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Lives of Doctor Wives: Let's Play -- Family Fued

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Let's Play -- Family Fued

I am seeking advice on how to handle a sticky situation that has recently surfaced. Here is a brief background...My husband is PGY2 in orthopedic surgery and as all of you know the schedule is demanding and at times unpredictable. We have always been the type to go out of our way to see our family. For example, I just returned from a 2-week road trip (just me and my two boys - 3 years and 21 months). This trip included traveling by car over 2,000 miles, visiting 7 states and going out of our way to see as many friends and family as possible. I did this unselfish act to allow my children to spend time with family that they otherwise do not see, and would not see the entire 5 years of residency because no one will travel to see us. After my return, my husband and I made the difficult decision to not travel back home for the holidays (where I just returned from). Prior to this discussion, we had told our family we were coming home. He only has 5 days off, the first day being post-call. I want our holidays to be shared relaxing and allowing my husband to enjoy FINALLY have a few days off...not frantically traveling across country to get to family on both sides.

We have shared this decision with our family and now have the majority of them angry at us. I also have had several hateful e-mails from family that I did not have time to see on my most recent travels mentioned above. Again, no one accepts our offer to come visit us, no one agrees to meet at a location halfway, and no one has offered to travel our way for a random visit or holiday. We are expected to do the traveling. No one seems to understand the demands of a resident's schedule, or my schedule as a mother of two who is virtually raising two children and running a household alone. No one understands that financially it is difficult for us to travel long distances because of airline fare or gasoline for a vehicle, per diem expenses and care for our pet while we are away. I (we) have tried and tried to explain our lifestyle in residency. It has now come to a point where the lack of empathy or understanding is dividing our family, meaning our immediate family from our extended one far away. My husband works so hard and does the best he can, as do I. It isn't fair that his choice to become a physician is impacting our relationship with our family.

I would GREATLY appreciate anyone's input, advice, experiences with this kind of situation. I don't know if this is a common? I just want to take the right track on mending this situation, but at the same time make our family aware of that what is happening in our lives is what is impacting our decisions. And hopefully without any fighting, resentment or further damage to our relationship with our family. Thank you all for reading this and for your advice!
- Beth

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Blogger daphne said...

hi beth,

I am so sorry that you are having to deal with this tough situation. I am married to a PGY5 ortho. We too, in the past have always tried to accomodate family that is not within a reasonable distance to us. Which of course meant that we had to use a chunk of vacation days, two of which were "wasted" just travelling, and often times we spent the majority of that vacation trying to visit with so many other people that there was little quality time for my husband, myself and our two little girls. Not to mention a huge financial burden. It is hard for people outside the life of a resident physician to completely understand what our daily lives are like. We do not get a whole lot of time together outside of their busy schedules and when we do it is often time shared with preparation for upcoming cases, hours of reading, etc. Just because they are "home" does not mean that they are actually able to spend the quality time that is so necessary.
It sounds like you have done an incredible job at making every effort to visit family and ensure that your kids are able to spend some time with them as well, even if it was not always the ideal situation or one that you would have preferred. However, it is even more important that you and your husband do everything to take care of yourselves...in my opinion that must come first. Not only for your sake, but for your kids as well. We have to make the most of that time with have with our husbands cause there is not a whole lot of it. Little side note..2nd year was the hardest for us. You wanting to stay home with your family this upcoming holiday is a completely justified decision.
It sounds like you have made all efforts to fully explain your situation and thus the reason for your decision...Eventhough it is hard for them to understand, in the end this is what is best for you as a family and that is what is important. Just take it one year at a time. You will find some years "easier" then others in terms of their work schedules. Next year you may find that you want to travel across country.
Sounds like you are doing a great job!!

August 24, 2009 at 1:14 AM  
Blogger Tasha said...

Wow, we're still in med school, but I certainly hope that neither of our families reacts this way. It must be really hard on your family to feel so much pressure (and desire) to keep in touch with family within your little means of money and time. How difficult it must be to always be traveling and keep everyone happy. I'm sorry.

August 24, 2009 at 7:08 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Dimple said...

I'm so sorry to hear about this. I totally understand and you're right - many people don't understand the demands put on residents. I would stress that you have made this decision as a family and say that you're disappointed you won't be able to visit but it just won't work this year. If you sympathize with them it won't appear that you're just "stealing" your husband and kids away for your own selfish reasons. You may also consider planning to visit them at another holiday. Can you visit some of your families during Easter (even if without your hubby)? Bottom line, stick to your guns - everyone needs boundaries. Good luck :)

August 24, 2009 at 9:49 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Wow - I'm so sorry you're having to deal with this, Beth. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon. It's really hard for anyone - including family - to understand what your life is like. It sounds like you have tried to explain it the best you can and have made an effort to see them. That's all you can do. Residency is survival mode, and you have to take care of yourself and your husband & kids and try not to worry about what others think. You just do what you have to do.


August 24, 2009 at 9:58 AM  
Blogger Doc's Girl said...

I'm sorry, my dear.

That's just so unfair and unfortunate--I see that a lot with some of my friends. I will drive across the state to go see them...but, they have never returned the favor. When it comes to the holidays, I'm lucky that Jason's parents are very understanding of our financial situation...and of the fact that we have no time... (I'm in school full time and I work, too.) We've done Thanksgiving the day after... (Christmas, since it's on a Friday this year, is going to be a challenge...so I can understand even more where you are coming from. :-P)

I would just take a deep breath and realize that some people hear the word "surgeon" and expect that your husband makes a ton of money. They don't understand the concept of being "in training" or the finances that come along with that. You could attempt to educate them on that...but I have one girlfriend who STILL does not understand that Jason is in training. I think the other issue is that I've seen other residents take out a ton of loans or put everything on their credit cards. It makes those, like us, who budget...look weird because why aren't we running around spending all of this money, you know? It just boils down to people having different perceptions...

Anyways, what I wanted to say is that my sister used to be like that with me. She didn't understand why I was so restricted in social activities/shopping until I started sharing with her the types of things that I do to save money. I cut coupons, shop at the thrift store, don't eat at expensive places, buy my textbooks online through Amazon, etc. When I started sharing about shopping online for cheap wedding stuff (I'm engaged), you could just hear the shock in her voice...because she has never budgeted a day in her life. (It's a long story--both of my parents are deceased and our relationship has been strained since then.)

All in all, my description of my lifestyle actually helped her see...why I do the things that I do. She now is actually quite sweet on the phone...and, when she asks me to do things with her and my brother, she'll always offer to pay...which is sweet. She even went to a thrift store and had a dandy time because she found all of this designer stuff for dirt cheap. :-P

Long story short, some people just don't get it. Since he is a 2nd year, it might take a while for your family and friends to understand... It's just sad that they don't understand how their behavior affects YOU and your family...because it's the holidays! It's hard on anyone to be away from their family...

Anyways, I hope that helps. :) It is normal...and annoying.

August 24, 2009 at 10:03 AM  
Blogger Made in Taiwan said...

I am sorry that your family is being so very difficult. Ultimately, it's really their problem not yours. It just sucks that they have to be that way when what you really need is understanding and support. My husband is a PGY3 ortho and we have been living 1k+ miles away from family since medical school. We have 3 kids now, had 2 when we were in medical school. I recently went home this summer for the first time in THREE years. My mother, stepfather, and brothers visited us for the first time since we left CA last year. We have driven out to CA twice, once after MSI so that DH could do research at CHLA and the second time for an away rotation at UCD (my hometown). But we would have never endured those drives for a short stay. It is just a general understanding that we can't afford to fly us home or anywhere for that matter. My parents and my in-laws fly us out when they can, which understandable isn't often especially now that there are 5 of us. My mom didn't go back home to Taiwan for 11 years and my MIL is a nurse. So our families are pretty understanding about us missing EVERYTHING. I couldn't imagine if they weren't. It's already depressing enough as it is. At the program here, it is an unspoken rule that Thanksgiving and Christmas are not to be taken off for a vacation week. They get 3 weeks a year. I hope that your family will come around. In the meantime, I hope you will find a way to not let their hurtful words bother you too much. And in the end, you haven't done anything wrong. If they have a problem it's theirs to have, not yours.

August 24, 2009 at 10:29 AM  
Blogger Melisa said...

I'm sorry. That really is tough. My family knows how financially pinched we are, so they come to us usually. If there is a family outing I need to get to, ie my brother's wedding last month, I let them know it is just going to be me coming since I can't afford tickets for 3 kids and Brad can't get off work. Sadly, there is some family that can't come see us and we haven't seen them since 'o7. That is really sad to me, but it is way too far to drive and we can't afford 5 plance tickets. Maybe you could suggest doing a tradition via webcam? They could be on webcam at their place and you at yours and have everyone open a present at the same time or say the Thanksgiving prayer.

Good luck!

August 24, 2009 at 11:40 AM  
Blogger TheFamousStacie said...

I would send them a warm invitation to join you at your home for the holidays, along with a google maps series of directions from their place to yours and be done with it. : )

August 24, 2009 at 11:53 AM  
Blogger Adriana said...

I blogged about this exact topic (the costs, burden, time, stress, etc of going back home to visit family) and a few days later I got a big check in the mail from my MIL with a note letting me know that she had never really thought about it until she read my blog (which was funny cause I didn't even know she ever read it). Now they always offer to help with the cost of gas or cover one of the plane tickets when they really want us to come home and visit. I think sometimes it is a hard line to walk btw complaining and being honest. When you live apart from family there is just never enough time or money.

August 24, 2009 at 12:49 PM  
Blogger Christy said...

We're about to hit that same battle, I fear. We have chosen not to go home for Christmas, and I am afraid that will cause a major fight.

Heaven forbid they make the 14 hr drive to come see us....

August 24, 2009 at 1:07 PM  
Blogger Jaidi and Justin Clayton and Family! said...

I have recently been in a somewhat similar situation...As far as traveling for two weeks and deciding that we probably won't travel for holidays. We have not shared the info with the family specifically, but we told them there is a possibility. We are lucky that they understand. We just finished a 2 1/2 weeks trip, traveling 3135 miles visiting 7 states. So I know all to well the situation. I think that the biggest thing to remember and to remind your families, is that residency life is hard and trying and very difficult (we are only med students, but I am sure it isn't any better later, probably worse). When you have time off, especially at the holidays, it is important to focus that time on your immediate family first. If everytime he has time off you run off to the extended family, then you loose each other. Besides that, Christmas as a family...just you your spouse and kids is wonderful. And parents need to understand that there comes a time when you need to start your own family traditions.

I like the idea of an invitation with maps to come to your house...Man, Wouldn't that be nice!

August 24, 2009 at 8:41 PM  
OpenID joz1234 said...

Hopefully they will get over it soon, but I think you need to stick to your guns and remind your family that you very seldom get immediate family time and that you really need this for your children and for your marriage. That should be enough for any parent to understand. If they don't, tough.

It's easier to type all this than actually do it. I am sorry you are in this situation.

August 25, 2009 at 1:12 AM  
Blogger Amanda said...

I really understand what's going on with you and your family. We experienced a similar situation when my husband was in residency, especially after our son was born. We only lived a state away, but that was still a four hour drive to my family. With a newborn baby screaming in the backseat and me driving all by myself (because my hubby had to work), the drive felt like forever! I think it was hardest for us because my siblings both moved back home for a time, so my parents got to see my nephews practically everyday. Also, my sister-in-law and her family built a house just two doors down from her parents, so my in-laws see their grandkids all the time, too. Because our separate, immediate families lived close to each other, I think it was very hard for them to understand why we couldn't just up and travel to see them whenever we wanted. There were a lot of hurt feelings on both sides when holidays came around, and either I came by myself, or I refused to go without my husband. I think things changed a little, though, when my husband's younger sister ended up spending a year in Tennessee for her pharmacy residency, and then, got hired for a residency in California the following year. This past Christmas, she Skyped in to our gift exchange and watched us open presents (some of them were hers). My in-laws have three children now in high stress medical field positions. We all live in different towns now (in the same state, though). I know they hate having us so far away, since their oldest still only lives two doors down, but I think they're more understanding of our situations. My parents have enjoyed driving to our new town and spending time with us. It's their time away from everything at home! Sorry this is so rambling, but I did want you to know that many of us have been where you are at, right now. It can get better, but you just have to stick with your guns and realize that you can't please everyone. The best thing to do is to take care of yourself and your own family. Good luck!

August 25, 2009 at 9:02 AM  
Blogger aj said...

yikes! i believe this is their issue and not yours. you and your husband cannot let them decide your holiday plans for you. i have emotionally separated from my family, and it has been much easier to not go home just because it's a major holday. i agree with what everyone else said so far, it seems that they expect you to come to them instead of the other way around. for years we have gone to them...they didn't even see my first son until he was 10 months old, and he was my mom's first grandchild from her only child (me) so, that being said, i have given up on pleasing them and am only concerned with pleasing my husband. neither one of us cares much what the family thinks...if they don't like our decision, to bad. my mom gave me lots of grief about moving away for my husbands job (he done with residency) and i let her comments slide off my back...she just doesn't understand, and she has never asked me to explain our life, so whatever...if we go home for the holidays, which i hope we don't, it will be expected and not appreciated...

my point? don't worry about what they say, just respond with an "i'm sorry you feel that way" and NO FURTHER EXPLANATION IS NEEDED!!! it's YOUR life and YOUR decision...not theirs. (i might have to blog about this myself, this is making me mad!)

August 26, 2009 at 9:42 AM  
Blogger Tricia said...

What a sad place to be in. The best advise I got was: that your family at holidays may not always be your biological family. Surround yourself with friends during the holidays. My husband didn't grow up with extended family around, so he considers a lot of his parents friends as family more than his grandparents and aunts and uncles.
We are blessed to live in the same town as both our families and there is still issues with who gets christmas vs thanksgiving.

August 26, 2009 at 2:48 PM  
Blogger Ciru said...

It's definitely difficult when family and friends are not supportive. Hubby is MS4 and we only visit his family members within driving distance...needless to say our threshold to date has been 15 hours. My family is in Kenya, Africa and we skype alot. Hoping to make a trip to Africa before he starts his residency next year and hoping we can afford it. But who said family was cheap. Hang in there...they will come around.

September 2, 2009 at 3:16 PM  
Blogger Janet English said...

Things will get better. We have family who are pretty understanding because we keep in touch only with the most important people. Siblings and parents. They are understanding and visit us and when we have off time we visit them at their expense otherwise it's just not possible. Let's not forget that we frequently don't even get time off over the holidays.
Don't feel bad about it, everyone doesn't always get it. Just be kind and send them annual invites to your home. For now that is the best you can do.

October 20, 2009 at 3:00 PM  

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