Advice for Spouses of Residents (with Kids)
My husband Tim is a physician in residency. We met in undergrad while he was studying for the MCAT. We were married during medical school and had our first child a few months before he graduated from medical school. Tim is 3.5 years into residency and we now have three kids. Here are a few things pieces of advice that I wished I had known when we first started out. Most of this specifically apply to families with kids, but some points are universal.
Shifts don’t end on time
Every shift has an end time, but that literally means nothing. Tim is responsible for notes that can take him hours after his shift ends. If he tells me that he is going to be home at 7pm, I usually add at least an hour in my head so I’m not disappointed when he isn’t home on time.
Don’t have high expectations post call
This was probably the biggest thing I learned during residency: post-call is such a crapshoot. Sometimes he gets a decent amount of sleep and is excited to dive into family activities and household projects, but most of the time he is really tired and barely functional. I have really low expectations post-call so if he is rested then that’s a nice surprise 🙂
Make your own plans & follow your own schedule
Schedules in residency are crazy. It’s really difficult for Tim to guarantee that he will be home by a certain time. He is often pulled into a consult right before he is going to walk out the door or gets slammed during his shift and spends hours working on notes afterward. His schedule also varies a lot based on his rotation – some months are better than others.
Before we were married, I learned that I needed to make plans on my own. I worked a normal job where I had the weekends off, but this didn’t necessarily align with his schedule. Just because he was working on a Friday night didn’t mean that I couldn’t have fun. I hung out with girlfriends a lot and also hung out with couple friends even though I was solo most of the time.
Once we had kids, scheduling became really important. My oldest always wants to know when we are eating dinner, what we are doing on Saturday, etc. I like to keep the kids on a very consistent schedule and if Tim can participate, that’s great, but if he can’t then it’s not the end of the world. I have dinner at exactly the same time, because if we waited for Tim to come home then we might fall asleep waiting (literally!).
We go to birthday parties, holiday celebrations, trips, etc. without Tim, and that’s ok. I constantly respond to invitations with me and the kids as “yes” and Tim as “maybe”. Tim is 100% invited to anything we do, but I don’t want the kids to be disappointed when he can’t join us for something. I tell the kids “We are going to the museum today.” rather than “We can go to the museum if your dad gets home in time.” We don’t rely on Tim to get out and do things, but we are really happy when he can join us.
Parenting will not be 50/50
I wish we could both give 50/50 to parenting and divide household responsibilities equal. Both of us wish that was possible, but at this season in our lives, Tim is giving most of his time to residency. We both signed up for this and we have to push through.
He typically leaves for work before the kids wake up and he comes home around bedtime (if not after). He isn’t there for the morning routine. He is rarely around for school pickup, dinner, and bedtime. He is absolutely invested in our children and would like to participate more, but the reality is that he has very little flexibility with his job and just can’t be around enough to divide things 50/50.
I’m a big fan of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, however equal division of parenting responsibilities is really difficult when you are married to a resident. Tim always jokes that we can divide things 50/50, if I take the first 9 years 🙂
Try to keep your spouse involved virtually
I send Tim photos and videos of the kids throughout the day so he can keep updated with what is going on. He will send photos and videos back that I can show the kids too.
We FaceTime with Tim during bedtime. He can’t always answer the phone, but we try. I typically text him a few minutes before we call so he can try to make time. If we can’t get ahold of him then we make a quick bedtime video to send him.
Long shifts for them = longs shifts for you
If your spouse is working a long shift or series of shifts, then get ready for a grueling schedule as well. Tim just finished working 2 weeks straight which meant that I was solo-parenting for 2 weeks. I’ve learned that these long stretches are something that you both need to prepare for. I often drop off the kids at my parents for a few hours here and there so that I can get some sort of a break.
Remember that you chose this path, but your children did not
Even though you aren’t in training, you signed up for a grueling few years when you married a med student, resident, etc. I remind myself daily that we both committed to seeing this through, but our children were just born into this crazy routine. We attempt to shield them from the stress that comes along with this lifestyle.
We try to make it as “fun” as possible. Sometimes I take the kids to eat dinner at the hospital cafeteria, not because their food tastes particularly good but because otherwise, we wouldn’t have a family dinner. If Tim is really tired post-call, then I’ll primarily do the bedtime routine but have him swoop in and do a really special book or story so it seems like he was involved with bedtime. Our kids are young and we employ a lot of smoke and mirrors to hide the long hours and stress…I hope we are doing an ok job with it 🙂
Medical training is a long, hard road. It’s definitely more difficult with kids, but I don’t know if there is a good time to have kids. Does that even exist?
Remember that the bright, energetic person you married is still there, but there are dimmed by hours of exhaustion and stress. Push through and keep looking forward. I’m told that it gets better 🙂
– Anna, Life with Little Ones