Modern families are an ever-changing nucleus of the pursuit of happiness, well-being, success and security. Medical families are no exception to that; in fact, I believe they are deeply centered on such values and aspirations. While some might believe that growing up in a medical family is a blessing, others may tell you it’s a bit of a bittersweet reward.
Growing up is a tough job, regardless of who your parents are or in what society you may find yourself. When I think about what it’s like to be the child of a physician, many things come to my mind. Things like high expectations, a value for education and financial security seem to be at the top of the list. Depending on the age of that child, his or her perception of life may be slightly skewed.
Adult children seem to have an overall feeling that they were fortunate in the grand scheme of things, and despite any challenges growing up, they have come out the other side better for having such strong parents. Teenage children seem to begin to feel the pressure to succeed and maybe following in their parent’s footsteps. In many cases, they are expected to behave better than their peers, perform at a higher level on exams and be an example for their younger siblings.
Younger children, on the other hand, tend to feel the sacrifice more than any other age group. When they become of school age, they begin to feel their parents’ absences more so than they do at any other time in their adolescence. Medical families resemble single-parent families when mom or dad is working much of the time. Children miss out on dinner with both parents and mom misses the soccer game again due to an emergency or a late day of rounding. Dad is unable to attend Joey’s piano recital due to his obligations to patients, and children and spouses carry on without him.
But even while feeling this sense of absence, they are never more excited to see their parents or happy to spend time with them, somehow erasing any hurt feelings from whatever was missed. They seem to also be the most grateful for their parents, but this could be said of any child at this age.
A few words seem to ring true as I think of my own children who happen to be children of a physician (my husband, not me): good, bad and sacrifice. If you are part of a medical family, your head is probably nodding to those three words. If you are not, or you are a new medical family — have no fear. I will explain.
1. Free medical advice and at-home care. You don’t have to worry about anything. Mom or dad knows all the medicines, symptoms and preventive care. If something is beyond their domain, they know someone to call who could help provide answers right there on the spot.
2. A well-balanced diet. There is always a plethora of fruits, vegetables, healthy foods and even some fun treats to choose from at home. Daily intake of the necessary vitamins and nutrients are a priority in most homes, especially in those where one or both parents are physicians.
3. A sense of security. There’s just something about knowing that your mom/dad has the ability to help/cure/save people that makes you feel secure. You have a strong sense of well-being simply because of their abilities and chosen profession.
1. Restriction. When your parent really understands the risks of certain activities, you are somewhat more restricted than other kids your age. For example, playing football might be a fun sport you would want to play, but when your dad deals with head trauma and concussions for a living, you’re probably not even allowed near tryouts.
2. Unpredictable. Physicians get emergency calls in the middle of the night, the middle of dinner or even the middle of their children’s special events. Sometimes, they spend very long hours at work and there are times when parents and children might not see each other for days. Doctors tend to work in the evenings, and by the time they get home school-aged children are already in bed.
3. Tension. As a physician, you deal with difficult cases, some do not always go the way you’d hope and many times those feelings of frustration get carried home with you. This can cause tension, even when it’s not meant to and children can feel this tension. Much of the time, it is misunderstood and the child does not understand how to interpret these feelings.
1. All part of the plan. While this may seem like it was the going to be the worst part of my list, it is actually the best part of growing up in a medical family. Growing up, children tend to feel as though they missed out on time with their parents due to their occupation and responsibilities, but when they reach adulthood or the ability to understand what it’s really all about, they discover that there was always a master plan with them at the forefront.
2. Family first. They also come to realize that it was their parents who missed out the most. Their mom sometimes cried when she missed a T-ball game or a ballet recital. Their dad cringed when he had to leave the dinner table to take an emergency call or run to check on a patient in distress. It was all sacrifice, all hard work and dedication for one purpose, one goal — their family. These parents do everything they do so their children can have the best life possible, the most opportunity and the security only time and investment in goals can bring. Physicians have a deep sense of obligation to the well-being of others, but none like that to their children.
Mary Gebara is a child development expert. This article originally appeared in Physician Family.
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