I have been a medical doctor for 19 years, a pediatrician for 16 years and a mom for 11 years. Being a mom is — hands down — the hardest but also enhances my work as a physician (though I would not admit this before I had my own children). My work at work and my work at home intersect daily.
Since I work in a hospital, I don’t field as many of the parenting questions as my outpatient counterparts do. But I do encounter issues with safe sleep, breastfeeding, neglect, trauma, and nutrition on a regular basis. And sometimes, I will admit, I feel like a fraud. I know the “right answers” to rattle off to the questions and scenarios, but I also know my personal answers and have felt ashamed and unwilling to disclose them in the past.
I think there is more gray than black and white. I think there is more “right for you” than right or wrong. I want to support parents who are doing their best and love their kids like crazy and are afraid to answer the questions the wrong way as the MA punches their responses into the tablet. So here’s what happened and happens in my house after four years of undergraduate and four years of medical school and three years of pediatric residency and three years of outpatient pediatric practice and 13 years of being a pediatric hospitalist:
1. My oldest still used a pacifier on occasion until the first semester of her kindergarten year. She loved her binkies so much. She favored the pliable, rubbery Soothie brand, especially the turquoise model. She would often walk around with several of them stuck onto the fingers of each hand, one in her mouth, and one jammed between her nose and the mouth pacifier. The pediatric dentist wasn’t too concerned about it. We cut back to certain times of day and situations, but she still had it at bedtime until she turned six.
2. All three of my kids sleep with me regularly. I love laying down with my kids at bedtime and almost always fall asleep myself. I’m usually nestled in between my two youngest, one head resting on each bicep. The oldest is lateral to youngest on the left. I murmur “God bless” and “Angel of God” prayers. Sometimes we talk about stories or events of the day, sometimes we laugh and laugh, often I tell them to shhh because it’s time to sleep.
3. I nursed my babes on demand, even multiple times overnight until they were toddlers. My husband half-heartedly tried to have our oldest “cry it out” when I was working a week of night shifts. Aside from that, one of us (usually me as the lactating parent) would get up and feed/rock anyone who started crying during the night.
4. My kids sometimes ride their bikes/scooters in our driveway or on a flat landlocked path without helmets (not to mention never wearing elbow or knee pads). When my barely four-year-old son learned to ride a two-wheeler without training wheels, I proudly posted a photo of him riding (in our driveway, less than two feet above the ground) on social media. Within minutes, a pediatrician who had been a former resident in my program commented, “Helmets are overrated.” I was angry and retorted, “So is self-righteousness.” Then I deleted both comments because they were taking away from the joy I felt about my son’s accomplishment.
5. My kids drink juice, chocolate milk and even soda (usually caffeine-free) at restaurants. We mostly have water or plain milk at home, but they are allowed to indulge when we go out (while my husband and I have a glass of wine or beer).
On the other hand, they have never missed a well check or biannual dental appointment, and I pay out of pocket to take them to a pediatric ophthalmologist every couple of years. They are all fully vaccinated and will remain so as long as they are living with me. They have never been unrestrained in a vehicle, and the youngest was rear-facing until three-and-a-half years old. They have never been exposed to secondhand smoke. They will never live in a house with a firearm during their childhoods. They have never been burned by a cigarette or lived in a meth lab or been sexually trafficked.
There are clearly experiences and exposures that are to be avoided at all costs when it comes to parenting and caring for children. But a lot of other things, which often come across as dogma, are not necessarily “right” or “wrong” in all cases.
I am now much more likely to share my own experiences with parents who about to crack under the pressure of “doing everything right,” who are ashamed and nearly in tears because they still give the two-year-old a bottle sometimes or use fruit snacks as bribes.
Lisa Sieczkowski is a pediatrician.
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