who have no time to skim - here's the summary of their best strategies: 1. if there is an issue to problem solve, do it as a family. Sit and brainstorm solutions together with child/spouse and write every suggestion down in a notebook (this works for as young as 3 year olds, and as old as adults). Every suggestion is written without criticism/rebuttals/eye-rolling etc so everyone feels heard (even ridiculous funny ones like eating pie for breakfast daily). Then everyone works together to mutually pare the list down to a workable solution.

      2. Problem solve only when everyone has eaten and are calm-ish, take a break if upset/angry,

      3. Before addressing an issue with a person, think of a genuine nice thing that person has done so you're in a kinder frame of mind when you address the issue.

      Other strategies include: 1. write notes instead of lecture, 2.praise effort 3. avoid labelling (e.g. if a child does well, instead of saying "you're smart" which may make them anxious on their next test of being dumb, we're supposed to say " you tried really hard and did a good job on that test. Good work" and this effort praising is something that makes kids more resilient than label praising) 4. help children focus on their ability rather than label themselves e.g. if a child says I'm not good at keeping tidy, we're supposed to see ability and remind them of times when they have succeeded e.g. " I know you can be organized too, remember when you organized all those hockey player cards" . 5. Build in some kind of check-in time regularly so everyone gets a chance to say/do something appreciative with everyone else 6. schedule regular one-on-one time that is spent doing something positive so a relationship can be built i.e. parent 1 with kid 1, parent 2 with kid 2, then parent 1 with kid 2, parent 2 with kid 1 etc

      My husband and I have been guilty of using the parenting/ communication strategies they recommend with each other so we can say that they do work multi age levels. (Either that or we are really only 1/10th of our age in our heads...)

    2. Considering my first born daughter, Cecelia, is already feeling like I love my son Jack more than her (of course! She was alone for 2.4 years. Then he came along to compete for my attention), and this comes out at dinner table (he has more macaroni than me!), car (It's my turn to pick first song, why are you letting him again?), etc. (I did first shower last time, it's his turn!), this will be a fantastic addition to my reading list. Kind of reminds me of that great article about sibling food rivalry that was in the NY times around Thanksgiving. Thank goodness we aren't the type of animals that kill our siblings to compete for mom, but I sometimes think of that when they are in a mood to compete. Thanks again, RLMD! We are ALL 1/10th of our age in our heads, that's a fact.

  21. The negotiation is ongoing and ever changing.

    Our aim is equally shared parenting. Our reality is role reversal. My earning capacity since I graduated and our horrendous financial position just meant that our each being part time utopian vision had to be put on hold.

    We are finally out of financial purgatory and now the negotiations are almost more difficult. Now I am trying to get my share of home stuff, I don't always agree with how my husband does things, I notice the small details more and he doesn't always listen to my opinion...it feels like I was gone for a while and he took charge and now won't listen to my ideas...even though he doesn't want the full time parenting load... Anyway, lots of arguments have ensued and he is feeling very defensive. As am I, surely I am allowed a say in how my family is run.

    We are working through it, Somewhere in there remembering what we had hoped for. Along the way we have also realised that my husband NEEDS to work. For his mental health. Truth be told I probably do too...its just a theory that has never been tested. I had 4 months off with my first baby, moving house when she was 4 weeks old and 2 weeks off with my second, going back to part time teaching before resuming full time clinical and part time teaching at 6 months.

    Making a family work is hard. No matter what it looks like.

  22. Bekkles - Good to hear from you. I agree, it's tough. I always knew, even before kids, that I needed to have a job for my mental health. As hard as it was to leave them and go back to work, I think we are all better for it. Are there days when I think the opposite? Absolutely. But less days as time goes on. Negotiating marriage roles - that was not a strong point in my marriage at all. Like to think if I ever have the courage to try again I will have my head on a little straighter.

    I'm so glad you are taking the time to work through it. Sounds like those above have some great resources we could all use. Best wishes.


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