On Sunday, I needed a mental and emotional break. I was done with medical school, not in the done, I graduated, but done because the demands are too hard! My daughter was taking an afternoon nap and my eight month old son was just not tired. I sat him in front of my husband with an attitude and said, “You can watch him.” My husband wasn’t in agreement, he was focused on Step 1 and 2 board studies, which are less than a month away. A curious toddler rolling around and putting everything into his mouth would be a distraction. His rejection of my inward desire to get a few minutes to myself fueled the bitterness that had been developing toward this medical career journey.
Does the above scenario seem familiar? Are you thinking, “Why doesn’t your husband just watch the kids for a few minutes?”
People always say medical school is HARD! It’s taken me three full years of us being on the medical school journey to even begin to explain the term “hard” when referring to this career journey or one that is similar. When we started medical school we had been married just over a year with no kids. Almost three years later we have two kids two and under. We have been through a lot of different family dynamics in this process and the hard has also been different in each season.
The first year of medical school was a time of adjustment. It felt hard because everything we were doing was new. After ten years of working in Christian ministry, six of which I lived in a close nit community overseas, I was working at the public school system in a rural, military heavy area of the southeast. No autonomy, no curriculum, and little support from families. We were living in a new area so I had to make all new friendships. We lived 20-40 minutes from most of the other medical school couples and 30 minutes from our church. Even as an extrovert, developing new relationships after a full day of work was draining. The loneliness some wives face is because putting themselves out there to meet new friends or work up the energy to get out of the house on their own is hard without their best friend by their side. Not everyone’s husband is essentially socially absent for the next seven years.
Tom, who had graduated undergrad five years prior, was having to adjust to the course work load while figuring out his learning style. This took trial and error, both with time dedicated to studying. The excitement of starting medical school wore off quickly. The long hours of sitting around working/studying in the evenings and on the weekends dulled our young adult life quite a bit. No more fun vacations to NYC or Colorado. Sometimes even holidays he is consumed with work or doesn’t get as long of a break as needed to travel to see family. We even tried having a New Years Eve party and one family showed up, the only non-med school couple we knew. Life…or having really no life outside of work was hard.
The Bread Winner
This topic might be semi-controversial so I am going to preface it with, I firmly believe women can and should at times make more than men and yes, I believe women can work outside the home. As someone who married at 30 years old with a solid nest egg of savings and retirement, I found myself jealous of peers whose husbands were well established into their careers. Friends whose husbands had worked their way up in a company or even started their own successful business. Friends who felt the freedom to start a family because they were financial ready. There I was, supporting my husband and using my entire salary to cover our basic expenses. Resentment can even creep in knowing that my hard earned dollars are going toward some necessary study resource or board exams with little wiggle room for personal spending. Not exactly that fun purchase I had dreamed using my bonus on. Jealousy of not having the same economic status as peers I had graduated with was a real struggle. It is hard for my husband knowing he wouldn’t be financially rewarded for his 80+ hours of work per week for four years. Really 7-8 years, if you consider residency pay, which barely covers loan repayment and living expenses.
Debt, Debt, and more Debt
Since we started medical school just a year after we got married, we were still in a process of developing our joint view of our budget and how we would manage finances when the student loans started accumulating. We have opposite family backgrounds when it comes to financial stability. I used to wonder how graduate students could even buy a pizza knowing in the back of their mind that they owe tens of thousands in student loans or more. “Wouldn’t they feel compelled to put that pizza money toward paying off their student loan debt?” I would think to myself. As someone who never had a loan in my life (student, credit card, or car) until medical school, living with debt causes anxiety. Tom grew up without an emergency fund. He was familiar with not being able to go on vacation, enjoy a meal out to eat, or make immediate repairs. However, as the one who doesn’t get a paycheck in his name there is added stress when spending money, even when its on necessities like allergy medication or replacing 10 year old gym shorts. And there is the constant pressure on his shoulders to excel academically in fear of not getting into a residency program that would prepare him for well paid and respected positions.
Through the years we have both agreed to be conscious of not wanting to have more loans then necessary because interest accrues fast once residency starts and neither of us want to be a slave to this debt for longer than necessary.
If you are numbers person just think $200,000 of student loan debt will take about $300,000 and roughly 13 years paying $2000 monthly. Most likely your house payment and your student loan payment will be similar 😳.
The problem is tuition rises and so does the cost of living and our family expanding. Living on peanut butter sandwiches isn’t sustainable or healthy. There has to be an effort to be frugal but also “rewards” for the tireless work both of you are giving daily to make this career in the distant future possible. Finding the balance in the budget between what is necessary to help you stay on course emotionally and what is necessary to make it to the next semester physically is hard.
For more details on how we finance medical school you can read my post Low Income Status: How a Family Finances Medical School.
Adding two kids along our journey has helped us go from managing a life balance to our hardest season. Two years and eight months later, this week we are finally getting a few nights where we are not awakened multiple times a night. Sleep deprivation and the emotional energy it takes to give yourself fully to small humans can be draining to ones capacity. What personal free time Tom had before is now time he gives to our children. He loves them so much and makes them a priority as much as possible.
When my husband is consumed with work, his commute, and board studies he doesn’t always have the capacity to add in additional housework that is added with children. Taking care of all the house work, yard work, home repairs, shopping, cooking, finances, and working from home is a lot for anyone to take on. The tasks pile up and the mundane can seem to be all consuming rather than just a part of the week’s responsibilities. Not being able to share the parenting and household responsibilities is hard.
For the traditional stay at home mom hiring a nanny for a few hours a week can help give mom or dad the relief needed. The financial limitations tend to minimize or make this option impossible for families still in training. Some days we do get to enjoy a few hours doing something as a family, but a lot of my week consists of single parenting from 6am to 9pm. We have chosen to be a part of a local gym (with pool) for my sanity. I can workout (or tan poolside) and my kids safely enjoy daycare at a whopping $19/month total for childcare. I have chosen to work some extra hours to make this luxury expense possible, but getting to workout, have adult conversations, and enroll my daughter in a summer swim class makes it worth it.
Hard is Not an Excuse
Hard is not an excuse to be bitter! Its especially not an excuse to shift blame toward your husband. But Sunday I was there. I wanted life on my terms and to met my expectations. Maybe you are there? Or maybe you are at the beginning of this journey and like me it will not feel hard for a while.
After the sweet reminder at church that God secured my relationship with himself through his son Jesus Christ, I knew there was nothing I could do but approach Him about my bitterness. I spent an hour in prayer, journaling my thoughts, and looking ahead. I asked for specific needs to be met that were consuming my anxious thoughts. He who created me knows exactly what I need today, what my husband needs, and what our children need. This time of reflection brought peace in this season of hard. My role of “single parenting” most of the next two months was still a reality, the housework still needed to be completed, Tom still had board examinations approaching, but there was peace. My circumstances were no longer as overwhelming and all consuming as they were over the past couple of weeks.
When I started writing this post Monday morning, my son had taken a nap at 8:00am and my daughter slept in until 9am. This never happens. I prayed for some time of solitude and it was given!