Tag Archives: Parenting

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.

What We Say (Five Questions That Are Hard To Answer)

June 11, 2015

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A few weeks ago I was standing in line at the post office when a woman with four young children trailed in behind me. She was carrying a large box, an overstuffed purse, and a very tired baby. I said a quick hi, how are you. She replied good! And then we both pretended I didn’t just ask a mother of four how’s she feeling with a bunch of hangry kids at the post office during lunchtime.

It’s part of the social constructs of life. Someone comes up and asks a polite question and we give a polite answer back. It’s not that they aren’t sincere or that we’re not honest, it’s just that not everyone needs to know that “I’m fine” means “I’m tired and possibly have a sinus infection.”

The concept of TMI is insulting to those of us who like to just tell it like it is, but I will admit to small talk for the sake of saving everyone the long version. I’m also the kind of introvert that is an open book with friends, but quiet as a church mouse with the other moms at the library.

Five questions no one really wants to answer, the last being my personal favorite as it usually involves panic and mild hives.

Here’s to finding middle ground.

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1) You have a newborn! How are you feeling?

What I say: I’m doing okay. A little tired and sore, but hanging in there.

What I mean: The other day I sneezed and I think part of my vagina fell out. I’m not sure. When I called the doctor, they put me on with a nurse who said to apply ice and maybe take a few deep breaths. I hung up and ate fourteen individually packaged brownies to cope. Breastfeeding is going okay, minus the blinding pain and cracked nipples. My cousin told me to put cold cabbage leaves down my shirt, but so far I just smell like coleslaw. I’m doing the best I can. My plans include survival and lifelong abstinence. I don’t know, I haven’t slept since last Tuesday.

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2) What do you do in your spare time?

What I say: Read, write. I haven’t had time to watch much TV, but I heard Broad City is good!

What I mean: Let’s see, watch as much good TV as humanly possible while also keeping up with library books, writing projects, and herding the kids from room to room? Also have you ever seen the hit TV series Friends? Because I’m still watching that, too. Lately I’ve been dragging myself to aerobics at the gym so I don’t die of a frozen pizza induced heart attack at 30, but most of my very limited spare time is spent doing things that don’t require thinking, talking, or making eye contact with strangers.

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3) How are the kids doing?

What I say: Good. Very busy!!!

What I mean: Yesterday my one-year-old took one of my sneakers, dipped it into a potty my four-year-old forgot to flush, and drank it shot style. She would have gone for seconds, but I intervened which was pretty devastating. Have you ever heard the mating call of a howler monkey? That’s the sound my daughter makes when I take away her feces water. Honestly if one more person asks me to make them a sandwich, I’m going to lock myself in the bathroom for the remainder of the week.

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4) Are you thinking of having any more children?

What I say: I’d like another one, but Austin isn’t sure. We’ll see!

What I meanISN’T THE MIRACLE OF BIRTH AMAZING. I love birth. I could give birth all over this place. I love screaming for an epidural and pushing out a new slippery human into the world. The recovery is semi-horrifying, but have you ever smelled fresh baby scalp? It’s a heroine shot of love. How could that phase of my life be over? YOLO. Let’s do this one more time. It should be the easiest one yet. They can sleep on the floor like Tarzan and eat table scraps from the other two. Austin disagrees, but I think that’s because he enjoys sleep, hobbies, and easy vacationing.

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5) What are you up to lately? Anything exciting?

What I say: Oh, I don’t know. {Insert advanced stuttering}

What I meanI found a five dollar bill in an old pair of pants the other day, that was pretty thrilling! I wish big things were on the horizon; that the book I’m writing is finished or that I’m planning a road trip to California. But the truth is the list of writing projects is long and money is tight. I hired a once-a-week babysitter and am starting a babysitting swap, but like most people– every day is about balance. Finding joy in the mundane while moving forward with the big picture. It’s also a lot about eating a burrito in the dark after the kids have gone to bed. That’s about as good as it gets.

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Summer Of Champions

May 28, 2015

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It is almost summer, which means no more winter coats, chapped lips, or swearing under our breath while we scrape the icy windshield and the baby screams in the car seat. No more flu season or cabin fever or mismatched mittens no one wants to wear anyway.

We have survived winter. We are Braveheart.

Here’s the thing though, summer in your 30s is not the same as summer in your early twenties when all you needed for a day at the beach was your towel and thigh gap. Now the sun spots have gathered into colonies and have us googling CANCER MOLES in the middle of the night. Now we need sunscreen, a floppy hat, and a beach umbrella. Now we have children.

Have you ever tried putting sunscreen on a toddler? Imagine greasing a back-talking cake pan who has been given the gift of questions while also holding his younger sister, a slippery watermelon with “boundary issues.” Does that sound fun?

I’ve never been great with analogies.

Listen, I love summer as much as the next unoriginal girl who is “always cold.” When I first got AOL Instant Message circa 1998, my screen name was summerdreams19. The perfect internet presence for a 13-year-old girl! I couldn’t wait for summer. Summer was when all the good stuff happened; pool parties, family vacation, finding ticks embedded in your sister’s buttcheek. There is nothing better than waking up to the smell of a summer day. The world is your sweaty oyster. There is nothing you can’t do (even though you do mostly nothing).

Things are different now. Now we have to face grown women wearing rompers and the constant fear of kids and water. I need a pep talk. Someone to say we can do thisWe can slide our pale, jellied bodies into bathing suits and hold our head high. We can pack snacks and water bottles and carry sweaty babies to the park only to turn around because someone has to pee.

We can do months without preschool, weeks without help, long mornings stretched into long afternoons. We can apply sunscreen every dawn and give baths every dusk. We can dodge bee stings, poison ivy, splinters and thorns. We can haul heavy strollers in and out of our trunks 400 times for the sake of “family fun.”

We are strong! We are wise! We know our cousin’s HBO password!

There is so much joy that comes with watching children experience the seasons. Summer is no exception. Hot, salty, and full of magic. I am ready for its hormonal sweat.

We can survive summer. We are Braveheart.

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The End Of Preschool

May 20, 2015

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When Waylon started preschool last year, I pretended to be confident in our decision when really I was just another sociopath mom suppressing nervous gas and ugly crying in the school parking lot. It was so hard to send my first baby off into the world. It didn’t help that the first few weeks we had to go through the Orphan Annie routine at drop off. You know, the PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME sobs followed by murder screams and sad, Disney eyes. It was a whole thing.

Then one day, a miracle happened. He stopped crying! They tell you it will happen, but like so many “it gets better” promises in parenthood, it’s hard to believe until you see it with your own eyes. A year later, and I saw the whole thing. I watched him want to get dressed in the morning and ask to stay for lunch. I watched him get braver, grow taller, and be a friend to everyone. A few months in and he even stopped looking over his shoulder to say goodbye. It broke my heart in all the best ways.

We know teachers are sent from baby Jesus, but there is a special VIP spot in heaven for preschool teachers who send you texts saying “He is having fun” and “Thank you for trusting us with him.” I will cry about it until the day I die. Women helping women.

I know I’m not the first overly sentimental mom to send my first, precious, newborn spawn to preschool, but I will never forget this first year of school. The feelings in my gut and the tears on my face. It was the start of something. The beginning of the very long process of letting go.

It’s a funny thing, to be in charge of a life. We hold it like a robin’s egg even though it’s more like the bird itself; wild, independent, slowly slipping away.

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Waylon is saying goodbye to his best friend Ginger next week. A look back on their four years together. There’s just something about that first best friend.

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