Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Guest post: It takes a village . . .

...and my village includes a housecleaner, a nanny, a back-up part-time nanny for on-call days, an amazingly flexible husband who works from home and one amazing non-medical friend I've made in this new city. Plus, in really important crunch times, a family willing to fly across the country for weeks at a time to care for my family so I can focus on studying. I come from a family whose resources definitely did not allow for hiring nannies or housecleaners, so I always feel a little self-conscious about it and hesitate to seek help, even when I know it’s needed.

Before medical school, and even during the first two years, I could usually balance the work of school with the work of home. Between studying for Step 1 and then starting 3rd year, with two young children, I realized something had to give! I finally accepted the fact that extra help was necessary, for my sanity and for my success in medicine. While I don't mind cleaning the tub or mopping the floor, I would rather spend that time playing with my children, hanging out with my husband, trying to maintain some relationship with my friends and family, and of course, reading, reading, reading for school!

Since I've relinquished control of keeping up with the cleaning, and since my husband has taken over the cooking (mostly), I'm amazed how much time and mental energy I've been able to devote to school. I'm also pleasantly surprised at how much this extra time to study has boosted my confidence on the wards and subsequently my performance. Meanwhile, at home, I'm actually more likely to tidy up and clean a bit every day, since I don't feel so overwhelmed with the amount of cleaning to be done. This makes my husband, a neat freak by nature, extremely happy. Historically, every woman who could afford to hired people to help manage the house, so why do we try to be superwomen today?

I'm interested to hear how other mothers in medicine have found ways to expand their village of support and if they noticed a difference in their professional lives. I’m also interested to hear if you received any negative responses from your family about hiring help?

Ley is a medical student with two children under age 5. She lives on the west coast and remembers enjoying running, cycling and camping before medical school happened; she hopes to return to those hobbies sometime in the next decade.


  1. Hiring a housekeeper was the best decision we ever made. I also came from a family that didn't have the resources to do something like that growing up, so it took a while for me to get over the "I should be able to do it all" guilt. But now that I have, there's no looking back. I no longer have to spend my days off vacuuming and scrubbing toilets. I can focus on quality time with my family. I want my daughter to have memories of us together, not memories of mom mopping the floor. Plus having a clean house puts me in a better frame of mind to start my work day. And let's face it, I never had the time to get my house as clean as I wanted to when I was doing this on my own.

  2. I was determined to do it all on my own for years. Finances partially drove this, because a housekeeper on two students salaries isn't quite feasible. But after slogging through medical school and residency and trying to cover all the bases myself, we finally got a cleaning service. It's delightful.

  3. I intended to hire a housecleaner during internship. My husband hit the roof. My mother had twice-weekly household cleaning help, and most of the families in the neighborhood had live-in housekeepers. Not in his family. He was so furious that I didn't even raise the issue again for nine years, by which point we'd moved from rented apartments to owning a 2500 sq foot house. That time I just hired them. He said not a word. We've had weekly cleaning since then.

    We've always split the housework; the actual division has varied over the years. At the moment, he does the laundry and cooking and I do the bills and most of the tidying-up. I mow the lawn, he does the rest of the outside work (which he enjoys). We both do the shopping depending on schedules and we both do the kid transport depending on schedules. We have an afterschool babysitter twice a week to get our daughter to dance class (class starts at 5:00 and neither of us can reliably leave work in time to get her there). The addition of parent care for me (my mother has dementia) has moved the needle from "coping comfortably" to "overwhelmed almost all the time" and I'm not sure what I'm going to do about that.

    1. Could you write a post about this some time? I am in residency, have a toddler, a husband with a demanding job, no siblings, and parents whom I fear are going to start their decline soon. They also refuse to relocate to a place where I could reasonably be expected to practice. I have no idea how I am going to cope with caring for them as their health declines, and would love to hear your perspective.

  4. I grew up in a very poor family where my mother never had any help. Even after my parents became financially stable and moved into a much bigger house, she rarely hires a cleaning lady to clean before big holidays or events when she is overwhelmed with cooking for those. My husband's family is completely different--they had a housekeeper, often live-in, most of his life.

    Being a resident and living in a small apartment, I still can't imagine hiring a housekeeper to clean (although with the dirt that accumulates in this place, I think we need it!) I have completely given up on cooking -- I figure, I am not good at it anyway, and it takes too much time away from my Doll. My mother brings us food often. As for help, we have a nanny who comes 5 minutes before I am scheduled to leave the house for work and leaves immediately as soon as I get home. I don't ask her to clean or do anything besides watch, play and feed the baby. She doesn't even have to wash her bottles. Hubby will pick up milk on the way home sometimes if we are out, but that is the extent of his shopping involvement. Laundry is all me, except if I'm folding at night when hubby is home, he helps me with that. He is very open to helping out, which I'm very thankful for, he just is never around to actually do it.

    Soon we will move to a bigger place... and I think at that point I will probably have to hire a housekeeper to clean at least every other week.

    I've actually been looking into purchasing something like a Roomba (a robot floor cleaner) to help with floor cleaning, which is usually the source of my distress. It's so expensive that I am still just pondering it, but I may do that to ease the pain of dirty floors.


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