Navigating Your Career

Parenting Guilt in Dermatology

When Matthew Willett, MD, began his dermatology training, he felt he had to choose between dermatology and his family.

“My kids were old enough to tell me that they missed spending time with me, and that made it even harder sometimes,” said Dr. Willett, who is now a staff dermatologist in Rhode Island.

“Sometimes the kids really know how to play up the ‘guilt game,’” said Jackie McKesey, MD, MS, dermatology resident at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, who is pregnant with her fourth child. “But, hey, they have the right do to this. You are their one and only mom.”

An informal survey of dermatology residents, early-career dermatologists, and those well into their careers found a variety of parenting guilt triggers. Missing kids’ sporting events, coming home from work after the kids were asleep, and a lack of time and energy, were just a few.

Parenting guilt can compound with spousal guilt, especially with the lack of control over a trainee’s schedule. “This may result in my wife being unable to schedule plans for herself or for the children not knowing whether they can count on my presence or assistance in the evenings,” said Luke Maxfield, DO, dermatology resident at Campbell University/Sampson Regional Medical Center in North Carolina.

How can a dermatology resident thrive in parenting? Here are top tips from the dermatologists and dermatology residents surveyed:

Leave Stress at the Door

“Kids feel your stress,” said Dr. McKesey.

“Complaining about your day makes it such that work never ends,” said dermatologist Kavita Mariwalla, MD.

Make a Point to Connect

“Find time each day (if possible), but at least each week, to connect with your kids,” said Dr. Contestable.

Be Present

“Put all electronics away for a given amount of time each day and just have time together with your kids,” said dermatologist Doris Day, MD. “It’s the most delicious thing there is.”

“Give them 100% of your attention and 100% of your silliness,” Dr. McKesey said.

Say Yes

“Ask them what they want to do that moment and resist the urge to come up with a reason why you shouldn’t,” said Dr. Contestable.

Be Fun

“Get on the ground and play,” said Dr. Contestable. “Get dirty, get messy, be adventurous and stay up past bedtime.”

“Let loose!” Dr. McKesey encourages.

Set Routines

“Make sure your children go to bed on time, and pick one thing you can do with them before that time and always try to make that happen,” said Dr. Mariwalla, who reads nightly to her sons. “No matter what happens, my children know that is a constant.”

“I try to read to my kids every night before bed, and I don’t mean Bolognia,” jokes Dr. Willett.

Make Your Time Together Special

“We went to the Liberty Science Center, Central Park Zoo, and other special places where our time together would stand out,” said Dr. Day. “At home, we would read books and bake desserts.”

“Make your children feel appreciated and loved, even in the small moments and with small gestures,” said Dr. McKesey.

Attend the Events That Matter Most

“We can’t make all obligations, but try your absolute hardest to make the ones that count the most,” said Dr. McKesey.

Accept Help

“My parents live in my building and pretty much did everything for us during that time,” Dr. Day said. “My mom cooked dinner nearly every day. I learned to allow people to help with things that could be delegated and to focus on the time with my kids.”

Avoid Comparison

“You don’t have to be like other doctors or trainees,” notes Dr. McKesey. “Do what works and find the best version of you and your family.”

Keep Perspective

Dr. Contestable points out that people outside of medicine can face similar challenges. “I have many friends who are lawyers, architects, financial advisors, bankers, salespeople who also have rigorous hours and work 70 to 80 hours a week.”

Be Kind to Yourself

“It’s okay to feel like you don’t have balance, and there really isn’t a right time to have a child,” said Dr. Mariwalla. “But you can’t let those thoughts consume you. Right now, it’s about putting one foot in front of the other.”

“Don’t beat yourself up,” encourages Dr. Willett. “As much as I strive for success, you can’t hit a home run every day in both residency and at home. Negative self-talk can slowly chip away at your confidence, so keep your head up!”

Talk Out Your Feelings

“Every resident, parent or not, is working uber hard, and letting your guard down to discuss these feelings can be very cathartic,” said Dr. Willett.

Practice Gratitude

“Early in my life my trajectory was nothing like the one I am on now, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to be working towards the goal of being a dermatologist,” Dr. Maxfield said. “I am very deliberate about forcing this reminder upon myself weekly, if not daily. I could not be more appreciative for the people in my life who have helped me along the way.”

Dermatology residents and those who have begun their careers maintain that thriving in work and in parenting is possible through giving themselves – and their challenging circumstances – grace.

“I used to tell my kids I was growing, too, and that we would learn and grow together,” Dr. Day said.

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