Strategies for Medical Families (read doc spouses) to become more resilient
9 Ways to cope with the day-to-day
How to cope with the day-to-day when you have a migraine; your toddler wants to do EVERYTHING on his own; oh, and did I mention your 21-weeks pregnant; and the doc spouse is off somewhere with his first love . . . Medicine: the love he found way before there was an “us” -not to mention a family. Nobody told me it was going to be easy being married to a physician, but then again nobody said anything about it. Like anything at all! So, from my 14 years of experience in this “game,” I’ve come up with strategies for medical families to become more resilient, or maybe just you. Because, let’s face it, you’re the ambassador of the family.
Have your own friends (especially doc spouses), activities, hobbies, etc. - I spoke to several physician spouses’ (males and females) and this suggestion was brought up again and again. I have observed this within my cohort and have adapted this myself over the years. The physician spouses that thrive the most are the ones with their own sense of independence. If finding friendships and other like-minded physician family support has been difficult or you don’t know where to look, I can help with that. I joined Side by Side, a nationwide organization for physician wives that has in-person meetings, which has helped me to thrive. Along with that, there is the AMA Alliance for all physician spouses as well as an abundance of online groups e.g., Physician Family Community, Married to Doctors Podcast (both a podcast and Facebook group) Finding others who understand your situation as a physician’s spouse is key. No explaining is required when you tell your fellow physician spouse friend that there was a miracle and your physician spouse came home early today and you must cancel plans with her. Or that you’re spouseless during a holiday weekend and you want to plan something (because the chances are pretty high your friend might be too).
Have regular check-ins with your doc spouse – I know what you’re thinking (yeah I’m a mind reader): “WHEN?? We don’t have time for that.” Well, then think about a medium that works for you. Whether it be email, voicemail, or carrier pigeon- find a method of communication that is easily accessible to both of you and keeps the conversations moving forward. If that means you text the doc bullet points of items you’d like to discuss later then that’s that. It’s a great way to add context to the highlights of your day -a day that might seem like an abyss to your doc spouse (or even you). I’ve found audio texts to be helpful because they are great way to quickly make a point and easier than typing. Make time, even if that means scheduling time (put it in a shared calendar) to discuss what’s important. Remember that everyone has a different idea of what’s “important.” This could be anything from the crazy story you heard on the radio that must be shared (like the one about the uber driver who took woman to her boyfriend’s place) to something regarding your children.
Schedule Date nights - My doc spouse and I schedule date nights as often as we can and use some of that time to also discuss “important” topics. Once I get my husband’s schedule, I text the sitter, so I can put something on the calendar. If anything, it’s just nice to spend time together away from e-mails, the phone, and the dreaded smart watch that tells you what’s on the phone (dumb move on my part by getting it for him for Father’s Day, lesson learned).
Keep time for your unit – My cousin was recently initiated into the doc-spouse-world and she reminded me of a practice I followed when I was first married. If your doc spouse has some time off i.e. a weekend, a day in the middle of the week, or even an afternoon, don’t schedule it full of activities and errands. When we were first married I used to fill our “free time” in with socializing. One day we were driving back from a friend’s place when my doc spouse turned to me and said, “If I have Sunday off can we not make plans?” In that moment I realized that I was trying to cram all of summer into a day (#dotoomuch). Whatever it is, it can probably wait for another day. What’s more important is that you and your unit spend time just being and relaxing together.
“Willing” and “able”: what’s the difference? – I was recently speaking to a doc friend of mine who stated that his recent relationship ended partly because his ex couldn’t see how much he was trying to make time for her. What our doc spouses are willing to do and able to do are two different things and making sure you figure that out will benefit your mental peace in the long run. When my doc spouse first became a resident, a friend of mine far far from the physician-family-world, was flabbergasted when I told her my doc spouse (then boyfriend) couldn’t make it to her coveted 27th birthday dinner. If I wasn’t the enlightened woman I was, then I might have become resentful of him and his schedule. Or I might have become upset that I had to go to this “extravaganza” on my own. Good thing I wasn’t! But this leads me to my next tip.
Don’t compare – Always easier said than done. I often fall into this trap myself. Don’t compare your family unit to another. Especially- and I can’t stress this enough-to a non-physician family. I recently went to happy hour with another family at a child-friendly location. My doc spouse was going to join us at some unknown time. So, for the time being, it was just my two-and-a-half-year-old and me. The other family had a #squad. My friend’s spouse works from home at his discretion, so he helped with their newborn while her aunt tended to their two-year-old. As with many physician families, we had to move far from our extended family for training and now attending life and seeing my friends squad reminded me of how far away and unavailable mine was. I had a moment of regret as to why I agreed to this. I had to remind myself that in the game of family poker I was dealt a different hand and that’s okay.
Find what brings you joy and make time for it – Think about what brings you joy or happiness. My cohort friend said she needs to be able to exercise and leisure read. If she makes time for these activities regularly then she feels more grounded and satiated. I have found that I need to have time to myself even if it’s for 20 minutes a day and lucky me married a physician, so I get that lol. For some it may be taking a walk, cooking something fabulous, or joining a book club. Remember that you are a person too. You have needs that bring you joy, so make sure you make them a regular part of your life.
Learn from other doc spouses – When I befriend another doc spouse who has more experience in being part of a physician family, I try to learn from them. (The wisest person is one who learns from others’ mistakes!) I have learned a lot about how nothing in your doc spouses’ job is “forever.” Despite all the hype about “it gets better” after training, I also learned attending or post-training life was not going to be what I pictured and to change my expectations. I learned a little about on how to deal with raising children in a physician family. These more experienced doc spouses have been through it and provide a plethora of wisdom, information and support. And importantly, they provide it from a position of empathy and understanding. It’s important to tap into those resources.
Talk to your children – This is for those of you with children or want to have them one day. Gauging age appropriateness talk your children about your doc spouse: what he/she does and what’s so cool or important about it. Make sure that your doc spouse talks to the children about his work, too. This will make the doc spouse’s job less elusive and mysterious. This is helpful for two reasons. First, it helps children understand why their doctor parent may not be around as often as the parents of their peers. Second, children can often be cruel and (like some adults) lack filters. Talking to your children about the doc spouse will help when your child gets a rude comment like “oh your dad’s a doctor, you’re spoiled/rich” etc. Doc spouses have been dealing with these types of assumptions for years, but we often forget about the children and what they might be hearing from their peers.
That’s all she wrote, folks. I encourage you to consider these strategies and make them your own. Meanwhile, enjoy the growing pains and the ebbs and flows of this crazy world. As I tell my doc spouse “it may be my bat and ball, but it’s not my game, so I’m still learning the rules.”
Tejal Toprani Misra is married to Amit Misra, an attending Pediatric Intensivist at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. She is a Psychotherapist with a practice in Philadelphia and South Jersey and a graduate of New York University. Tejal lives in Philadelphia with her doc spouse and toddler son with another on the way. She is an advocate of finding support and educating others about the ever-changing labyrinth of the physician world. If she could she would carry around a soap box to stand on to explain to others what it takes to mentally and emotionally thrive in this physician-family-game. To contact Tejal Misra visit www.tmisra.com