Both Sarah and I have long appreciated the smart comments on our blogs from reader “Gillian.” This practicing physician and mom of four has great insights on issues of work and raising a bigger family. So we decided to see if she’d come on Best of Both Worlds to talk about her strategies.
She said yes! This week’s episode features her insights. Dr. Gillian Goddard practices endocrinology in New York City and lives in the suburbs. She addressed the question of timing children during medical training. With four kids, her answer turned out to be “all of the above.” She went to medical school at a slightly older age. She deliberately chose a school that was open to non-traditional students. Since her husband is a bit older and was established in his career it worked for them to have a kid during medical school (and then during residency, fellowship, private practice).
Goddard and her husband split things fairly evenly, which she says happened because of something that might have seemed unfortunate at the time. Her residency coincided with the Great Recession about 10 years ago, and her husband was underemployed for chunks of this. Because she was working so many hours, he wound up taking over a lot on the home front. So he became comfortable with that, which still influences how they do things now, as her life has calmed down and his has ramped back up.
The family employs one sitter-housekeeper, and hosts an au pair. This “stacking” of childcare/home support gives them the hours they need to both work, exercise, stay involved in their community, and spend time with their four children individually. Goddard notes that having only enough childcare to cover working hours is a rookie mistake that she made at one point, but has since learned to avoid. If it’s financially feasible, having a bit more can actually buy you the ability to spend more quality time with your kids. This is an idea that I really hope sinks in more broadly.
Goddard sings the praises of the Cozi app, where the family keeps track of all their events. The upside of the app is that au pairs can be added and removed relatively easily as they come and go every 1-2 years. Having the family schedule all in one place means coverage need not be a huge ordeal.
I really enjoyed this interview, so please give it a listen! And also let us know what you think about the listener question. This listener writes in that life is really feeling like a grind. She has no time to exercise or do anything…but she works 40 hours with a 1-hour commute, meaning she’s gone 50 hours. With 168 hours in a week, someone sleeping 8 hours a night (56 per week) would have 62 for other things. So why does this schedule feel so difficult? We talk about the importance of having more support on the home front, and that this might be a wise place for this family — who was presented as having two well-paying jobs — to invest resources.
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16 thoughts on “Best of Both Worlds podcast: Gillian Goddard on medicine and bigger families”
I can kind of relate to the question answer, but I am in a different stage of life with an almost 2 year old… It was helpful for me to read a Tranquility by Tuesday post that you wrote this fall. In that post, you talked about how 3 x’s/week IS a habit, and that things don’t have to happen at the same time every day to be a habit. I was getting really hung up on my old definition of working out, which was 30-50+ min, 5-6 times/week. I don’t really have the bandwidth for that right now, but I can do 3 20-30-minute workouts/week. Which is better than nothing. So that’s what I’ve been focusing on. I try to fit one in after work 1-2 week nights/week and then workouts on Sat and Sun. We have a play area set up in our basement and our son seems to want to hang out with me while I work out instead of hanging with dad on the main level. But maybe by watching me workout, he’ll internalize that it’s healthy to do so? My situation is different because my child is at a more demanding/needy stage, but he doesn’t have outside activities, besides swimming lessons once/week. It’s probably harder when you are driving kids to and from activities, etc. Maybe they need to look at how much their kids are involved in and cut back if that will make the parents happier/feel less overwhelmed? Tracking her time would probably help, too.
@Lisa – so glad the “three times a week is a habit” idea was helpful to you. I agree that for this listener, aiming to exercise 3x per week could be really helpful…and realistic.
I know I already said a lot this episode 😉 but I just can’t not give my 2 cents on the Q&A. I addition to whole-hearted agreement with the answers from Laura and SHU encouraging a reassessment of the childcare situation, I would examine the after school activities–can both kids do one activity (swimming and martial arts are GREAT for this, I now have 4 kids doing martial arts at all different belt levels and will still manage to keep driving minimal), can you carpool to some activities (this is how travel soccer remains sustainable).
Work out at home. There is no reason you can’t do yoga or a Beach Body work out or mat pilates even if you are the only adult at home with the kids. On weekends, exercise with the kids (I especially like having the kid bike while I run). I have also been involving my kids more in making dinner.
I am also firmly of the philosophy that homework is an activity kids should be doing solo as early as possible. In kindergarten and second grade, if homework isn’t done or correct, so be it. I will remind kids to get homework done (once or twice) and I will send emails (infrequently) giving the teacher some idea why incomplete homework isn’t done. I will listen to my younger children read. This is just not something I chose to waste precious evening time on.
@Gillian – totally agree that kids need to take the lead on homework. And yep, exercise can be done at home, and this couple can certainly trade off evenings or early mornings or weekends to fit it in.
I empathized so much with the listener question for this episode. I have been there! My husband and I are going into our fourth year of a similar arrangement — we both commute an hour in opposite directions. I do have a lot of autonomy over the hours I work, but in general we both work 8 to 4-4:30. We have two kids who are now 2 and 5. For the first 1-2 years into this setup I definitely very much felt this feeling of life being a never-ending, relentless grind and Laura’s writings and the podcast helped me to realize that it was mostly due to the feeling of there being a second shift once I got home. Like the listener, I felt like I had no time to myself and no time to exercise. What helped was to identify how I was spending my time, how I wanted to be spending my time, and how I did not want to be spending my time. Then I made some practical changes and some mindset changes that really helped to reduce the amount of mental energy I was expending in the evenings.
Practical changes — I realized I did not want to spend my time cooking or cleaning. During the period of when I felt like life was a grind, I was doing daycare drop-off in the morning and my husband was doing evening pick-up. I would come home after work and we would both try to cook dinner and wrangle hangry kids. Sometimes one of the kids would have an evening activity. This felt like madness. I realized that my husband was getting home about 30 minutes before me and that I could be more productive if I got in to work slightly earlier in the day. Therefore I suggested that we swap duties. Now I do pick-up and my husband does drop-off and also takes care of ALL the meal planning and makes all the meals. When I come home with the kids, dinner is ready for us to all sit down and eat. Having meal planning and prep taken away from my mental load has been AMAZING. I try to limit kid activities during the week as well and find activities that they can do on the weekends. This may have to change as my kids start school. We have a housecleaner who comes twice a month. I spend a few minutes doing the dishes every evening and laundry on the weekends, otherwise I don’t do much housework. Identify the things you don’t want to spend your time doing, then outsource and throw money at them so you don’t have to.
The other thing I did was prioritize time for myself. I don’t mind getting up early so I forced myself to exercise in the mornings before work. I am an obliger so I signed up for a boot camp class that goes from 5-5:45 am M-F. I sacrifice a little in quantity of sleep during the week because I don’t go to bed as early as I should, but I am able to sleep in a little on weekends, and I feel like exercise gives me more energy and helps improves the quality of my sleep. I also make my commute pleasurable by listening to podcasts and music. I try to compartmentalize my work and home life so that once I get in my car to drive home, I very much feel like I am off the clock.
Mindset changes — In addition to reducing the mental load with these practical changes I also tried to shift my thinking of time as scarce to time as abundant. My evening time with family lasts from about 5:30 to 8:30, when the kids go to bed. By getting rid of things that I did not want to spend my time doing, 3 hours now feels like plenty of quality time to spend with my family in the evenings.
I hope the listener is able to evaluate and identify what is making their time feel like a grind and use their resources to help as we have.
@YC – wow, thanks so much for this comment. I love how pro-active you guys were about changing what wasn’t working. There are times of life where people have more time than money, and times when they have more money than time. For people who fall in the latter camp, it can be a great move to figure out what can be outsourced or switched up.
Totally agree with you that having meal planning and cooking off your plate feels freeing! And 3 hours, when not filled with stuff you don’t want to do, can feel like plenty of time.
Just wanted to chime in and say that I loved this episode! It was very interesting for me as a fellow mother and physician.
This week my kids are back in school, but their after-school activities have not started yet. I am loving just coming home from work, cooking dinner, and being able to have a glass of wine. This fleeting feeling of afternoon/evening freedom makes me want to work harder on putting together carpools etc.
@Sarah – I think if I had a long commute I would hate to leave the house afterwards. carpools can be amazing!
I just listened to this today, but I wanted to chime in that afternoon help (maybe like noon – 8? who picked up the kids from school) seems like it would be a hugely worthwhile investment for the couple. I think if they came home at 6 to a clean-ish house, homework done, lunch boxes cleared out, lunches and backpacks packed for the next day, house stocked with groceries, etc. there lives would just feel like so much less of a grind.
Also, I feel like it’s worth thinking about the commute… If this is taking the train into NYC where they can work/chill for those 2 hours, that’s one thing. But kids or no kids, 2 hours every day in the car in stop and go traffic is going to take a toll over the years. Are there *any* interesting jobs that are closer to home? Do either of them have someone they can carpool with to work for the sake of companionship? I think anything they can do to improve the commute in any way is going to make a big improvement in their mental health.
@Chelsea – yep, a commute can be a total energy suck. Long term, it might be worth looking into changing.
I’ve listened to Best of Both Worlds from the start and usually really enjoy the podcast. I rarely comment, but the tone of the answer to the listener question has been bothering me since I listened yesterday. I thought that the content of the answer was great, lots of useful advice, but the tone was really lacking in empathy.
I wonder if some of this stems from the fact that many questions around balancing work and life are about the future. For people wondering how to balance a career and kids in the future, pointing out the 62 hours left or saying that it gets easier after they’re past the toddler stage can be really useful. But for a person struggling now, it doesn’t really matter if a 6 and 8 year old shouldn’t be as hard, it feels hard to her. I think the answer could have used a lot less judgement about why it actually shouldn’t be so hard in between the really useful advice.
(And maybe it’s rude to note another podcast, but I’ve noticed that the “Happier” podcast does a really good job with this. For a wide variety of questions do a really nice job of thoroughly acknowledging that whatever is going on is a difficult situation and never seem to belittle or trivialize the question.)
I felt the same way when I listened to the podcast. The advice given seemed useful, but the tone wasn’t very empathetic. I don’t think “shoulds” are usually very helpful, particularly when they’re about how one “should” feel.
Separately, I’m not sure if the number of hours in a day is always the most important metric to focus on; for many people, energy (physical and/or emotional) runs out before time, and it’s hard to deploy hours at the end of the day effectively if you feel like sludge. Maybe some carefully-targeted downtime between work and home would help, or something fun to look forward to at the end of the day. To me the tone of the question makes it sound like the issue isn’t only hours, but also a lack of joy in the routine.
I agree with your sentiments completely, Sarah and Erica. The response to the listener was dismissive at best. Laura, I’m a big fan, but you missed the mark on this one. As Brene Brown would say, empathy is not a pizza, giving some to one person doesn’t mean there is less for another. I get the feeling of the hamster wheel, drudgery and that’s what I gleaned from the listener’s letter. My kids are similar ages and at times it’s so overwhelming to be needed so intensely. The advice was decent but the tone was a slap in the face. If I were her, I would feel so much worse than before. I wouldn’t comment if I didn’t love the podcast and know you can do better.
Not to pile on, but I agree with the above comments that Laura and even Sarah had a really off-putting tone in the answer to this question. I listen to this podcast a lot and was excited about this episode because of this particular Q&A. The degree to which you guys scoffed and said she “should” have plenty of time was thoughtless, and insinuating that their kids aren’t independent enough is fairly rude. Young kids are an energy drain, households need to be run, commuting is exhausting, etc.
I suspect that so many of your readers and listeners are feeling the way that questioner is–I know I am!–so to be so dismissive of her concerns seems counterproductive. The comments above are way more empathetic and give more concrete advice (thanks, @YC!) than the podcast did.
One other thought for the questioner in the podcast–is it worth looking at jobs that allow for some working at home? That makes all the difference for me.
Thank you for this podcast. It was amazing. My husband is a partner at a public accounting firm. It was super helpful to hear how they balanced the husband’s hours as a partner at a law firm. I’d love to hear from more women in this boat!
@Dana – we definitely love to talk about how families manage two big careers. There’s a pretty big assumption out there that it is impossible or too crazy to try but we love to talk about people who find it doable.