A subtle change in the parents at a pediatric clinic

Currently, we are in a transition time. Many of us are still healing from the shock brought on by the beginning days of the COVID crisis. While it has been nice to enjoy the warmer weather both from a distance but also amongst friends given the lifting of many social restrictions, life still does not seem “normal.” As human beings, we adapt to our surroundings, and all of us are struggling with adapting to our “new normal.” Even though we are experiencing it together, adaptation means something different for everyone. In our case, we have particularly noted a subtle change in the parents we see at our clinic.

We have the privilege to work at a clinic that serves a large number (in fact, over 50 percent of our patients) of families who recently came to the U.S. They each have unique stories, but many of them immigrated for social reasons such as escaping civil wars, ongoing poverty, persecution for their beliefs, or mistreatment for being a member of a certain ethnic group. These families have been through a lot already, and the changes wrought by COVID have only worsened this. Of late, it seems that many of our parents seem defeated and doubting their ability to parent effectively. An illustrative case:

Jose [not his real name] was brought in by his mom, a young lady who came to the U.S. with her husband about two years ago. They left behind their hometown in Central America not by an overwhelming desire to live in Ohio (though it is a fine place to live) but due to the persistence of a violent drug war in their country. Mom, who is usually rather chipper, seemed downtrodden. We discussed a few coronavirus impacts:  Mom had lost her part-time job. Dad continued to work but with curtailed hours, so finances were tight. The family’s support system, consisting of an aunt who lives nearby and several friends from church, has not been able to physically help or visit them due to social isolation policies. The family had avoided catching COVID, but Dad’s job entailed working at sites where exposure is more possible, so a real concern. After going through these concerns and offering help from our social worker, Mom seemed appreciative but still seemed down. When asked what was troubling her, Mom replied, leaning her head down, “I don’t think I am a good parent …” a surprising statement from someone usually so secure in her skills.

Many of Mom’s doubts stemmed from internet chat rooms with false/incomplete information. Plus, with the focus in the media being on the many negative, albeit very real, impacts of the pandemic, it was as though Mom’s entire psyche was negatively impacted by it. What Mom needed to hear, as we all do now, is that it is important to focus on the positives in a world ridden with so many negatives. We spent time going over Jose’s adequate growth curves and reassuring mom that his development was on target. We also spent a great deal of time discussing how she and Jose can discover new foods together, how she can help with his brain development by playing with him and reading to him, and, most importantly, how to enjoy the time she has every day with her precious son. This discussion seemed to lift her spirits.

Let us remember that even the mundane and small things need to be celebrated, and we need to remind our patients and families of this. Human relationships are created by sharing these little moments and taking time to acknowledge the gift that is our loved ones. Parenting is a tough job, and each new edition to the family brings both joy but, at times, anxiety. We need to remind parents to be joyful and in awe of their child’s accomplishments, however small they may seem. Sociologist Robert Bellah stated that “healthy nations must be ‘communities of memory,'” and he extended that principle to other societal bonds, such as families.

Coming back with their discharge paperwork, there was Jose, in all of his baby fat glory, wobbling around on the exam table laughing heartily. Mom could not help but giggle at her jovial child. As pediatricians, we are so honored to have the amazing privilege of seeing snippets of a lifelong relationship being forged between a child and parent, a relationship that can withstand even a viral pandemic.

Gabriella Gonzales is a pediatric resident. Alexander Rakowsky is a pediatrician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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