Our children will never be the sole judge of our job as parents of course. We are likely our own closest and most fastidious critic. And really it’s just us (and our partners) that can truthfully reflect and evaluate how it goes as we raise our children — what our hopes were when we started on the journey of raising another and where we find ourselves. And so, however radiant the peaks and successes seem, the anxiety of our choices in this high-stakes job will likely dominate. The angst with how this all goes as our children mature ties our feet together at times, and can feel a little like stuffing big rocks into our pocket as we jump off the dock into the lakes of our lives. We’re hard on ourselves. Sometimes this is good and motivating, centering or stabilizing, and at times it can even be useful when sorting priorities. But sometimes, it’s simply unkind. Some of the best advice I was given after my boys were born was this:
Forgive yourself in advance.
Layers of advice from others have been added onto this since the beginning and some of the advice that resonates can even haunt me (“It goes so fast, it goes so fast, it goes so fast” they all say). And I admit my own critic comes and goes as the boys age, even as we have small successes or experience big failures (“What was I thinking to not step in with that bully?”). My inner critic is also around as I soak up all the routine, normal and just plain ‘ole regular days in-between.
I was reminded today while at lunch with a mentor that I’m in the golden years with these boys. A time of delicious development, rising curiosity and subdued drama. Six and eight year-old boys are just fun. “By Junior High and High School, it will be different. They’ll be telling you how you’ve let them down and yet they’ll still really need you,” my mentor said. We were discussing how my boys would likely be critical of my choice to work intensely in pediatrics at some point, and that they would also likely share their thoughts about my rigorous travel, long hours or my advocacy and presence in the public. Yes, it seems to me they will keep me honest and aware of my own hesitations with balance. Yes, they’ll soon opine even more than they do today… He then launched in earnest into a lovely story that stood out for him as a parent (my mentor is 40 years my senior so has volumes of wisdom to share). He said when one of his children was about 30 years of age she phoned him up and said,
Dad, I’m calling to tell you that I think you did two things well while raising me.
Two. Things. Well. He went on to detail that the first thing she shared was her appreciation for his strict rules around viewing TV and his devotion to keeping it out of the bedroom. And then he just started to laugh. We both did. The reality that a grateful child with whom he has a lovely and close relationship can call him up at age 30 and detail the “two things” he may have done well was humbling. He remarked that he found it so delightful and so off-setting that as she announced he’d done just two things well he was distracted by those emotions. As he’s telling me this I am absorbing it as advice thinking, “Okay, I can do that with the TVs and the screens”… then I said, “what was the second thing?” I was on the edge of my seat. Oh the look on his face; that’s when we laughed even more. He’d simply forgotten.
Thing is, our children will be grateful or oblivious to our “parenting” most of the time and they’ll likely be critical, too. Obviously though, we are often the most severe judges of how this all unfolds. So as you set out amid this brand new shiny year, keep in perspective that you’ll likely be the one with the harshest ruler.
I had to ask my mentor, “Have you asked your daughter since what the second thing was that you did well?” He smiled. “Yes,” he said. She couldn’t remember either.
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e-Patient Dave says
> They’ll be telling you how you’ve let them down and yet they’ll still really need you
Now that my daughter’s a mom, your tale of your growing kids takes me back to this book that, I dunno, maybe nobody remembers these days:
Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall?
Meanwhile, some of our best patient members of the Society for Participatory Medicine are going through a not-dissimilar process, getting their legs stable in a move toward what they feel is real autonomy. Only the rarest few are thinking they don’t WANT doctors – which I imagine will end when an emergency hits, or as new needs arise.
Personally, I’d like to not need anything, period. When I do, I’m not only glad I have access to people who know more than I, I’m glad I learned how to recognize it and ask for the expert help.
Ah…. taking care of each other.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
Thanks, epatientDave! I have heard the rumblings and a few outspoken people’s sentiments detailing why they don’t need a primary care doctor and the lack of value they see in having a general provider advocate and support them with wellness visits and coordination of care. Clearly so many of us have been failed by the system.
Yet my personal experience today brights this to light. I just spent a decent of time personally this morning emailing providers and coordinating labs draws and care on behalf of a family member for an upcoming hospitalization. I will say, often without a coach, primary care doc or champion on the inside for care-coordination you will unload some of that responsibility and work to your own personal team (family). And although it may be fine, it may not be right for everyone and may be an imperfect way to utilize resources.
If we fixed how we valued communication in the health space and supported PMDs to coordinate care during their work day (not just as add-on time after or before 25 patients) I suspect some who are saying they don’t want a physician would come back to find value in one.
Complex, yes, how we care for each other…
Love this post, and it’s perfectly timed as my husband and I experienced a low parenting moment this week, one of those where we’ll remember our decisions much longer than our daughter will. I try not to be too hard on ourselves as tomorrow will bring some other minor “crisis” and more decisions to ponder. 🙂
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
Thanks, Wendy. So glad it resonated and hoping this week is off to a great start!