Maybe you work outside the home full-time, part-time, or maybe it’s not a part of your life right now – maybe you have children or you don’t, but chances are you’ve had to make a big sacrifice for your future to allow your spouse to pursue theirs.
Sometimes, I struggle with my feelings about this sacrifice. Here are some questions I hear as a working “doctor’s wife” that raise my blood pressure, and probably yours too.
I work part-time as a medical writer and spend the rest of my time with our two young boys. My husband comes home, and, though he says it without judgement, when he asks me “so, what did you do today?” I tense up and try to dramatically list off all of the stuff I did so that he thinks I was busy and useful. It doesn’t help that I know he’s out there doing surgery while I’m sitting on a conference call and asking my toddler not to lick the floor.
Are you available tonight to finish this assignment?
I have no idea if I’m available tonight to get back to work, because I have no idea if my husband is coming home to help me with the kids. Weekends? Same. I used to be the go-to person for plenty of tasks at work, but now, I can’t be, because no one knows if I will be able to commit. I hate to under-deliver.
What are your long-term career plans?
I also have no idea what my long-term plans are. I can’t commit to my jobs for more than a few years because we will have to move. Another aspect of this is the realization that, likely, my family won’t need my income in a few years. So what does that mean for my contribution? Is it worth it? Is it appreciated? Should I just stop trying to have a career so I can stop feeling like I can’t give anything the attention it deserves?
The cable guy is coming tomorrow, can you wait for him?
Of course I can, because it has to be me. And when the kids are sick? Me. Sometimes this isn’t even posed as a question, it’s an assumption that I’ll be there. One time our son had some minor non-contagious ailment, and my husband told me I should take him to the doctor the next day. It tipped me over the edge. Easy for him to say – it doesn’t affect his schedule at all. I have to take off work, disrupt the baby’s naptime, and drag two wild savages to a room covered in a film of bacteria. Not to mention, “taking off work” doesn’t mean you work less. It means you finish the work another time.
Worst of all – the absence of a question.
When we are out at an event related to my husband’s job, no one asks me what I do. Do they think I do nothing but wash scrubs and pack lunches? Or even worse, do they think I do have a job, but it’s not interesting enough to ask about?
You are intelligent, you are needed, and your contribution to your family is valuable.
I’m no expert at juggling everything that comes with being a working spouse of a resident or fellow, but here are some goals I’m working on:
- I consider what I need to do to feel valuable. Having a job, even if it isn’t always recognized among my peers or my husband’s social network, helps me feel useful. Feeling that way translates to a better mood all around, and that is recognized by my peers, spouse and kids.
- I communicate my needs to my spouse (caveat: do not try to have this conversation when they just finished a 24-hr shift). In this same conversation, I ask him what his needs are. Words of encouragement and appreciation go a long way, especially when it’s easy to feel like we’re out on an island far away from family and old friends. We just downloaded a free app called “Love Nudge” – it’s based on the 5 Love Languages, and it sends us both notifications with suggestions for how to make our spouse feel loved that day based on our unique love preferences.
- I focus on my friendships. Diving in to my friendships with my new Iowa City friends is so rewarding, and helps me to feel grounded and useful in this new place; like I serve a purpose even outside of my marriage, my children, my home and my job. I try to write down their important dates in my calendar, check in on them, and help them to feel comfortable sharing with me. I am intentional about opening up to them in return, because I need their support too.
- I take a moment to be thankful that I have a choice. How lucky are we that we are even questioning whether we should still be working? Many families need both spouses to work indefinitely.
- Molly Sherwood