Apr 24, 2014
By Catherine Aftandilian, MD
Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital
I’m a third-year fellow in pediatric oncology and I have two daughters, a three-year-old and a three-month-old. I also like to run (when I can), sleep (when I can), and relax with my husband (when I can). In the midst of this, I’m trying to finish my research project, find a job, take care of my clinic patients, and finish learning everything there is to know about pediatric oncology.
As crazy as having my second child during fellowship has been, it has also helped put things in perspective. Based on my experiences, I’d like to share my advice for new parents working in oncology.
1. TAKE ALL ADVICE WITH A GRAIN OF SALT—EVEN THIS ADVICE
Everyone has an opinion. Some will think you’re working too hard (“You can’t come back to work now. Your baby needs you.”). Some will think you’re not working hard enough (“What do you mean you’re taking 12 weeks of maternity leave? With my children, I only took ___ weeks off.”). Take the advice you find helpful and ignore the rest.
2. WHEN POSSIBLE, DELEGATE AT WORK AND AT HOME
For me, this means hiring someone to clean our house a few times per month so that I don’t spend my limited free hours vacuuming. It also means ordering take-out once a week so that I don’t have to cook dinner while taking care of two kids when my husband works late. It means telling my amazing husband, “Please do the dishes,” rather than trying to drop subtle hints. After the baby was born, it meant being clear with my parents about what was helpful (taking a 6:00 AM feeding with the baby) and what was not (doing the dishes). At work, I’ve learned to be clear with coworkers about what I can and can’t do. Meeting at 6:00 PM? Nope, I need to pick up my older daughter at daycare. Help with another research project? Maybe in six months; right now I need to finish my Master’s degree.
3. FOCUS ON YOUR FAMILY WHEN YOU’RE WITH THEM AND ON WORK WHEN YOU’RE AT WORK
This is probably the hardest for me. When I’m staying late to work on something, I need to remind myself that I should focus on my work. My husband is completely capable of taking care of both kids. Feeling guilty will not make me work faster.
When I’m home with my family, I try to be in the moment with them. I listen to my older daughter’s 8 million questions and coo with the baby, rather than worry about why statistical analysis isn’t working. I enjoy reading bedtime stories and try not to surreptitiously check my work email.
4. ASK YOURSELF: “TEN YEARS FROM NOW, WHAT WILL I REGRET?”
When I’m overwhelmed by my to-do list and can’t figure out what to focus on,I ask myself, “Ten years from now, what will I regret?” Will I be upset about the dirty laundry or that I didn’t apply for that grant? Will I be sad that I didn’t practice my presentation or that I skipped dancing around the house with my daughter?
5. MOST IMPORTANTLY, BE KIND TO YOURSELF
You will never be perfect at everything. It’s okay to feed your kids pizza occasionally (or more than occasionally), to miss tumor board once in a while because your child has a performance at school, to lose your temper at home because a patient’s disease relapsed. No matter how crazy your day is, it’s okay to take time for yourself. Go for a run if it will make you feel better. Take 10 minutes before bed to read a trashy novel. Taking time for yourself will make you a better doctor and a better parent.