One of the most frequent comments I heard the year before my husband started medical school was, “Good luck being a single mom!” That comment rubbed me the wrong way every time. “He’s going to school, not evaporating from our lives. He won’t cease to exist after his white coat ceremony. I’ll show you,” were some of the thoughts usually going through my head.
At the time we had an almost one-year-old. Six years, four moves, one medical degree, and three additional children later, we are halfway through his residency and I have learned a thing or two. If I were to talk to a mom getting ready to embark on a similar path, I’d have a little more humility than my initial “I’ll show you” attitude, but I’m definitely still far from ever saying, “Good luck being a single mom.” Here’s what I’ve learned.
- It’s always worth it to make a friend. Medical school would have looked entirely different for me if I didn’t meet the women that I did. I made lifelong friends with the other wives. It took some effort and some stepping outside of my comfort zone, but the camaraderie was priceless. We planned weekly girls nights, family Halloween parties, zoo trips, weekly park days, pool days, and even a preschool co-op at one point. A handful of us even charted and ran our own half marathon one year. We still catch up with each other through Facebook, email, and the Marco Polo app.
- Everyone’s got their something. Much can be drawn from friends in similar circumstances; however, it’s helpful to step outside of your situation from time to time lest you get tunnel vision. You’ll notice the partner of an accountant who has to push through busy season every year, someone in construction management who is only home on weekends due to an out-of-state job, or someone whose spouse only works nights at a nuclear power plant with no “normal” schedule change on the horizon. There are limitless job difficulties. Every family has its own way of adding value to the world and bringing in the money, and sacrifice is normally a factor in the equation. My plight was far from the only difficult schedule and I’m better for allowing that to sink in.
- Remember that he wants to be home. It’s easy for a stay-at-home-mom to get caught in feelings of resentment. “My schedule rotates around his schedule.” “He can run an errand on a whim but I have to buckle several kids in and drag them around to places they don’t want to go.” Our thoughts can get pretty vicious fairly fast and that just ends in walls being put up. “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” is very fitting here. A lot of that negativity can be pushed away by remembering why he’s doing what he’s doing, how you’re both supporting each other in the roles you’re currently in, and that he does want to be at home. He’s doing what he’s doing so that he can take care of those he loves most. He doesn’t get to be home for as many of the golden moments of childhood that you’re around for. You’re there for all of the Eskimo kisses, the first steps and words, to watch their eyes light up as you chase them around the playground, and so on. You get to be the constant in their lives and you are rewarded with a reservoir of moments. How lucky you are.
- Don’t let the schedule keep you from living. Plan big and small adventures for when he’s around, but also when he’s not around. We try to squeeze in a camping trip every year. Sometimes it means that my kids miss school because we just have to go off of my husband’s schedule, but we’re okay with that. It’s worth it for us. In our Georgia residency, we’ve made a tradition of going to Stone Mountain State Park every December. One year, there were no coordinating dates between our free tickets and my husband’s schedule, so in the end we decided I would go alone with our kids. Imagine me with four children ages six and under at a large attraction park flying solo. You can see why this was a toss up, but in the end I decided it was worth it for the tradition our kids love so much. Do what you can as a family, but don’t stop living when he’s not around.
In summary, every situation has highs and lows. Remember that you and your spouse are team players and you each bring different skills to the playing field, and then grab some friends that will cheer you on from the sidelines.
QUESTION: Do you feel like you are often parenting alone? How can you create a positive attitude versus resentment?
CHALLENGE: If you have a spouse who is gone often, find ways to maximize your together time and create joy. If your spouse does not work as much, look for someone whose does and brainstorm ways to support her.
Edited by Nollie Haws and Kimberly Price.