Thursday, July 10, 2014

MiM Mail: Keeping the relationship strong and resentment to a minimum

I am a third year medical student who recently had a child and am starting back on the wards soon, after a lengthy maternity leave.  I experienced some of third year already (while doing rotations during my pregnancy), and I'm absolutely terrified about going back!  Nope, it's not about the rigors of the wards or balancing school and medicine (we have older kids so I've done some of that already).  I'm terrified of the resentment my husband is likely to feel while taking care of the kids for such long hours on his own while I'm away and also while I'm studying.

He fully admits that he felt some of that in my first and second year and knows he'll feel it again when I go back since the hours will be longer.  To those in med school, residency, and practicing--what did you do to keep your relationship strong when your spouse often feels like a single parent?  I plan to do as much household stuff as possible, find some extra childcare for a few hours on the weekends when I have tougher rotations, try not to complain, and try to book family time for at least a little almost every weekend.  Any other ideas?  What works for you in this regard?  Thanks so much for any advice you have!

14 comments:

  1. I try to take care of myself so that I am less of a shrew to him. When I'm in the hospital 13-14h there's really no way I can "help" so I leave all the decisions up to him and try not to second guess him. I also try to make sure we have enough childcare so that he can decompress on his own too. And date night every so often.

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  2. 1. Encourage him to find things he likes to do with the kids without you.
    2. outsource chores as much as possible (cleaners, wash and press nice clothes, landscapers, etc). You shouldn't waste the little amount of time you have at home on things you can pay other people to do, IMO. Try to protect this time as much as possible.
    3. Get as much reading done at the hospital as possible so you protect the time you have at home.
    4. Encourage him to have hobbies (hire a sitter if needed) and let him have time by himself if he needs when you're home.
    5. Date nights.
    6. Accept any and all help from trustworthy family and friends who offer.

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  3. I agree with Sophia's points above, especially 1-4. Also, you both need to accept that you're going to go through a "rough patch" that WILL get better once you're done with residency. Yes, that's several years from now, but if you're committed to each other, you will weather the ups and downs together. Make sure he knows that you don't plan to work as many hours as you are now once you're done with residency.

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  4. If you can, get a "mother's helper" at least a few times a week to help with dinnertime, bath, bed. A high school girl, someone with a flexible college schedule, just for a few hours twice a week. Then he won't be as much of a single parent. Also, a mentor once gave me this piece of golden advice: "you don't want to pay someone to be a wife to your husband, so be willing to pay for someone to do everything else (dishes, laundry, clean the bathroom, etc.)" coming home to a clean house works wonders for a relationship- the time you are home will be fully devoted to family.

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  5. It's not your job to fix how he feels. How he feels is his responsibility. If he's feeling overwhelmed by the care of his children, then he can get some help. *He* can get some help - and then *he* can be responsible for scheduling it, arranging it, and communicating with the people who provide it.

    I know, I know, I have no compassion and no sympathy for the poor put-upon guy. That's probably because I've spent the past 30 years listening to people tell me how *amazing* it is that my husband puts up with my work hours/my work travel/my on-call schedule/my higher salary. I may be just the teensiest bit resentful of the fact that I'm supposed to fall down and kiss his feet because he's a fully functioning human being who can and does shoulder his share of housework and childcare.

    Over the years, we've both felt resentful at times of the other one's work demands. When that's happened, we've had a conversation about what's going on and how we can cope. Sometimes that means we hire more help. Sometimes that means we spend some dedicated time together, or he (the introverted one) gets to spend a whole day by himself. The only way to keep a marriage thriving is to talk to each other.

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    1. Thank you for pointing that out. The expectation that the woman arrange all childcare drives me bonkers, and for some reason that's what everybody expects (even my hard core feminist mom). If the husband is the one who will be interacting most with them/ getting his time protected by them then really it should fall to him.

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    2. I was going to say something along those lines, but you said it much better Jay! I'm OK with sitting down with my husband and trying to figure out together what will make things work for our household and give us both the time & space we need for ourselves, but its not up to me to "keep him happy" by trying to mind-read what help he needs and arranging it for him.

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    4. I'm relieved to come back and find positive comments. I was worried I'd be flamed :)

      Also wanted to add that we will celebrate our 30th anniversary in December and have a 14 year old. In most ways it is much much easier now - we don't need childcare if we both have to work on a Saturday, for example. We have to figure out transporting her to the movies and the mall and her friends' houses...so we're still negotiating. All those communication skills we use with patients, families and colleagues and learners also work with partners.

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    5. I love this comment too because there is such a huge double standard, especially in the South. Women take care of children, men get bonus points for babysitting. Women arrange all the childcare and take care of the home stuff, men are hailed as saints for doing a fraction of the childcare/housework that we get taken complete granted for, even if we are a working equivalent or the breadwinner. It makes me want to pull my hair out.

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  6. In my current (2 year) relationship I find that scheduling as much as possible helps. We are two busy professionals and when there is uncertainty over when I will be available or when he will or what night he is coming over to eat with us or when we will have time without the kids then feelings on both ends get hurt. I know it is hard to control your schedule when you are a med student and resident. But if you at least get an idea at the beginning of the month you can share your schedule and he can share his with the kids and you can find reasonable time for selves, relationship, and family. All those three might not fit well into every month but you can figure out how to slip the most important in. When expectations are created and met it is a wonderful feeling of peace.

    In my 13 year marriage we did not do this so well. I never knew my ex's schedule when he was in private practice and I was a resident and I felt shafted when it came to support and me time with two small children. We all get along better in our now blended family - stepmom is great with handling the schedule and conflicts are easily diffused with (I agree with J above) constant open communication. Keep talking. If you don't feel heard, or listen, then it can spiral out of control.

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  7. I'm in a similar situation to you, just a few months ahead. I had a baby at the beginning of 3rd year and just finished my rotations. I worked really hard to be super efficient with my time at school to minimize the time I needed to spend studying at home (always had a book on me, Uworld Q's on a tablet that fit in my whitecoat). I was often gone long before my son or husband woke up, but on most rotations I actually got to pick the baby up from daycare and spend the evening doing things I assume normal people get to do. The exception was surgery clerkship. My hours were crazy. Many times I'd not see my son awake for days at a time. My husband started to joke about being a single parent and that I was just the "milk fairy." It was tough, but we both knew it was for a limited time. We both knew there would be times like that when I went into medicine and we both knew those times would be extra tough when we decided to have a child. Despite the fact that we both complain and joke at times about it, it is what we signed up for. My husband has his own business, so his ability to work is what keeps a roof over our heads. When my schedule lets up a bit, I have to step up and let him work. At those times I find myself almost resenting him.
    I agree with much of the above. A housekeeper or someone to help with the little things around the house every so often will go a long way. Communication is always key. Planning ahead is a nice thought, but as a medical student you have very little control of your schedule and work hour restrictions do not apply (at least not at my institution). I found that I could never make any sort of reasonable guess as to when I was going to get home. We set up the expectation that he would take care of everything (except milk production and setting out food and clothes for each day) for the baby. Then when I got released early and was able to pick up the baby from daycare, etc it was a pleasant surprise. In reality I did lots around the house and with baby, but with the lack of control of your schedule that you have in medical school, it was the only way we maintained sanity. Good luck. Things get better someday..so I'm told.

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    1. They do get much better. At my institution I was able to have some control during clinic-based rotations but I agree - depending on your resident and your rotation it can get too crazy for scheduling. Same goes for residency. Training is such a marathon. I am impressed by women that start their families in medical school - makes it even more of a marathon. Sounds like you are doing a great job.

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  8. Thanks for posting about this very important and under-discussed issue. One thing I can add to the good advice above is the importance of not second-guessing or trying to manage-at-a-distance the child rearing decisions that your partner makes while you are unavailable. As the "Mommy," it hurts me to think that my partner may have a better grasp on my daughter's day-to-day routine, her moods, or the gossip from daycare. I want so much to be the expert! I find myself wanting to intervene on small details like when my daughter naps or what clothes get sent to daycare with her, I think because it palliates my inner conflict and guilt over the amount that I work. But then I think about how annoying it would be if roles were reversed and I were shouldering the majority of parenting and having my decisions second-guessed by an often absent partner. I try as much as I can to celebrate my partner's role as the primary caregiver and to let her know what a good job she is doing. I try to let go of the small stuff and to accept as gracefully as possible the fact that I may not be the expert on everything even though I want to be.

    The other advice I have is to hire a babysitter or visit the grandparents so that you can have time to yourself. I have struggled with needing time to myself but feeling guilty asking my partner to do yet more childcare so that I can have this time. This ends up building resentment on both ends, on my end because I begin to feel like my personal needs are not part of the equation of our family, on my partner's end because I end up freaking out and asking for last minute relief for a few hours rather than planning things in advance and communicating my needs more clearly. Plan for childcare coverage in advance with the sole goal of having time to yourself. Everyone will benefit.

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