Days Defined By The Medical Life
Have you ever wondered what the day-to-day looks like for fellow medical spouses? On the outside, their lives may look organized and happy with ducks-in-a-row, but is that how it really is? What goes on “behind the scenes”?
To give you a little glimpse, I’m going to share what a typical day looks like for my family. This is with the important caveat that you may have a very different experience than me, and I am in no way claiming that my situation is somehow “normal.” It’s just another medical spouse’s account, and even my own life has greatly changed from year to year, and continues to change from month to month!
Regardless, I’m sure you’ll find that medical spouses can relate to each other no matter the details. Do you head off to work, maybe drop some kids off along the way, or psych yourself up for another day spent alone or with your children? Regardless, you’ll find that a core part of our days are the same: they’re defined by the medical life.
In my current season, my husband is a Family Medicine resident; we have two small children (4 and 1); and I’ve chosen to stay at home and homeschool for the foreseeable future. When my husband began medical school, I was working full-time, and we did not have children. Our first child was born just before Step 1. (Curious about having kids in med school? Head over here!) I continued to work full time until we moved to a new state for residency.
When we moved, I was six months pregnant with our second child, and we decided I would stay at home during residency. Hence, our day-to-day at the moment looks quite different from how it did a few years ago.
A Typical Day
So, let’s get to the details! Our snapshot in time of a typical day:
After numerous hits of the snooze button, I try get up by 6:00 AM so I have a moment to mentally prepare myself for the day before my kids wake up between 6:30-7:00 AM. If my husband is on a hospital rotation, he’s gone before we wake up. If he’s in clinic, we’ll likely see him for a bit of time before he heads in. It’s breakfast, getting ready for the day, and then we either stay at home or go on an outing.
In the past, I was as helpful as possible to my spouse. I would make his coffee and breakfast. I would pack snacks and a lunch. I enjoyed helping in these ways—taking off some of the stress of medical training. Now, I take time for myself in the evenings and mornings so I can function at my best for everyone. My husband is on his own to prepare for work (he does a fine job!), and the positive benefit is that I’m much more relaxed and pleasant to be around.
Most of my days are spent alone with my kids. Since they’re young, the day is broken up into little chunks: wakeup/breakfast, morning time, lunch, naps, afternoon time, dinner, bedtime. Some days we have playdates and see friends, and other days, it’s just us doing our own thing. It was similar when I worked, although I would have died for a nap in the middle of the day!
Sometimes we have really good days where we get outside, play, laugh, and enjoy each other’s company. Other days, every moment is a struggle. When my husband is in the hospital, our kids barely see him, so they handle missing him by acting out and having behavior issues. On hard days, I count down the minutes until nap time and bedtime. I feel guilty that I’m not enjoying them and have acted snappy. Sometimes we can’t leave the house because we’re such a hot mess. Other times, we must leave for everyone’s sanity. Keep in mind we also live in a 900 square foot apartment. Cozy!
In addition to caring for the kids and homeschooling, I run the home, run errands, make meals, take care of all the other random stuff of life, and try to fit in that crucial self-care. It’s a lot, but it’s the modern life for all of us (read here about “Expectations” and “Division of Labor”). I had to do this balancing-act when I was working, just replace [kids] with [job], and also when I was working AND had kids. There was also a period of time pre-medicine when my husband was in the Navy and I didn’t have a job or kids!
Once the day gets close to 5:00 PM, I start really getting ready for my husband to come home. When he’s in clinic, he’ll get home around 6:00 PM, when he’s in the hospital, he’ll get home after the kids go to bed, and sometimes even after I’ve gone to bed. Those days are hard for me, when there’s no reinforcement coming in to ease the demands of the last part of the day.
Life is good when things are going smoothly: the kids are in good spirits, I’m feeling clear and energized and on top of things, and when my husband is able to spend some time with us. But there will always be a swing of the pendulum back the other way. There will be times when a day feels like chaos, or feels sad and unforgiving. There are days that I feel tired of the monotony of daily life, going through the same motions over and over again, like a hamster caught in a wheel.
Priorities and Self-Care
In those hard moments, I try to up my self-care routine and revisit my priorities to give me some greater perspective. Reviewing and re-affirming my priorities also helps me remember that I’m actually living out my priorities, and this is just how it looks moment by moment. It’s not glamorous, but it’s meaningful.
For me, my priorities are lived out when I’m sitting with my tantruming toddler as she feels the disappointment of not getting something she wants. When I’m changing dirty diapers. When I’m reading books and playing puzzles, over and over again. When I’m planning healthy meals, shopping for the ingredients, and preparing those meals. When I get to the gym to take care of myself and take time to do something I enjoy (like reading a book, spending time with a friend or family member, or watching a show), as well as taking time for stillness and reflection to feed my spirit. I want myself and my family to be healthy and happy. It’s hard work that requires patience, grit, and resolve, but it’s exactly how I want to be living my days.
Before I had children, my priorities were a little different. One of the top priorities was increasing my knowledge and working toward living out my passion through my work. I was a vocal coach and felt very driven to continually expand my knowledge of the voice and of teaching. Sharing that knowledge with as many students as possible was tiring, but incredibly rewarding. It is some of the most inspiring and powerful work I’ve been a part of in my life. I also remember having jobs that I dreaded going to every day. Jobs that brought some money in, but didn’t fill my spirit.
In all honestly, my main “job” right now is this: to keep everything as “good” as possible. The more I can do myself without pushing myself over the edge, the easier it is for everyone, and the more time we get to spend together when my medical spouse is home.
Regardless of what your life looks like right now—work, kids, work and kids, or something else entirely—satisfaction lies within the moments. No outside thing will bring you happiness or purpose. You may wish to be somewhere else, doing something else. You may mostly enjoy where you are, but still feel like something is missing. Whatever the case, I have learned that moving your attention inward is the only way to find peace in your situation. No one can give that to you. No place or thing can give that to you. It’s already there, waiting for you to rediscover it. If you want to find some some stillness and peace for yourself, below are some great resources to check out. May your daily life be a reflection of your greatest wishes for yourself and your marriage, one moment at a time.