Austin started his first day of residency yesterday with 50 patients, two weeks of night float, and the nerves of a high school freshman who has never been in charge of a human life before. Some say making it through intern year is harder than making it through four years of medical school, but we’re just going to take it one day at a time.
A few weeks ago, my good friend Suzie sent me a letter of love and encouragement on surviving residency. I immediately shared it with my medwifery friends who now refer to it as “the letter,” and thought I would share it with you, too. Not only is it full of wisdom, but it’s packed with the kind of real life tips that are actually useful. It’s one thing to say, “Be patient!” but a rare thing to tell you how.
There are so many professions outside the medical field that require long hours away from partners and children at home without a co-parent. When I sent this letter to my friend Katie who is married to a farmer, she could only nod in mutual understanding. There is so much sacrifice that comes in any marriage, but ones that involve a lot of time apart require a certain skill set. One that I’m only starting to learn.
A letter for the sisterhood who is at home doing dinner alone for the 100th time.
We got this.
My dear friend Kate,
This is it. This is your “you’ve arrived at residency letter.” I don’t claim to have any amazing advice. I only have a few more years on you as we are about to start our LAST year of residency, as you begin your first. So, here are my thoughts.
Resentment is a dangerous emotion. Everything you feel as you go through this adjustment period (believe it or not, you will get used to this new insanity) is valid. The sacrifice you’ve made will feel huge and so much more than you knew you ever agreed to. Try as hard as you can though, to avoid resentment. Resentment will seriously mess you up. When I’ve felt true resentment, and I have, I’ve learned to immediately name it and share it with Kyle. Often resentment comes when I don’t feel like the sacrifice is being NOTICED or appreciated. For me, I’ve learned I need words and reminders that Kyle is GRATEFUL for the sacrifice. You might be the same way, or not at all. My advice is just to be careful and take note of resentment and don’t let it linger.
I want to talk about guilt. It will be EASY and tempting to make Austin feel guilty. Sad stories of the kids crying for their dad, little videos sent that are meant to be cute but really have a subtext of “ you’re missing this…” or a subtext of “these kids are crazy and it’s all your fault.” It’s easy to point out what they’ve missed because of work and always emphasizing how much harder your life is because of his chosen career. Please remember that what you want Austin to feel is GRATEFUL. Not guilty. Guilt does not make anyone feel better. But feeling recognized and appreciated does. Guilt builds a wedge and just makes things harder. It isolates. And a very important thing to know is he will already feel guilty on his own. More than you will know at first. He will ache to see his kids and worry about what this whole thing is doing to his family and relationships. Yes, he will work Mother’s Day and feel like shit about it already. For the first part of residency, he will doubt himself as a doctor, a husband and a father and that is a heavy burden. Be the person who makes him feel better, not worse.
I am not suggesting a 1950’s relationship where your needs are sidelined because you don’t want to make him feel bad. NOT AT ALL. I am saying is you want to get through this together and be stronger for it and I believe it’s important to be mindful of how words and actions elicit guilt. Always know there is nowhere else he would rather be than home with you and the kids.
Create a buffer for extended family. They will not get it. They just won’t. They will take things personally and be offended when they shouldn’t be. He will miss family days, holidays, and forget how old his nieces and nephews are. As much as you feel you can, help them understand and then move on. Don’t let it get to you that they don’t understand. They can’t.
Share with others who get it! Vent and cry and talk it out. Please talk with me, voxer 1000 times about his schedule, I WANT TO KNOW. Tell me 23 times how his next day off is 24 days away. Here’s my advice though, share with those who get it in an uncensored way, but for everyone else, stick to small doses. Share with me and “the birds” and new residency friends. We will get it!! You will notice others want to understand, they genuinely do, but it can cause a sense of pity and friends not wanting to share with you about their weekend plans. You will get a sense that they just feel bad for you. You might just have to see how this goes for you, but I’ve found that friends in the same situation react in a way that feels helpful and is uplifting. With friends who can’t relate it feels like you’re dragging them down or just raining on their amazing 10 weeks of summer off with their teacher husband.
DON’T WAIT. Do not wait for Austin. I can’t stress this enough. If he’s working Saturday and texts that he will “be leaving in a few minutes” right as you’re about to head to the park with the kids, DO NOT WAIT. Do not wait to have dinner because he said he might be “out the door soon.” Do not always wait to do something fun with the kids till dad has a day off. Waiting = resentment. Too often the reality is he won’t be home in a few minutes. It will be 20 or 30 or another 2 hours. His day off will be switched or cancelled when he’s called in. If you’re living in a sense of waiting for him you will go crazy. It’s always better to not wait because if he does get out the door…great! He can show up at the park and surprise the kids and it will be wonderful. If he makes it home for dinner, he can heat up a plate while everyone is still at the table. So much better than waiting around feeling angry. Don’t hold him to time. You just have to be really zen about this. It is hard and as you know I am not a zen master. They have no control over their time. It is what it is.
If he’s working on a holiday, don’t look at facebook. Enough said. Try as hard as you can to not compare your life with “normal” people’s lives. It is really hard. Don’t look at everyone’s barbeque pictures on the 4th of July when you spent the last 12 hours dealing with crying whiny kids all by yourself. You know the quote on comparison. Thief of joy.
Listen and give space regarding what he needs to share about his days. His days will include some really boring things and then some really dramatic and really heartbreaking parts too. Help him not be a robot about it all. They need a wall to get through it day after day, but I think they really need someone to listen when they are ready to release the emotional parts of the job.
Let’s talk about the kids. I have a good friend from Goshen whose dad is a doctor. I’ve talked to her a lot about this and gained some insight from her experience. She has shared that her memories of this time are completely shaped by her mom’s reactions and attitude. I’ve found that challenging in a good way. She doesn’t remember feeling like her dad was never around or missed everything, even though she knows that was the case. She remembers how her mom always stressed and reminded her how important she was to her dad. It’s important to remind the kids how excited dad will be to hear about something compared to, “too bad your dad missed this…” This sounds like a no brainer, and you are obviously an amazing mom and will do this naturally. It is something I do find myself needing to remember. It is especially hard when Kyle gets called in on a day he should have off or has to work Christmas morning for example. My attitude completely shapes Amelia’s reaction and attitude (and soon Everett’s.) Amelia has gotten many real life lessons on how to deal with disappointment (as will your kids) so I try to be aware that I need to model what I want her to learn. I’m not saying to be fake, but there is a bit of theatrics when young kids are involved. This is a long time of their childhood and the memories are important.
Lastly, perspective. This is a mental exercise that seems ridiculous but I honestly find myself doing it A LOT. I really do try to think of things I am grateful for, because as you know, all the scientists and Gretchen Rubins of this world are right. It does make you happier to be grateful! I try to remember military wives are apart from their husbands for 9 whole months. As you know, I often hate cooking dinner. I used to complain about it all the time, but I’ve stopped. Because when I am so stinking sick of being the only one to cook dinner over and over and over, I think of refugees with hungry babies and honestly, how dare I begrudge the gift of feeding my children?! What a lavish luxury to prepare my children food THREE times a day. How many mama’s in this world would give anything for that? I could cry about it right now. These sorts of mental exercises and perspectives help me remember that when it comes down to it, the majority of the human race has endured much greater hardships than spending a 14 hour day alone with their children. It’s NOT THAT BAD. (THIS is not to negate feelings of the opposite that actually IT IS UNBELIEVABLY HARD. Yes. It is. Both are true.) Mental exercises in perspective and gratitude really do help.
When it comes down to it, it will all be harder and easier than you think. It will be unbearable and then, just like that, not as much. You’ll be going along great, thinking you’ve got it all under control and then a month from hell will take you down at the knees. But the next month will be better, and rotations and night floats will come around more than once and you will notice it is easier than it was the first time.
You’ve got this. I am here for you and I love you!!!