Monday, March 25, 2013

MiM Mail: An unhappy Match Day

Dear MiM,

I'm looking for some words of encouragement and/or advice.  Match Day was not a happy one here and I am suddenly struggling with the prospect of long distance motherhood.

As a bit of background, I am a single mom of two adolescents.  We currently live in an area where my kids have a strong social and family network.  The kids' dad is in the picture and while he has a spotty track record, he's good to the kids.

I applied to a moderately competitive specialty and tortured myself enough to apply in another specialty as back up.  Originally, I was going to rank the local programs in my specialty followed by the local back up programs. I realized after interviewing, however, that I really really did not like my back up and it was really not for me. I decided to follow my heart and rank my specialty first all the way. I felt that I had a reasonable chance matching in my area.  Well, of course you never know with the match.

Now reality is here. I'm moving. My kids' dad wants them to stay. The kids want to stay. Both sets of grandparents are here.  This is their community. I am going to be working my butt off and don't have much support where I am going. The place is an hour plane ride away.  My heart is so torn.  I would love to take them with me but if I take a step back, I know that would be selfish - not to mention it would cause a huge custody issue.

I am constantly reliving things - should I have framed my application differently? Should I have ranked programs differently? Should I have just sucked it up and ranked my back up higher? A lot of people around me have been giving me the "I told you so" in various forms. My gut feeling is that my program actually fits me very well.  It makes a lot of sense that I matched there, geography aside.  Still, I can't shake how much I've sacrificed for medicine.

In the end, the match is a contract and I am going - at least for the year, if not the next several years.  I have a lot of figuring out to do.  Anyone else have advice or had experience in how to be a long distance mom?

Thanks very much,


  1. I feel like you did the right thing. If this is a career you're going to have the rest of your life, it's worth it to sacrifice a few years. I'm not as familiar with adolescents, but I'm assuming they don't need quite as much intense care as tiny children. Maybe you can skype with them daily and see them as much as possible. I mean, there are plenty of kids that age in boarding school who don't see their parents daily.

    Also, leaving programs is not that uncommon, so you should keep checking with the local specialty programs to see if a spot opens up.

    1. I whole heartedly agree with this.
      You did what was right at any given point. The coulds woulds or shoulds just stir up unnecessary haze in your vision.

  2. Three years is a really long time in the life of an adolescent; you (and they) would be missing a great deal. How do they feel about you leaving? You say your ex is 'spotty'- is he reliable? A good role model? Can your kids confide in and trust him? If not, I would strongly strongly think about finding a way to stay.

    Yes, rehashing past decisions is fruitless- but- and I may get pilloried here- I would try to find a way not to go, or at least limit my absence to only one year. In my experience, my kids need more of my time and energy as they've entered their teens rather than less. Yes, they're more independent and it's great that they can take care of their own hygiene and clean up after themselves, but now they are dealing with some heady stuff: moral and social and ethical quandries that shape the way they see the world. They don't respond well to scheduled talks- I learn the most about my kids on the car ride to school, or when I tuck them in at night, or while I'm making a late night snack- all stuff you lose if you're not physically present.

  3. I concur with billygoat, quite wholeheartedly. I have had friends attempt this kind of stretch and despite their many sophistications, teens are emotionally vulnerable and prone to black and white thinking. Years of resentment later, they still hang onto "you weren't here". That has ramifications for their relationship with mom, but also fuels that tendency towards angry injustice motivated acting-out.

    Have you spoken to admin about what options you have?

    If you are absolutely hand-tied, I would suggest daily Skype calls. I have friends who were separated as a couple for 2 years and often made meals together over the phone (making the same food), watched TV together over the phone, trying to use technology not for artificial moments but for as much of the hum-drum as possible.

    I face the same quandary as a single mom of two teens myself. I feel the shortness of my career already starting late in the game. But in the grand scheme, it is much much longer than the remaining years of my kids' vanishing childhood. Taking a year off to rematch next year might save you all tremendous heartache. You need supports, too, in the adolescence of your career. It's a profoundly challenging time for you, and the drain of guilt or angst about your kids can rob you of your best self making a hard job all the more frustrating. Setting yourself up to succeed is very often going to be the same thing as choices that set your kids up to succeed as well.

    I feel for you. Good luck.

  4. Oh, this just crushes my heart. What a difficult situation. I'd also suggest trying it for a year, but with every intention of coming back. Residency program switches are not so hard, and you might find that your prespective shifts a little once you are in your chosen fiels but the family is far away. My best wishes to you!!

  5. Sending well wishes and support. I agree with @billygoat and @heather. @Fizzy's idea about keeping in touch with local programs seems like a good idea. I know of people who entered into local programs midway through residency.

  6. I can see why you are torn. I would be very torn as well. My kids aren't quite into adolescence, but as a single mom, I can imagine what mental hell you are going through.

    You know yourself and your kids best. All adolescents have different levels of maturity. You seem to have a good gut on the program you matched into - go with it for now knowing you can always change your mind and explore other options. I know a gastroenterologist who did a fellowship away from his ex wife and kid for a year (same as you, about an hour plane ride) - he says she got very travel savvy for a young child and it was rough, even though he and his ex mended ways and are now back together practicing (she is peds) in the same city. Rely on your support in the meantime - it's good that you have it - we single moms struggle for that and tend to put everything on ourselves, to our own detriment and sometimes consequently to our kids.

    I'd say play this one by ear, and try not to second guess yourself constantly during the first year. As has been said recently - guilt is a wasted emotion that is of no productive use to you or your kids. Best of luck - you are in my thoughts.

  7. Wow, this is tough & heartbreaking. My own children are young, but remembering being a teenager, 3 years really is a long long time---particularly if you consider just how little time there is left of their childhoods. I know you feel contractually bound to your residency, but people do walk away and try again, I don't think its out of the question nor career-ending. If you really think you'd regret not at least trying it though, go for it, definitely keeping contacts with local programs and looking into transfer after a year.

  8. You absolutely did the right thing by matching into your specialty. Honestly, I think you should move with your kids. Parents relocate their kids all the time for jobs. And they do just fine. Whatever you decide, let go of your guilt and second guessing. You did the right thing. Soon your teenagers will leave home and find their own paths. You deserve to do the same for yourself.

  9. I moved away for residency and lasted a year. I saw my husband and dear puppy maybe once a month for that year. That was before little one, but I couldn't handle not being with my family. I tried to move back as a PGY2 in main specialty, but it didn't work out. So I switched specialties, and found things I love about back up plan specialty. At this point I love everything (mom, wife, Dr) about my life and am completely happy with my choice to put family ahead of career. You can be happy doing what ever you decide to do, if you chose to be happy.


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