Being a doctor is hard; being a mother is just as hard — if not harder — and being both often seems impossible. Looking back at my medical career it is difficult to fathom not doing both. I was an older, non-traditional student when I came back to college to attempt to complete my prerequisites for entry to medical school. I had just had a baby a few months before my return to college, and I made it through medical school with toddlers. Residency was a blur, especially back in the day of no limitations for hours worked for residents, and being on call was crazy, but I survived as did my kids. So I am here to let you know that you too can survive this period despite how you may feel that you are failing at one or the other.
Does it get easier as an attending? I’m not sure, the additional workload and time constraints seem even more overwhelming at times although the pay scale is much improved. As the kids grow so do their schedules and this indeed complicates your schedule. So how do we do this, how do our kids survive and is there a magic system for being able to squeeze everything in that needs to be done in just the 24 hours available each day?
I can tell you that I chose pediatrics as a specialty because kids are so resilient and indeed our own families are just as resilient. Kids thrive on love, and if you shower them with that and sprinkle in some joy, they will indeed be able to thrive despite your crazy hectic schedule.
Here are a few tips for surviving this crazy stage:
1. Let it go. Let go of the expectation that everything must be perfect. It is OK not to have it all together. It is OK not to hold yourself to this ideal that your life must be Pinterest-worthy. I am so thankful that Pinterest was not around when my kid’s elementary parties were taking place, although I still have an inferiority complex about the seasonal parties that were thrown at my kid’s school. But I was grateful that my contributions were more financial than crafty.
2. Get help. Find a sitter, au pair, housecleaner, yard guy, pool guy, maintenance man, handyman, dog walker or whatever else you may need. These menial tasks take precious time away from your family, and your sanity will be spared.
3. Find what makes you and your family happy. My son and I go to concerts together, my husband and I do a movie night a few times a month, and my daughter and I travel together when we can. Carving out a special event or activity creates a bonding experience with each member. They don’t have to be expensive, although first-row floor seats at an AC/DC concert with my son were so worth the expense, and seeing five of the seven wonders of the world with my daughter are highlights of my life, we have only two more to go (Great Wall of China and Petra, Jordan ).
4. Find some you time. This seems counterintuitive, but there is only one of you and whether you carve out time for the gym, a run or just time to snuggle up with the latest book or magazine finding some time to yourself allows you to recharge.
5. Get some sleep. I am often guilty of going, going, going until I’m exhausted. After working a few nights in a row, I often feel like I have not slept enough. So carve out an adequate sleep schedule and stick to it, find a weighted blanket, a cool room and some relaxing sounds to aid in getting to and staying asleep.
6. Quit competing. There I said it. I know we have been competing since perhaps before college, getting great grades to get into “that college,” better grades to get into “that medical school,” competing for “that residency or subspecialty.” It’s ingrained in our brains, DNA or personality to get us to this point. But the pissing contest and rat race are scams, and we do not need this stress. We can stop the hamster wheel and walk away.
7. It’s OK to say no. I’d love to chair that committee, do that presentation, volunteer for this or that, and while these activities are rewarding in their own right, it is OK to say no to them and to, hold your breath, even say no your own family and their unrealistic expectations.
8. Einstein babies. While most of us do believe our kids will be the next Einstein. In reality, they probably won’t be. Some of my colleague’s children went off to big universities; mine went to a state school. Some of their kids are leading fascinating lives; mine are still finding their own way through medical school. Yes, this is an accomplishment that I am beyond proud of, but more importantly, I want them to be happy, I want them to find great loves, and this is more important to me than to have them follow in my footsteps. The level of stress our kids endure is so great. They have to compete with their classmates, but they also feel undue stress to outshine us. My son has often commented on how he feels the pressure to succeed and outdo me — or his sister who has already graduated from medical school and is applying for residency.
9. Talk, talk, and talk to them so more. Engage in all newsworthy stories, politics, race, gender, sports, and finances. Really engage them to find and defend their own opinions about worldly events. While they may not comprehend all this is going on, letting them vent and have a seat at the table allows the ability to be heard. I love when we have a debate on the political climate of the U.S. and how we see the world changing. They challenge me to form new opinions and bring me a new view of the world.
10. Relish. Each and every day. In our field, we often see the worst that can happen to families, sudden illness, death, or tragedies are commonplace. So let them know how you feel, tell them you love them, often and then repeat.
In the end, as with most of my pediatric patients, your kids, like mine, will find the resiliency to succeed despite our crazy, hectic, chaotic schedule. They remember the times you were there as opposed to the times you may have missed.
Maria Perez-Johnson is a pediatrician.