Guest Post: A Letter To Moms Whose Partners Works Long Hours

July 2, 2015

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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.

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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!!!

Suzie

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Four Years Of Parenting

June 26, 2015

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Four years ago today, I pushed my very first baby into this world after 24 blissful hours of labor (no). When the nurse came to check on us a few hours later, I cried so hard that I scared everyone in the room. As it turns out, it’s not really possible to be awake for three days without a little hysteria. The same goes with parenting.

01Just like last year, I am left without much to say beyond “Here we are” and “We’re doing the best we can.” Year three was good but hard. I expect nothing else for the coming year.

Waylon is a sensitive kid. If you google a checklist for what qualifies a Highly Sensitive Person, his face appears, crying over bees and the sound of a flushing toilet. He’s also an intense kid. So far this summer he’s used his time off to swim, pretend to be a space ranger, and play a little game called 900 Questions. Have you ever met a four-year-old? They are kind of like three-year-olds but louder. His redeeming qualities include impressive comedic timing and actually being great at Costco.

If I have any advice for new parents, it’s this: Expect nothing, assume nothing, and try not to drink too much in the evenings. Honestly sometimes the best thing to do for your child is take a deep breath and lie down in a dark room.

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I will never forget that night in June; just past midnight, Austin at my side, our midwife whispering he’s almost here. It was the start of one of my greatest love stories. No matter how hard it is to have a one, two, three, four-year-old–I love Waylon in the most desperate kind of way. He is my heart, the best part of this wild and precious life.

Happy Birthday to my first, sweet, impossible boy. You are a treasure.

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More birthday fun here.

20 Tips On Writing From Smart Women

June 25, 2015

Barbara-Kingsolver-001Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.
Barbara Kingsolver

MAThe only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.
Margaret Atwood

CSBuried beneath all the anxiety and sorrow and fear and self-loathing, there’s arrogance at its core. It presumes you should be successful at twenty-six, when really it takes most writers so much longer to get there… You loathe yourself, and yet you’re consumed by the grandiose ideas you have about your own importance. You’re up too high and down too low. Neither is the place where we get any work done. We get the work done on the ground level. And the kindest thing I can do for you is to tell you to get your ass on the floor. I know it’s hard to write, darling. But it’s harder not to. The only way you’ll find out if you “have it in you” is to get to work and see if you do. The only way to override your “limitations, insecurities, jealousies, and ineptitude” is to produce.
Cheryl Strayed

ADDo not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.
Annie Dillard

Toni MorrisonIf there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.
Toni Morrison

ALYou own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.
Anne Lamott

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.
Sylvia Plath

JoyceCarolOatesBe daring, take on anything. Don’t labor over little cameo works in which every word is to be perfect. Technique holds a reader from sentence to sentence, but only content will stay in his mind.
Joyce Carol Oates

zadie-smithProtect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
Zadie Smith

APEveryone lies about writing. They lie about how easy it is or how hard it was. They perpetuate a romantic idea that writing is some beautiful experience that takes place in an architectural room filled with leather novels and chai tea…. The truth is, writing is this: hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not.
Amy Poehler

Madeleine-LEngleI have advice for people who want to write. I don’t care whether they’re 5 or 500. There are three things that are important: First, if you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair. And second, you need to read. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the great writers who teach us how to write. The third thing is to write. Just write a little bit every day. Even if it’s for only half an hour — write, write, write.
Madeleine L’Engle

TFIt’s a great lesson about not being too precious about your writing. You have to try your hardest to be at the top of your game and improve every joke you can until the last possible second, and then you have to let it go. You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it…You have to let people see what you wrote.
Tina Fey

Doris LessingAdvice to young writers? Always the same advice: learn to trust our own judgment, learn inner independence, learn to trust that time will sort the good from the bad – including your own bad. 
Doris Lessing

JKYou have to resign yourself to wasting lots of trees before you write anything really good. That’s just how it is. It’s like learning an instrument. You’ve got to be prepared for hitting wrong notes occasionally, or quite a lot. That’s just part of the learning process. And read a lot. Reading a lot really helps. Read anything you can get your hands on.
JK Rowling

ALIf something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.
Anne Lamott

MAYou can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.
Maya Angelou

AEImagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you ­finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.
Anne Enright

On writing, my advice is the same to all. If you want to be a writer, write. Write and write and write. If you stop, start again. Save everything that you write. If you feel blocked, write through it until you feel your creative juices flowing again. Write. Writing is what makes a writer, nothing more and nothing less. — Ignore critics. Critics are a dime a dozen. Anybody can be a critic. Writers are priceless. —- Go where the pleasure is in your writing. Go where the pain is. Write the book you would like to read. Write the book you have been trying to find but have not found. But write. And remember, there are no rules for our profession. Ignore rules. Ignore what I say here if it doesn’t help you. Do it your own way. — Every writer knows fear and discouragement. Just write. — The world is crying for new writing. It is crying for fresh and original voices and new characters and new stories. If you won’t write the classics of tomorrow, well, we will not have any. Good luck.
Anne Rice

cherylI’d stopped being grandiose. I’d lowered myself to the notion that the absolute only thing that mattered was getting that extra beating heart out of my chest. Which meant I had to write my book. My very possibly mediocre book. My very possibly never-going-to-be-published book. My absolutely nowhere-in-league-with-the-writers-I’d-admired-so-much-that-I-practically-memorized-their-sentences book. It was only then, when I humbly surrendered, that I was able to do the work I needed to do.
Cheryl Strayed

ALPerfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.
Anne Lamott

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Five Ways To Find Friends, Create A Village, And Possibly Creep Out Your Neighbors

June 24, 2015

I don't need another friend

We’ve been talking a lot about the village lately. I know it can been annoying, especially if you’re a cranky introvert with an aversion to small talk. But sometimes you have to suck it up for the sake of your fragile sanity that has been teetering on the edge of spilled cereal and long Wednesday evenings alone. Also, have you ever tried on skinny jeans in poorly lit dressing rooms? The older I get, the more I realize how much we need each other.

Some signs you might need a village:

1) You recently had a baby.
2) You have multiple babies/children/people asking for sandwiches.
3) You often find yourself hiding in the bathroom because it’s quieter there.
4) Your best friend is a fictional character who lives in Netflix.
5) Your spouse works long hours.
6) Your spouse works fine hours but is not willing to discuss the psychotic undertones of Gillian Flynn novels.
7) You are a human.

Here’s the thing, I’m not very good at making friends. But I have learned a few things as a husband in medical school, the realities of adulthood, and children have forced my hand.  Five ways to find friends, create a village, and possibly creep out your neighbors listed below. May our conversations move past our insecurities and right onto childhood terrors and the joys of night snacking. We are in this together.

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1) Research it.
Elaine

What’s the worst part about making friends? Actually meeting them! Believe me, no one wants to do this part. First friend dates are just as uncomfortable as romantic ones. What do I wear? What do I say? What do I do with my hands? Just as difficult: actually finding friends to date. You will never know if Karen is your new Chipotle champion if you never actually meet her. Ideas: Facebook groups, book clubs, mutual friends, church things, school parking lot, special interest clubs, the park, Zumba class, the mall bathroom. I’ve even met people on Instagram (hello Frances). It’s never easy, but when you find someone else who also loves HBO and hates off-brand cream cheese, it’s all been worth it.

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2) Create it.

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Parents aren’t the only ones who need a village, but they do fall under a specific category of needs. For example, the need to get away from their kids. Paying for a babysitter is always worth it, but if you’re like me and can’t afford all the help you need, babysitting swaps are a mother’s best friend. Some areas even have whole babysitting co-ops that use things like playing cards instead of money to keep track of hours. My friend Mo and I are starting one in our small town to provide free childcare for things like writing, self improvement, date nights, and solo grocery trips. Some ideas on how to start one here and here. Women helping women. There’s no better thing.

3) Theme it.

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Sometimes it’s easier to plan things with new friends if there’s a theme involved. Things on our rotation: Game nights, trivia nights, book club, movie club, and pool night. Totally nerdy but who doesn’t like creating complex trivia games with corresponding snacks? Book club is an especially great starting point because it gives you A) a reason to get together with B) something to talk about besides the weather and potty training. Ours is an open invite every month. We rotate houses, book genres, and welcome nursing babies with open arms. You don’t even have to read the book. Movie club is new and similar except we meet weekly instead of monthly as part of a 10 Step Program to surviving residency. We rotate houses, meet after our kids are in bed, and wear our pajamas. The host picks a surprise movie and sends out a snack hint the week before. So far we’ve watched Wild, Still Alice, and The Theory Of Everything.

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4) Schedule it. the-secretary-cant-book-a-flight-for-tomorrows-business-meeting-89585

Pro tip: “Let’s do lunch sometime” is not an acceptable way schedule a lunch unless you plan on never actually having the lunch. My college friends and I have been getting together twice a year for almost a decade because from the very first gathering, we’ve always picked the next reunion’s date before we leave. It will always be hard to coordinate seven family’s schedules, but it’s impossible without planning ahead. The same goes with local friends. If no weekly or monthly plans are set in place, it is much easier to hibernate in my house like a reluctant sloth. Putting things on the calendar is the only way busy adults see each other on a regular basis.

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5) Show up.

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Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the most awkward of them all? It’s me. I’m the most awkward. Over the past 30 years, I have come up with a gamut of excuses for getting out of interactions with people I don’t know. New co-workers in the lunchroom? I’ve got to get to an important financial meeting! Baby shower brunch for a long lost cousin? Sorry, sore throat and a touch of vertigo! But just like Reverend Carrie Bradshaw would probably say in one of her earth shattering monologues, “I’ve come to learn that showing up is half the battle.” If I wouldn’t have studied Spanish with Jen or started a book club with Mo, I wouldn’t have two of the most important circles of women to help raise my kids and give me advice on sports bras. We can do this.

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Friday Snacks {6.19.15}

June 19, 2015

FINAL

IMG_9623 Five Links To Read

The Pressure To Look Good + I Tried Living My Life Like A Fashion Blogger On Instagram + 11 More Things You Didn’t Know About Friends Even If You’re A Superfan + All The Regular Things + Change The Story

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One Thing To Love

This Etsy Shop.

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Laurel Opal from Commonly Paper Goods has a degree in theology and lives just north of Chicago with her husband and sweet toddler daughter. Laurel makes things like these beautiful custom feather illustrations for your home or nursery and these gorgeous first year calendars for mamas and babies. Laurel opened her shop simply because she enjoys making things that other people might also enjoy. Her shop is affordable, classy, and well made. I can’t wait to hang our feather design on the gallery wall that is about four years in the making (I’m looking at you, Austin). Use coupon code KBAER for 10% off through 6/22/15.

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Shop // Instagramfeather

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One Truth For The Week

truth

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Happy Friday

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Thank you to everyone who shared Internet gems. You make Fridays better.

PS: I just ordered three more pairs of leggings because they suck that mama belly right in.